Becoming "Bluetooth Christians"
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
Last week in Sacred Touchstones, we shared "What would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?" along with Pope Francis’ March 5, 2017 Angelus where he reflected on the same thing.
This week I would like for us to contemplate becoming “Bluetooth Christians” by connecting wirelessly and hands-free to God all day, every day. “Bluetooth Christians” is a term used by dr. timone davis* in a reflection on the Gospel readings from Sunday, September 4. *(“dr. davis uses lowercase letters in the spelling of her name to indicate her willingness to embody the creedal assertion in John 3:30 in her everyday living”).
dr. davis is a cradle Catholic who formerly served in the Reclaiming Christ in Life Young Adult Ministry with the Archdiocese of Chicago. She is currently an assistant professor at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago where I am working on my Master of Divinity degree.
Scroll down to watch dr. davis’ video. The text of her message is available here.
I hope you find some inspiration in “Bluetooth Christianity.”
Vivaldi Audio Divina
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
Monasteries of the Heart, a “web-based movement” of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, recently shared “Lectio with Music” featuring Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Summer.
As we near summer’s end, take 10 minutes to listen and watch this video. What stirs in your heart as you listen?
To read more about this Audio Divina, including additional questions for reflections, click here.
Love and blessings,
Tammy Townsend Denny
This week during a phone call with my brother Bob we swapped stories of the challenges in our lives. He is dealing with some family issues and I’m dealing with my husband’s recent hospitalization due to Covid (he is home and better now).
“Just when I think things are calming down, something else pops up,” Bob said. Retired after a 45-year career as a small business owner, he is now actively being grandpa to his three grandchildren.
“I hear that’s life,” I said. “I keep wanting it to smooth out but I don’t think it works that way.”
“Life is difficult,” he said, quoting the first line from M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled, a book that both he and I read in the early 1990s. Huge fans of Peck’s work at the time, we even attended one of Peck’s lectures together where the evening ended with the entire audience singing “Que Sera Sera.” While I don’t recall the specifics of that lecture nearly 30 years ago, I do remember the feeling I had at the end of the night: hope.
That message of hope keeps popping up for me this week.
There was the email I received from former TI executive director Vicki Schmidt on Monday with a link to author Kathryn Spink’s article “Where is hope?.
There was the Facebook post from author Parker Palmer reminding me to “keep hope alive” as he shared Mary Oliver’s poem “Mindful.”
And, there was the phone call with my brother.
As we wrapped up our conversation, Bob asked, “Do you have time for one more story?” This one involved his two-year-old granddaughter.
Earlier in the week, his granddaughter came running out of their bedroom with a pair of her grandmother’s underwear in hand which she proceeded to fling across the room. The underwear landed on her dad’s head, dangling from his ear. Bob’s description of the scene had both of us breathless with laughter.
There was hope in that laughter even amid the difficulties and challenges. It reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
My hope for each of you this week is that you, in the words of Mary Oliver, “see or hear something that more or less kills [you] with delight” – even if it involves laughter about grandma’s undergarments.
Love and blessings,
Tammy Townsend Denny
P.S. Shhhh…. Don’t tell my brother that I told you the underwear story.
Inside out and upside down
For 85 years, I thought I was in control of myself, my ideas and my world. Then, I turned 86 and have had to learn a whole new self, a whole new world of ideas and the world is upside down and inside out, it seems.
It’s nice to be in control…of time, of myriad choices…such as: what to wear today, what to accomplish today and with whom to spend time and energy doing the variety of everyday things that matter to me and to those I’m with.
That all changed beginning on August 27, 2021. I had a minor stroke while on a Zoom call with special friends. Their quick thinking brought
the fire department to my front door just ahead of them. All reports still say it was a minor stroke because I was on a blood thinner. The outcome of tests and more tests was a change of meds for high blood pressure. It seemed that life might hold ‘normal’ events once again when I was struck by shingles in the left eye. Chapter Two began with a collapse in the parking lot of the eye doctor.
The second sojourn in the hospital addressed blood pressure again. The eye was swollen shut for the better part of two weeks in a rehab center and pain I cannot even describe, unless you are familiar with shingles. The hardest part of it now is limited reading time and the longing to sleep often.
What is upside down and inside out is the impact on my lifestyle. I have moved into an assisted living facility, now a permanent solution to the limits of my independence. The incredible new definition for aging and personal acceptance of these limits is the challenge of each new day.
The quote from years ago that resonates most clearly is: The medicine may be bitter, the face you make depends on you. So, I find myself working on my face.
My morning prayer for years has been: All that I am, all that I have, all that I’ll ever be, I offer now to You. God took me up on that! So, how totally did I mean it all those mornings? Can I make it the measure of my discovering purpose and meaning in each day? How will I celebrate the gift of time available to me now? My choices!
Theresians International gave me the opportunity to Dream Big! The Five Dimensions have formed me into a believer that Community, Spirituality, Ministry, Education, and Vocation define my journey with each and every Theresian member in the world. It has been my privilege to meet many of you in my travels and workshops. That allows me to speak my heartfelt thanks for your prayers and your support as I seek new ways to live our Theresian lifestyle. We witness by embracing whatever new limits we are experiencing, knowing that we are all capable of contributing within the limits and finding joy in the process.
More Random Sightings of St. Thérèse
I’ve had a devotion to St. Thérèse since I was a young woman. A novena given to me by a friend has led me down a path of Spiritual Love I never expected and didn’t even know I needed. I have received roses, too! St. Thérèse has never failed to delight me with the simple, humble, even fearless love she has for Jesus and even for me!
In 1994, my family was living in Amish Country in Pennsylvania. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year. Because of the great distance from Pennsylvania to Louisiana and because I had three young children in school, I was unable to be there with her and for her as she was treated for this disease.
When the school year was finished in June of that year, the children and I loaded our station wagon and began the three-day journey to my parent’s home in Eunice, Louisiana. My husband would join us later in the week. This particular week was special because I would take Momma to her last chemo treatment and celebrate the end of these sessions.
I had been praying daily to St. Thérèse for my mother’s healing. St. Thérèse’s own mother, St. Zelie Martin, died from breast cancer when Thérèse was only four years old. She knew the devastating results of losing her mother.
After a long journey with three little children, we arrived at my parents’ home with much excitement and anticipation. Cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, and neighbors all welcomed us with open arms and warm hearts. Seeing my mother, so thin with no hair, was shocking and terribly sad, but I was so glad to be home.
I went to the little bedroom where I would spend the next two weeks. As I was coming out of the room, I faced the old, faded dresser and saw, to my delight, an 8 x 10 picture of St. Thérèse! Tears of joy and consolation flooded my being. My mother didn’t have a devotion to St. Thérèse, so where did this picture come from?
The story slowly unraveled abut a seminarian (a friend of my brother, the priest) who had walked up to my mother and gave her the image of St. Thérèse and told her she needed to have this!
I knew my heavenly friend was welcoming me, letting me know she was with me and Momma during this painful time.
It's all in the details
I stumbled on a blog post from songwriter, recording artist, performer and educator Carrie Newcomer that I thought might inspire some of you. Credit to Parker Palmer, author and activist, who shared a link to Newcomer's essay on his Facebook page and described her as a "healer of souls."
Newcomer begins her essay with a quote from Thomas Merton: “No blade of grass is not blessed.” She goes on to write about delighting in the tiniest of miracles that "always, always abound." She concludes with this:
"Go outside and take a few photos of things using a 1 inch frame. Come back, scroll through the images. Did you see something new? Did you notice something new when you looked more carefully?"
I accepted her challenge. I took a photo of the tulip in my yard (pictured above) and discovered the miraculous yellow landing pad hidden inside.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us in Story of a Soul: “If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts."
What small, miraculous, and ordinary gifts does God have waiting for you?
I thought you might also enjoy Newcomer's "The Point of Arrival" video.
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI's Executive Director
I first encountered the Pietà at the Louverture Cleary School in Haiti in April 2017 during Mass at the school’s open-air chapel. The chapel had none of the frills we typically associate with Catholic Churches. There were no statues. No stained glass windows. No icons. A folding table draped with a white cloth served as the altar. The pews were backless wooden benches. There were no kneelers. No candles. No incense. No organ. Not even a piano. Heavy heated air overflowed with the smells of rotting waste. And in the distance, music rattled the sacred silence with a deep thump-thump base.
Sitting amid the sounds and smells of humanity, I looked up from my place on the wooden bench. The Pietà stared back at me. The image was painted on a wall that surrounded the school. I couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful divine woman (Mary) holding the crucified Jesus. In that moment, with Haiti’s harsh poverty seeping into the chapel, Mary looked like she was cradling and protecting Haiti and all the brokenness of our world. I saw love in her eyes, a mother’s love. And a mother’s protection.
A scaled replica of Michelangelo's Pietà sits on my bedroom dresser now, a gift from my husband. There are days when the brokenness of our world draws me to this image of Mary holding her son. I want to curl up in her lap and wrap myself in the folds of her dress. Maybe she would tell me a story or stroke my hair. Maybe she would hum a song as I napped. I can almost feel the warmth of being next to her, snuggled into the divine comfort of her arms and dress.
A more traditional interpretation of Michelangelo's Pietà is that Mary “presents to us the Body of Christ as a path to salvation.” She is offering us her son. Others say “there is a sense that the Madonna is letting go,” creating a dichotomy of pain and peace. Yet, I cannot stop seeing the Pietà as the feminine divine holding the brokenness of our humanity.
As we approach Mother’s Day in this month of Mary, I invite you to join me on Mary’s lap. Bring your brokenness. Bring your hurts, your challenges, your pains. Bring the fullness of your humanity. Let’s wrap ourselves in the folds of her dress and experience the comfort of divine love and protection.
We love our Theresian community. Because of that love, we are stronger. We’re stronger in our cities, church, friendships, and families. That strength can be attributed to faithfulness and support of our “Petals.” We have regular attendance that keeps us bound together.
Careful, prayerful selection of study topics is important to our growth. During these study sessions, we readily share our understanding, ask for help in difficult areas, and respect each other’s thoughts. We’ve had some particularly rewarding topics. “The Wild Goose Series” by Fr. Dave Pivonka opened great discussions about the Holy Spirit. Ann Voskam’s One Thousand Gifts was a favorite study tool. The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp yielded many insights for us, too.
The demographics of our “Petals” community is a big reason for our success. We are all retired. We each have strong leadership skills. In our own families, we are close and highly involved. We each believe that our attendance is important to the groups to which we belong. These characteristics mark our tendencies toward loyalty to Theresians.
We share group texts often. Intercessory prayers are offered in sicknesses, worries, as well as joys and successes. These contacts keep us close and involved with each other between our monthly gatherings.
Yes, we love our “Petals of Faith Theresian Community!” We study. We share. We pray. We are strong. Thanks be to the intercession of St. Therese. Thanks be to God.
A Guide to Lectio Divina
Lectio is a listening to the Word, a taking-in, gathering the Word into our depths. Read the material selected, at least once aloud, if at all possible. Then slowly re-read it until you are “sopped” or “taken up” by some particular group of words. Repeat the words; savor them until they become a part of you. Then read on to the next words until again you are called to stop, reflect, and let the words be written on your heart.
God speaks; we listen. We read the Word, or we listen to it being read to us, or recall some previously memorized Scripture. As we read the material for meditation and prayer the words are read aloud or sub-vocally so as to have a dual imprint on the brain.
Listen, hearken, assimilate, “bite into,” accept, reflect, or absorb, are the words that are often used to speak about this step.
Meditatio is allowing the Word to work within, reflecting on the material we took into the depths of our being. We may repeat it, mull it over, or memorize it, so later we can say it from heart. Prayer reading…reading slowly…over and over again to see and feel…to savor the beauty in the message…letting the words draw us to a meaning behind them, become a part of our past, the now, and available for the future. A new bud or insight, a new direction…perhaps a new “aha moment,” though often nothing is apparent at the time. Just being there and perhaps allowing ourselves to be affirmed.
Chewing and ruminating are often words used for description.
Oratio, when one says “yes” and responds in prayer. A touching of God…God touching us…unspoken ways. Prayer of adoration, of repentance, of petition, or of thanksgiving, comes with spontaneity…our speaking to and experiencing Word.
Contemplatio, communion, ‘being with’ in silence. The whole of the encounter is to draw us to completion, to wholeness. Contemplatio may come so quietly its presence is not acknowledged at first. For some people it might be like allowing peace to ebb and flow, gradually coming closer until its waters engulf you.
As we deepen our knowledge of our true selves through these prayer experiences we are called to accept and affirm the transforming changes offered at this time of communion with God.
by Tammy Townsend Denny, Executive Director
As I write these words, classes started for the Master of Divinity program I am enrolled in at Loyola University Chicago. I’m slowly moving through the program, taking one or two classes each semester as a part-time graduate student, and am about 1/3 of the way through my studies.
This semester I am taking a course on Ignatian Spirituality. The class is focused on elements and principles of Ignatian spirituality including the Spiritual Exercises. In addition to the academic work required for the class, we are being asked to pray an Examen at least once a week. Midway through the coursework, we will create our own Examen. Our final project is to write our spiritual autobiography.
For our first assignment, we have been asked to listen to an episode of the podcast Things Not Seen, produced by our professor Dr. David Dault. In the assigned episode, Dr. Dault interviews Bill Cain, SJ, a Jesuit priest, Peabody Award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and author of the book The Diary of Jesus Christ in which he “reimagines the stories of the Gospels from the point of view of Jesus himself.” While I have not yet read the book (I have it on order), the interview with Fr. Cain is fascinating. Have you ever imagined what it would have been like for Jesus to go back as an adult and see the place of his birth or what Mary’s reaction would have been to hear her son preach?
If you currently practice or are interested in exploring imaginative prayer, you might enjoy listening to this episode: Jesus in His Own Words: in conversation with Fr. Bill Cain, SJ. However, I would like to caution you: you might find portions of the interview spiritually uncomfortable, especially if imaginative prayer is not part of your spiritual practices.
If you are up for the challenge and would like to listen, I’ll extend to you the same invitation that was given to me in my first Master of Divinity class. When you feel spiritually challenged, pause and sit with the discomfort for a bit. Don’t judge it. Just sit with it. Ask yourself what you are feeling. Think about what parts of your belief system are being challenged. Then, try to identify the source of this belief. Did the belief come from your family, your faith tradition, the Catholic sister who taught you in third grade, something you read, your understanding of scripture, a priest, the Catechism, or your own perceptions? I have found that by identifying the origins of my beliefs I am better able to open myself to listening to those with whom I might not agree.