Monday, June 24, 2013

Building Your Own Mary Garden

Just as a fashion-challenged person may have a penchant for clothing, I love gardens. I love the smell of damp soil, the colors of various flowers all bunched together in an eclectic bouquet, and the cycle of life that takes place on a tiny plot of earth. Unfortunately, the bamboo and poinsettia on my kitchen counter top are the only survivors of a lifetime of trial and murder error.

It's long been an ambition of mine to create an area in my backyard conducive to meditation* and prayer. We had to install fake grass to combat a carpet of dirt that had us bathing our dog every week, but a grouping of pots around a statue of Mary installed by the backyard swing would serve my purpose.  A Mary garden is a tradition that was first recorded in the 7th Century, and I think I might be able to pull it off.

Typically, the plants included in the Mary garden are representative of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but I think that any beautiful plants would do, if your intent is to honor her as the Mother of God.  Quite often, you'll find a statue of Mary or angels in the center.  Here are some sample plants.

The Bachelor's Button represents Mary's Crown

The Bleeding Heart represents Mary's Sorrowful Heart.

Imprints of the Crown Daisy are found on the Shroud of Turin, which indicates they were laid over Jesus shroud in his burial tomb.
Photo courtesy of seedsshop

For an expanded list of flower names and an explanation of what they represent, go to this link.

Here is an example of a complete (though ambitios) Mary Garden from the University of Dayton in Massachusetts.

If you have a green thumb, you may want to try your hand at growing your garden from scratch.  The seedsshop on Etsy has seeds that are chemical- and GMO-free, and until June 30th, there's a coupon code for free shipping on the site!  (No, I'm not related to the owners, nor have they stuffed my pockets with cash to mention their store.)

I'll be sure to post a picture of the finished product when I get mine done. Warning: I have a brown thumb, so it might take a while!

* And now a quick word on Christian meditation. You do NOT want to empty your mind of all thoughts. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you empty your mind out, something will be happy to fill it for you. Christian meditation fills the mind with God.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Trust Me. It's not me.

When God woke me up a few year ago and invited me back to the Catholic Church, I accepted.  Instead of sleep-walking through an awful childhood catechism, I delved into learning about the Faith, which includes a lot of face-time with Jesus.

Praying is a conversation, whether you're using traditional prayers to help you express your thoughts or  you're stumbling through your own verbiage to tell Jesus what's in your heart.

The most difficult and rewarding aspect of prayer is the part where you close your mouth and listen to what God has to say. Prayer takes effort--not the kind of effort it takes to scrub the ring from the bathtub, but the kind of effort that comes with any deliberate act.

I wasn't shy about my relationship with God. It wasn't bragging but an expression of joy.

And that's when the comments started.

They were meant with the best intentions...usually. Sarcasm raised it's head, but for the most part, relatives would congratulate me on my "pipeline to God." I even received credit for leading people back to Him.

It really irritated me. 

I'd remind the speaker that the Holy Spirit is solely responsible for the conversion of hearts, but that has the same ring as when the actor accepts his Oscar and says, "I really couldn't have done it without the crew," and then everyone thinks the actor is talented AND humble.

Getting credit for a relationship with God is kind of like getting credit for having a piece of delicious wedding cake at a reception.  It's not as if I baked the cake, and it's available to everyone. Some people discovered the cake table before I did, and some will discover it long after I've eaten my slice. I'm not a better person because I snagged my piece before you noticed that industrious volunteers and cut up the confection and set it out.

As wonderful and unique as I think I am, God calls each and every on of His children into relationship with Him. It's difficult to hear over the noise of this world, but if you listen, the most exciting invitation you'll ever receive has already been delivered. It patiently waits among the worrisome bills and exciting announcements and newsletters filled with family drama and gossip. All you need to do is open it.

The irritation comes because the speaker has the same opportunity for prayer that I have, and by congratulating me on my "special" ability--as if I had a secret decoder ring that allowed me to interpret executive communiques--it seems they are copping out on making their own efforts.

It like a dieter who ruefully comments on your delicious piece of wedding cake. "You go on and enjoy that. I'm just happy you're happy." Except there aren't any benefits to this type of abstinence.

So the next time you're tempted to congratulate someone on their prayer life, why not cultivate your own relationship with God instead? Direct messaging guarantees that nothing will get lost in the translation.

Give in to the craving, bypass the fear of calories, and take the first step in snagging your own piece of wedding cake. It's beyond anything you've ever tasted, and the satisfaction lasts forever.


Friday, June 14, 2013

My Dad, A Perfect Example of Stewardship

Mom and Dad in Alaska
Father's are indispensable, irreplaceable and the only ones who can do their job.  The "First Father" of the human variety would be St. Joseph. He rocked.

He faced off against government hit-squads that wanted to kill his son, he defended his wife's honor when God the Father chose her to carry the Savior before she was properly married, and to save them both, he took his family to a hostile land that wasn't too fond of Jews. It takes a real man to be a dad. Wimps need not apply. 

My own father has many great qualities.  He's kind. He's generous. He taught me many things, though I wish I had listened with greater attention when he used to work on his car in the garage. My fault. Not his. He taught me how to be present, but that's another one I have to work on daily. One of the most important gifts he gave me was his example of good stewardship.

When people think of stewardship, they usually equate it with either tithing (giving 10% to the Church, the poor, the needy) or the Parable of the Talents. The idea is the same: God gives us everything; Nothing is ours; We must make the most of what we have been given and offer it back to Him. That's the gist. 

God has been generous with my father, and I believe it's because he's done well with his gifts. His generosity extends beyond the monetary--though his interest-free loans to relatives and employees, the well-above-industry-standard wages he paid his employees when he ran his own business, and his donations to Catholic schools, the poor, and the Church are nothing to sneeze at.

My father takes everything, EVERYTHING the Lord gives him and makes use of it...and offers it back.

He has time, so he gives away generous portions to drive donations to a shockingly poor Indian school in another state, and he drove a bus for the disabled. (Until they eliminated volunteers from their program.)

He has health, so he cooks and delivers meals to an infirm couple when they're in need, and he has a regular exercise schedule of walks, weights, and stretches to care for his gift.

If he sees something broken, he fixes it, so everyone can use it. If he sees plants that need tending, he tends them, so everyone can enjoy their beauty. If someone needs help, he's right there, without any prideful quibbles about the work being "beneath him".

I'm miserly. I often think of reasons why I can't volunteer, why it's not worth my time to help, or why I shouldn't take advantage of that gift I've been given, usually because of fear, sloth, indifference, or a combination of all three.

My father is never indifferent. He has a gift for seeing the possibilities in the mundane.

I try to follow his example as I'm navigating my own life, but it's a work in progress.  I'm lucky to have a living reference when I need motivation, and I'm grateful God paired me up with my father.

There's so much more I can say, but I'll keep it simple.

Thanks, Dad. I love you.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why the Feast of Corpus Christi is So Cool (It Even Sounds Cool)

Imagine if you could see the physical presence of Jesus every day. I'm not talking about "seeing" God in the face of a newborn, though that is cool, too.  I'm talking about Jesus Himself, in physical form.

You can! And the Feast of Corpus Christi (The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) is all about celebrating His actual, physical body-blood-soul-and-divinity!

How do we know He is actually there in the consecrated host and wine at Mass? Because he said so.

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

John 6: 53-56

My flesh is true food.  Not a symbol. Not kinda sorta.  IS.  He was pretty clear.

Many of His disciples left Him because they couldn't get their minds around this fact. He let them leave.

Corpus Christi gives us another reminder to celebrate Jesus' gift of Himself.   It's my belief that one of the devil's greatest (but temporary) victories is convincing so many to dismiss the Body of Christ as mere bread and wine.  I'm not an apologist. I don't have that gift, but here is a link to Catholic Answers on the subject.

Treat yourself. Go to Mass today, and experience the thrill of experiencing Jesus in person!