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.
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.
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.
Let’s talk about sadness.
"I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, 'Fear not,
I will help you.' "
by Tammy Townsend Denny, Executive Director
Sadness may seem like a strange topic during a season when signs of hope, peace, love, and joy are everywhere -- actual signs on churches, on wrapping paper, even in my neighbor’s front yard. We’re supposed to be happy during Advent, right? We’re anticipating the arrival of Jesus. Our hearts should be dancing with joy.
But, what happens when the joy isn’t there? What if sadness overwhelms the hope, peace, and love?
Through my spiritual practices, I have learned to lean into the uncomfortable feelings of sadness, to embrace them, and to be kind to them. I have learned that our lives need space for sadness as much as our lives need space for joy.
A few days ago, I was feeling some of that sadness. Nothing was especially wrong. Kids are good. Husband is good. Life is good. When I glanced at the calendar, I realized it was December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day, the day we remember all those killed during the military strike in 1941. Admittedly, I’m a bit too young to have any first-hand, emotional memories about Pearl Harbor, yet the day holds significance in my life. December 7 is my parents’ wedding anniversary. This is my first Pearl Harbor Day without either of them.
When my father died in 2001, my parents had been married 40-some years. My mother passed away in March of this year.
I have distinct memories from my childhood of the news stories about Pearl Harbor that would remind Dad it was time to buy Mom a box of chocolate-covered cherries for their anniversary. He didn’t get the fancy candy store chocolates. Nope, my dad always gave her the inexpensive, grocery store variety – those cheap chocolate-covered cherries in the red box. And my mom loved them, saying they were her favorite, though I never understood why. In my mind, Pearl Harbor and cheap, chocolate-covered cherries are forever linked.
While the memories are joyful, the sadness is real. And that’s OK. Father Terrance Klein, in a 2020 Advent reflection for the Jesuit magazine America, says, “Advent begins as an admission. It is okay to be sad, to lament.” In my lamenting, I believe God has my right hand, even on those days when I forget to ask for help.
For those who have lost children, spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends this past year and for those who mourn loved ones who have died in years past (mourning has no expiration date), I pray that you find moments of peace during this Season of Joy. I also invite you to lean into the grief and sadness. Lament! Don’t push the sadness away. Embrace it. Be kind to it. And know that Theresians around the world hold you in prayer.
I leave you with an excerpt from a poem from Jan Richardson’s book The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief:
Do not pass by
what is forever gone
It is an honoring
of what has been…