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Devon Wattam Domestic Church Ink Slingers

How to Get Through Deployment Happy, Healthy, Holy

We recently bid my husband farewell on his second deployment after a grueling year of work ups. It’s been three years since the last time he deployed, and even with regular detachments that took him away from us for weeks at a time, I feel as though we had been lulled into a comfortable rhythm that made it feel as if he’d never leave for a full deployment again. Talk about a wake-up call.

In the days leading up to Ben leaving, I started to revisit memories of his last deployment and how I made it through. The night that he left, I lie awake in bed thinking, “How am I going to survive this long all alone with children? HOW?!” And slowly the survival skills that I learned the first go-round began to resurface in my mind. The tips and tricks that kept me sane, comforted me in my weakest moments, and united us with Jesus during one of the most challenging times our family has endured seemed worth writing down as we undergo it again. I hope they bring strength and peace to anyone whose spouse is also gone or will be soon.

1. Pray.

How in the world could we make it through without prayer? It feels as though I pray twice as much on deployment as I do during any other season of life. “Lord, give me the strength to get through this day…”; “Holy Spirit, guide me as I make decisions for my family alone…”; “Blessed Mother, please keep Ben safe from all harm…”; “Jesus, help my children sleep all night…I’m exhausted.” He never tires of listening, and I never grow tired of asking for more help. The Lord wants to walk with you through this challenging time. Let Him!

2. Document, document, document.

I’ve have found that journaling regularly is not only therapeutic, but allows me to go back and see what we have gone through. Ben also keeps a journal about the important things that he’s doing on the aircraft carrier. So many things feel like we will never forget them, but by the time cruise is over, countless memories have passed that would otherwise be forgotten had we not written them down. Also, writing Ben an email every day, complete with photos, helps him feel more involved in what’s going on in our daily lives. For holidays, special occasions, and when I can remember it, I break out the video camera. We love looking back at old videos, even if they’re short, to really bring those important times that we may have missed as a family to life.

3. Spend time with family and friends.

One perk of having a spouse gone for months on end is that it creates the opportunity for us to stay with family who live far away or have family visit us. Living in my parents’ home for months at a time as a grown woman with children may not sound appealing at first, but it does provide a unique sense of comfort during deployment, and let’s my children get to know their extended family better. That is something to be thankful for. Deployment is a great time to connect with friends, new and old, too. The Officer Spouse’s group, in particular, quickly becomes our second family when Ben is gone, since their spouses are deployed as well. The time that we share together is comforting, even if it’s just sitting together having coffee or wine.

4. Have Masses said, candles lit, & special intentions added to prayer lists.

Deployment is the perfect excuse to really embrace all the beautiful “extras” our Catholic faith provides as means of support and prayer. The transitions your family must endure, the safety of your service member, peace in our world… all strong reasons to light those candles that you pass by in the back of the church, have Masses said for special intentions, and invite your Bible study or other church communities to add your special intentions to their prayer lists. Then sleep peacefully knowing your family is being wrapped in God’s loving embrace through the prayers of others.

5. Plan ahead for children.

Any deployment is long, but it’s especially long with kids. It’s important to bridge the gap, incorporating Daddy as much as possible during that time apart. One thing that we have found helpful is having Ben read our kids’ favorite bedtime stories and record them on my phone, so they can easily watch them whenever they like. We also made Flat Stanleys of the boys, so that Daddy could send pictures home of them traveling the world with him. We got our sons dolls with Ben’s full-body picture on them (“Daddy dolls”), so that they can take Daddy with them wherever they go. And finally, before Ben left, we did as many holiday activities together as a family that we could, like visiting the pumpkin patch and taking pictures in costumes, since we knew we’d miss many holidays together. None of these things make up for the fact that we don’t have the real Daddy at home, but they certainly ease the pain a bit.

6. Set goal lists to accomplish.

Daily, weekly, monthly…just write down all of your goals and go for them! Anything to make the time go by quicker, while being productive is a good thing. Some of my favorites include: weekly adoration, work-out routines, cleaning out closets, trying new recipes, and small decorating projects.

7. Port calls.

If there is an opportunity to visit your spouse in a foreign country, GO. Call Grandma to spend time with the kids for a week (remember what I said about getting to know extended family?) and go spend alone time with your husband! Your marriage will thank you later.

8. Care packages.

While they can sometimes seem like an inconvenience, care packages are a great way to make your spouse feel a connection to home and give you something fun to put your energy into. I always enjoy searching for funny gifts to go along with the practical things I send in Ben’s care packages. Sometimes a set of Nerf guns or a silly Donald Trump coloring book is just the thing to lighten the mood on the carrier after a long day, or so I’ve been told.

9.  Be flexible (with yourself, your spouse, and your children/schedule).

Have I mentioned that deployment is hard? One more time for good measure: Deployment. Is. Hard. It’s also kind of not real life. Everything is turned upside down on its head. Emotions, schedules, workloads, housework… Because of the chaos that comes along with it, it’s imperative that you keep reminding yourself to be kind to yourself…and your husband…and your kids. It’s okay to eat cereal for dinner occasionally or push bedtimes back a little too often because you’re riding bikes in the middle of the street after dark or rewash the same load of laundry three times because you just can’t manage to get it into the dryer on time. Cut your family a little slack. You’re all going through a lot.

10. Bask in God’s goodness.

When you catch a moment to breathe, try to see the hand of the Father guiding you through this time apart. Fewer things make me feel so alive. For better or worse, the raw, intense emotion of telling my husband “goodbye” not knowing when I’ll see him again or comforting my little boy for the umpteenth time because he misses his Daddy and doesn’t understand what “a really long time” means or falling into bed with the most intense sense of purposeful exhaustion makes me look at my life through clearer eyes. How fleeting time is, but how meaningful we must make it. If we allow it to, deployment has the capability of transforming us into more intentional, loving beings. And isn’t that the whole point of our lives? How lucky we are to have done two…so far.

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Ink Slingers

A Catholic Sistas Interview with Artists Daniel Mitsui

This past month I was fortunate enough to interview artist Daniel Mitsui. With stunning and unique Catholic artwork, Daniel is an artist to notice. His meticulously detailed ink drawings are made entirely by hand on paper or calfskin vellum and are held in collections worldwide. Since his baptism in 2004, most of his artwork has been religious in nature.

Daniel was kind enough to answer my questions and share a little more about himself and his art…

For starters, your art is stunning. I knew this when I asked for the interview. However, I didn’t expect to find such enlightening lectures on your website. They are a treat to read. I particularly liked your lecture titled Heavenly Outlook.

In light of that work, I was wondering if you could more generally comment on the differences between secular art and Catholic art. How should a faithful Catholic approach and appreciate art found both inside and outside of the church?

Thank you.

I do not think that art can be cleanly divided into categories of Catholic and secular. I think you need to consider at the very least three categories. First, there is sacred art that is used in the formal worship of the Church, or that is at least appropriate to be used there: musical settings of the Mass ordinary, vestments, stained glass windows, illuminated Psalters, things like that. Second, there is religious art that is about the Old and New Testaments, or the lives of the saints, or Catholic doctrines and morals – but is not really meant to reside inside the sanctuary. That includes things like Christmas carols and picture book illustrations. And then there is art that is not explicitly religious. But that art might very well present a religious worldview, or teach some important lesson, and thus still be considered Catholic art.

Although most of my drawings are commissioned or bought by individuals and used for private devotion, I try to uphold certain principles that would place them in the first category. What distinguishes sacred art is that tradition and beauty have a special, glorified meaning. I wrote in the lecture you mentioned:

To make art ever more beautiful is not to take it away from its source in history, but to take it back to its source in Heaven. Sacred art does not have a geographic or chronological center; it has, rather, two foci, like a planetary orbit. These correspond to tradition and beauty. One is the foot of the Cross; the other is the Garden of Eden. -“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

So tradition is more than a matter of respecting old ways; it is about carrying Divine Revelation forward through history. Sacred art is akin to the sacred liturgy and the writings of the Church Fathers. It is one of the means by which the memory of what Jesus Christ said and did in the presence of His Apostles was kept. For example, in sacred art, sacred liturgy and patristic exegesis, comparisons are constantly made between events of the Old Testament and events of the New Testament that they prefigure. This is not just poetic fancy; it is a way of thinking that Jesus Christ Himself taught: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

And beauty is more than a manner of pleasing the bodily senses. The appreciation of beautiful art and music is a vestige of our prelapsarian experience; it is a nostalgia for Paradise lost and a means of elevating our minds toward blessedness. Hugh of St. Victor, Suger of St. Denis and St. Hildegard of Bingen, three of the outstanding thinkers of the twelfth century, articulated this theology of beauty especially well.

In sacred art, both tradition and beauty are necessary. To neglect the former is to make sacred art into little more than a showy display.

To neglect the latter – to contend that so long as the art is traditional, it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it is – is a terrible diminution of its holy purpose. Very often, this is justified by a humbug idea of prayerfulness, an idea that to pray means to close your eyes and think pious thoughts to yourself, and nothing more. If this is the idea, then sacred art gets described as prayerful just for being easy to ignore. Any art that is especially beautiful, excellent, elaborate or interesting gets condemned as distracting because it actually compels you to open your eyes and ears and pay attention to it.

I really find this idea offensive. The backs of your eyelids are not windows into Heaven; they are mirrors back into your own imagination! Sacred art is supposed to lift you out of your own imagination, toward the spiritual realm.

Pulling from your lecture Invention and Exultation you are quoted saying, In our time, tradition is not a thing that is handed down so much as a thing that must be excavated. And once an artist begins to dig, he finds, in a different sense, altogether too much.

With this in mind, what do you think the contemporary Catholic artist’s role is in restoring or protecting the traditions of the faith? Do you think there are places for growth or renewal?  

What I was trying to say in that lecture is that tradition has an objective content, a content that anyone can discover. Elsewhere, I have written:

It is an all-too-common error for the faithful in the present day to confuse tradition itself with its legal enforcement by ecclesiastical authority- as though tradition were nothing more than a stack of documents bearing the correct signatures. This is an epistemological absurdity; the bishops who are tasked with writing these documents need to know what they know somehow! –“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

A pope or bishop has no privy religious knowledge that is hidden from the rest of us. Insofar as he knows what is actually traditional, he knows it the same way that you or I do: based on evidence in the agreement of the Church Fathers, the law of worship and the ancient, universal practice of the faithful. The necessary keys to understanding it are the gifts of the Holy Ghost received at Baptism and Confirmation.

I think that a many of the Catholic faithful who are frustrated by bad art, bad music and bad architecture in their churches see no way to fix the problem except by having a pope or bishop write and sign and enforce a document condemning it. I don’t expect any such document to be forthcoming. If I did, I honestly would be terrified. A magisterial attempt to regulate sacred art can do far more to impede the creation of good artwork than bad. I am remembering especially the ruinous efforts of the bishop John Molaus in the late 16th century.

Hopefully, more and more of the faithful will realize that they do not need to wait for official permission to discover, preserve and restore what is actually traditional, or to make beautiful artwork that honors it – whether contributing as artists or patrons. Sacred art is one of the few endeavors that the Church has entrusted to laymen for a very long time, and that is today an advantage.

Your art is incredibly complex and detailed. What is your process? What tools do you use? How do choose the different symbolic pieces for your overall composition?

My preferred medium is ink drawing on calfskin vellum. I do not usually make rough drafts. I work out a composition in pencil on calfskin, then ink over the outlines using a metal-tipped dip pen. I use the pen to apply dark colors, and then paintbrushes to apply light ones. A knife is useful both for correcting mistakes and scratching additional details into the ink once it is dry.

Because calfskin is translucent, I sometimes draw details on the opposite side, in reverse; these can be seen faintly through the vellum, or more clearly when the drawing is held up to a light. Thus, the drawing has a different character depending on the angle and time of day that it is seen.

As for figuring out the appropriate symbolism, that is mostly a matter of preliminary research – into patristic commentaries, art historical writings and older works of art. A useful reference is the Biblia Pauperum, a book from the late Middle Ages that presents forty events from the life of Jesus Christ, each juxtaposed with two events in the Old Testament that prefigure it, and four prophecies.

Admittedly, I am quite a novice when it comes to appreciating and understanding both the devotional purposes of Catholic art and the regularly occurring symbolism that can be found around a church. Where should beginners start? Are there any resources you would suggest?

Some of the very best books for an introduction to the symbolism in sacred art are the trilogy written by the French art historian Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France of the Middle Ages. There is one volume on the 12th century, one on the 13th, and one on the late Middle Ages. All of these have been translated into English. The volume on the 13th century, sometimes titled The Gothic Image, is the most comprehensive, and the easiest to acquire. It has its flaws, but it holds up remarkably well for a scholarly work written a century ago. Another very valuable resource is The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives and commentaries on liturgical feasts that was compiled in the 13th century by Blessed James of Voragine. An English translation by William Granger Ryan is in print.

Full transparency, I am a huge fan of your rosary coloring book. I have often used it as part of my own devotional practice. I am excited to share it with my children in the coming year. As a father, what is your advice when it comes to exposing children to Catholic art?

My purpose in teaching my children about art is not for them to appreciate art just so that they can one day sound smart talking about it! I rather want them to think of it as an ordinary and necessary part of their lives and something that they can themselves make. So in my home, we present holy pictures as familiar things: my kids kiss them goodnight and carry them in household processions. We place pictures around the yard for a little pilgrimage on All Saints’ Day; we hide a handwritten Alleluia sign before Septuagesima; we cover the statues with cloth during Passiontide.

My publisher is marketing my three coloring books (Mysteries of the Rosary, The Saints, and Christian Labyrinths) to adults, but I always thought of them as being for children also. My four kids all love to draw, and don’t need any special encouragement; but for kids who are less inclined, coloring books can be a way to encourage them to participate in art at an early age.

A lot of coloring books marketed to children, especially religious ones, have really insipid artwork and that, of course, defeats the whole purpose. Children appreciate artwork that is made with care and detail; they don’t actually want to look at things that look like they were drawn by other children! I hope to offer an alternative, both with my coloring books and the individual coloring pages available for download on my website,

I advise parents to keep an eye out for picture books on religious subjects that have especially fine illustrations, ones influenced by manuscript illumination or other traditional sacred art. Some favorites in our home include Mikhail Fiodorov’s Bible Stories, Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc, Heidi Holder’s The Lord’s Prayer, Pamela Dalton’s The Story of Christmas, Barry Moser’s Moses, Tomie de Paola’s St. Francis and Gennady Spirin’s Creation. I care more about my children appreciating these illustrations and copying them than about their knowing the big famous names of art history.

Where can people connect with you?

My website is www.danielmitsui.com. This is where I display recent drawings, prints, and writings. I have accounts (Daniel Mitsui, Artist) on Facebook and Pinterest, and my e-mail is danielmitsuiartist@gmail.com. I am accepting commissions now.

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Ink Slingers

Welcome Back One-piece

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This summer I am welcoming back the one-piece bathing suit. And you can too! It’s not about hiding stretch marks or feeling more confident than in a two-piece (because I do!). It’s about reclaiming modesty.

I think most of us women can reflect on our coming of age years and realize that we hit a certain point––we didn’t want to be “girls” anymore; we wanted to be “women.” We wanted to grow up already. We wanted to wear makeup, shave our legs, and wear two-piece bathing suits (which are essentially a bra and underwear, right?!). We didn’t want to be “cute” anymore. Without knowing it at the time, we were also rushing to give up our modesty and innocence.

I don’t know about you, but that rush into womanhood (as defined by culture) led me down a path away from God and from who I really wanted to be. The culture taught me that my identity as a woman and my beauty was on the outside. I lost respect for myself and for others and that was revealed in my dress–too tight, too revealing, too short. Turns out, this way of living was not fulfilling, nor life-giving.

I suppose this is a prodigal-daughter-like story because God sent a beautiful holy woman into my life to show me what is was like to be a real woman. You might have heard of her, Mother Mary? I came back from a pilgrimage to one of her shrines and my life was forever changed. I first and foremost learned the truth––my identity and beauty came from being a daughter of God and Christ living in me. This changed everything. I gained respect for myself and for others and within six months, I had a new wardrobe.

Mother Mary taught me that her beauty comes from the fact that she loves God with her whole heart. The more I strive to do the same, the more I recognize things in my life that obstruct my love for Him. She has taught me that we must be pure to enter the Kingdom of God. Modesty guards our purity. Our childlike innocence is what lets us see the angels who gaze on God. Mother Mary is the true and best example of womanhood. From her, we can learn everything God desires of us as women.

So back to the one-piece bathing suit. Having learned what I have in my journey and now as a mother of two girls, I feel the importance of this responsibility to show my daughters what true womanhood is. Yes, the culture is still going to tempt them with the rush into womanhood, with manicures at four years old and two-piece bathing suits at five years old, but we cannot underestimate that they still look up to their mothers!

I’m wearing a one-piece bathing suit for my almost three year old daughter. You might be thinking, “She’s three! She doesn’t notice!” but when we went to the beach this past weekend, do you know the first thing she said when she saw me? “Mommy, we match!” as she pointed to her one-piece suit. I smiled and thought to myself, that’s exactly why I’m wearing it. I never would have thought that wearing a one-piece could ever feel so good!

As my daughters get older and we live strive to live the faith, which is often counter-cultural, I hope they always know that I’m on their side fighting with them. That I’m always striving to be a woman like Mother Mary. That they can look up to me. That we match, even if the rest of the world doesn’t.

Mother most pure, pray for us.

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Ink Slingers

Our God is Here

our-god-is-here

The Mass three weekend’s ago was perfect. Of course, every Mass is technically perfect, but this one felt like the beginning when the liturgy was new to us and we were breathlessly aware of being part of the worship of the millenia with the cloud of witnesses both on earth and on the other side. Beautiful music not too high to sing, beloved Bible passages from Psalm 145 and Luke 19, and an expressive homily by a visiting Irish priest with a lovely accent. I’m sure it helped that my children were a little tired and droopy in the pews, without their usual boisterous participation. Even the seven year old shook hands sedately and murmured “Peace be with you” for the sign of peace instead of his usual hand-pumping “Howdy.” No one asked to leave to use the restroom, no one got tripped moving about and around for Holy Communion, and no one hung on my back while I was kneeling for prayer. It was a short mountaintop experience for this tired mother that rivaled any retreat from my younger days. Thank you, Lord, for such an oasis!

Sometimes it all comes together: the facts, the faith, and the feelings. Do you know this maxim? “Fact, faith, and feeling went walking on a wall. Feeling took a tumble and faith began to fall. Fact pulled them up again ’til all were walking tall.” It’s good to have the feelings perfectly in place with the facts and faith. But feelings make fickle masters because they are affected by everything. Or nothing. Much of the Christian life involves decisions based on the facts. Our “credo” – Latin for “I believe” – is a solid foundation upon which our faith rests. “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,” calls the priest and the congregation sings, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death O Lord, until you come again.”

Now that we know who our president and congressmen will be, I’m praying that my faith in the facts of salvation centered on Christ will keep a tight hold on my tenuous feelings. 

The Mass three weeks ago opened with, “Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you spare all things because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls (Wisdom 11:22,26).” And we sang from Psalm 145, “I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. All your works give you thanks, O Lord, and your faithful bless you. You are near to those who call upon you, to all who call upon you in truth.” These inerrant words help me to breathe easier. Our time here is short. There is much we can do as civilized Americans and as Christians to be the hands of Jesus to ease pain and make our world a better place no matter who sits in our state capitols or Washington, D.C. 

Our Gospel reading that weekend was the story of Zaccheus. While the deacon was reading, I was mentally singing “Zaccheus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he…” from my Sunday school days! Whatever is happening; whatever good or bad place I may find myself; whether it’s my fault or not;  Jesus notices me. He notices everyone. When Zaccheus answered Jesus and let the Lord come in, he vowed to return what he’d taken and give away half of what he had. He was changed for the better and his sphere was changed for the better. It happens all the time when people listen to Jesus. Good things come from messes when Our Lord is involved, whether or not our chosen political candidates win.

The song that moved me to tears that weekend and that I’ve been humming ever since is called Our God is Here and it sounds like the song of the angels John saw in his revelation visions. “Here in this time, here in this place, our God is here. Here for the broken, here for the strong, here in this temple we belong. We are his body living as one, our God is here. And we cry holy, holy, holy are you. We cry holy, holy, holy and true. Amen we do believe our God is here.”

That’s my song. Whatever direction my beloved country may take, I will cry with the angels, Holy are you, holy and true; my God is here.

holy-holy-holy

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Allison Ink Slingers

Peace in Pain

You know how Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body; that is, the Church (Colossians 1:24).”?

And you know how the Catechism says, “By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering; it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive passion #1505).”?

I have to do this, dear Sistas. Don’t worry; my children with cystic fibrosis are fine, no turns for the worse; I’ve not received dreadful diagnosis. But I do have a situation with zero answers. I’ve had many punctures and pictures and proddings and prescriptions the past few months and have been finally told, “We do not know why your knee swells up like a grapefruit every ten days. Everything looks perfect. Sorry no anti-inflammatories work. Do you want to take immunosuppressants and see if they help? By the way, most of them take four to six months to begin working.”

I’ve been bare-knuckling through four-day spans of crippling pain only to begin the process again ten days later, over and over for months (Years, actually, but the pain is new). And now the final test has returned with perfect numbers so this past week was time for me to come to grips with myself. I hate to admit such weakness. I have to offer up this pain and immovability as a prayer. It is real and raw.

I’m trying to make more of a plan, other than hissing through a rosary in the middle of the night because I’m distraught; other than crying to the kids to eat cherios for supper because I can’t get up; other than hyperventilating to my husband that we’ll never go hiking again. I need to regularly pray whether I’m down or not. I need to put food in the freezer when I’m up to cover when I’m down. I need to head to the mountains with everyone when I’m strong and enjoy listening to their stories when they return home after going without me.

I’d like to think I will live on my sofa with a glowing, holy aura about me as I read stories and play board games with the children while offering heavenly advice and encouraging conversation, but I’ll probably struggle with my anger, cry a lot, and skip a few rosaries. I’ll keep my plan before me, though, and take baby steps forward.

This is where our Holy Faith meets the road, isn’t it? Do I believe it? Can I rejoice in this and get closer to Christ? I find my answer with Paul in Philippians 4:8.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”

Jesus is all of these things. I can be at peace.

a.h. photo