Fed State

I recently started intermittent fasting. It really wasn’t about weight loss for me (although I would welcome a little of that, no lie…).

I was listening to a Jen Fulwiler podcast, and she mentioned a book called Delay, Don’t Deny, by Gin Stephens. It sounded like a Catholic concept to me, and I was intrigued. I didn’t read the whole text, so I can’t give my seal of approval for the book – or really for Jen, either – but I was struck by the idea that our American bodies are in a fed state most of the time due to our regular patterns of eating and snacking. The fed state means that we are constantly either using or storing the nutrients as they enter our digestive systems. Many Americans seldom enter a fasting state, where the body can tap into its stores for nourishment.

There are a lot of physical, psychological, and emotional triggers and issues surrounding food and its consumption, and I want to be careful with my comments and thoughts, lest I lead anyone astray or misrepresent the science.

For me, hearing about the fed and fasting states took me to my mid-pandemic spiritual life. March, April, and May found me often seeking quick and easy comfort – in food, in wine, in entertainment – anything that distracted me for a few moments from the fear and uncertainty all around. I was in a constant fed state, living off whatever I took in on the regular.

The thing is, by June I was heavier but emptier than I was in March. The constant literal and symbolic feeding wasn’t leading me to health and happiness, I wasn’t tapping into my stores and finding satisfaction.

Catholicism is filled with paradoxes, and here we find some examples: we must empty ourselves to be filled, we must fast to truly appreciate the feast.

Catholicism also recognizes that we are not soul-less bodies or bodiless souls. We are integrated such that what happens to the physical body impacts the soul, and vice versa.

With that understanding, I knew it was time to get back in shape. I needed to know hunger for God, to tap into the rich stores of my foundation and allow Him to nourish me. I couldn’t live off the junk food that I was pouring in and be healthy. And, thanks be to God, I can do that by starting with the tangible and moving inward.

When it is time to physically fast, I do so knowing that I have the great privilege of having good, stored nutrients to fuel my body, and when it is time to eat, I do so with relish and joy. Food can be part of our joy, it can be part of what gives us comfort. The same can be said of entertainment or other recreational pursuits in moderation and in it’s due time.

Spiritually speaking, I use my (extremely mild) physical hunger to drive me to prayer. I ask to be emptied of my own selfishness to be filled with Divine love. I am also feasting on good soul food like Fr Jacques Phillippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace.

Pope St. John Paul II said in 1996, “One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. . .

I cannot end this reflection without mentioning the reality that there are those among us who are truly, regularly hungry in both body and soul. I work on myself so that I can be ready and fortified to help others. I should be filled such that I can pour out the love I’ve received to others.

As a final aside, I have been serving on my Diocese’s Women’s Conference committee, and we have been planning for the virtual event (happening today!) with keynote speaker Emily Stimpson Chapman. She writes about food and its spiritual connections in her book The Catholic Table – Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. I CAN give my seal of approval on this one, and I hope you will read it.


What fuels your spiritual life? How do you live out the integration of body and soul? Let me know in the comments below. Let us know you like this content by clicking like, then share with friends and family.

Silence

As tourists stream into chapels, cathedrals, and basilicas in Italy, they are greeted with the musky scent of history, breathtaking art, an aura of peace…and signs everywhere demanding silenzio!

It became a family joke during our once in a lifetime trip several years ago. To this date, a firm and enthusiastic “silenzio!” at family gatherings is guaranteed at least a snicker. Think about it, though. It’s a little sad that, even in the face of ancient holiness, we have to be reminded to be silent.

When you think of fun family times, doesn’t your mind immediately frame boisterous holiday dinners, competitive rounds of Uno, Catan, Risk, or (my personal fav) Agricola, and backyard games with crazy unwritten (and yet hotly contested…) rules? As I reflect on moments emblazoned on my heart as particular treasures , however, rare silent exchanges rush into view.

When our granddaughter was born last year, I had the immense privilege of living with my daughter for a bit while my son-in-law was completing some military training. One of my great joys was to let my daughter go to bed while I managed the final wake period of the day and prepared Aletheia for bed. I snuggled and sang to her, and she looked into my soul with her big blue-gray eyes. While the stars shone and the light of the moon rested on the windowsill behind me, we gazed at each other and connected in the stillness.

Recently, while visiting with my son and his family, my grandson and I were alone in the living room. The sun was creating interesting patterns of light and shadow, and Daniel was intrigued. The sun must have been shining on my hair, because he came close to study it. His chubby toddler hands moved slowly and ever so gently as he combed his fingers through my hair. I said nothing. He was so still and focused. We just looked at one another for a long moment and smiled. The deepest part of our souls connected in that moment – in silence.

We all know and acknowledge the distraction and noise of our 21st century lives. The ruckus of games and adventures are necessary and enjoyable aspects of our role as grandparents. But what a gift we give when we bring tranquility. As my grandchildren grow, I want them to remember the chases around the kitchen island, the wacky peek-a-boo games, and the splashes in the kiddie pool in the backyard. Even more, though, I want the kind of moments that I described above to be just as transformational for them as they are for me.

I hope and pray that my grandchildren will embrace soundless beauty. I want them to experience transcendence in silence – without needing a sign to remind them.

What is your relationship with silence? Have you had similar experiences in your family of families? Do you have any thoughts to share about silence in your spiritual life? Let us know in the comments section. Click like and share on content that appeals to you and let us know what you’d like to see covered here.

Recognizing the Body

Not long ago, I was visiting my daughter, her husband, and our granddaughter. These days of social distancing are hard for everyone, but I can’t help but highlight the difficulties for young children (and their parents). One of my goals during the visit was to get Aletheia out for some unique experiences in the outdoors.

My daughter and I found a nearby park with walking trails and we set out on a very hot afternoon. We found a shaded, grassy place for Aletheia to get out of the comfort of the stroller and expend some of her boundless energy.

The terrain was uneven, and Aletheia sometimes stumbled, and even fell, as she learned to navigate over sticks, bumps, and small divots. She had to experiment with how high to lift her feet, how fast she could go, or how much force she needed to use to climb over small hills. Toddlers need experiences like this to exercise their proprioceptive sense, that is, the communication between receptors in joints, ligaments, and muscles and the brain which help them understand their body’s position and movement. It helps them recognize their own body and gain control over it.

We don’t think very much about this sense, but it is central to our everyday experience. Those who lack proprioception may fall or trip more often (and thus have more broken bones) or use excessive force for delicate tasks. In the extreme, there have been cases of a complete inability to sense the parameters of one’s body, making it impossible to move, grasp, or feel (for example, see Losing Touch: A Man Without His Body by Jonathan Cole, 2016).

Some activities to nurture the proprioceptive sense in young children:

(Some ideas taken from Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom, 2016)

  • Encourage “heavy” work:
    • Pull a full bag of toys across the room
    • Pull a wagon (loaded with treasures, perhaps?)
    • Push an ottoman to a favorite reading spot by a window
    • Push a log to make a bridge or a seat
    • Lift cans and boxes to help unload after a shopping trip
    • Pick up stones or rocks for building and playing outside
    • Provide heavy and light objects together for children to experience the difference
  • Practice working with delicate items (with discretion and safety!)
    • Allow children to briefly handle breakable objects (with supervision). Even very young children can learn what “gentle” means! Here is our grandson making “coffee” for his family:
    • Allow children to help care for plants
    • Give children a few stacked cupcake liners to separate
    • Help children learn to remove one sheet from a paper towel roll

I couldn’t help but make a different connection as I considered the concept of “recognizing the body”. Some translations of 1 Corinthians 11:29 use this terminology in terms of receiving Holy Communion. St. Paul explains the importance of recognizing (or discerning) that in Holy Communion, we consume Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that we receive the Real Presence of Christ: body, blood, soul, and divinity. This Eucharist is the center of the Christian life. Through it, the whole Church is united into Christ, as a body is united to its head.

So, in a way, we can consider right reception of the Eucharist an exercise in spiritual proprioception. As we enter into the mystery of Christ’s Passion, we gain an understanding of who we truly are, and who we are meant to be. We gain a sense of our own place in the Body by recognizing the Body of Christ. Without this proper disposition, we lose touch, we fall.

Some suggestions for strengthening your spiritual “proprioception”:

  • If you are able, regularly make visits to an Adoration Chapel or a Church to spend time in silence and prayer
  • Read what the Church teaches about the Eucharist in the Catechism
  • Read some books about the Eucharist (The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn or The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre – just for starters)
  • Get in a habit of praying before and after receiving the Eucharist. Here are some examples.

Do you have other ideas for building physical or spiritual proprioception? Let me know in the comments below. Let us know you like this content by clicking like, then share with friends and family.

Dangers of Hindsight

As my children entered young adulthood, a theme emerged. I found myself discounting my experience as a young mother. The “should haves” abounded. I should have been more relaxed. I should have enjoyed each moment with our precious cherubs. I should have been more flexible. I should have embraced a different (fill in the blank) parenting philosophy. 

Then my children had children. Suddenly memories and emotions flooded back. Babies are HARD! And there is  a ton of stress and confusion. While I didn’t enjoy watching these new parents struggle, I found that significant personal healing accompanied their foray into the wilds of child rearing. I had two babies in 11 months! The idyllic domestic scene that I imagined I “should have” created was not realistic – or even really desirable. Doesn’t something truly grow grand under a little pressure?

My parenting story is littered with mistakes, sins, and omissions. I have wounded my children, and they have wounded me. But do you know who encouraged me to give my young mother self a little grace? My own daughter – my eldest. The starter child, if you will. And as she heaped love, mercy, and forgiveness upon me I realized that I had to broaden my perspective. For if I cannot look gracefully upon my own early mothering, might she wonder if I can look with grace upon her fledgling attempts? And what example does my self-castigation set for my children? What was sinful has been confessed and is as far from me as the east is from the west, and what was immature is slowly and sometimes painfully being pruned by the Master Gardener Himself.  

So I am declaring grandparenting an age of grace – for myself, my children and their spouses, and my grandchildren (that’s the easy part).


How have your children, young or old, been a grace to you? What expectations of yourself are you working through? Please let us know in the comments below. If you like what your reading, please click “like” and share.

Going Viral

I opened the computer to write this post, the topic of which I have been mulling over for a few days. Not surprisingly, I instantly lost focus as the screen lit up, and my surfing fingers reflexively navigated to the daily COVID numbers for our area, which have unfortunately been on the rise. Another headline caught my eye as I was ready to click away: Working families enlist grandparents to help with the kids. Further investigation revealed that my detour was a happy fault. The story meshes well with my recent thoughts.

The pandemic is changing much of what we once considered normal, grandparenting included. For some, COVID has brought separation from our family of families, either due to travel difficulties or personal health concerns. For others, closed schools and working parents have prompted grandparents to step into a more active childcare role. Either way, the question of connection is the same. How can we engage with and deepen relationships with our grandkids? And more importantly, how can we bring a sense of peace and security to them in these tricky times?

Now I am new to this grand role, so my thinking and experience has hovered round toddler issues. I’m looking forward to more seasoned grands adding to this conversation!

Some ideas:

Remote connections:

  • Record yourself reading some children’s books. (Video would be best so they can see you and the illustrations!) Parents can use these stories to get a short break or as a screen treat or bedtime ritual. 
  • Reading stories in a live videochat is an obvious extension. There are clearly conversational and relational advantages to the live option, but recordings are convenient fast fixes for frazzled parents. 
  • To support faith formation, you can record simple prayers, tell saint stories, or even make some finger puppets or paper characters to retell some Bible stories. If you can carry a tune, record some beloved hymns.
  • Play video peek-a-boo. Our grandkids think it is hysterical to see us pop in and out of the viewing area.

In-person connections:

  • Create discovery bags with odds and ends around your house. Here is one I made recently for our grandson. He especially focused on the candle! These bags can be easily modified for ages and specific interests.
  • Get outside!!! Go for nature walks and spend time investigating God’s world – especially at the micro-level. I am amazed at how both our grandchildren will watch a bee, an ant, or a butterfly.
  • Involve the children in a cooking or baking project. Even a toddler can lend a hand, and I find we grands are a little more lenient and willing to allow for the variables that may occur… Our 15 month old grandson recently helped me spice some homemade pizza. He loved handing me the spice jars and putting them back on the rack. 
  • Build a couch fort. This one is Gregory’s specialty!

I don’t know any unstressed parents of young children right now, do you? I’m sure that taking some pressure off their shoulders – even if it is brief and virtual – will be a tremendous blessing to them. Of course there is no question that the time will bless us as grandparents!!


Do you have any remote or in-person ideas for connecting with your family? Please let us know in the comments below. If you like what your reading, please click “like” and share.