Becoming Who We Are Made to Be

Becoming Who We Are Made to Be

Originally published in The Catholic Times Jan. 14, 2018

Photo of diffuse bright light at the top of stone staircase

Photo: Mary van Balen

Samuel paid attention. His heart was “awake” even as he slept. One night, in the shrine at Shiloh where he lived under the care of its aged high priest, Eli, Samuel heard someone call his name. He didn’t turn over and go back to sleep. “Here I am,” he responded and hurried to Eli, assuming the summons had come from him.

But it hadn’t. Eli instructed the boy to go back to sleep. After this happened two more times, Eli realized that the Lord was speaking to Samuel and instructed him to reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” if he were to hear the call again.

God did call again, and the boy responded as Eli had instructed. I wonder if Samuel had any expectations of what he might hear that night or if he was surprised to learn that the Lord planned to fulfill the Divine threats made against Eli and his family for their abuse of priestly duties, dishonoring the God they were to serve.

Samuel listened and then went back to sleep. In the morning, he had the courage to answer Eli’s question about what the Lord had said, and Eli had the humility to accept it. Samuel had spoken and been heard as the prophet God made him to be.

Scripture provides no definite age for Samuel at the time of this call. He is called “a boy.” He was the son of Hannah, a faithful woman embittered by long years of barrenness and the derision she suffered as a result. While on her family’s annual pilgrimage to the shrine at Shiloh, she laid her anguish before the Lord, weeping and imploring God to give her a male child. If so blessed, she vowed to give him to God’s service for as long as he lived. She had a son and true to her word, when he was of appropriate age, Hannah brought him to Shiloh and left him in Eli’s care.

No matter Samuel’s age, this story of a youth hearing and responding whole-heartedly to the call of God is captivating and is one of my favorites. How had Samuel become so “wide awake,” so attentive and receptive to God?

Photo: Mary van Balen

Surely, as with all of us, his early years were formative. Growing up in a family of faith, nursed and nurtured by a mother who loved and trusted God, and living in the shadow of the ark of God in the tabernacle in Shiloh must have influenced his relationship with the Holy One.

But, Samuel’s life sounds rosier than it was. (Don’t we often idealize the lives of others in comparison with our own?). Remember, his father had two wives who didn’t get along, and Eli and his sons were not faithful to the demands and requirements of their priestly ministry.

In the midst of it all, Samuel was able to attend to the call of God. He was a contemplative, aware of the Presence within and without, in the good and not so good, as he went about his duties. He must have taken time for solitude, resting in God and deepening his ability to hear and recognize the Holy Mystery that was the Source of his life and identity.

No matter the differences in time and circumstance between our lives and Samuel’s, we share the call to be people of prayer and to grow in our relationship with God. God has placed the gift of Divine Self in every one of us. Identifying that bit of Divinity and living into it, becoming the reflection of God we are made to be and remaining faithful to it is our life task. That’s why the story of young Samuel grabs our hearts: it is the story of us all.

Photo: Kathryn Holt

As 2018 unfolds, we can choose practices that will deepen our openness and help us “pay attention.” In the midst of life’s busyness, suffering, and challenges, we can take time to be still and rest in God, hearing God’s call however it comes. We can allow the Holy Mystery dwelling within to move and transform us and so, participate in transforming the world. We can say, like Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

© 2018 Mary van Balen

Icons: Windows into God

Icons: Windows into God

Photo of Thai stamps showing image of Guan Yin

Photo: Mary van Balen

In Icons: Windows into God, the lead article in the October 2017 issue of Celebration published by the National Catholic Reporter, I expand the definition of “icon” to include objects, physical representations, or metaphors that have become windows drawing us into communion with the Holy Mystery. From impressionistic masterpieces in the Musée d’Orsay, to the Asian bodhisattva Guan Yin, to the constellations, the world full of images that enrich and enlarge our experience of God who is beyond all images.

The medieval theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said that no one could ever have found God. No, The Divine gave the Godself  away.

There is no place or time where God is not. Holy Mystery does not hide. But to see, we must pay attention—and look  through all the “windows” we can.

Click the link below to read the article:

Icons: Windows into God Finding glimpses of God in unexpected places

Saint Bonifacia’s Ordinary Way

Saint Bonifacia’s Ordinary Way

a photo of Saint Bonifacia Rodriguez y Castro S.S.J.Originally published in The Catholic Times Aug. 13, 2017

This week’s liturgical calendar celebrates the lives of three women saints: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. Clare, and Saint Bonifacia Rodriguez y Castro. If you’re like me, you’re familiar with the first two. But who was the third, Saint Bonifacia?

Her memorial is listed as August 7, 8, or 9th, depending on where you look, but a little research provided an inspiring portrait of the woman. Bonifacia was born in 1837, the oldest of six children, to a poor couple in Salamanca, Spain. Her father was a tailor who worked in his shop at home. Bonifacia learned not only his craft, but she and her siblings also witnessed the deep faith of both parents, lived simply in their home and community.

Her father died when she was fifteen, and Bonifacia began working for others outside her home. Eventually, she set up a shop in the family home, making and selling cords, lace, and other trimmings to support herself and her mother. Inspired by the quiet life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she saw her home and shop as a little Nazareth where work and prayer were intertwined. Along with her mother, Bonifacia made daily visits to a nearby Jesuit-run church.

Other young women, attracted to her and her way of life, began to gather at her home on Sunday’s and feast days, finding a safe place to gather and support one another with prayer and Scripture, listening and encouraging as women do. The house-shop became a safe haven for women to work and pray.

Though Bonifacia longed to become a Dominican, the Jesuit priest at her church, Francisco Javier Butiña y Hospital (her spiritual director), had another idea. His deep concern for the plight of post Industrial Revolution factory workers and respect for the path to holiness through ordinary work resonated with Bonifacia. He suggested that together they establish a congregation to protect the women workers and promote a spirituality that embraced manual work as a way to holiness, not an impediment. The congregation became known as the Servants of Saint Joseph.

This was a new form for a women’s congregation, and while supported by some and by the local bishop at the time of its foundation, it later met with resistance from those more comfortable with women in convents. Like many before her, she suffered for her vision and determination to remain faithful to it.

As Saint John Paul II said in his homily at her beatification, “It was a form of religious life too daring not to have opposition. Immediately it was attacked by the then traditional diocesan clergy of Salamanca who does not grasp the evangelical depth of this form of life which is very close to the world of work.”

While this column doesn’t provide space to tell all her story, I can emphasize the importance her life and vision have for us today. Despite Vatican II’s insistence that the call to holiness is given to everyone and is found in all walks of life, many church faithful, clergy and lay alike, still think the path to sanctity is somehow separate from ordinary life. Holiness is seen best pursued in convents, monasteries, or rectories. Or at least in occupations connected with church or overtly religious activities.

Bonifacia knew better. Through prayer and reflection, she recognized God’s call deep within and trusted it, remaining faithful when others opposed and mistreated her. It’s easy to doubt the word that God speaks in our hearts, the call that directs us to bring God into the world in a way uniquely given to each of us, right where we are.

Bonifacia also knew that we don’t walk the path to God alone. We walk together. As she said, “We should be all for all, following Jesus.”  But trusting God’s indwelling in the “other” is a challenge, especially if the “other” looks different than we do, speaks a different language, or has views different than our own. Despite its difficulty, this ordinary path transforms the world by our taking God’s Presence into it.

The world needs people committed to this simple way of prayer and bringing God we come to know within into the streets and workplaces. Not by heavy handed evangelizing and dogma, but by living with love and joy, responding to the needs of those we encounter. By truly listening to “others,” open to recognize and receive God who dwells in their hearts. And like Bonifacia, by having courage to speak our truth to power. To do something different in familiar places.

©2017 Mary van Balen

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is…

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is…

Photo of a flooded alley

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

Hank is one of my favorite people. I don’t know him well, but I’m getting there. At the end of most work days I stop and talk with him on my way out. We talk about politics and religion despite conventional wisdom that warns against it. He shares memories of growing up in this city, keeps me updated on jazz events around town. I’ve lent him books and articles, and he drops nuggets of wisdom he’s learned along the way.

The other day we were talking about a recent column I’d written, “Rain, an Icon of Grace,” that shared my experience of God’s Grace always pouring over us, refreshing and renewing us, like rain nourishes the earth.

Chair in rain on patio

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

“It made me think of growing up,” he said. “I’ve always loved the rain and storms. Listening to it on the roof or hitting the windows. When I was little, I used to sit on the porch during heavy rains and watch the water pour down from the overflowing gutters along the overhang above my head. I was mesmerized. You know how it is when you are so young. Everything looks big and amazing. The rain looked like a waterfall. I could sit there for hours.”

From there our conversation turned to Grace and the importance of being present to it, like Hank was present to the beauty of the rain gushing down during the storm all those years ago.

“You know that saying,” Hank continued. “Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is Mystery. Today is Blessing.”

Hollyhock blossom in rain

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

I didn’t know that saying. But since he shared it with me, it has become a constant prayer. A reminder of God’s Grace present in the moment and the futility of fretting over what cannot be changed or worrying about things that may or may not happen. I’m prone to do both. Thanks to Hank, the past and the future are less successful at pulling me away from the present. His short saying became a mantra. “Yesterday is history,” I say to regret. “Tomorrow is mystery,” I throw back at worry. “Today is blessing.” I take a deep breath and remember this is so. And remember a little boy soaking it up on his porch.

Breathe Out Gratitude

Breathe Out Gratitude

Up early, I had time for a walk to the Cambridge Tea House before starting my workday at home. I savored every step in the cool morning air, aware that hot summer days are not far off. Usually, when I stop at the tea house, I’m driving to work.  I pick up a currant scone and eat it in the car. Not Friday. I treated myself to a full breakfast instead. And time to enjoy it.

Sun shining on table set with white tablecloth and two red vases holding succulent plants.

Photo: Mary van Balen

“You have your choice; sit anywhere you’d like,” the young waitress said with a smile as she welcomed me into the just opened dining room.  Sun pushing through a partly cloudy sky brightened the white table cloths and red vases topped with tiny succulents. Beautiful. I passed them by, though, choosing instead to sit at a plain, wooden table with lots of extra space since I planned on doing some writing.

Small celebrations feel good inserted into busy routines. Slowing down to join in friendly conversation and to jot down thoughts in my journal help me cope with disturbing news from around the world and in our country, and to remember the good.  Shortly after I placed my order, the owner/chef came out to chat—one of the perks of frequenting small, local eateries. She works long hours in a small kitchen, turning out delicious food six days a week.

Red teapot, tea cozy, teacup, and journal and pen sitting on a wooden table.

Photo: Mary van Balen

Tea arrived in a bright red pot along with a tea cozy to keep it steamy. Even the cup was heated.  I filled it and brought it close to my face, sniffing the aroma of the Queen Catherine blend. I filled a couple pages in my journal. The long table was the perfect size for a gathering of friends. “Invite people over more often,” I wrote, thinking of the table in my apartment.

Breathe in Grace. Breathe out gratitude.

I was already content when the quiche arrived. Too much food to eat there, I finished what I could, poured what was left in the teapot into a paper cup and snapped on a lid,  bagged up the homemade bread, and peeked into the kitchen to say goodbye.

Breakfast of quiche, toast, cup of fruit, and butter and jam.

Photo: Mary van Balen

Ovens were on, freshly baked bread lined a shelf, and pans and utensils covered counter space.

“Thanks, Mary. Have a good day.” She smiled. “Thanks for coming in. Come back soon.”

The two other women working in the kitchen were busy, too, but smiled their goodbyes.

Breakfast. Ordinary. Extraordinary.

Breathe in Grace. Breathe out gratitude. So easy. So easy to forget.

© 2017 Mary van Balen

We Walk Together

We Walk Together

The oil painting "Supper" by Joseph Hirsch shows twelve homeless men, shabbily dressed, sitting and eating at an lavishly set table.

“Supper” 1963-1964
Oil on canvas
Joseph Hirsch American 1910-1981
Columbus Museum of Art
Photo: Mary van Balen

Originally published in The Catholic Times, April 9, 2017

On Saturday, I had the unexpected pleasure of spending a few hours in the Columbus Museum of Art. My sister and I slowly moved from one gallery to another, savoring the opportunity to see the world and explore ideas through the eyes and souls of the artists. They “wake us up” to realities easily overlooked as we hurry through our day to day lives, or challenge us to see the world, others, and even ourselves from broadened perspectives.

A small white sign on the wall of a hallway between two larger exhibits proclaimed: “The Extra Ordinary.” It referred to displayed works made of old bricks, cardboard, and other common objects.

I took a closer look at the row of oil paintings of a water glass. The artist, Peter Dreher, had painted the same glass at different times of day and night for years. “What can change?” you might ask. Light. Reflected images. You’d be surprised what you discover by simply focusing on the lines and beauty of something that usually doesn’t get a second glance. Our lives are filled with opportunities to wonder at the creativity and grace evident in objects made by human hands or that are part of nature. “When was the last time you took a close look and really saw?” the artist seemed to be asking.

A room or two later, I stood in front of a painting by Joseph Hirsch titled “Supper.” Twelve men sitting around a long table, sharing food that included bread and wine immediately suggested the Last Supper. Images of Leonardo da Vinci’s mural of Jesus’ final meal with his apostles might spring to your mind, but this painting is different.

Instead of a white Jesus surrounded by men in flowing robes, twelve homeless men of various colors, unkempt and dressed in shabby jackets and coats, eat hungrily, drinking wine from goblets and lifting food to their mouths with silver forks.

No brightly colored clothing here. The men are dressed mostly in grays, blacks, and browns. The brightest things are on the table. A silver serving dish and coffee pot rest on a white table cloth beside serving bowls heaped with fruit and salad. Obvious at the front of the table sits a goblet of wine and a broken loaf of bread.

The contrast between the poverty of the men and the opulence before them is striking. It spoke to the truth that wealth in our country and the world is held by an increasingly small percentage of people while so many are without food or shelter or hope of finding it. I read the signage to learn when “Supper” was painted. It was finished in 1964. “…at about the same time that President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted laws and reforms known as the War on Poverty, designed to aid disadvantaged American communities.”

I counted the people again. Twelve. “Why didn’t Hirsch include a figure to represent Jesus?” I wondered. Gazing at the image, I slowly became aware of Jesus’ presence. No need to paint him. The Christ was there, dwelling in each of those men.

Before leaving, I read the rest of the sign. It ended by noting “…the relevance to the present day of Christian values of compassion and charity for the poor.” I would say “justice.”

As we move into liturgical celebrations of the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter, reflecting on this painting’s message could inform our prayer. In 2017, as in 1964, we examine our response to the call to follow Jesus through death to new life—to share God’s Love given to us.

Do we see that Love shining through creation? Do we see the risen Christ in our sisters and brothers? Do we recognize God dwelling in every human being regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, religious faith or lack of it?  Do we share what we have with the poor, the homeless, the immigrants and refugees who live in our neighborhoods and cities and around the globe? Do we foster love and acceptance with our speech as well as actions?

Jesus was God’s face in the world, and it is a face of Love and inclusion, leaving no one out—not Samaritans or gentiles, not women or children. There was no “other.”  We walk together in Christ.

©2017 Mary van Balen

The Mug and Me

The Mug and Me

Close up photo of a cracked coffee cup sitting on office desk

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

I fell in love with a coffee mug. Let me explain. It happened on Friday morning at work. I came in as usual, put my lunch in the refrigerator, walked to my desk, lowered my purse into the drawer, and returned to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. Then, back to my cubicle.

After signing in and switching IM and phone from offline to “I’m here” mode, I reached for the coffee and took a sip. That’s when I saw them—the dark lines of old cracks. Starting at the pitted rim, they formed a cross whose long vertical disappeared into the coffee.

Immediately, a physical feeling of kinship with the mug overwhelmed me. I’m not in the habit of falling in love with coffee mugs or other inanimate objects, but I couldn’t deny the strong bond I felt with this piece of ceramics. It wasn’t even a particularly attractive piece, just the generic, workplace mug, white with the company logo on one side and a sponsoring company’s logo on the other. Don’t get me wrong. I’m eternally grateful that my place of work provides not only free coffee all day long, but also real mugs to drink it out of; no Styrofoam or paper cups for us.

Still, compared to the collection of mugs that fill my kitchen cupboard, this one was plain. It wasn’t handmade, wood-fired, or a memento from a special place. But, it had my heart.

It was the cracks. The mug and I, we’ve been places and have the scars to prove it. We have imperfections. Weakness in glazes and materials, perhaps there from the beginning, that make us vulnerable. I can’t speak for the mug, but my journey has delivered some significant hits. I’ve taken them, some more gracefully than others, and moved on.

A level of comfort and acceptance connected the mug and me. I had no desire to return to the kitchen and find a newer, unblemished version. It was content to sit on my desk for the day, holding refills and steeping my tea.

Relieved of the desire for perfection, we were two wounded travelers with no need to hide cracks or gray hairs. We were simply taking the day as it came, just as we were.

© 2017 Mary van Balen

The Call to Love, Right Where We Are

The Call to Love, Right Where We Are

Rita and Mom's hands

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

Originally published in The Catholic Times, January 7, 2017

I spent a nice, low-key last day of 2016. Ran a few errands. Mailed two packages. Share a leisurely lunch with a good friend who came back to my place for a few last Christmas cookies and conversation. As I write and wait for midnight, I hear one of my daughters and friend laughing in the living room, here for a few hours before heading out to a party. A nice, homey, New Year’s Eve.

I admit to looking forward to 2017 with some trepidation, more aware than usual of the uncertainties we face at home and around the world. The issues are not new, but carry an increased sense of urgency: civil rights, immigration, poverty, global warming, terrorism, war.

Over the holidays, a friend shared with me the trauma she is experiencing after returning from working on a documentary in the Holy Land. While she heard lots of talk of Bethlehem as Christmas approached, and the strains of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” filled the air, she was overcome by the suffering she witnessed in the modern occupied city of Bethlehem.

“Both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, say, ‘There is no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder here because there is no Post, just traumatic stress disorder’,” she said.

Her experience of one small part of the world speaks to the fear and uncertainty of so many in the global “neighborhood.”

How do we move forward into this new year? As followers of the Christ, how do we bring the love and peace of God’s kingdom into the world? How do we live with hope?

Yesterday, I read the next-to-the-last-last chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict which spoke of the “good zeal” of monastics: to show respect for the other, to seek what is better for others, to support one another, and to show patience and love. Above all, to love God.

In the face of great challenges, loving those we live with and encounter in our daily lives seems trivial. What difference can such small actions make?

In commentary following the passage from the Rule, Benedictine Joan Chittister speaks to Benedict’s insistence on listening for God’s voice in one another and in the present moment. She recounts a wisdom story from another tradition: A seeker asks the teacher how to reach Enlightenment. The answer is deceptively simple: No special time or place is required. No special way of listening or unique places to look. Being present to the moment, to the people around you, to the place where you are is what is needed. Enlightenment happens there.

painting: The Good van Gogh Samaritan, by Vincent

The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh

Jesus in the gospels tells his followers that the Kingdom of God is now, in the moment, as well as coming. He said whatever we do for the least among us, we do for him. He invited us to live as he lived, present in the moment to his relationship with God and with neighbor. And Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, clearly shows who that neighbor is—everyone.

Why is hearing God’s voice and experiencing God in the moment and in others so difficult? Why is “Practicing the Presence of God,” as the 17th century Carmelite, Brother Lawrence taught, such a challenge? Reading his work of the same title, we realize being truly present to God in ordinary life is a human struggle, not unique to our time.

The temptation is to imagine, like the seeker in Joan’s story, that God is found in extraordinary places. That to participate in transforming the world with Divine Love requires dramatic action, and that only a few exceptionally “holy ones” are called to do so.

As we enter 2017, the temptation is to be overwhelmed and think our lives too small, our actions too insignificant to make a difference. Jesus tells us “not so.” The temptation is to look to others, more powerful, more “important” to do the work. Jesus turns that upside down, too. He called poor fisherman, women, and people on the fringes of society ordinary people, not the religious or political big-wigs of his day to bring Love into the world.

And Jesus assured us that we don’t act alone. Joined with the Source of all that is, our acts of love are part of the Divine Act of Love that confronts darkness and is not overcome. Here is the hope we carry into the new year. Be present. Be aware of God-with-us right where we are. And trust in the power of the Love that flows through us to transform the world.

© 2017 Mary van Balen

Lessons from Paris: Befriending Holy Leisure

Lessons from Paris: Befriending Holy Leisure

Woman on a bench in a park writing in her journal

Photo: Mary van Balen
Writing in Jardin du Luxembourg

Originally published in The Catholic Times   June 16, 2016

I’ve recently returned from a wonderful vacation of almost a month in Paris with two of my daughters, one of whom is doing research at the National Natural History Museum there—a perfect reason to visit. Spending so much time with adult daughters is a gift itself. Doing it in Paris? Well, that made it extraordinary.

We did the usual tourist things, visiting museums and landmarks, enjoying Parisian baguettes smeared with butter or jam, and drinking lots of café. A highlight was making the short trip to spend a day at Giverny and Monet’s garden, a lifelong dream of my youngest.

Standing in the oval rooms of Musee de l’Orangerie surrounded by the giant water lily canvasses was breathtaking. I don’t think it makes any difference which you do first, visit the garden or feast on Monet’s paintings, the experiences enrich one another. Musee d’Orsay, a favorite, required two visits.

Art and music are everywhere, not only in museums but in shops, cathedrals, and along the streets. Beauty heals, whether in a painting or in the care taken with displays of pastries and breads for sale. Once, on our way to an evening concert, we were surprised by a woman singing an aria. Speakers provided the music, and her powerful voice poured through the small street. A trio on military patrol, heart-stirred by the song like the rest of us, paused, and one lifted his iPhone to record the sound.

We became accustomed to hearing a classical pianist playing Chopin on Pont Saint-Louis near Notre Dame, someone playing accordion along a strip of small restaurants, or jazz groups entertaining on street corners.  In every case, people stopped to listen, sometimes to dance. Always, music stirs the soul.

I was grateful for the length of our stay. A friend commented on one of my posts saying he was glad I had time to spend enjoying “holy leisure.” A sense of the importance of befriending “holy leisure” is wisdom that came home with me. The temptation, vacation or not, is to try to do too much. In Paris, there was always another amazing museum to visit or landmark to see. What would friends say when you returned if you told them you didn’t visit the Louvre?

We could pack every day, allowing vacation to become a check list. We chose otherwise. While our list of things to see and do was long enough, we gave ourselves days to do nothing special and simply be present to the gifts of the moment and each other.

My daughter made time to paint. Sometimes we walked to a park and she set up on a bench. Other days, the dining room table worked. I journaled, wrote blog posts, and finally figured out how to sketch the lovely green table umbrellas at Luxembourg Garden. We wended our way to our favorite street, Rue Mouffetard, sat in a café and enjoyed starting (or ending) a day slowly. Some of the best times were sitting or walking wherever, all three of us, enjoying each other’s company.

Back home, events and places are different, but schedules and expectations can be as demanding. There is work to do, family and friends to see, events to attend. But I returned determined to enjoy little things, listen to more music, and be attentive to Spirit movements in my heart.

One afternoon, after preparing dinners for the week to come and catching up on vacation laundry, I walked outside and tossed cans and jars into the recycling bin. The air was particularly clear after a rain, and as anyone in central Ohio with asthma knows, that is something to celebrate. Back in the kitchen, I started to wash up the dishes, then remembered Paris. “No,” I thought responding to the lift I had felt, “Enjoy.”

I poured a glass of iced tea and sat in the plastic lawn chair on my porch. That’s it. I sat and looked and breathed air that felt good in my lungs. A hummingbird buzzed in over my shoulders and headed toward a green patch of ground cover looking for blooms. A sparrow hopped out from underneath a bush with a huge piece of fuzzy fluff in its beak. The breeze picked up and leaves on the trees across the street danced.

A short prayer of thanksgiving. Some quiet moments of remembering that I live in God’s presence.

The truth that we meet God in the present is nothing new, but deceptively simple. In Paris, at home, anywhere.

© 2016 Mary van Balen

Morning Prayer in Trosly

Morning Prayer in Trosly

After breakfast of toast—a treat since our apartment does not have a toaster—butter, jam, and coffee, my friend Rick went to morning prayer in the chapel at La Ferme de Trosly. I went upstairs and straightened my bedroom: Sheets and towels were dropped into the laundry basket in the hallway. Bedspreads and pillows were smoothed and clothes packed into the always handy Longchamp bag. I draped a trench coat and sweater over my arm and took the spiral steps down to the welcome desk. Leaving my things with Benedicta, I opened the door into a misty morning for a walk.

Prayer and Attentiveness

close up of tiny flowers growing on a mossy, rock wall in Trosly, France.

Tiny flowers on old stone wall, Trosly-Breuil, France. Photo: Mary van Balen


by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

close up of a tangle of roots and a snail shell on old mossy stone wall in Trosly, France

Tangle or roots, flowers, and a snail shell on old stone wall, Trosly-Breuil, France. Photo: Mary van Balen


View on a misty morning on Rue des Croisettes, Trosly, France.

Rue des Criosettes, Trosly-Breuil, France
Photo: Mary van Balen


Close up of Horse Chestnut tree blooms, Trosly, France.

Horse Chestnut blooms, Trosly-Breuil, France
Photo: Mary van Balen


close up of dew beads clinging to edge of red leaf

Dew beads, Trosly-Breuil, France Photo: Mary van Balen


Close up of purple and white lilacs

Lilacs, Trosly-Breuil, France Photo: Mary van Balen


The Val Fleuri, Trosly, France Photo: Mary van Balen

The Val Fleuri, Trosly-Breuil, France Photo: Mary van Balen


Close up of green weeds and plants covered with dew beside the road, Trosly, France

Beside the road, Trosly-Breuil, France Photo: Mary van Balen