Finding God in All Things — the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola (31 July 2013) and the Buttefly Pavilion

For the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, this was my #FindIggy submission. A.M.D.G.

St. Val the Urban Monastic

In all life’s absurdity, disappointments, moments of small and great joy, the incomprehensible sorrow, the unfathomable disappointments, in the everyday ordinary mundane, and the wordless extraordinary? For me, finding God in all things is the million tiny ways — through each other, through circumstances, and through creation — that God shows his love and care and joy for us.

A favorite recent moment was me chasing butterflies all over the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Butterfly Pavilion on afternoon last week, trying to get a good photograph. Impatient, I put my bag down to be able to maneuver better for photographs of a nearby butterfly bush. This is what I found when I came back to my bag. God, like butterflies, is best waited on in his own time…and tends to show up in unexpected ways that were better than what we were looking for in the first…

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Weekend Work 7-29-13: The Hits Just Keep Coming

I was featured as a favorite comment here regarding a comment I made in another (completely hysterical post you should totally read) on this blog. This made my day on a day that seriously needed cheering up.

Peabody's Lament

Last Tuesday started off pretty typically here at the American Hysterical Society: we quietly exhibited a new collections piece, this one an original perspective on the visiting habits of museum professionals. That was six days, 4,000+ Facebook and Twitter shares, and almost 15,000 views from 30 countries ago!

All we can say is Holy Charles Willson Peale!

So many museum folks not only got the joke, but gleefully laughed at themselves. After everything the museum field has been through these last few years, it was heartening to see people take a breath and a step back. We would like to thank all of you who laughed along with us. You are our target audience.

Of course, not everyone thought it was funny. There were some who felt we had gone too far or that we shouldn’t pick on the noble museum profession. We would like to thank those…

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Sad news

Sad news

I’m working on other stuff, but the got news this morning that one of my best friends from junior high and high school died suddenly yesterday.

For many reasons I am reeling. She would want me to write on.

Blessings — VKS

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Me and my friend Laurie at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2009

Reflections for the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene

My reflections from the other blog for the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.

St. Val the Urban Monastic

I was awake at 3:00 AM.

Why was I awake at 3:00 AM (I went to bed at 12:30 AM).

I have a morning doctor’s appointment this morning that will require a lot of travel time. I am currently fasting in the hopes that they will draw labs. Fasting? Fasting = legalistic meal at 11:45 PM (because that’s how I roll).

I say all this, because it means I will have a long day. I need sleep. Seriously. Need. Sleep.

Why am I awake at 3:00 AM?????

No clue.

I started poking around reading devotional stuff on Facebook, and found that today (22 July) is the feast day for St. Mary Magdalene.

She’s one of my favorite saints. Okay, I can work with a little extra time to write this morning (as I certainly won’t be needing time for breakfast).

I preface this with the idea that I am resolutely…

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Sorrow, dying, hope…and two butterflies

Sorrow, dying, hope…and two butterflies

For a lot of complicated reasons, my soul was in a darkly fragile place the last Friday in June, and throughout that weekend. I haven’t been able to write much, but have been working on this in quiet moments

There are some things for which Hallmark just doesn’t make a card.

There are some sorrows beyond words and beyond tears where — if there were tears — there could never be enough tissues.

There are sorrows, loves, longings, and prayers too profound to be articulated — profound on a level of a depth so deep only the Holy Spirit can work it out.

That Friday night, and throughout that weekend, I was there.

I still don’t have words, but I try to find words.

God takes the time to find me.

I’m still reading Hiking Through: One man’s journey to peace and freedom on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Stutzman.  Stutzman’s account is his journey along the Appalachian Trail under the trail name “Apostle” after the sudden death of his wife Mary from sudden and aggressive Stage-IV breast cancer. I really do love this book, it’s a pilgrim’s journey.  What will follow is an excerpt from Chapter 7 — “Butterflies” — which “found” that Friday night.  Unless otherwise credited, the butterfly photographs are of an actual Monarch butterfly I rescued from an orb weaver’s web back on 5 September 2010.  Many days lately I feel like the “before” picture of this rescued butterfly. — VKS

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Monarch caught in an orb weaver's web, 5 SEP 2010

The next morning, Friday, it turned cold and windy. Six miles brought us to a small clearing at Stecoah Gap, where several men had set up a grill and offered hikers hot dogs, candy bars, chips, and beverages. The Good Samaritan this time was a former thru-hiker. Those additional calories helped us knock off the next twelve miles quickly, and we knew we’d meet our deadline. We were less than five miles from the Fontana post office and the comforts of the Fontana Lodge when we stopped for the night just past Walker Gap.

I pitched Big Agnes in a clearing only three feet from a small stream. The little creek was so close I could almost filter water without leaving my tent. I settled in for the night, relaxing into the murmuring of the brook, the sound a balm for my tired body and spirit.

I thought I could hear the soft voice of God in the music of the brook. Apostle, did you see Me today?

“Yes, God, and thank You for springtime!” The valleys and mountains were bursting with new life. At higher elevations buds were starting to appear. In the gaps, flowers waved as I walked by. The earthy smell of spring was everywhere.

How about the butterfly? Did you see the butterfly?

“Dear God, that was awesome! It stopped me in my tracks.”

That morning, a beautiful butterfly had floated above my head, sailed ahead on the path, then circled back and fluttered around me. As I walked, it drifted along beside me for a while. I had watched it with amazement. “Yes, God, and today I remembered that other butterfly you sent my way.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Mary had loved butterflies, especially Monarchs. The Monarch is sometimes called the milkweed butterfly, because most of its life cycle takes place on milkweed plants. Every year, my wife drove out to the country, located a stand of milkweed, and searched for a caterpillar marked with bright yellow and black stripes. The chosen caterpillar would be housed in a mason jar topped with screen, and furnished with twigs and plenty of milkweed leaves. Then the waiting and watching began.

For about two weeks, the caterpillar did nothing but eat and eliminate. But then the excitement started. Mary never missed it, and she made certain we didn’t either. Her excited call would round up the family, and we’d watch that caterpillar start to spin. Hanging upside down from a twig or the bottom surface of the screen, the caterpillar spins until the exterior skeleton slips off and the chrysalis forms a jade green shell.

For the next several weeks, the chrysalis hung immobile. If we went on vacation during that time, the jar of hope traveled in the front seat with us. As the butterfly developed inside, the green sheath slowly changed color and became thin and almost transparent. When the chrysalis finally started to move gently, Mary again gathered our family to watch the drama unfold. Soon a wrinkled, deformed butterfly emerged. For several hours, this sad looking creature would hang on to its former home, slowly moving its wings up and down in an effort to dry and strengthen them.

Then came the ceremony of release. To the front porch we all went, and with Mary’s encouraging words, “Fly, little butterfly,” the now-beautiful creature was set free.

In the week before Mary left us, she spent both days and nights in her chair in the living room, enduring considerable pain, not wanting to move between the chair and bed. Finally, we convinced her to move to her bedroom. As I lifted her from the chair to a wheelchair, someone exclaimed, “Look out there!”

Outside our glass door, a tree branch curved over the balcony, and a caterpillar inched along that branch, ten feet from the ground. In seventeen years of living in that house, we had never seen a caterpillar on that tree. None have been there since that day. This little messenger crept along the branch, then onto a smaller twig, inching closer to the sliding door. I wheeled Mary over so she could get a better view.

I had no doubt God was showing us that Mary was going through her own metamorphosis. She would be set free to fly away, just like all the butterflies she had released into the sunshine.

I settled Mary in her bed, then went back to find the caterpillar. But it had disappeared. Later, I related this little story to our pastor. He did not seem surprised; he said he had often seen God reveal Himself, especially at difficult times.

* * * * * * * * * *

Following Mary’s funeral, I gave some of the flower arrangements to the local nursing home and several friends. I still had a living room full of flowers, so I decided those would go to my sisters and Mary’s friends who had been so helpful during her illness.

The day after the funeral, a friend of Mary’s brought me a twig with a chrysalis bound to it. I stuck the twig into a flower arrangement. One of my sisters had told me she had never seen a butterfly emerge, so I would give her this one to enjoy.

That evening, I fell asleep in my chair in the living room. At two in the morning, an unfamiliar sound woke me. A mysterious fluttering whisper was coming from the assortment of plants and collectibles on the shelf above the kitchen cabinets. I stood dumbfounded as a Monarch butterfly emerged from the plants and danced around me in the living room. It had abandoned its chrysalis before I could deliver it to my sister. I watched in wonderment, not quite believing what I was seeing.

Now it was my turn to grant freedom. The Monarch did not seem eager to leave, but was attracted to the light in the living room. i turned off that light, and turned on the kitchen light. Follow the light, little butterfly. It came to the kitchen. I shut off the kitchen light and flipped on the light in the foyer. The butterfly followed. I opened the front door and snapped off the foyer light while turning on the porch light. Go, little butterfly, fly away. You are free. The butterfly winged through the front door and disappeared.

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Monarch freed from the orb weaver's web, 5 SEP 2010

* * * * * * * * * *

In my tent beside the brook, I remembered the unexpected caterpillar and the night visit of the Monarch butterfly. And before I realized it, was talking aloud, talking with that voice of God in the brook. Correction, I was talking to the voice, because once I got started, I was on a roll and didn’t give much chance for reply.

“Yes, God, I understood the symbolism that night. You set Mary free. So You were there all along? I often questioned whether You cared about what was happening to us. If you care, why did she suffer, so and die?”

I didn’t want glib, churchy lines, I wanted answers.

“Is there a reason for all this sickness and death? If You are in control of everything, why is the world in such a mess?”

Was He listening? Was He there?

“I need to know if You are firmly in command. I could make a case that You do not control events and everything happens at random. But if I can convince myself that You do have a plan, then maybe I could believe Mary died for a good reason.”

If God cared but let us suffer anyway, then I was angry and would be a bit brash with Him.

“How can You know how much pain we went through? Do You know what it’s like to lose a wife or a mom? Oh yes, You lost a son once. But You were only apart for three days. Even I could bear just three days of separation.”

An answer came back, cutting through my pent-up questions and frustration.

You are missing the point, my dear Apostle.

A storm warned me of its rapid approach. Lightning crackled around the campsite and thunder rumbled and echoed through the mountains. The sound of raindrops drowned out my conversation with the brook. Another thunder clap seemed to shake the very ground under our campsite. God had apparently moved from the gentle brook to the powerful storm.

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Wildwood Park, Thousand Oaks, CA 12 SEP 2010

“Wow, God! You can talk loudly!” I said at last — when I could speak again.

You’re a funny one, aren’t you, Apostle?

“Created in Your own image, I believe. Perhaps I am missing the point, but that’s why I’m out here. Sure wish I’d always hear You this clearly. Oh, and thanks for the butterfly today. I’ll look for You tomorrow on the trail.”

* * * * * * * * * *
Right now, in this season of profound darkness, God is sometimes very hard to find or hear. And yet? A part of me still knows that God can be found in all things…somewhere.

God…I’ll look for you tomorrow on the trail. — VKS

All is given by Grace

Life has been hard and busy lately. Still reading, still writing. A post from Julie/Cookie that blessed my day. — VKS

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(photograph: Julie Cook/ Troupe Co. GA/ 2013)

“Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness, and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and above all, through grace given by God.”
St.Diadochos of Photiki

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Divine appointment: Hollywood Bowl

Always keep your divine appointments, even when they freak out your friends.

St. Val the Urban Monastic

In All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning, Manning writes about the sudden death of his first childhood best friend and cites it as “a wound,” but that his impression of Roosevelt’s radio address about the attack on Pearl Harbor (which occurred at about the same time) was “a wound filled with hope.” “A wound filled with hope,” I like that. Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote about that idea without using such words in The Wounded Healer. That’s certainly one of the greatest gifts of grace — to find your deepest wounds filled with hope so that you may use that hope to help and to love others.

So yes, as I wrote in Endless in the not easy: I don’t look for people to devour, I look for people to love.

There is a beautiful doxology prayer I wrote back in 2004 and added lines to…

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