Tag Archives: Lectio Divina

Works of mercy

The Little Black Book, a collection of daily reflections for Lent, recently focused on almsgiving.

“Almsgiving results from feelings of pity and compassion for someone in need. It’s often associated with giving money to the poor but almsgiving includes all of the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, burying the dead.”

Visiting the imprisoned jumped off the page.


Next week will be the tenth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death. After his death, a woman at church told me how grateful she was that Jim had visited her son in prison. I remembered that visit because I had gone with Jim. She asked why, and I explained that Jim had never visited anyone in prison before, so he asked me to go with him because he knew I had. She asked if I was a probation officer or social worker and I said “no.” Then why I had visited someone in prison? “It is in the Bible,” I said. She looked confused, so I quoted from Matthew 25. She still looked confused, so I tried a different approach.

I asked if she had visited her son in prison, and she said she had. I then asked if she would visit someone else in prison, now that she could see from her son’s experience what it was like to be locked up. She became defensive and explained that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started, but I stopped her. “Your son broke the law and got caught, right?” “Yes, but…” she started, and again I stopped her and pointed out he is just like the other people in prison who broke the law and got caught.

Why, I wondered, can it be so difficult to see ourselves and those we love honestly?

To be fair, I understand that this woman wanted to put this episode in her son’s life behind her, but I wondered how she could do that without accepting the truth of her son’s situation.

A few years later, I met a woman who told me her son was at “boot camp.” I asked which branch of the service, and she said it was a different kind of boot camp. “Some people say he is in prison, but he is not in prison” she said.

I recently read an article by a man on death row, reflecting on how he and others on death row were consoled by a priest who has cared for them and helped them grow spiritually. I am doing an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and pondering how I might use what I am learning. The article prompted the thought that maybe I could offer a listening ear to someone who is in prison.

Reflecting on the article, people I have visited in prison and these two mothers made me wonder if I am being invited to this work of mercy.

Wordcloud for “When did you see me?”

Called by name

Jesus calls the twelve (Mark 3:13-19), and he gives three of them nicknames: Simon, he calls Peter (the Rock), and James and John, the sons of Boanerges (thunder). How playful, I thought, and how descriptive. What did he see in them that prompted those nicknames?

I imagine Jesus saw something in Peter that seemed steadfast and unmovable (like a rock), but Peter faltered on more than one occasion. He had flimsy filters and blurted out things that caused Jesus to say, “Get behind me, Satan” and call him a “stumbling block” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch.

In the end, Peter denied knowing Jesus and fled the scene as Jesus died. Not very steadfast.

James and John must have been wild and high-spirited or just plain loud to be called “sons of thunder.” I wonder if their chests expanded when Jesus nicknamed them—proud to be seen as raucous—or if there was an edge to the nickname, a hint they may need to tone it down. That is the thing about nicknames—they can be taken in different ways.

What nickname would Jesus have given me, I wondered.

Fr. Shawn Tracey, O.S.A., once introduced me for a retreat talk, comparing me to the dark clouds swirling around the October sky. Just as he made this comparison, the sun shone through, and he added this to his description—how I could light up a room.


Fr. Tracey knew me well. He knew my dark moods and my stubbornness. He also knew my passion, my love of laughter and my desire to grow.

Would Jesus also consider those characteristics in coming up with a nickname for me?

As I prayed with this reading, wondering what nickname Jesus would have given me, I remembered the Baptism ceremony and how parents are asked, “What name do you give this child?”

My mother had chosen Marlene for her first-born daughter, but my aunt beat her to it and so I became Madeline (Magdalena in Polish), and I have always felt connected to Mary Magdalene (my confirmation name is Mary). She has inspired me by her love of Jesus and her dedication to him. I wonder if Jesus had a nickname for her.

Growing up, I was sometimes called Magda by family, and in my twenties, I was known by a shortened version of my name—Mad. I used to wonder if that was a nickname or just a descriptor, because I was quite angry in my twenties. At some point, though, people started calling me Madeline, and I remember thinking I must not be so mad anymore.

A few people called me Boss, when I was their boss, but I have never had a nickname the way Simon, James and John did, something they were always called.

I think Jesus could have called me Rocky or Thunder, because I am loyal/steadfast and can be quite loud, but might something else also work?

Do you have a nickname? Have you ever wondered what nickname Jesus would give you?

Noticing the holy in ordinary lives


The words of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) have been catching my attention recently. He reminds me to dwell in the present and pay attention to what is going on in my everyday life, because that is where the sacred is waiting to be noticed.

In praying with Scripture using Lectio Divina one of the main ideas is to notice what word or phrase catches my attention—the idea being that that particular word or phrase is what God is speaking to me in that moment—and then repeating that word or phrase. By sticking with one word or phrase, I can allow it to sink in and glean deeper meaning. The Bible is so big, yet Lectio Divina focuses on the smallest part—just one word or phrase.

Ordinary life is like that, I think. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that brings the greatest joy—a kindness, hug, generous gesture.

I attended a memorial service this week for a woman from work who died in the spring. She was also a Zumba instructor at a community center, and her loyal followers wanted to honor her life by planting a tree and placing a bench in the park where she taught. One by one, people stood and paid tribute to this woman who had touched their lives by her upbeat personality, zest for living and generous nature.

Shonece had a beautiful smile and an easy laugh. It was not that her life had been easy or without suffering—she was a three-time cancer survivor, and during the first year of the pandemic, five people in her family died. She faced her loses and still chose to be upbeat and optimistic.

Tear flowed easily at this service—so great was the loss. And through tears, people recalled the simple acts of kindness Shonece had done for them. They talked about how her smile welcomed them when they came to Zumba and her spirit encouraged them. They shared stories of meals she delivered when they had family crises and all the simple acts she did to show her support for them.

I walked away thinking of another quote of Abraham Joshua Heschel.


Perhaps one of the luxuries of not working and having fewer responsibilities is that I have more time, space and energy to notice something and then ponder it. What I am noticing is that the holy dwells in the ordinary, just waiting to be seen and celebrated.

On retreat–I had hoped

On the sixth day of my retreat, my spiritual director suggested I pray with Luke 24:13-35, the Road to Emmaus. The story is that two disciples are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They are sad and disappointed.

Then Jesus is walking along with them, but they don’t recognize him. He asks what they are talking about, and they relate what has happened in Jerusalem and what happened to Jesus. “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21) they said.

Those three words jumped off the page at me, and I repeated them a few times. “We had hoped.” Then I personalized it to, “I had hoped.”

What had I hoped?

I had hoped…

  • To be loved, cherished, valued and respected;
  • To stop the negative messages in my head;
  • To go to college after high school;
  • To visit Poland again;
  • To live in l’Arche for the rest of my life;
  • To reconcile with a friend from Winnipeg, and on and on.

It turns out I had a fair number of dashed hopes. Like the disciples who were feeling let down, I also had hoped and been disappointed.

After a few hours of creating a list of my unfulfilled hopes, I went back to my Bible and finished reading the Road to Emmaus story in Luke.

Jesus says to these two disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow to believe…” and then he explains what happened to him from a different perspective; he reframed the situation.

What Jesus says to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that their hopes and their vision were too narrow, too small. The resurrection was bigger than anything they could have imagined or hoped.

Jesus says the same thing to me, too—my vision is to narrow, my hopes are too small, and what I need to do is broaden my vision, to get a different perspective. I need to think big thoughts, to focus on God’s abundance and to remember all the good things that have happened to me.

I thought back to the litany of blessings I had done a few days earlier and how I call myself “the luckiest girl in the world.” It is true that I have had unrealized hopes and dreams; it is also true that I have had opportunities beyond my wildest hopes or dreams.

God’s vision for me is much bigger than I could ever hope or imagine.


I recently did a “the first four words you see will be your words for 2021” game on Facebook. My words were connection, self-care, money and breakthrough. Self-care is the one that resonated most strongly with me, because it is an area that challenges me.


The other three, though, who knows what they might mean?

Then this week in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, I had a breakthrough.

We are doing a mini-course on Jesus and because of the pandemic, the presentations have been videotaped and we are watching them on our own. The first session was an overview of the Bible.

The priest who did the presentation shared that his favorite Bible is the Harper Collins Study Bible, which was a new one to me, and I made a note to check it out. The session ended with a Lectio Divina prayer time using Isaiah 40:1-2: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and…

This reading is very familiar to me, and my mind started filling in the next words. But this was a different translation, one I had never heard before, and after those first few words, I had to stop the video and go back to listen to what was being read, rather than listening to the words in my head. This translation read:

…cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins….

I actually laughed out loud because I almost missed this message by filling in what was familiar.


Plus, these words are similar to what friends have been telling me for years, things like, you have done more than your share and you have atoned.

I stopped the video to spend more time listening to God telling me that I can let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and to thank God for all I have received.

I am a loved sinner, I reminded myself.

Then I personalized the words:

I have served my term. My penalty is paid. I have received double from the Lord’s hands for all my sins.

On Wednesday of this week, I had cataract surgery, and the pre-op nurse and I chatted as she administered a series of eye drops. Her husband is from Italy, which led to us talking about our trips to Italy and my plans to return next year. She asked where I worked and when I said Gilda’s Club, she placed her hand on my hand and said, “Thank you for your work.” I could tell she knew the importance of support on the cancer journey.

I entered the operating room feeling blessed by my life. I have been fortunate to have meaningful work that touches the lives of vulnerable people, to have dear friends who love and support me, and adventures that broaden my life. I have received double and even triple blessings from God.

Now onto connection and money.

The benefits of journaling


Every morning, I spend at least a half hour writing in my journal. I begin with recording any dreams I can recall, noting as many details as I can and then titling the dream and identifying where I felt the strongest emotion.

I used to belong to a dream group that met monthly. We shared our dreams as a way of gaining insights into our relationships with God. In the Bible, God is said to have spoken to many people through dreams, and I believe God still speaks to us via this channel. Recoding my dreams and letting any images, thoughts or memories bubble up is another way of discerning God’s movement in my life.

After recording any dreams I remember, I move on to reviewing the previous day and noting anything of significance (plus some seemingly mundane things). I title this section, Blessings of the Day, and it is a way to pay attention to the people and events of my life and to look at my reactions to those people and events.

The blessings include encounters with family, friends and strangers and the day’s activities. For example, yesterday, I went out to breakfast with a couple from work. Not only did I interact with them, but I also spoke with the server. That day also included my book group and a visit with a friend.

I jot down anything that caught my attention—anything someone said or did that resonated with me—and I note people who come to mind.

After reviewing the previous day, I write God—just that one word. I recall when I spoke God’s name, when I expressed gratitude or when I asked for help. I think of when I felt God inviting me to be more open or to let go. I note any words, images or experience that gave me pause, that invited me into deeper reflection.

Then, I turn to scripture and spend some time in reading, reflecting, praying and more writing.

Journaling helps me to be more aware of all the good in my life, and that awareness leads to deeper gratitude. It also helps me see where I am being called to grow—where I am challenged and invited to stretch beyond what I currently see and believe.


I love words, so writing in a journal works for me. But there are other ways to record your blessings and challenges—drawing, painting, creating collages or other means of creativity that help to imprint the activities of the day or week.

I have read about the health benefits of journaling; what I know in my own life is that by the time my mother was my age, she was on multiple blood pressure medicines, but I take no prescription medicines. My PCP calls me her patient she does not worry about because my vitals are so good. I credit journaling with making the difference.

Do you journal? Or somehow record the events of your life? How does journaling help you?


What stirs your spirit?

What stirs your spirit?

A sunrise or sunset?

The gentle lapping of waves?

A walk in the woods?

Art or dance or theater?

Giving a gift or receiving one?

Being present to someone in need?

What stirs your spirit?

In the silence of meditation, God speaks.

Inviting me to be open,

To be ready to let the breath of the Spirit softly brush against my soul,

Reminding me I am called to love.


Seek light

One of the gifts of retreat is that in the slowing down and stepping away from daily life and routines, it is easier to pay attention to what God is stirring up inside me, to notice what I notice and to take time to reflect on what I notice. It is the practice of mindfulness, and quiet days of retreat offer ample time to pay attention to God.

Coming back from retreat and stepping back into life challenges me to find ways to slow down during the day and continue to notice what is catching my attention.

I once heard someone explaining Lectio Divina using the image of the sun shimmering on the ocean—the way that glistening is difficult to miss and can be mesmerizing.Lent-God-spiritualityWatching the sun rise over water is an image that returns to me repeatedly. I don’t take many pictures, but whenever I am blessed to see the sun rising over water, out comes my camera. Perhaps because it is such a concrete example of light breaking through the darkness.

Praying with Isaiah 58:1-9 the other day, the phrase, then your light shall break forth like the dawn, brought to mind many times I have watched the sun rise over a wide expanse of water.

Every sunrise is different, depending on the clouds, but every sunrise speaks to me of potential and blessing. Every morning brings a chance to try again, to start over. Watching the darkness recede and the sky fill with light reminds me of that gift of hope that God gives me again and again.

If yesterday wasn’t the best day, if I was judgmental or critical or impatient, God gives me another chance today to do things differently, to try another way.Lent-God-spiritualityTell people there’s another way, was something my friend Jim instructed me during the weeks before he died. The other way he was referring to was one of trust and hope, rather than fear and despair. His other way meant living fully and thanking God for everything. In the face of the death, he believed in life.

Words and images from that time of Jim’s illness and death are coming back to me this Lent. I am doing something new, (Isaiah 43:19) God is telling me again this Lent. What that is, I have yet to discover. I just need to pay attention, stay open, look toward the light and be ready to say yes.Lent-God-spirituality

Pins in my journal

Seeking a new knitting pattern, my sister suggested I look on Pinterest. I had signed up for Pinterest several years ago, but found the site overwhelming. Things seem to appear and then disappear for no discernable reason. It was beyond me.

“You have to create boards and then pin things you like on the boards,” my sister counseled. “Otherwise, you may never find them again,” she added. That had certainly been my experience.

So I created a board (called “Knitting”) and began pinning patterns I liked.

Once demystified, I can now visit Pinterest with confidence. The secret is to recognize when something catches my attention—even briefly—and “pin” it to a board.

This method of adding things of interest to Pinterest boards reminds me of praying lectio divina—that prayer method that invites me to notice the words or phrases in Scripture that catch my attention and then to spend some time in prayer with the images and ideas generated by those words. My journal is where I “pin” my Scripture ideas.

I write in my journal every morning, reviewing the previous day and recording thoughts and actions. I also record night dreams and day dreams, and I write whatever catches my attention during my morning prayer. At the beginning of the year, I write plans and goals for the year, and at the end of the year, I re-read my journals from that year. Before meeting with my spiritual director each month, I read what I have written since my last meeting with her.

I interact with my journal frequently. It is much more low-tech than Pinterest, but it is the system that works for me.

It would be easy for me to get hooked on Pinterest. Each click leads to something else of interest and is an invitation to keep exploring and collecting pins.

I think Scripture is like that, too. Each reading invites me to go deeper and collect bits of insight and wisdom. Each reading leads me to a deeper understanding of how to be more loving and forgiving. Spending time in prayer reminds me of God’s love and offers direction for my life.

Yesterday, before I met with my spiritual director, I reviewed my journal for the last month, and noticed a theme of growth. The words of Scripture that caught my attention had to do with watered gardens and gurgling springs (Isaiah 58:11) and cultivating the ground (Luke 13:8). On several occasions, I had written about moving beyond shoulds and oughts and being the person God created me to me—no matter how outrageous she may be.

The words of Scripture encourage me to keep growing, and give me hope that God does really call me His “delight” (Isaiah 62:4). I want to be that person—God’s delight—and keep “pinning” God’s promises in my journal and on my heart.

Promptings, part two

The novice approached the Novice Mistress and asked, “May I knit while I pray?”

“No,” the Novice Mistress answered. “You must pray when you pray.”

A while later, the novice again approached the Novice Mistress. “May I pray while I knit?”

“Of course,” the Novice Mistress replied. “You must pray always.”

Lectio Divina is an ancient prayer method which is part of my Parish Lenten program this year and is a method of prayer I have used for many years. I don’t remember exactly when I learned it, maybe thirty years ago, but it suits me.

I think of Lectio Divina as a combination of time spent in silence, meditating on the Word of God, and of time spent in daily life, still meditating on the Word of God. Whatever word God speaks to me during my morning prayer, I take with me throughout the day. The practice of repeating a word or phrase from Scripture keeps me in conversation with God as I go about my life.

Being familiar with Lectio Divina, I offered to lead the prayer times during our Parish Lenten program. Stepping up like this is just the kind of thing I have usually resisted. Fear has prevented me from offering. I am the person who does not ask questions during Q&A sessions or contribute much to group discussions. I fear saying the wrong thing and looking foolish. Fear is a powerful paralyzer.

But my Lenten plans included identifying my fears and bringing them to God for healing. Setting this as my intention has kept it on my mind and in my prayer. And seeing the opportunity to share something I know and love (Lectio Divina) seemed like an invitation from God to face my fears.

We are praying with the Scriptures of the coming Sunday; this week, we prayed with Romans 5:1-2, 5-8. “Poured out” was the phrase that caught my attention. Poured out, I repeated to myself.

A memory from work popped into my mind.

The previous day, I had facilitated the women’s cancer support group. By the end of the group session, I felt poured out—so much sharing, so many emotions.

I continued pondering what had happened during that session, and I realized it was not me who had been poured out. I was merely a spectator while others shared their fears and hopes.

I have been poured out in the past, living in that liminal space where I am aware of my vulnerability and know my total dependence on God. Being poured out is immediate and visceral.

At prayer the next morning, the phrase at a distance caught my attention in two separate places—Peter following after Jesus’ arrest and the Israelites when Moses climbed Mount Sinai. They were afraid, and they kept their distance.

These two phrases stand in contrast—poured out and at a distance.

My prayer is to grow in trust so that my fears diminish and I can again be poured out.