Category Archives: Faith Journey

Spiritual lessons

Give us joy

Give us joy to balance our affliction, for the years when we knew misfortune. Psalm 90:15

A few months ago, I was talking with a man who had lived a charmed life. He had grown up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for him and desired the best for him. He had a wonderful education and excelled in his career. He had good friends, got married, had children, travelled and basically did all the things he wanted to do. Everything was going so well—until he was diagnosed with an illness that ended his career and eventually his marriage. As the disease progressed, he became more physically incapacitated and had to hire aides to help him at home.

He told me about one of his aides, a woman whose life had the opposite trajectory from his. Her early life was full of affliction and misfortune. She had grown up in a home without love where she was abused in every way imaginable. She lacked education and family support. Eventually, she ended up in prison. After leaving prison, she entered a treatment program that enabled her to turn her life around and move in a different direction. Now she supports herself by taking care of vulnerable people. She has found love and is engaged to be married.

This man, with his Job-like challenges, has a wonderful attitude and outlook on life. When his career ended, he went back to school so he could begin a second career, one that was not dependent on his physical abilities. His body is failing, but his mind is still thriving.

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As he and I talked, I thought about how some of us know affliction and misfortune early in life, while others face them later.

This man told me he and his aide talk about how their lives have intersected because of his illness, how they would never have gotten to know one another in the way they do if he had not become sick. He believes that her story is the more amazing because she has overcome so much; he is in awe of her.

I stand in awe of both of them. He, for his positive attitude in the face of a debilitating disease; she, for her determination to overcome her past and create a new life for herself.

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Not anywhere as extreme as his aide’s, but my early life was marked by chaos and trauma. I was a shy child and very anxious. School was a nightmare to me socially, although I loved learning, and being in school felt safe. My unresolved childhood trauma made me vulnerable to abuse as a young adult.

Like his aide, I finally feel I have come into my own. I am confident in what I learned from my career, pursuing things that interest me, comfortable in my own skin and living in joy.

How about you? Did you know misfortune early in life or later? Do you know joy now which balances out past afflictions?

God-joy-vulnerability

My mother’s secret revealed

I got married when I was eighteen and moved to Virginia because my husband had two years left in the Navy. He was at sea more than he was home, so it was a mystery why I could not live with my family. But he wanted me in Virginia, so I obeyed.

Another Navy wife befriended me and helped me acclimate. I joined a church and got a job.

My father had been against my getting married and had predicted troubles; his predictions came true.

After two years, I saw clearly what my life would be if I stayed married, and I told my husband I wanted a divorce.

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He was shocked because I never stood up for myself. I had been timid, fearful and compliant.

After he left, I started thinking about moving home.

Then my father called and told me I was not welcome at home. He was angry with me.

Now it was my turn to be shocked because I did not understand his anger. I could not argue with him, though, because what he said was true—I had only been married two years, and I was the one who asked for the divorce.

My dad, with his dry sense of humor, claimed he had bought a billboard on I-94 that said, “I am still paying for the god damn wedding, and she is already divorced.” He told me I had made my bed, so….

There I was, stuck in Virginia with no family support. I felt I was being punished for breaking the rules.

I didn’t go home that Thanksgiving or Christmas, and by the new year, I was in a deep depression.

In February, my older brother cleared the way for me to come home for a weekend, and I jumped at the chance.

Frosty is how I described my dad toward me. He allowed me to enter his house, but he was unhappy about it. I was mystified by his anger. I knew he was disappointed about my not staying married, but this seemed so extreme.

When I got on the plane to fly back to Virginia, I was even deeper in despair. I remember thinking, “I hope my seatmate does not ask me who I am because I don’t even know my name anymore.” Then I started to cry.

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Fifty years later and just days before my mother died, she told me that after he left Virginia, my ex-husband had come to talk to my dad. She did not know what was said, but I could imagine because I knew that my ex-husband had dished dirt about me to our friends.

Suddenly, my dad’s anger from fifty years ago made sense. He had believed whatever lies my ex had told him; he had thought the worst about me.

I was furious because I knew that my ex had not told him the whole story, he had blamed me and not admitted his part in the breakdown of our marriage.

I realized I had been keeping a secret, too—the secret of what my husband had done to me.

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Shh, it’s a secret

Just days before my mother died last year, she revealed a secret to me, a secret she had kept for almost fifty years, a secret that flipped a light switch in my brain. Suddenly, I could look at events from fifty years ago and see them in a different light.

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The clarity was almost blinding, and I wanted to explore the implications of what I had learned, but my mother was dying, and I needed to pay attention to what was happening right in front of me instead of examining events from the past. So, I tucked her secret away.

And then one day last fall, her secret came rushing back to me like a tidal wave.

I was overwhelmed with a truth I had never even considered, a truth that explained my father’s attitude toward me after I got divorced. I realized that my life could have gone in an entirely different direction had I known then what my mother had revealed before her death.

I was hurt and angry.

Moreover, my mother’s secret dislodged a secret that I had been keeping for more than fifty years, a secret I was not consciously aware I was keeping.

Suddenly, disparate pieces of my early twenties fell into place like cogs on a gear. I had great clarity about my early life and things that had happened to me that had shaped the rest of my life.

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At family gatherings, my younger brother liked to point to my mother and then to me and say, “Tree, apple.”

My mother was great at denial and at keeping secrets. She denied anything bad that happened to her and would not risk disclosing an unattractive (or downright ugly) truth about someone, in case it might be embarrassing (or possibly illegal). She protected people who were not worthy of protection, and she taught me to do the same.

Like my mother, I am a great secret keeper, a steel trap for people’s confidences, and I have held sacred the secrets people have shared with me over the years.

What I know about secrets, though, is that the shame attached to them can turn something innocent into something sinister, and I know how shame can paralyze.  

A few years ago, when I finally said the name of the man who raped me, I realized I had been protecting him by not saying his name; I was keeping it secret.

Saying his name—revealing the secret—broke the power of shame over me.

Back to the tree…apple scenario.

I have spent my adult life trying to unlearn my mother’s lessons, trying to be more honest and forthcoming. I have gone to ACOA meetings and worked the steps. I know that we are only as sick as our secrets, and I have tried to live transparently, without secrets.

And yet now I am faced with two new secrets from my past.

But those events are no longer buried, and I have begun talking about what happened to me.

What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  

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I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.

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These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.

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What the future will bring

I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.

For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.

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Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.

Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).

I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.

By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.

But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.

Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”

Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:

Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and

Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….

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Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?

Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?

Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?

A poem on retreat

One of the requirements of the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality is a silent retreat (at least five days). I have gone on silent retreats for more than thirty years, but several of the people in the program had not. Last year, one of them, Amy, happened to sign up for retreat the same time as I was going to be there, so I offered to meet her before we entered the silence and give her an orientation to the retreat house, the grounds and the neighborhood (for walks). Amy returned to Manresa Retreat House for retreat this year and sent me this poem she composed while on retreat, which she dedicated to me. I am so touched and honored.

Summer Solstice Psalm

For Madeline who introduced me to Quarton Lake

All creatures of our God and King,

Lift up your voice and with us sing.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

 (William Henry Draper with inspiration from St Francis)

May you open your self to the light like the lily that blooms in muddy water.

(a gem from my yogi friend, Sharon)

Light beams.

Geese swim.

Robins sing.

Fish flop.

Wood ducks lift

and land

and flap.

Herons stalk

and jab

and fly

with wide wings

oh so low.

Cottonwood fibers sail past on the breeze.

Metallic blue fireflies mate in midair.

A painted turtle soaks up the sun.

Walkers chat on a gravel path and side step               the geese.

In the surrounding neighborhood,

homeowners weed

landscapers mow

and earth movers dig.

Drills whirl.

Saws spin.

Roofers pound.

Huge houses emerge.

Down at the water’s edge, a pilgrim rests.

She spies a tiny black insect on a white petal.

Consider this lily

that bobs on the water

with the deep joy

that nudges our hips to sway

when we hum spirituals.

Amy Fryar Kennedy

June 21, 2022

Art outside museums

Throughout my travels in France, I visited several art museums, and I also noticed art in some unexpected places. The main street in Barbizon, for example, featured mosaic reproductions of works by artists who lived and woked in Barbizon in the 19th century.

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Barbizon-Art-France

Barbizon-Art-France

Honfleur sits along the northern end of the Seine River and this outdoor wall art is representative of the nautical feel of the town.

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In Angers, this artistic garden in what had been the moat around the castle drew my attention.

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This mural in Lyon covered an entire building.

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I was in Lyon during Holy Week and came upon these Stations of the Cross. The juxtaposition of this modern interpretation of the Passion of Jesus on the ancient pillars was striking.

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Lyon-France-travel

Lyon-France-travel

In a holy place

When I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral at Bayeux, France, two things happened.

First, I had a felt sense of the prayers that had been offered there over the years (the Cathedral was built in the 11th century), as if I was part of the communion of saints—I was joining my prayers to all the people who had prayed in this space over the centuries. Their prayers hung in the air, filling the vast space; I could almost hear their shouts of gratitude and cries of anguish. I walked into that communion of saints, and I prayed in gratitude for the opportunity to be there, to be part of this community of faith.

I was reminded of the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and imagined a parade of people from the past, heads bowed in prayer.

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One of the Communion of Saints tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California
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Tapestries line the interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

(The Cathedral at Bayeux also has a tapestry, which depicts the adventures of William the Conqueror in 1066 and is now housed in a museum near the Cathedral.)

The second thing that happened when I walked into the Cathedral was a memory of a mystical vision I had almost forty years ago.

In the vision, I was in an old church like this one (I had been in Spain a few years earlier and had visited several churches like the one in Bayeux—stone walls, floors and pillars and no permanent pews or fabric to soften the church interior).

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Interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, Bayeux, France

When I had the vision, though, I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish in Pennsylvania.

In the vision, I saw myself lying prostrate on the floor of a medieval cathedral. I could feel how hard the stone was against my body and how cold it felt against my arms. Then, the floor began to shift and rise up, becoming a hand that was lifting me up, and I knew it was the hand of God. God said to me, “I will hold you.”

It was soon after that vision that I moved to a l’Arche community, and I thought of that vision many times during my time in l’Arche and how God held me.

Today is the feast of St. Norbert, an 11th century French priest who was known for his deep faith. The writing in the Liturgy of the Hours, says, “He spent many hours in contemplation of the divine mysteries and fearlessly spread the spiritual insights which were the fruit of his meditation.”

I wondered about the spiritual insights of my meditation, and then I remembered my vision. God will hold me.

God did hold me during my time in l’Arche, and I came away from that experience with a deep awareness of God’s care for me. Living in l’Arche was the most challenging thing I had ever done and also the most fruitful—I learned so much about myself.

The vision was a gift, a promise from God that I would be held. Almost forty years later, the vision still consoles me.

Noticing light

One of the first things I noticed in Fontainebleau were the light fixtures and the decorataive ironwork on many of them. I wondered if people differentiated their homes from their neighbors by the artwork on their outside lights.

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The light at the entrance gate of Chateau Fontainebleau (the gold on the gate reminded me of the garden gates at Powerscourt in Ireland)
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Light fixture at Chateau Fontainebleau

As we walked the streets of Fontainebleau, and really throughout my time in France, I noticed the light fixtures and thought about light.

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Ornate light in Barbizon

We are so accustomed to flipping a switch and, voila, light. But before electricity, when many of the buildings I was passing were built, there was no electricity. I pondered light and darkness.

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Light in Honfleur (also, notice the heart shape in the brickwork)
Light in Honfleur

On that first day in Fontainebleau, as light fixtures caught my eye, two friends came to mind, two women who are facing health challenges, and I wondered how I might bring some light to their lives.

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Light over the pedestrian bridge in Carcassone.

One great thing about touring in France is that there are churches everywhere, so I began in Fontainebleau, and continued throughout my trip, visiting local churches and praying for people who need light (I included myself in that group). I lit candles and joined my prayers to those of all the people who had prayed in these churches over the centuries; I felt I was a part of the communion of saints.

My self-care plan

In January 2021, after a couple of years of increasingly serious health challenges, my mom went on hospice. She was ninety-four years old, her heart was getting weaker and she had other health issues. I was still working, and I spent much of my after-work time at my mom’s. I was already a bit worn out, and I knew the most challenging times were ahead.

I worked at a cancer support center and continually encouraged people to take care of themselves, especially those in the care-giver role. I decided to take my own advice.

One self-care plan for me is to have something to look forward to, something exciting to plan for and anticipate.

Several years earlier, I had been to Paris, and I wanted to see more of France, but I don’t speak French, so I booked a land tour of France with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) for March 2022. It was more than a year away, and I bought insurance so I could postpone if need be, but once it was booked, the trip dangled in front of me like a sparking gem.

I began to read books set in France, particularly books related to World War II and the actions of the French government and the resistance movement. I love history and especially enjoy reading historical fiction.

My mom’s care became more consuming as the weeks and months went on, and my dream of traveling in France helped sustain me.

My mom died in June, and grief replaced dreaming; France settled somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

And then one day last November, I remembered my trip to France. I called OAT and asked where I was in the process. Yes, I had booked the trip; I still needed to do some administrative tasks and book my flights. Once those were completed, I began again to dream of France.

Since I was going to Europe, I decided to add a week at the beginning of my trip to visit friends in Ireland. It was great to see them again after five years, and we had a wonderful time. Then I was on to France.

On the way from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Fontainebleau (the first stop on my tour) I noticed trees along the highway which had things that seemed to be huge nests in them. I asked the tour guide, and he said they were mistletoe.

He explained that mistletoe is a parasite and if left untreated, it kills the trees.

I had never given any thought to where mistletoe grows or that it might be harmful. This is going to be an adventure of learning, I thought—beyond my expectations or hopes or dreams.

Sure enough, there were surprises almost every day. We traveled for three weeks, from Fontainebleau to Normandy in the north, south to Carcassonne, and north to Paris—the mistletoe in the trees along the highways serving as a reminder to let go of my expectations and be open.