Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

dwelling in tents

A great mentor of mine, Sr. Mary, once said to me “Three kinds of salt water can heal anything–the sea, sweat, and tears.”  I have certainly found this to be true and this weekend, the sea helped me find some healing in my life.

This weekend I had the great blessing of going on a retreat. It was perfect–a very low-key, restful weekend, and exactly what I needed.  The retreat center is a lovely place, Ender’s Island, a twelve acre oasis of serenity.  On Saturday we went to daily Mass as a group, and the first reading spoke loudly and clearly to me. It is a little long, but I’d like to replicate part of it here so you can read it, too:

Heb 11:1-2, 8-19

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and maker is God.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
and Sarah herself was sterile
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

All these died in faith.
They did not receive what had been promised
but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared a city for them.


I love the image of “dwelling in tents.” It seems to be the perfect image of how I have been feeling. Abraham had faith that God would lead him to found a great nation, but he spent much of his life wandering around, living in a tent, waiting to be brought to the land that had been promised.

Somewhat similarly, I feel as though I am “dwelling in a tent.” I have no real roots, I am wandering around, trying to follow God’s call, unsure as to where it will lead, all the time trying to believe it is leading me down the right path. I have many dreams–I want to have a successful career, to have a family, to travel–too many dreams to list them all here. But everything seems, to me, to be on hold because I am living in this tent, waiting for life to happen. Unfortunately, because of my refusal to be patient and let God be God, I have been feeling a deep sorrow, rather than embracing the joy that can come with change.

What I came to realize this weekend is that this proverbial tent-dwelling is ok. Ronald Rohlheiser would call this “carrying tension.” He writes in his book, Seeking Spirituality, that “the idea is that the Resurrection follows only after there has been an agony in the garden” (p. 211).

I am sure I will continue to add reflections about my experience this weekend, but for now, suffice it to say that I am learning to carry tension, and to do so with joy, not sorrow. Here’s to waiting for the Resurrection, and to moving out of this tent.

help me believe

A dear friend and mentor from Boston College gave me a beautiful painting as a graduation present a few years ago. The painting is called “The Annunciation” by Henry O. Tanner.

I have had this painting hanging in my room since I began graduate school. I love this painting, and, like many great works of art, it means something different to me all the time. Sometimes I relate easily to its message, other times I don’t know what its message is.

The Annunciation is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.  I love that Mary said yes to God, even though she had absolutely no idea what exactly she was saying yes to. She was young, unmarried, and filled with God’s grace. And she said yes.

I love this painting for many reasons, but lately, I have found this painting very inspirational and comforting. I love the way Mary is looking timidly into this bright light–I love that we can’t see what exactly the light is, or where the light is coming from. Nevertheless, she is looking intently at the light, in such a humble fashion. “Me? Are you looking at me?”

I am currently filled with an indescribable, overwhelming feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. I have no idea what is happening in my life, I have no control over anything, and I am not even sure what I want. I feel a little bit like I am staring into this light, into this unknown space, and asking not only “Are you looking at me?” but “What exactly would you like me to do?” and “Do I have the strength to do this?”

I pray that I can, like Mary, find somewhere the strength to say yes to God’s will in my life, even though I have no idea what that means, or what it looks like. Here’s to trying.


Over Christmas break, my Mom and I spent countless hours puzzle-ing…on a complete whim, I picked up a lovely Thomas Kinkade puzzle, and Mom agreed to work on it with me.

It has been years since we’ve worked on a puzzle together…and, in my naivete, I picked out a most complicated puzzle! Each of the 1000 tiny pieces seemed to look the same, as they were all part of a mostly landscaped scene. Not to be discouraged, Mom and I began work on Christmas morning. We started to joke about how addicting the puzzle was! When each of us would walk by, we couldn’t resist pausing for just a moment–just a moment–to see if we could find one more piece. We were hooked!

What I didn’t know was how much I would cherish this time with my mother, and how much I would learn, both from her and from the puzzle-ing process.  The holidays can be such a busy time, and working on our puzzle together gave me and my Mom time to catch up on some much needed quality time. It truly was a treasure.

My mother is one of those truly wise people who sees lessons–especially spiritual ones–in everyday tasks. Ask her about gardening and you will know exactly what I am talking about. And sure enough, as we worked on the puzzle together, we marveled over all the little lessons the process contains.

It always helps to start a puzzle by filling out the boundaries–connecting all the border pieces is usually the easiest part, because you can at least recognize the pieces you need by their flat side. I had likened this idea to the easy decisions in life–things that you recognize right away because they are so straightforward.

As we began to fill in the middle of the puzzle, we each took a small section to work on–I worked on the river, Mom had the sky. So we traded pieces back and forth for awhile, and then after a point, neither of us would be able to find the pieces we’d needed! So we’d rotate the puzzle around, to gain a new perspective, and suddenly everything became clear again and we were back on a roll. Funny, sometimes all you need is a change in perspective.

The best lesson I learned, however, was when we found that last piece. I remembered looking at this mess of puzzle pieces–trying in vain to sort them out, piece through them, find some order. I remembered exclaiming to my mother, “These will never fit together!”  Oh, what a great reminder of God’s majesty and wonder. This year in particular, I am in a stage of my life where I have literally no idea how things will turn out–every area of my life is up in the air. That’s why we ourselves are not the “Master Builders” of our existence. Let the Master Builder do his work, and be patient with yourself.


It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

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