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Raising Pro-Life Leaders: #whywemarch

It’s 6:00 am and the alarm rings on a cold, dark January morning. Before my feet hit the ground, I fully experience the decadent warmth of my bed. We’ve all arranged to take the day off. It’s a school day, but we’ve told the teachers that the kids won’t be there today. I hit the snooze and contemplate sleeping in. We could all use a day of rest. We won’t be missed. I inhale that thought in and with a big exhale, I reply, “Not today,” and my feet hit the ground running. It’s a day to march for those who can’t.

The kids spring out of bed with enthusiasm. Not because they understand the art of praying with your whole body, mind, and spirit, but because it’s a no-school day, they get to pack their favorite snacks, and take a bus ride to our Nation’s Capital. They forget, for the moment, that their legs will grow weary as they hike up Capital Hill after suffering the crowds, the bitter cold, and the long lines for the port-a-potties that are a vision of hell if I ever saw one. They will experience the power of suffering for others.

It’s 7:45 and we board the packed bus of smiling faces. We say our hello’s to familiar faces from marches past and we meet new marchers as we find our seats and get settled. The cheerful chatter of the passengers comes to a hush when we hear the contemplation of the Joyful Mysteries of the life of Christ come over the bus speaker system. And, we begin to pray together. And, as the rosary is complete, the hum of happy passengers continues. This is the integrated life of prayer that I want my children to experience.

We arrive at the Mall and are, in an instant, surrounded by thousands of marchers moving in one direction and we join the march to hear today’s pro-life leaders welcome us and remind us why we are here and why we have been coming for 43 years. And, I blink back to my first march as an 8th grader. It was a much smaller gathering and with my limited life experience, I did not comprehend the power of my participation. And, I certainly did not have the support of my peers. Fetal development was not understood as it is today. Thanks to scientific advances, we can no longer ignore the fact that there is a developing baby hanging in the balance. And, the message I received as a young woman, both subtle and blatant, was that my fertility was a disease that needed to be controlled if I were going to have power and achieve my dreams. And, abortion was necessary for the fulfillment of women. It would be many years before many of my peers would awaken to the lies and join me. I return to the present moment and inhale all the enthusiasm and marvel at the robust cheers of the young men and women surrounding me. This is THE pro-life generation.

This year, for the first time in the history of the march, the Vice President was a featured speaker. This meant that we had yet another obstacle. Security was increased and we could not carry a back pack. So, we all had to stuff our pockets with water bottles and snacks. “Life is winning!” we heard him exclaim over the loud speakers. He also reminded us of our duty to be generous and compassionate and gentle as he said, “We will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children.” My children will learn that to be pro-life comes with a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.

To my surprise, I also learned at the march that the Second Lady, Karen Pence, is an ardent advocate of art therapy. I happen to be a practicing Art Therapist with my own Art Therapy business. What are the chances that my two passions, being pro-life and practicing art therapy, would get so much national attention on this day?! My heart skipped a beat. It is because of my pro-life passion that I pursued a career that would help children and families in need. I am heartened to know that the profession of art therapy will have a spotlight shined on it by Karen Pence. And, I am excited to discover how this experience will lead my children to a life of service someday. That is my prayer.

As the speeches come to a close, we begin our march toward the Supreme Court. The kids begin to complain about their discomforts. My 6 year old is certain that his legs will fail. My husband lifts him and whispers in his ear, “You are a hero, Joseph! You can do it!” He also reminds him of the all you can eat buffet we will stop at on the way home. And our little pro-life hero gives his dad a squeeze and is back to marching. The older girls are shivering. We make sure everyone is zipped up, hats and gloves on, fully hydrated, and we continue our march. There is so much enthusiasm and joy in the crowd and that keeps us going. When we reach the top of the hill, we look back for a moment and cannot believe the endless throngs of people coming up the hill. As we turn the corner towards the Supreme Court, snowflakes fall for just a moment and the crowd erupts into jubilant cheers.

It’s nearly 4:00 and the sun begins to set on this historic day. My kids and their cousins are now skipping, giggling, and singing as we make our way to Union Station. No sign of exhaustion and no crankiness. Just banter about the events that they have just witnessed and participated in. They are all smiles. This is why I am choosing to raise the next generation of pro-life leaders.

Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Rosary Shiela

The Art of the Rosary: Experiencing the Rosary in Mind, Body, and Spirit

The Art of the Rosary-I discovered a new practice of the Rosary by chance one day when a client of mine cancelled at the last minute. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor with a specialty in Art Therapy and on this day, when the client cancelled, I had prepared a task for the client involving water colors. I had the paper, water, and paints ready and then I got the cancellation call. I had an hour to myself. This doesn’t happen very often to a mother of five, working part time in counseling. I recognized it as a gift. So, I decided to use the time to pray…and paint. These two practices always calm my mind and help me to focus so that I can live the virtues that I preach to my children. I found a recording that included meditations of each mystery of the rosary on Spotify and I played it while I painted. The positive experience led the behavioral scientist in me to discover what had just happened.

God created us as corporeal and spiritual beings in a material world with a desire to be with Him. And, the Blessed Mother was sent by Him to give us the Rosary as a powerful prayer that engages the mind, body, and spirit as we contemplate the mysteries of our salvation. The use of art materials and the art process can further enhance the experience of the rosary in three ways. First, the art process helps to engage the mind in a deeper, more meaningful meditation upon the mysteries. Second, the art process engages the mind and body in a singular purpose and helps to block distractions that often interfere with the meditations. Third, the art process, in conjunction with the cognitive-spiritual prayer process, stimulates connectivity between multiple parts of the brain and can enhance overall brain functioning. In some cases, it may even have the ability to slow or reverse decline in old age.

A More Meaningful Experience

I discovered that the engagement of my hands, the paper, the water, and the paint in the process of painting as I listened to a meditation upon the mysteries allowed me to intentionally hyperfocus on one particular aspect of the mystery. The imagery from the story of our salvation is rich with metaphor and there are unlimited visual aspects of each mystery. Further, each individual has a particular interpretation and may be surprised by some of the images that emerge. For example, the First Sorrowful Mystery is the Agony in the Garden. Within this mystery is the image of Christ in prayer and all that it encompasses: His figure in a humble pose of prayer, His folded hands, the beads of sweat turning to blood, the sleeping companions, the flora and fauna, the animal life, the divinity and the humanity of Christ.

Blocking Distractions

Typically, when I pray the rosary, I massage each bead and tightly close my eyes, spending a great deal of time battling the distractions of everyday life that clamor for my attention. Often, the distractions win. My experience becomes an exercise of frustration and discouragement. This is even more evident when I try to gather my family and I am met with their complete lack of ability to fight off distractions. It is no wonder that Saint Therese said, “Reciting the Rosary costs me more than using an instrument of penance.” She continues, “…in vain do I strive to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary.” However, in my experience of combining prayer with the art process, I found that distractions had a bigger obstacle to overcome if they were going to interfere with my contemplation. The engagement of my hands with my brain and the paper and paints worked together to keep my prayers on track.

Art of the Rosary Author Quote

Retraining the Brain

Poor Saint Therese! It really doesn’t have to be that difficult. It’s because of our brain: that corporeal component of our creation that was built with a bias toward the negative in order to keep us safe and survive. So, when we pray, our brain starts in with, “You have this stress at work to take care of or you will lose your job and your family will be on the street tomorrow…you have three loads of laundry you must do or your children will go to school naked tomorrow….you handled that last situation badly, you really need to do something about it…now!” And so on. In our contemporary society, however, we are no longer chased by predators at every corner. We can, and should, allow ourselves to chill. But, it will require some rewiring of our brain through intentional practices that engage cognitive and physical functions. This practice of praying the rosary while creating art will help to combat the negative bias and create a more positive bias.

There are a few things to remember when attempting this practice. First, you do not have to be an artist to do this. Second, do not judge what you create, rather, seek to understand it. Lastly, if it helps you to increase your devotion to Jesus, then continue it. If it further frustrates you, then don’t continue. God gave us a conscience and we should listen to it and do all things for the Glory of God. And, remember that whatever you do in an attempt to be with God through prayer will please Him.

For a long time I was sad because of this lack of devotion which surprised me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to say in her honor prayers which please her so much. Now, it saddens me less; I think that the Queen of Heaven being my Mother, she must see my good will and be content with it.” ~Saint Therese


The Beauty of Truth

I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday.  It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom.  The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red.  The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached.  It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness.  It was simply beautiful.  It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink.  I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill.  A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard.  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things.   Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste.  I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree.  There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment.  But, what is in that moment?  Why do we desire beauty in our lives?

My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There,  I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum.  In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life.  I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco.   The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation.  These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks.  In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden.  Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose.  Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations.  I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this  secular world to live amidst the beauty of  eternal truth.

The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man.  A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism.    During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by  many gifted painters.  Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too.  And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God.  We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and  Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.

By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation.  We witnessed destruction.  The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  In the same way, we pause and we are captivated.  But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty.  If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God.  In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”  This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images,  I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son.  I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care.   Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma.  It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized.  And we have needed healing.  Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life.  There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation.  We can start in simple ways each day.  Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it.  And create it where it is lacking.

from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

With tears He fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield,

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns, cold and need,

And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, Ufizi Musem, Florence