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Silent Battle

A recent Dynamic Catholic reflection focused on a Gospel reading from Mark 9. The disciples are sent out to do ministry. Their final task is to exorcise a demon inside of a boy. They fail. They go back to Jesus and ask him why they were not able to succeed, despite the power Jesus has shared with them. Jesus tells them, “There are some demons that can only be cast out through prayer and fasting.” Matthew Kelly went on to point out that fasting is not about giving up chocolate but about looking at behaviors that keep us from being the best version of ourselves. In other words, we need to fast from and against demons. I’ve done work in the last few years in casting out demons, not only my own, but also protecting others from being harmed.

In popular culture, confrontation is the way to face challenges. This has been a growth area for me; I’ve been forced to develop these skills and have made progress. Confrontation is only one way to deal with difficult people or internal challenges.  Prayer and fasting cultivate discipline and faith; I consider these strengths though I could continue to grow.

The last few weeks have been better because I was more disciplined and reflective. I made the time to pray more and do spiritual reading. I completed my Dynamic Catholic exercises daily. It has made a difference. In revisiting this passage from Mark 9, I can continue to deepen my reflection.

This also reminded me of a character from the TV series, The Exorcist. (Yes, I know I’m obsessed. This has been going on for most of my life. Deal!) There is a group of contemplative nuns including the Mother Superior who keep silent hours. These women also strive to exorcise demons but go about differently than the priests.  Their silence strengthens them for their difficult tasks.

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Mother Bernadette, sometimes the real MVP against demons

Silence is not simply being mute.  As someone who was drawn to contemplative life in the past, I understand that silence is a time to commune with God in prayer, to commune with nature or yourself, and offering those hours for others. While we may perceive this practice as being non-communicative, it is work to pray for the world and for strength.When I was single, a nun came to our parish to sell arts and crafts for her convent and to share her experiences as a contemplative. They lived in rural Mexico. Their mission was to pray for the world. 24 hours a day, these women took shifts praying for those who had asked for intercession and praying for everyone.  I was moved by their beautiful vocation.

Yes, you should tap into your #innermongoose and fight enemies. However, silence, prayer, and fasting can be battle strategies too. I’m a person of words. I may come across as introverted but I’m certainly writing and thinking about what I could say. When I refrain from speaking, that silence is powerful.  I have committed to helping others as my life’s work. That work requires me to be both confrontational and reflective.

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After the battle

So we took on the dragon.  While I don’t know if it’s slain, I know it’s languishing in its respective corner.

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Dragon

Meanwhile, I’m over in ours laid out.  Tired.  Spent.

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Me

Because, like the days following a half-marathon or the ressaca do carnaval, the days following a confrontation with an enemy are long.  In that time, te pondras a pensar.  You will ponder many things. I ponder my integrity and my identity.

Confrontation isn’t in my nature.  I’ve gotten better over the last decade about standing up for myself.  But I struggle with not becoming what I am fighting. I don’t want to be cruel, judgmental, resentful, or vindictive. I don’t like wishing the worst for others. While doing so may feel satisfying in the moment, it drains me in the long run.  I would rather heal and help.

So how do I sustain myself? I go back to the familiar and the beloved.  My child.

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Family costume 2016: 50s Flashback

Books.

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With the fabulous and hilarious Luvvie Ajayi

Laughter.

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Photobombed at Grace Jones 

Time outdoors.

Dance.

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Flash Mob Tribute to Prince, September 2016 

Family traditions.  My faith.

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My running club: Mis antepasados y muertitos queridos 

I turn back to that which feeds my soul and that which reminds me of who I am. I am a mujer constantly evolving.

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17 year old sideeye 

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Fox in Socks at 44 

Revealing relapse

“There is trouble in the air, destruction is everywhere
And men are being trampled beneath the soil
And nations, great and small, have now begun to fall
Oh come let us go back to God, go back to God”  written by Thomas Dorsey, as sung by Donnie McClurkin

When I talk about backsliding, I often mean it negatively.  When I backslide, I’m going to back old, often negative, habits and ways of thinking. Like every normal person, I have times when I’m disciplined, motivated, and therefore feeling and being successful.  If I “relapse” into past behavior, it is usually because I’m exhausted, demoralized, and struggling physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.  Life goes in cycles.  It’s never a journey of point A to point B.  So why do I hold myself to that unrealistic black and white thinking?  What if “going back” has its benefits?

Para los que me conocen, y’all know I’m often goal-driven. I take on reading challenges, savings challenges, and prayer challenges. I train for half-marathons and for street performances of various choreographies.  I do weeklong class hops, novenas of daily masses, 40 day fasts, and multi-week fitness programs. But I don’t always complete these goals to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I don’t complete them at all.  Then I spend some time beating myself up about those failures.  Fortunately, time and life experience has taught me to seek humility.  Life has taught me that failure is a good time to turn back to God.

I said it.  As important as my faith life is to me, God doesn’t always come first. “Well, I guess we won’t go to Mass Carnaval weekend because I’m not about to sit in church in my costume.”  God doesn’t always fit on a busy schedule.  While I thank God when I’m succeeding, I spend less time with Him while I’m busy working towards that success.  I’m going, going, going.  Literally and figuratively running.  A quick grace over a rushed meal. Half a rosary done on the commute from one family activity to another.  I don’t build in time for devotion.

It is in times of struggle and failure that I truly give myself over to God.  When I’ve been diagnosed with illnesses, I have stood with God.  When I’ve struggled with work situations, I have had long, emotional conversations with God.  When I have lost loved ones, I have found comfort from God.  Where human motivation and individual goals waver, God is constant.

I know I have lots of work to do in the next few months. I will make my faith life part of that work.  Going back to God is wonderful.  Staying with Him must be a goal. 2eec7f06e6a3add42dfda620cb60b94d

An Advent first

For some people, the idea of fasting is that of un castigo, that you only do so out of obligation or guilt. But others have held that fasting helps prepare the mind and body for more focus and stillness.  Coupled with meditation or any other form of contemplative practice, it can serve as a retreat or recharge.  With Lent months away, I have long pondered the possibility of an Advent fast.  As happened last year, the folks at Dynamic Catholic are launching a daily routine of spiritual exercises in honor of Advent.  So, in addition to taking part in that four-week series, I will be fasting from my smartphone/social media habit for Advent.

I have discussed my problematic phone use in the past (http://mujerevolving.blogspot.com/2012/01/smartphones-killed-personal-bond.html)What used to be entertainment is now a compulsion.  Like emotional eating, it kills time but ultimately provides no real positive results.  Both Rambo and M have expressed their frustration with this fourth family member.  If my phone is in hand, chances are I’m not engaged in what is happening around me.  

Now I can leave my phone on my charger at home. I can leave it locked up in the car. I can turn off the data and only use wi-fi. These are temporary fixes.  I enjoy learning more about my friends’ personal experiences and political views. I love reading interesting articles shared by like-minded people. I find communicating with many of my friends via Facebook and Instagram easier. But I need a break.
From Antoine Geiger’s “Sur-Fake” 
The next few weeks at work will bring challenges I have never confronted. I will need to be strong, patient, and thoughtful. More than ever, my family, my passions, and my faith will empower me during this experience. In the quiet of my retreat, I will contemplate all good things.  

A mile in the right direction

I left the serenity of my Lenten desert for the raucous alegria of Carnaval and the subsequent busyness of a school year’s end. I have missed the silence that comes when I cut back on social media and television. I have missed books. I have missed the freedom of an empty schedule and calendar. Summer begins and with it, an opportunity to truly rest.
I began my summer by going for a run. It is the first run I have completed since I finished my half-marathon in February. It is the last run I will do before my surgery Monday.
Running has always been my time to unwind and to reconnect.  I reconnect with the outdoors, the air, the sounds I miss because I’m always in conversation.  I reconnect with my body, with my muscles and lungs.  I reconnect with my running partners, those who went before me, with whom I run every training run and every half-marathon since last year. Running helps me to be grateful and strong. 
With that mere mile, another season begins. I will embrace the weeks that follow the way I do Lent.  I will reconnect with all that nurtures my soul. 

Oasis

“In the sweet territory of silence we touch the mystery. It’s the place of reflection and contemplation, and it’s the place where we can connect with the deep knowing, to the deep wisdom way.” Angeles Arrien
“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” Antoine Saint-Exupery
I am nearing the end of my 40 days in the desert of my own making. While I have felt isolated at times, the positive changes I have experienced have made up for the occasional duda.
For 40 days, I have renewed my commitment to contemplation. I began my mornings with Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever”, a collection of videos featuring author Matthew Kelly, quotes, and questions meant to prompt reflection on readings and themes. I now write in my Mass journal during every Mass I attend. I have committed to spiritual reading as a daily practice.
In 40 days, my professional life underwent a significant transformation. I went from being fearful, complacent, and exhausted to feeling empowered, focused, and re-energized. All it took was heart-to-heart chats with my credential coach and my longtime mentor and most importantly, prayer. I prayed for clarity and strength. Reading Father Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart helped me revisit my commitment to young people. I needed to revisit “vocation” and “mission” over “job” and “career.”  
In 40 days, I have realized that disconnection can lead to reconnection. I am still seeing friends, taking my daughter on adventures, and communicating with folks who make me laugh. I haven’t missed the noise and information overload that often makes me want to give up social networking altogether.
For 40 days, I have read and listened to more books than I have in years. I read M her first chapter book, Charlotte’s Web.  M has declared “books are magic.” 
Caral Peru.
Photo by Julie Ann Calderon. 

Every year, I cherish my Lenten experience. Then, on Easter Sunday night, I promptly return to my old habits. But, now, with another surgery expected in summer, I need to do what nurtures my family, my health, and my faith. I resolve to stay in the desert every day.  

An old friend resurfaces

At one point in my life, I seriously considered becoming a lay member of a monastic community.  I wanted to leave the world of work and personal life, if only seasonally, and focus on contemplation, prayer, and learning more about my faith. Inspired by poet and author Kathleen Norris, I specifically explored how I might become a Benedictine oblate.  Many events and people drew me away from this plan; however, some of what I learned sustained me through life’s challenges. How wonderful to know that Saint Benedict will be rejoining my daily litany.

Saint Benedict, apart from being a founding father of Western monasticism, is also the patron saint of gall bladder disease and inflammatory disease.  Two birds with one stone, pun absolutely intended.  
One of the stories told about him is that some of the monks, newly introduced to him and his Rule, decided to rebel and attempted to poison him during Mass. Benedict survived because the chalice broke and a raven stole the bread before Communion.  

The surgery I will have in the summer is elective; in the words of my new surgeon,  I’m “not on fire.” Still it is reassuring to know that I can literally call on Saint Benedict.