Remembering when...

Posted from Ann O’Hara

The Band of Sisters is celebrating five years together. Throughout this fifth year of being in the Band, are taking a backward glance at some of our previous gatherings - so we might remember and celebrate the many graces that have marked our time together. This is our second post in the series - about our time with the labyrinth.


Back in the spring of 2017 the Band held a labyrinth walk as a gift to all of the faithful women who had been journeying with us.  Now, after three years of annual labyrinth walks, you might have to say it has entered into the realm of being a tradition – an established practice of the Band that really embodies who we are.

Our mission statement says it all: “The Band of Sisters is a group of women dedicated to providing opportunities for people of faith, especially women, to gather in a prayerful setting in order to learn about and share their experiences of faith.”

In the labyrinth, we find that expression of who we are when we gather in a beautiful prayerful setting, individually walk with God to deepen our relationship, and communally share that journey of faith.

Back in the 2017, we were looking for a prayer practice during the season of Lent - a prayer practice that moved us inward to reflect on our life with God, to rest in God, and then to move us back out into the world. The labyrinth seemed perfect. And so for two years we walked during the season of Lent - indoors at the labyrinth at Pullen Baptist Church where the labyrinth path is set into the warm colored wooden floor. This beautiful chapel allowed for quiet reflection.

This year, as we moved the date of the walk into the Easter season, we also moved the walk outdoors - to the Millbrook Baptist labyrinth where we were surrounded with the beauty of new life - blue skies, green trees and plants, the smell of flowers, and the song of the birds.

Traditions can get old if they aren’t allowed to grow a bit. We invite you to grow this tradition with us as we move our labyrinth walk from a yearly gathering to a monthly prayer practice.  Simply come to Millbrook Baptist Church on Millbrook Rd, Raleigh on the fourth Thursday of each month at 9:30 where you will find us - a gathering of the Band. You can also check our calendar for the upcoming dates and details by clicking here and scrolling to the May 23 date.

New to the Labyrinth?– check out this short video on walking narrated by Lauren Artress, the woman who is credited with re-introducing the labyrinth in modern times.

Newsletter for May 2019


As the days grow longer and spring bursts forth in many shades of green, we are surrounded by new life. In this “green” time, we remember St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 10th century mystic, prophet, musician, poet, healer, reformer,  saint, doctor of the Church but above all else a Benedictine sister. She saw the Spirit alive in all creation and described this presence of Spirit as greenness (viriditas, in her words). If you are interested in Hildegard, this 55-minute talk by June Boyce-Tillman is excellent. She begins her talk telling the story of Hildegard, as Hildegard. Click the white arrow to enjoy the video and celebrate the “greening”.



We are having a Birthday Party ro celebrate 5 years of the Band of Sisters. Plan to join the Band on Wednesday, June 19 from 1:00p - 3:00p at the home of one of our band members. There will be lemonade and cake - and even some magic!

You won’t want to miss a minute of the party because at 1:30p, we will be mesmerized by magic from our guest magician - Lee Werley. Following the show, we will have the opportunity to actually learn some magic tricks - so we can wow and delight our friends, neighbors, children, and grandchildren! Come share in the magic of celebrating together.

We will be sending out invitations soon - but you can RSVP on the calendar page at any time by clicking here. Scroll down to the date of the event and follow the registration link. Once you RSVP, we will be in touch with the Raleigh address of the party’s location.



This organization provides clothing to impoverished and homeless children in Wake County. Note in the Pocket believes it is unacceptable that children are limited in their educational and social development because they do not have appropriate clothes for school. Band of Sisters meets up and works with Note in the Pocket to process incoming donations and outgoing orders.

The Volunteer Center is located at: 5100 Lacy Avenue, Raleigh 27609

We are moving our regular day to volunteer to the third Tuesday of each month from 9:30a-12p. See you on May 21st! For the remainder of 2019, you can mark the following dates in your calendar: May 21, June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17, October 15, November 19, December 17.



As a result of the lovely and prayerful labyrinth walk earlier this month, the Band has decided to offer continued opportunities for this prayer practice. You are invited to join the Band at the Millbrook Baptist labyrinth (1519 E. Millbrook Rd | Raleigh, NC 27609) at 9:30a on the 4th Thursday of each month for 60-90 minutes of walking, reflecting, and faith sharing.

Ann O'Hara will start off the time together with a brief orientation on the labyrinth (as needed). Following that, all will be invited to walk the labyrinth (or spend time in contemplation on the nearby benches). There will be ample opportunity for quiet reflection after the walk - as well as time for faith sharing with one another.

Mark your calendars and plan to join us. Going forward for 2019, the dates will be May 23, June 27, July 25, August 22, September 26, October 24, off in November due to Thanksgiving, December 26.



Save the date for our annual retreat: Monday, October 21, 2019 - Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at the beautiful St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC (only about 2 hours from Raleigh). More details to come. Registration is open - click here to be taken to the calendar page. Scroll down to the date of the event to see pricing and accommodations.



With our beloved dead in mind, the Band of Sisters will gather on Monday, 28 October 10:30a-12:30p to pray for our departed. In addition, we will take a guided tour of this historic cemetery - which will have a special focus on the history of some of the women of note who are buried there.

Registration requested. Click here to be taken to the calendar page. Scroll down to the date of the event and follow the registration link.


How often during the Advent season have you felt like you are moving too fast? We hear it all the time from friends and family who get overwhelmed at the busy-ness of the season.

Join us at Sacred Heart Church (the old cathedral), 100 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh as we gather for an evening of Taizé Prayer during the Advent Season. Date and time to be announced.

The season of Advent embraces us with the mystery that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14. 

The Incarnation reminds us that God chooses to meet us where we are and invites us into a deeper relationship.

Advent gives us the opportunity to prepare our hearts to receive the incredible gift of Christmas.

This Taizé service is offered at Sacred Heart by the parish’s Contemplative Prayer Group and the Band of Sisters - with the hope that it will provide for seekers of spirituality a comfortable place to worship no matter what their creed or dogma, bring a variety of people together in loving contemplation, and enrich the lives of those who attend through beauty. The service will last 40-45 minutes.

What Good Dads Still Get Away With

Division of labor in the home is one of the most important equity issues of our time. Yet at this rate it will be another 75 years before men do half the work.

By Darcy Lockman

Dr. Lockman is the author of the forthcoming “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership.”

This article appeared in the New York Times Parenting Newsletter on May 4, 2019


When my husband and I became parents a decade ago, we were not prepared for the ways in which sexism was about to express itself in our relationship. Like me, he was enthralled by our daughters. Like him, I worked outside the home. And yet I was the one who found myself in charge of managing the details of our children’s lives.

Too often I’d spend frantic days looking for spring break child care only to hear him ask, “Oh, there’s no school tomorrow?” Or we’d arrive home late with two tired kids, and instead of spearheading their nighttime routine he’d disappear to brush his own teeth. Unless I pointed out these lapses (which he’ll tell you I often did, and I’ll tell you I often did not), he was unaware.

We’ve all heard this story before. Thinking about my own relationship, and watching the other couples I knew, I kept wondering: Why is this still happening?

The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.

Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?

The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.

Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. Men resist because it is in their “interest to do so,” write Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, in their book, “Gender and Families.” By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

While interviewing working parents for a book on parenthood, I spoke with one dad in Vermont who said: “The expectation among my male friends is still that they will have the life they had before having kids. My dad has never cooked a meal. I’ve strayed from that. But subconsciously, the thing that makes you motivationally step up and do something when you’re not being asked …” he trailed off, and then said: “I have justifications. It’s a cop-out.”

Take love out of the equation and focus on the workplace, and it’s clear how this plays out. Studies show that male employees sit back while their female co-workers perform the tasks that don’t lead to promotion. In a series of lab studies, the economists Lise Vesterlund, Linda Babcock and Maria Recalde and the organizational behaviorist Laurie Weingart found that in coed groups, women are 50 percent more likely than men to volunteer to take on work that no one else wants to do. But in all-male groups, the men volunteer just as readily.

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Vesterlund explained that the women do the work “because they’re expected to.” The men “come into the room, they see the women, they know how we play these games.”

We play the same games at home. I interviewed couples separately and found that the women were often angry, while many men didn’t seem to realize there was a problem.

“She felt like we were really in it together,” a father of teenagers told me — after I spoke with his long-frustrated wife.

The couples offered three explanations for this labor imbalance. The first was that women take over activities like bedtime, homework and laundry because men perform these tasks inadequately. But this isn’t “maternal gatekeeping,” the theory that men want to help but women disparage their capabilities and push them out. Instead these seem to be situations that necessitate the intervention of a reasonable adult.

A mother in California said: “It’s important to me that my sons are not falling asleep in class and that they’re not late for school. My husband does not share those priorities, so I do bedtime and school drop-off.”

The dad in Vermont explained: “I do laundry when I need it. When it comes to the kids’ laundry, I could be more proactive, but instead I operate on my time scale. So my wife does most of their laundry. Let me do it my way and I’m happy to do it, but if you’re going to tell me how to do it, go ahead and do it yourself.”

The second explanation involved forgetting or obliviousness. A mother in Illinois said: “My husband is a participatory and willing partner. He’s not traditional in terms of ‘I don’t change diapers.’ But his attention is limited.” She added, “I can’t trust him to do anything, to actually remember.”

A dad in San Francisco said that many of the tasks of parenting weren’t important enough to remember: “I just don’t think these things are worth attending to. A certain percentage of parental involvement that my wife does, I would see as valuable but unnecessary. A lot of disparity in our participation is that.”

Finally, some men blamed their wives’ personalities. A San Diego dad said his wife did more because she was so uptight. “She wakes up on a Saturday morning and has a list. I don’t keep lists. I think there’s a belief that if she’s not going to do it, then it won’t get done.” (His wife agreed that this was true, but emphasized that her belief was based on experience: “We fell into this easy pattern where he learned to be oblivious and I learned to resent him.”)

A father in Portland, Ore., confirmed that his wife takes on more but said: “It has to do with her personality. She always has to stay busy. No matter what day of the week it is, she has a need to be engaged, to be doing something.”

Many mothers told me they had tried to change this and had aired their grievances with their partners, only to watch as nothing changed. A mother in Queens said she spent three years trying to get her husband to do more before coming to terms with the fact that maybe it was never going to happen. “He notices the unfairness, but he just accepts it as something we have a disagreement about,” she said. “How much convincing of the other person can you do?”

All this comes at a cost to women’s well-being, as mothers forgo leisure time, professional ambitions and sleep. Wives who view their household responsibilities “as unjust are more likely to suffer from depression than those who do not,” one study says. When their children are young, employed women (but not men) take a hit to their health as well as to their earnings — and the latter never recovers. Child-care imbalances also tank relationship happiness, especially in the early years of parenthood.

Division of labor in the home is one of the most important gender-equity issues of our time. Yet at the current rate of change, MenCare, a group that promotes equal involvement in caregiving, estimates that it will be about 75 more years before men worldwide assume half of the unpaid work that domesticity requires.

If anything is going to change, men have to stop resisting. Gendered parenting is kept alive by the unacknowledged power bestowed upon men in a world that values their needs, comforts and desires more than women’s. It’s up to fathers to cop to this, rather than to cop out.

Jean Vanier, ‘living saint’ who ministered to people with disabilities, dies at 90

Colleen Dulle, May 07, 2019, America Magazine


Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche and Faith and Light communities, which support people with disabilities and their families, died in the early morning of May 7 at age 90, surrounded by family, according to a statement from L’Arche. He had been living in a nursing home since mid-April.

Mr. Vanier inspired countless people with his simple message that people with disabilities are teachers.

A former naval officer and professor, Mr. Vanier resigned from his teaching position to form the first L’Arche community, in which people with and without disabilities live and work side by side. He embodied an idea he often preached: that people best learn to love by climbing down, rather than up, the ladder of wealth and social success.

Randall Wright, the director of “Summer in the Forest,” a 2017 documentary about Mr. Vanier and L’Arche, said of Mr. Vanier: “He found a lot of answers through discovering, with joy, relationship with people at the bottom of society. And realizing that they have something which was on offer to him and in a sense hadn’t been on offer to him at the top of society, which is a kind of ability to be truthful about being human and not needing to put on the act of importance and authority.

And so I think what Jean did was declare that he was going to give up his life; he’s going to sacrifice for those people. He’s going to look after them his whole life. And when he did this, he had no idea that it would lead, in a sense, to success. He had no idea that people would be talking about this years later. It was just a way of declaring how the world should be,” Mr. Wright said in a phone interview.

Those who knew Mr. Vanier said that he was a physically towering yet deeply tender presence.

Krista Tippett, the host of the radio show “On Being,” interviewed Mr. Vanier in 2007. She described the experience in an email to America this morning. “Sitting with Jean was a transformative experience in and of itself,” Ms. Tippett wrote. “We called the show we created with him ‘The Wisdom of Tenderness’—a wisdom that radiated, [was] embodied, in his presence. Yet this tenderness was also a form of power, as paradoxical and true as the Gospel teaching the L’Arche communities took up as a way of life—that there is strength in weakness, light in darkness and beauty in what the world declares broken.”

James Martin, S.J., the editor at large at America, said: “Jean Vanier showed us, like few people ever have, the overwhelming power of gentleness. Not only in his ministry with the disabled but in his voice, his demeanor, his very presence. During his life there was no one I thought more deserving of the title ‘living saint.’”

Mr. Vanier was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1928 to a prominent Canadian diplomatic family. He grew up in France, until his family fled the impending Nazi invasion in 1940. The family moved to Canada, and shortly thereafter, at age 13, Mr. Vanier decided to join the British Royal Navy and began his studies at an English naval academy.

Mr. Vanier served in World War II with both the British Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1945, while on leave from his military service, he joined his mother volunteering at the Paris railway station where survivors of the Nazi concentration camps arrived after their liberation.

He described the experience to Maggie Fergusson of The Economist: “I’ll never forget the men and women who arrived off the trains—like skeletons, still in the blue-and-white striped uniforms of the concentration camps, their faces tortured with fear and anguish. That, and the dropping of the atom bombs, strengthened a feeling in me that the navy was no longer the place for me, that I wanted to devote myself to works of peace.”

Mr. Vanier would continue serving in the navy for five more years, until he resigned in 1950 to take undergraduate courses in Paris and pursue a more spiritual path. He considered becoming a priest and began discerning with his spiritual advisor and family friend, Dominican Father Thomas Philippe. Mr. Vanier’s formation was interrupted when Father Philippe received an order from Rome to cease his ministry for undisclosed reasons.

Rather than pursuing the priesthood, Mr. Vanier went on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris, writing his dissertation on the concept of happiness in Aristotelian ethics. During his studies, he lived alone and continued praying about how God might want him to spend his life, at one point taking up residence at a hermitage in Fatima. He taught philosophy at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto during the fall semester of 1963.

Over the Christmas break that year, Mr. Vanier visited the French mental institution where Father Philippe served as chaplain. There, he encountered the harsh conditions under which the patients lived, dismissed as “idiots” and locked inside, given nothing to do but take a two-hour compulsory nap each day.

This now-famous encounter inspired Mr. Vanier to purchase a small house in Trosly-Breuil, a town in rural France, in August 1964. Mr. Vanier invited two developmentally disabled men who had been living in institutions, Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux, to live with him in the cottage, which became the first L’Arche community.

L’Arche, named after Noah’s Ark, has today expanded to 149 communities in 35 countries on five continents. These houses and daytime communities are guided by Mr. Vanier’s philosophy that everyone, regardless of ability or disability, should be given opportunities to grow and learn.

Nathan Ball, who met Mr. Vanier as a volunteer at Trosly-Breuil around 1980, said in an email to America, “In those early years of L’Arche the only ‘charter’ we had was the beatitudes of Jesus. Jean loved to talk about his friendships with Jesus and with people who have an intellectual disability.... Through Jean’s insight, perhaps for the first time in the history of the church, people with an intellectual disability are seen, not as objects of charity but as a precious gift.”

In the early 2010s, several women without intellectual disabilities who had been spiritually accompanied by Mr. Vanier’s mentor, Father Philippe, reported that they had been sexually abused by the priest. L’Arche requested a church investigation that found him guilty of charges dating as far back as the 1970s.

Mr. Vanier expressed shock and sorrow in a letter, writing: “There is a tremendous gap between, on the one hand, the serious nature of these acts that generated such suffering in the victims and, on the other hand, the action of God in me and in L’Arche through Pere Thomas. I am unable to peacefully reconcile these two realities.” “That said,” Mr. Vanier continued, “in thinking of the victims and their suffering, I want to ask forgiveness for all that I did not do or should have done.”

Though Mr. Vanier’s Catholic faith shaped the first L’Arche house, the communities around the world have taken on an ecumenical bent, reflecting the predominant religious traditions of the surrounding areas and welcoming assistants and disabled “core members” of all traditions.

With Marie-Hélène Mathieu, Mr. Vanier also co-founded “Faith and Light,” an international organization of small groups that meet regularly to support and celebrate people with developmental disabilities and their families.

After spending a year and a half with Mr. Vanier at Trosly-Breuil, Mr. Ball decided to leave the community to undertake graduate studies in Toronto. “During my last visit with Jean before I returned to North America, he thanked me for coming to L’Arche, looked me in the eye and put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Please do whatever you can to help.’ He was not asking me for a favor. He was not asking me to stay with L’Arche, although in fact, I have never left,” Mr. Ball wrote. He has worked for L’Arche for 20 years.

“This was a man who lived an unshakably committed life asking me to do the same. He was humbly, confidently and joyfully calling me to work for peace by helping to foster communities of love and justice in the world. Jean knew that none of us can go it alone and that when we try, we are bound to fail. Jean lived the beautiful mystery of our human condition that we need one another, young and old, strong and weak, and he was asking me to do the same. I will be forever grateful.”

Ms. Tippett wrote: “I keep thinking this morning about a notion of Mother Teresa that animated Jean and that he took up with such delight and vigor—that we’re called to move ‘from repulsion to compassion and from compassion to wonderment.’ What a sentence for our world now. He will continue to teach us.”

Mr. Vanier wrote more than 30 books and was awarded a number of honors including the Order of Canada, the French Legion of Honour, the Pacem in Terris Award and the Templeton Prize. He directed the original L’Arche house in Trosly-Breuil until 1990 and lived there until April 2019.

Honoring Mary in your garden


Plant a Mary Garden

There can be such grace in gardening. During this month of May - the month of Mary, consider a planting a garden dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. In a Mary Garden, which can be as small as a lovely little pot or as large as your entire lot, a statue or image of Mary is surrounded by flowers and aromatic herbs which have special meaning.

A Mary Garden can be as fancy, formal, or wild as you wish. Whether you have a sunny or shady yard, the following list of plants and herbs provide you with a variety of choices regardless of your conditions or space requirements. Your location and type of soil will determine what can be planted in an outdoor garden. But once you have that sorted, let your personal preference be your guide.

Perhaps your garden already contains many of your favorite flowers that also appear on the following list. Whether you planted them with the intention of honoring Mary, or whether it is Divine Providence that they are already in your garden - it doesn’t matter. You can easily add to your garden as you turn your thoughts to Mary.

The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish's (in Pennsylvania) Mary Garden Dedication Booklet which asks the reader to visit the garden and think of Mary:

"Picture her eyes (Forget-Me-Nots), her hair (Maidenhair Fem), her five fingers (Potentilla). Think about her apparel: her smock (Morning Glory), her veil (Baby's Breath), her nightcap (Canterbury Bells), her gloves (Foxglove), and her shoes (Columbine). Remember her attributes: Mary's humility (Violet), the fruitful virgin (Strawberry), Mary's queenship (Virgin Lily), Mary's Flower of God (English Daisy), Mary's glory (Saint John's Wort), and Our Lady's Faith (Veronica).

Think about her life: The Bethlehem Star (Bellflower), the Christmas Flower (Poinsettia), Lady's Bedstraw (Dianthus - Mary used bedstraw to prepare a bed for Jesus), the Epiphany flower (Chrysanthemum), the Flight into Egypt (Fig Tree - legend says that the Holy Family ate the fruit of this tree during their flight into Egypt), Our Lady's Tears (Lily of the Valley - tiny white nodding bell-shaped flowers can be likened to a train of tears), Our Lady's Tresses (Asparagus Fern - legend holds that at the foot of the cross, Mary, in. deep agony, tore out a tress of her hair which Saint John preserved), Mary's Bitter Sorrow (Dandelion), and the Assumption (Hosta - Plantation Lily blooms at the time of the Feast of the Assumption)."

We were inspired by a older post on the Franciscan Media website and are using parts of it here to provide you with some information about how to honor Mary in your garden. You will find a listing of plants to consider - coupled with lovely reflections on how they relate to Mary. Perhaps you will want to incorporate some of these lovely blooms into your garden plan this Spring.

Honoring Mary in Your Garden

From Franciscan Media

Vincenzina Krymow (1930-2015) is the author of Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends & Meditations. Sister M. Jean Frisk, Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, has a master’s in theology with a Marian concentration and a licentiate in sacred theology.

During the Middle Ages, the faithful saw reminders of Mary, the Mother of God, in the flowers and herbs growing around them. Violets were symbols of her humility, lilies her purity and roses her glory. They called her “Flower of Flowers,” and named plants after her. Marigolds were Mary’s Gold, clematis was the Virgin’s Bower and lavender was Our Lady’s Drying Plant.

Devoted to Mary, people decorated her altars with flowers on her feast days. Poets and popes praised her in hymns, as in this 15th-century Ave Maria: Heil be thou, Marie, that aff flour of all As roose in eerbir so reed.

In the last century, prior to the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960’s, the faithful also honored Mary with flowers. May crownings were the tradition in Catholic schools during Mary’s month (May), and makeshift home altars bearing an image of Mary were decorated with the choicest home-grown blossoms.

Those traditions have almost disappeared, but the medieval custom of finding reminders of Mary’s attributes, glory and sorrows in flowers and herbs has left a legacy that can enrich our lives in this millennium.

In medieval times, legends about flowers and herbs, some of them dating from the first century, were used to instruct the faithful as well as entertain them. Those legends, as well as the Mary names of flowers, can still inform and delight us.

Reflecting on the flower names, we can honor Mary and find relevance for our own lives. We model Mary’s humility as we gaze upon the humble violet, sing her praises with petunias and share her sorrows as we behold the purple blossoms and sword-like leaves of the blue flag iris.

Flower and herb legends tell us about important moments in Mary’s life. The Madonna Lily was carried by the Angel Gabriel when he visited Mary to tell her God had chosen her to be the mother of the Savior. Our Lady’s Bedstraw, Holy Hay and other herbs became radiant in the humble manger where Mary gave birth to Jesus. Carnations and the Christmas Rose bloomed on that night.

More than 30 flowers and herbs bear legends about Mary’s life. Many of the plants can be easily grown in your own Mary Garden, a garden dedicated to Mary and containing her image and plants associated with her by name or legend. They are found in Mary Gardens throughout the world, should you want to make a pilgrimage in Mary’s honor. The legends and reflections which follow can take us, in spirit and in our hearts, on a virtual journey with Mary.


Aquilegia vulgaris. Our Lady’s Shoes.

aquilegia vulgaris.jpg

Columbine is said to have sprung up wherever Mary’s foot touched the earth when she was on her way to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.

The spurred flower resembles a little dove and came to symbolize the Holy Spirit. In England doves were used to decorate the altar in Whitsun Week, the week following Pentecost Sunday, as the faithful made a connection between the dove, the Holy Spirit and Our Lady’s Flower, the name they had given the columbine.


Mary, how many miles you walked upon this earth! Your grace-filled being brought the Son of Man close to us. Have we ever thanked you for the role you played? Let us follow your footprints; even better, teach us to walk in your shoes.

Ox-eye Daisy


Chrysanthemum leucanthemum. Mary’s Star.

On the night that Jesus was born, the Magi, praying on a mountainside, saw a star appear in the form of a fair child. The child told them to go to Jerusalem, where they would find a newborn child.

When the Wise Men, following the star, reached the village of Bethlehem, they looked for a further sign. Suddenly King Melchior saw a strange white and gold flower that looked like the star that had led them to Bethlehem. As he bent to pick it, the door of a stable opened and he saw the Holy Family.

A mystery play called Office of the Star, a pageant about the Magi’s visit on the Feast of the Epiphany, began as part of the liturgical service in the 11th century, probably in France. Later it was replaced by Feast of the Star, performed partly in church and partly outdoors.


Things, persons and events are prophets pointing the way to God; they are priests and people praising God. Did you learn, Mary, to discern God’s graces long before Bethlehem and the coming of your child? If only I could share your wisdom, as did the Wise Men who knelt down before the child in your arms.


Juniperis. The Madonna’s Juniper Bush.


In Sicily, it is told that the juniper bush saved the life of Mary and the infant Jesus during their flight into Egypt. As the soldiers pursued them, the Holy Family hastened through fields of peas and flax and thickets of various shrubs. A juniper bush growing nearby opened up its thick branches to enclose the Holy Family, hiding them until Herod’s men had left. The inside of the large bush became a soft bed, sheltering the fleeing family, while needles on the outside branches grew prickly as spears. Herod’s soldiers could not penetrate the spiky branches of the juniper and passed the family by.

The juniper mentioned in the Bible is thought to be Genista raetum, called White Broom or Juniper Bush in Palestine, which produces a scraggly plant not casting much shade. The common juniper is mentioned in the first European herbal, De Materia Medica, by a first-century Greek physician named Dioscorides. In the Middle Ages it was used in gardens with other scented herbs.


Our garden of life includes blessing and despair. We marvel that the two can go hand in hand. Just as we note the splendor of our gardens, we also note the toil and sweat it takes over the years to establish a good garden. Egypt worked hard to make a land where junipers can thrive. Mary, you, Joseph and the child would live there for a while. Sometimes I wonder how you mastered life in the desert. Teach me.


Fuchsia magellanica and hybrida. Our Lady’s Ear-drop.


The gently drooping flowers resemble ear-drops or pendant earrings. It is told that Jesus may have playfully hung flower jewels of ruby and amethyst colors on his mother’s ears.

In Devonshire, England, the old folks said Our Lady’s Ear-drop was the only name they had ever known for the flower. It is said that their forefathers, on first seeing the flowers and noticing how they resembled ear-drops, named them in Mary’s honor. It may be that pious persons named the blossoms Our Lady’s Ear-drops as their way of paying tribute to Mary, who through her ears “heard the word of God, and kept it.”


A baby’s fascinated play—tugging at his mother’s ear, exploring ears, mouth, nose and the softness of her skin—brings a smile to those who watch. Lovers, even little ones like this child, deck the beloved with lovely things, tuck flowers in her hair, make wreaths to bring her joy. Mary, nourish my love for you and Jesus.

Lily of the Valley

Convalleria majalis. Mary’s Tears.


It was said that when Mary wept at the foot of the Cross, her tears fell to the ground and turned into the tiny fragrant blossoms of this early spring plant. In England it had the name “Our Lady’s Tears” because when viewed from a distance the white flowerets gave the appearance of teardrops falling.

The lily of the valley was a symbol of the Virgin Mary because of its pure white flowers, sweet smell and humble appearance. It symbolized Mary’s Immaculate Conception and represented the purity of body and soul by which Mary found favor with God.


The sacred text does not speak of your tears, Mary, as our legend does. It tells us instead that you stood by the cross and you were not alone. Other women and John were also there. We wonder at the sorrow, the bitterness, the pain of this little community standing by. Fragrant tiny white lily-bells, a thousand quiet tears bowing before the still-cold winter winds, teach me of springtime and the Resurrection just beyond the stone-cold tomb.

Roses and Lillies

Rosa, red rose. Our Lady’s Rose; Lilium, white lily. Mary’s Lily.


About 12 years after Jesus’ resurrection, an angel appeared to Mary to tell her that in three days she would be called forth from her body to where her Son awaited her. Mary asked that her sons and brothers, the apostles, be gathered near her, so that she could see them before she died and so they could bury her. The angel told her the apostles would be with her that day, and they were immediately plucked up by clouds wherever they were preaching and transported to her house.


Then Jesus came for her and her soul went forth out of her body and flew upward in the arms of her Son. As Mary rose, she was surrounded with red roses and white lilies. Three days later, her body came forth from the tomb and was assumed into heaven, accompanied by a chorus of angels.

Thomas, however, was not present and when he arrived refused to believe that this had happened. He asked that her tomb be opened and when it was opened it contained only lilies and roses.

Roses and lilies have been symbols of Mary since earliest times. The rose, emblematic of her purity, glory and sorrow, was her attribute as Queen of Heaven and a symbol of her love for God and for Christ, her son. The lily represented her immaculate purity, her innocence and virginity.


Your destiny is our destiny, Mary. Your life mirrors to us what ours is to be, if we but faithfully follow Christ Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. We look forward, Mary, to our gathering in and homecoming; we also look forward to meeting you. Center us as you were centered. May he alone be the norm, form and goal of our lives.


Iris pseudacorus. Yellow flag iris.


During the 14th century in France, a wealthy knight, Salaun, renounced the world and entered the Cistercian Order. He was very devout but could never remember more than the first two words of the Ave Maria. He kept repeating the two words, “Ave Maria,” as he prayed to the Virgin. He prayed to her day and night, using only those two words. He grew old and when he died was buried in the chapel-yard of the monastery.

As proof that Mary had heard his short but earnest prayer, a fleur-de-lis plant sprang up on his grave, and on every flower shone in golden letters the words “Ave Maria.” The monks, who had ridiculed him because of what they viewed as his ignorant piety, were so amazed that they opened his grave. There they found the root of the plant resting on the lips of the knight. Finally they understood his great devotion.

In Chartres Cathedral in France, the famous 13th-century rose window of the north transept, which depicts the Glorification of the Virgin, includes the fleur-de-lis, said to be a symbol of the Annunciation.


Mary, more countless than the drops in an ocean or stars in the firmament are the repetitions down the ages of those gracious words: Hail, ave, full of grace, the Lord is with you. I add my chant, my prayer, my roses and lilies to the wellspring of praise.

Pilgrimage to Mary Gardens

Five large Mary Gardens, each with an original statue of the Madonna and all connected with religious institutions, are located east of the Mississippi River. To walk through the gardens is to take a sensual and spiritual tour. We smile at Our Lady’s Delight, smell the fragrant lavender with its tiny florets and imagine Mary’s purse spilling forth marigolds. Thyme and bedstraw, violets and columbine all tell of Mary’s life and inspire us to prayer and meditation.

A pilgrimage might include one or more of these gardens:

The Garden of Our Lady, across Millfield Street from St. Joseph Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, grows behind a six-foot-tall yew hedge. The oldest known Mary Garden in this country is the “garden enclosed” of medieval times.

The Mary Garden at St. Mary’s Church, Annapolis, Maryland, is located behind the church in the quadrangle formed by the church, rectory and historic Carroll House on Duke of Gloucester Street in the heart of old Annapolis.

The Mary Garden at the Shrine at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at Mount Saint John is located near Dayton, Ohio. The grotto is a proportional model of the Lourdes Grotto at Massabielle in France.

Mary’s Garden at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Portage, Michigan, runs along the front of the church, high on a hill. Both church and garden can be seen from the road. The sun beats down on the garden most of the day and the many-hued plants and blossoms form a cool oasis.

The Mary Garden at the Episcopal Convent of the Transfiguration covers a shady hillside on the grounds of the convent in the Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb of Glendale. This tranquil Mary Garden grows under huge shade trees and is filled with shade-loving plants.

International travelers might visit the Mary Gardens at the Knock Shrine, County Mayo, and the Artane Oratory of the Resurrection, Dublin, Ireland; the cloister of Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln, England; Our Lady’s Parish, Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia; and the Church of Our Lady of Akita, Akita, Japan.

- - -

Closer to the Triangle - do you have a Mary Garden? Send pictures as your flowers bloom - The Band of Sisters would enjoy seeing what is growing in your garden…help us to take a virtual pilgrimage…

Beyond Mysticism

Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.  He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer.    His books    are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.  Fr. Rolheiser can be reached at his website,

Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer.
His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.

Fr. Rolheiser can be reached at his website,

I’m a practicing mystic!” A woman said that in one of my classes some years ago and it raised lots of eyebrows. I was teaching a class in mysticism and asked the students why the topic of mysticism interested them. Their responses varied: Some were simply intrigued with the concept; others were spiritual directors who wanted more insight into what constitutes mystical experience; and a number of others were taking the course because their faculty advisor asked them to. But one woman answered: “Because I’m a practicing mystic!”

Can someone be a practicing mystic? Yes, providing both terms, practicing and mystic, are understood properly.  

What does it mean to be a mystic? In the popular mind, mysticism is most often associated with extraordinary and paranormal religious experience, namely, visions, revelations, apparitions, and the like. Sometimes in fact this is the case, as is true of some great mystics like Julian of Norwich and Theresa of Avila, but these are exceptions. That’s not the norm. Normally mystical experience is ordinary; no visions, no apparitions, no ecstasies, just everyday experience – but with a difference.

Ruth Burrows, the renowned British Carmelite, defines mysticism this way: Mystical experience is being touched by God at a level deeper than words, thought, imagination, and feeling. We have a mystical experience when we know ourselves and our world with clarity, even if just for a second. That can involve something extraordinary, like a vision or apparition, but normally it doesn’t. Normally a mystical experience is not a moment where an angel or some spirit appears to you or something paranormal happens to you. A mystical moment is extraordinary, but extraordinary because of its unique lucidity and clarity, extraordinary because for that moment we are extraordinarily centered, and extraordinary because in that moment we sense, beyond words and imagination, in some dark, unconscious, and inchoate way, what mystics call the indelible memory of God’s kiss on our soul, the primordial memory of once having experienced perfect love inside God’s womb before birth. Bernard Lonergan, using a different terminology, calls this the brand of the first principles on our soul, that is, the innate imprint of the transcendental properties of God, Oneness, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, inside us.  

We have a mystical experience when we are in touch with that part of our soul that was once touched by God, before we were born, that part of our soul that still bears, however unconsciously, the memory of that touch. Henri Nouwen calls this a dark memory of “first love”, of once having been caressed by far gentler hands than we have ever met in this life.

We all have experiences of this to some degree. We all have mystical experiences, though we aren’t all mystics. What’s the difference between having a mystical experience and being a mystic? It’s the difference between having aesthetic experiences and being an artist.  All of us have deep aesthetic experiences and are at times deeply moved in our souls by beauty, but only a few persons become great artists, great composers, and great musicians, not necessarily because they have deeper experiences than the rest of us, but because they can give exceptional aesthetic expression to their experience. Aesthetic expression is always according to more or less. Hence anyone can become a practicing artist, even if not a professional one.

The same holds true for mysticism. A mystic is someone who can give meaningful expression to mystical experience, just as an artist is someone who can give proper expression to aesthetic experience.  You can be a practicing mystic, akin to a practicing artist or practicing musician. Like a struggling artist, you can struggle to give meaningful, conscious expression to the deep movements you sense within your soul and, like an amateur artist, you will not be the Rembrandt or Picasso of the spiritual life, but your efforts can be immensely helpful to you in clarifying the movements within your own soul and psyche.

How, concretely, practically, might you practice being a mystic? By doing anything that helps you to more consciously get in touch with the deep movements of your soul and by doing things that help you steady and center your soul.

For example, in striving to get in touch with your soul you can be a practicing mystic by journaling, doing spiritual reading, taking spiritual direction, doing various spiritual exercises such as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and by prayer of any kind. In terms of centering and steadying your soul you can be a practicing mystic by more consciously and more deliberately giving yourself over to the biblical practice of Sabbath and by doing other soul-centering things like gardening, taking long walks, listening to good music, sharing wine and conversation with family and friends, making love with your spouse, holding a baby, visiting a person who is ill, or even just taking up a hobby that healthily breaks the obsession of your daily concerns.

There are ways of being a practicing mystic, even without taking a formal class on mysticism.

Come walk the labyrinth with the Band of Sisters

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
— Psalm 143:8

We will meet up on Monday, May 6, 2019 from 10a-12:30p at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh. Pack a picnic lunch and plan to join us for a labyrinth walk, a time of sharing, and lunch by the prayer garden. Registration is requested - click here to be taken to the calendar page where you can register to attend.

Ann O'Hara will start off our time together with a brief presentation on the labyrinth, some guidelines on walking it, and how the labyrinth might be used as a prayer practice.  Following the presentation, we will be invited to walk the labyrinth or spend time in contemplation on the benches that are available. After the walk, we will have an opportunity to share our experience as we enjoy our BYO picnic lunches. So - pack your lunch, grab your camp chair, and head over to Millbrook Baptist for this special time together with the Band. Please take a moment to register.

In preparation for our time at the labyrinth, you are invited to read the following information from the Millbrook Baptist website:

A labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world and throughout history. Millbrook’s labyrinth is the Chartres design, and has a single, winding, circuitous path into and out of the center. However, it is not a maze; there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. One can use it with an open heart and mind.


The winding path is a metaphor of life’s journey with its many twists and turns. It also symbolizes a pilgrim’s walk with God. The labyrinth experience is different each time one walks. Often people find peace, solace, release and a deep sense of joy as they meditate and pray on the labyrinth. When walked with a community of people, the walk is a shared journey which can be unifying and empowering.

Sometimes it is helpful to think about your walk as having three parts: releasing, receiving, returning. Releasing is the walk toward the center, letting go of the details of life, shedding thoughts and emotions. It empties and quiets the mind. Receiving is when you reach the center. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you. Returning is the walk out which empowers you to take what you have received and move back into the world, replenished and directed.

Please know that the labyrinth is handicapped accessible - but for those who do not wish to walk, benches are provided in the garden area for reflection and meditation.

Earth Day

From David Leonhardt, op-ed columnist for the New York Times


Today is Earth Day. To mark it, this morning’s newsletter will be shorter than usual, consisting simply of the most powerful paragraph I’ve read recently, which is also the final paragraph of Nathaniel Rich’s new book, “Losing Earth”:


“Everything is changing about the natural world and everything must change about the way we conduct our lives. It is easy to complain that the problem is too vast, and each of us is too small. But there is one thing that each of us can do ourselves, in our homes, at our own pace — something easier than taking out the recycling or turning down the thermostat, and something more valuable. We can call the threats to our future what they are. We can call the villains villains, the heroes heroes, the victims victims and ourselves complicit. We can realize that all this talk about the fate of Earth has nothing to do with the planet’s tolerance for higher temperatures and everything to do with our species’ tolerance for self-delusion. And we can understand that when we speak about things like fuel-efficiency standards or gasoline taxes or methane flaring, we are speaking about nothing less than all we love and all we are.”

Your Essential Guide to the Triduum

Taking you step-by-step through the three-day celebration of the Church


(reposted from her article that appeared on Busted Halo)

The Triduum (TRIH-du-um) is the time of the church year when we celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This three-day celebration begins with the Holy Thursday Mass and continues on Good Friday with the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. At the end of this liturgy, we leave the church in silence, waiting to celebrate the glory of our Lord’s resurrection. Then, on Saturday at sundown, the Church re-gathers to celebrate the final, and most grand moment of the Triduum: the Resurrection of our Lord.

The Triduum is somewhat like a three-day prayer marathon, and if you are a novice there may be some rituals that are unfamiliar to you. This guide will help you walk and pray through the liturgies of the Triduum.

Holy Thursday

The Mass on Holy Thursday is commonly known as the Feast of the Lord’s Supper. This Mass is a time for Catholics to remember the Last Supper where Jesus and his apostles gathered to celebrate Passover. In the Holy Thursday celebration, two ritual actions stand out among the rest:

The Washing of the Feet
At the Last Supper, Jesus took a basin and a towel, got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of all his disciples. After this action, he commanded the apostles, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). This is Jesus’ commandment: Just as Jesus has been a servant to his apostles, so the apostles must go out into the world and be servants to everyone around them.

We are called to do the same in our daily lives. Well, we are not called literally to wash each other’s feet (though sometimes that may be the case). The action of washing one another’s feet reminds us of the call to humble servitude. Foot washing is not a re-enactment or re-creation of a past event, but rather, it is a commemorative action that reminds us that God calls us first and foremost to be servants to others in our daily lives.

The ritual washing of the feet can take place in many ways. Some churches choose to have 12 people, who represent the apostles, have their feet washed by the priest presiding over the celebration. Other churches invite the entire gathered community to have its feet washed (this particular tradition is very powerful because everyone is invited to come and have their feet washed by someone else in their community). However the ritual takes shape, foot washing should always be a reminder that Christ has called us to be servants of the entire world.

The Celebration of the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Procession
At the very first Last Supper, Jesus also instituted the Eucharist for the Church. At this Holy Thursday celebration, we are reminded of who we are in Jesus Christ and that, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are and we become even more the Body of Christ together.

At the conclusion of the Holy Thursday celebration, there is no concluding prayer. Once the celebration of the Eucharist is completed, there is a Eucharistic Procession (where the Eucharist that is left from Communion is processed to a Chapel of Reservation). This procession to the Chapel of Reservation reminds us of Jesus’ time in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed so fervently through the night. The entire community is invited to join in this procession and then join in the silent prayer and adoration until night prayer is prayed and the Eucharist is put in the Tabernacle. The gathered community leaves in silence only to return in prayer the next day for the Good Friday celebration.

Reflection questions for Holy Thursday:
Who are those people who need our help the most?
Am I willing to get down on my own hands and knees and help those who are unable to help themselves?
What does the sacrament of the Eucharist mean to me?

RELATED: A Catholic Guide to Holy Week Symbols

Good Friday: Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion

In this solemn celebration, we remember the Passion and Death of Our Lord. The service is marked by several important rituals including the proclaiming of the Passion according to John, the Veneration of the Cross, an extended form of General Intercessions, and finally, the distribution of Communion (reserved from the Holy Thursday celebration of the Eucharist).

The Veneration of the Cross
It seems strange that in the Good Friday liturgy Catholics choose to venerate, or show reverence to, the very instrument that was used to crucify Jesus. The Veneration of the Cross reminds us that through this Cross, the Glory of the resurrection emerges. So, on Good Friday, we come forward to show our great reverence and respect for the Cross. People have various traditions when they approach the Cross. Sometimes they kiss the Cross, kneel before the Cross, or even just touch it in some fashion. As you participate in this ritual, venerate the Cross in whatever way feels most normal. And most of all, just take in the experience of the gathered community coming so close to such a tragic, but integral, event in our faith.

The General Intercessions
If you enjoy spiritual aerobics, then this ritual is for you! In this expanded form of General Intercessions, the presider and the deacon work together to pray 10 intercessions. These intercessions are the same intercessions the entire Church prays on Good Friday, and they include praying for the Holy Church, praying for the unity of all Christians, praying for the Jewish people, praying for people who do not believe in Christ or in God, praying for people in public office, and praying for people who are suffering or facing difficult times. These prayers recognize how universal our Church is and that we should be aware of all of the faiths and traditions in the world that are different from our own.

Reflection questions for Good Friday:
What does the death of Jesus mean to me?
What does it mean to “Glory in the Cross”?

The Easter Vigil

The celebration of the Easter Vigil tells the whole story of our salvation — from creation to resurrection and beyond. Because of all the ritual moments, this service tends to be on the lengthy side (an average Easter Vigil will last at least 2-2 1/2 hours). But don’t let the length of the celebration detract you from participating. The Easter Vigil includes the lighting of the Easter Fire and Paschal Candle (the large candle that we will use throughout the year), the singing of the Exsultet (the Easter Proclamation), the expanded Liturgy of the Word that traces time through Salvation History (the story of our Salvation), the Liturgy of Initiation (where new people come into the Church), and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. All these rituals come together for one purpose: to remember and recall the saving deeds of our God on our behalf. Here’s an explanation of two moments from the celebration.

The Singing of the Exsultet
The Exsultet or the Easter Proclamation, is a hymn that is sung by a deacon, priest, or cantor. This hymn speaks of how God has interceded in our lives on our behalf. The Exsultet especially recalls the Holy Night when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. What makes this moment particularly dramatic is that the Exsultet is sung in a church lit only with the light of the Paschal Candle and other smaller candles, which people are holding. In order to pray this hymn along with the deacon, priest, or cantor, try reflecting on the words of the hymn throughout Holy Saturday.

The Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word for Easter Vigil is comprised of nine readings and seven responsorial psalms. The first reading begins with the story of Creation and then, each subsequent reading recounts the story of our faith lives through history. You’ll hear the story of Issac and Abraham, the story of Moses and the Exodus, and more. All of these readings lead up to the singing of the Gloria when all the lights come on in the church, and then the final reading, the Resurrection of Christ, is proclaimed. Why so many readings? Again, like the singing of the Exsultet, the readings recount the many ways in which God has interceded on our behalf throughout history.

Most churches do not do the entire set of nine readings (for time’s sake). But keep in mind that the point is to recall how God has interceded on humanity’s behalf from the very beginning of time and that through this Easter Vigil we celebrate that God is present and always working in our lives, even still today.

Reflection questions for the Easter Vigil:
How has God interceded in my life?
After hearing the Resurrection story, what events do I see in my own life that are in need of new life, in need of resurrection?
How can I carry on the story of the resurrection to others?


Throughout these three days, we experience the highs and lows in our faith, ending with the ultimate high — the new life of the resurrection. The Easter Season begins with the Easter Vigil, and we enter a time (50 days) when endless “Alleluias” will ring out throughout all of our liturgical celebrations. May you experience the joy of new life in your own way this Easter Season. Have a happy and blessed Easter!

Prayer for Paris

The 1725 Pietà statue, "Descent from the Cross,' surrounded by rubble after the fire at Notre Dame.

The 1725 Pietà statue, "Descent from the Cross,' surrounded by rubble after the fire at Notre Dame.

That most glorious church
of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God,
deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars.
— Jean de Jandun, 1323

Mother of God,
Mother of all Christian believers,
we mourn with the French people
at the devastation
of the beloved Cathedral of Paris.
We grieve the incalculable loss
of history, of art, of memory.
We remember and give thanks for what has been,
and we pray that Notre Dame will rise again.
May Notre Dame de Paris 
continue to be the beating heart of the city,
calling people to prayer,
challenging them to justice,
and enticing them with beauty.
Through Christ our Lord.

Remembering when...


Posted from Cindy FitzGerald

The Band of Sisters is celebrating five years together. Throughout this fifth year of being in the Band, we will be taking a backward glance at some of our previous gatherings - so we might remember and celebrate the many graces that have marked our time together.

In 2016 and 2017, we gathered during the season of Lent to learn to write pysanky. A pysanka (singular of pysanky) is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist method. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, which means "to write" or "to inscribe", as the designs are not painted on, but written (inscribed) with beeswax. The wax is applied layer by layer as the egg moves through several dye baths - going from lightest colors to darkest. After all of the steps for the design elements and colors are completed, the beeswax is then removed - revealing the beautiful design that was protected beneath the wax.

We met at Avila in February of 2016. Perhaps you were there - and still have your beautiful pysanka egg as a reminder…

Or maybe you joined us the time we met at St. Andrews in March of 2017. Here are some of the eggs from that time of prayer…can you spot yours?


Perhaps you have continued to make pysanky since taking the class. If you have pictures, please share. We want to post them on the website! Send your pictures to

If you are curious about how Ukrainian Easter eggs are made, here is a short video showing the various steps in the process.

The slide show below will also let you see the many steps…at a slower pace than the video. Click the arrows to the left and right of the slides to advance to the next shot or return to a previous picture - all at your own pace…

Newsletter April 2019

Halfway through Lent…how are you doing with finding a “thin place” where you are more aware of God’s presence? 


Triduum, one liturgy-three days, culminates our observance of Lent and leads us into the Easter season, a time to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.

(click here for an exploration of Triduum  


As the earth begins to green, be on the lookout for blooming dogwoods. The dogwood flower is a beautiful reminder of the blood shed by Jesus on the cross. As legend has it, the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made from a dogwood tree. God decreed that the dogwood tree would from that day forth never grow large enough to be used to make a cross. Thus, the dogwood tree is a small, under story tree. Its blossoms are in the form of a cross -- two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there are nail prints -- brown with rust and stained with red -- and in the center of the flower is a crown of thorns, so all who see this will remember.

The Dogwood Tree

 When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew

To a towering size with a lovely hue.

Its branches were strong and interwoven

And for Christ's cross its timbers were chosen.

 Being distressed at the use of the wood

Christ made a promise which still holds good:

"Not ever again shall the dogwood grow

To be large enough for a tree, and so

Slender and twisted it shall always be

With cross-shaped blossoms for all to see.

The petals shall have bloodstains marked brown

And in the blossom's center a thorny crown.

All who see it will think of me,

Nailed to a cross from a dogwood tree.

Protected and cherished this tree shall be

A reflection to all of my agony."



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We have begun work on our Fall Retreat.

Save the date--October 21-23, 2019--Details soon!

The spring equinox is Wednesday

A brief, scientific guide to the first day of spring.

This article, by Brian Resnick, appeared on VOX on March 18, 2019. We have excerpted sections of the article that we thought you might enjoy...


The vernal equinox is upon us: On Wednesday, March 20, both the Northern and Southern hemispheres will experience an equal amount of daylight. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of spring, with daylight hours continuing to lengthen until the summer solstice in June. For those south of the equator, it’s the beginning of autumn.

Technically speaking, the equinox occurs when the sun is directly in line with the equator. This will happen at 5:58 pm Eastern time on Wednesday.

The equinox, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: The Earth spins on a tilted axis.

The tilt — possibly caused by a massive object hitting Earth billions of years ago — means that for half the year, the North Pole is pointed toward the sun. For the other half of the year, the South Pole gets more light. It’s what gives us seasons.

Equinox literally means “equal night.” And during the equinox, most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

But not every place will experience the exact same amount of daylight. For instance, on Wednesday, Fairbanks, Alaska, will see 12 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. Key West, Florida, will see 12 hours and six minutes. The differences are due to how the sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at different latitudes.

That daylight is longer than 12 hours on the equinox is also due to how we commonly measure the length of a day: from the first hint of the sun peeking over the horizon in the morning to the very last glimpse of it before it falls below the horizon in the evening. Because the sun takes some time to rise and set, it adds some extra daylight minutes.

Check out to see how many hours of sunlight you’ll get during the equinox.

10 Delicious Pies for Pi Day - Just for fun

lemon pie.jpeg

We took the top 10 from Food and Wine’s list of 31 pies for Pi Day. Click here for their entire list.

1. Caramel Cream Pie with Crispy Rice Topping

Humble ingredients like puffed rice cereal (transformed into a brilliant topping) and graham crackers (crushed with hazelnuts to yield a tender crust) are the core of this surprisingly luxe dessert.

2. Puff Pastry Apple Pie

Since puff pastry can be tricky to prepare, this version uses a high-quality, store-bought puff pastry.

3. Lemon Ice Box Pie

You’ll love this lemony, silken, frozen pie and its sweet graham cracker crust.

4. Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

This delicious whipped-cream-topped peanut butter pie offers the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavors.

5. Chilled Grapefruit-Caramel Meringue Pie

In one cold, creamy dessert, layer pink grapefruit curd in a crunchy graham-cracker crust with caramel sauce and a delicate topping of fluffy meringue.

6. Key Lime Pie with Chocolate Almond Crust

Crumbly chocolate almond crust brings this traditional key lime pie to a whole new level.

7. French Silk Pie

A thin layer of rich ganache prevents the chocolate filling from making the crust here soggy. If you don’t want to make your own pie crust, simply use a 9-inch graham cracker crust.

8. Bourbon-Pecan Pie

A supereasy press-in crust means you don't even need a rolling pin for this amazing pecan pie.

9. Mountain Rose Apple Pie

Rebecca Masson of Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar tops her dense and delicious apple pie with a thick layer of crisp, buttery crumble.

10. Salted Caramel Pie

For this easy caramel pie, the filling is sweetened condensed milk sprinkled lightly with sea salt and baked until thick and gooey, then chilled in a simple graham cracker crust.

Centering Prayer - the prayer of consent

Contemplative Prayer


We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. In the Christian tradition contemplative prayer is considered to be the pure gift of God. It is the opening of mind and heart - our whole being - to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing, closer than consciousness itself.

Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to receive this gift. It presents ancient Christian wisdom teachings in an updated form. Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; rather it casts a new light and depth of meaning on them. It is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. This method of prayer is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with him.

Theological Background

The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. It tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love.

The Root of Centering

Prayer Listening to the word of God in Scripture (Lectio Divina) is a traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of Scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and he were suggesting the topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on his word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust, and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing. Gregory the Great (6th century) in summarizing the Christian contemplative tradition expressed it as “resting in God.” This was the classical meaning of contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition for the first sixteen centuries.

Wisdom Saying of Jesus

Centering Prayer is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you”(MT 6:6). It is also inspired by writings of major contributors to the Christian contemplative heritage including John Cassian, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Thomas Merton.

The Guidelines

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. *thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

I. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

• The sacred word expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

• The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer to the Holy Spirit. Use a word of one or two syllables, such as: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen. Other possibilities include: Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust.

• Instead of a sacred word, a simple inward glance toward the Divine Presence, or noticing one’s breath may be more suitable for some persons. The same guidelines apply to these symbols as to the sacred word.

• The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning, but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention to consent.

• Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period because that would be engaging thoughts.

II. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

• “Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer.

• Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.

• We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us.

• We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton. • If we fall sleep, we simply continue the prayer upon awakening.

III. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

• “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including body sensations, sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences.

• Thoughts are an inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer.

• By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.

• During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear.

IV. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

• The additional two minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

• If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite a prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer, while the others listen.

Some Practical Points

1. The minimum time for this prayer is 20 minutes. Two periods are recommended each day, one first thing in the morning and the other in the afternoon or early evening. With practice the time may be extended to 30 minutes or longer.

2. The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer which does not have an audible tick or loud sound when it goes off. There is a free Centering Prayer mobile app timer available.

3. Possible physical symptoms during the prayer:

• We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized sense of restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body.

• We may notice heaviness or lightness in our extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness.

• In all cases we pay no attention and ever-so-gently return to the sacred word.

4. The principal fruits of Centering Prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.

5. Centering Prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language which is SILENCE.

Points for Further Development

1. During the prayer period, various kinds of thoughts may arise: • Ordinary wanderings of the imagination or memory.

• Thoughts and feelings that give rise to attractions or aversions.

• Insights and psychological breakthroughs.

• Self-reflections such as, “How am I doing?” or, “This peace is just great!”

• Thoughts and feelings that arise from the unloading of the unconscious.

• When engaged with any of these thoughts return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

2. During this prayer we avoid analyzing our experience, harboring expectations, or aiming at some specific goal such as:

• Repeating the sacred word continuously.

• Having no thoughts.

• Making the mind a blank.

• Feeling peaceful or consoled.

• Achieving a spiritual experience.

Ways to Deepen Our Relationship with God

1. Practice two 20-30 minute periods of Centering Prayer daily.

2. Listen to the Word of God in Scripture and study Open Mind, Open Heart.

3. Visit our website to access various online resources, practices, courses and groups.

4. Join a weekly Centering Prayer Group.

• It encourages the members of the group to persevere in their individual practices.

• It provides an opportunity for further input on a regular basis through multi-media resources and discussion.

• It offers an opportunity to support and share the spiritual journey.

What Centering Prayer Is and Is Not

• It is not a technique but a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with God.

• It is not a relaxation exercise but it may be quite refreshing.

• It is not a form of self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness.

• It is not a charismatic gift but a path of transformation.

• It is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope and selfless love.

• It is not limited to the “felt” presence of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence.

• It is not reflective or spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.

This helpful information comes from the Comtemplative Outreach website. You can visit them by clicking here.


Newsletter March 2019

Here we are - heading into Lent. Whether we celebrate with Irish soda bread or zeppoles, it is always a surprise that the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph occur in the midst of Lent. Maybe we should switch our celebration food to pretzels, the early monks’ way to teach prayer! (Click here for the story and an easy recipe

In Celtic culture, an “anam cara” is a soul friend. How appropriate for the “band of sisters” who walk as soul friends with each other! From the Irish, too, we learn the importance of “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we glimpse the eternal. This little story sums up the concept well.

You may have heard the story about the rabbi and his young child.  The child liked to wander in the woods every day after school. At first, the rabbi let the child wander, but over time he grew concerned. The woods were dangerous and the father did not know what lurked there – think Peter and the Wolf.  One day the rabbi sat his child down and asked, “You know, I’ve noticed that every afternoon you walk in the woods. Tell me– why do you go there?” The child replied, “I go there to find God.” “That is a very good thing,” the father replied, smiling. “I’m glad you’re searching for God… but, my dear child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?”  “Yes,” the child answered, “…but I’m not.”
— Joe Simmons, SJ

Have you found a thin place?

“The Deer’s Cry” (I Arise Today) was composed by Saint Patrick in the year 433 AD. It is said that he was aware there was an ambush to try to kill him and his group on their way to the King’s court. It was during this march that they sang the Deer’s Cry. As the druids lay in hiding, ready to kill, it is said that they did not see Patrick and his men, but a gentle doe followed by twenty fawns. The miracle saved Patrick and his men. “The Deer’s Cry”, is also known as “Lorica” and “The Breastplate of St Patrick” - all versions of the prayer of St. Patrick which celebrates God who lives with his children - guiding them, sheltering them, strengthening them. God who is with us and in us through creation. Here is a link to this beautiful sung prayer:


We have streamlined our registration process. Go to the “Calendar” page, scroll down to find the event you are interested in - and simply click the black button that corresponds to your event. Payment is secure using a credit card or PayPal. You will receive a confirmation email. Please keep or print your confirmation email.

Don’t miss registering for “Bridges to Contemplative Living” in Raleigh - which begins on March 13 and runs for five weeks during Lent - and remember to drop in on “Contemplative Yoga” in Durham on Tuesdays (3/12, 3/19, 3/26, 4/2).  Find detailed info for both on the “Calendar” page of the website (click here).

Help us serve you better by joining the conversation. Click on an individual blog post to see “like/share” buttons. Use these to express your feelings about an individual post!

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We send you, anam cara, this blessing from one of our favorite Irish writers:

“For Equilibrium, a Blessing:

Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,

May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,

May your gravity by lightened by grace.


Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,

May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.


As water takes whatever shape it is in,

So free may you be about who you become.


As silence smiles on the other side of what's said,

May your sense of irony bring perspective.


As time remains free of all that it frames,

May your mind stay clear of all it names.


May your prayer of listening deepen enough

to hear in the depths the laughter of God.”


― John O'Donohue

 To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Melissa Musick Nussbaum: We are marked with what we are

Beneath the awkwardness of a sooty cross, smeared on the forehead, lies the deep wisdom that we are marked with what we are. We are marked with what we must become. Not long before her death in 2016, I visited my Aunt Marge in her room at the nursing home in Tulia, Texas. Her television was tuned, as always, to a channel playing canceled shows on an endless loop. She greeted me, as always, with a drawled “Hello, darlin’.” I knew my part, too, as I replied, “Hey, Marge, whatcha’ doin’?” That day her answer made me laugh. My aunt told me she was just doing her Bible study and watching “Murder, She Wrote.” Why hadn’t I thought of that perfect combo: a show about people dropping dead all over a small town -- strangled and shot and beaten and poisoned -- and a book in which people also drop dead at an alarming rate, though on a larger geographic scale and often in more imaginative ways. Turned into a pillar of salt? Tent peg pounded through the skull? Anyone? Aunt Marge recognized no divisions of high and low culture, with Judge Deborah in one camp and Jessica Fletcher in the other, because the Bible was part of everything she thought and did. She had memorized Bible verses and Bible jokes and Bible songs and Bible trivia, and she thumbed through her Bible looking for guidance in all things, from the everyday to the eternal. I’m thinking of that visit with Aunt Marge this Ash Wednesday, because of a similar set of incongruities, a kind of high-low culture merge present in the sign of the day, a cross, smeared on our skin with the material of the day, ashes. The cross is lifted high and exalted. It is, as the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross priests who staff my parish puts it, Our Only Hope. We kneel to kiss the cross on Good Friday. We sing of it. We place the cross in the slack hands of our dead. We paint and carve it on our church walls and doors and steeples. We trace the cross with oil and water on the bodies of the baptized and confirmed. We wear it around our necks. The cross is the symbol by which we are first and finally known. But ashes? “You’re covered in soot” is not a compliment. Indeed, a murmured “You’ve got something on your face” is what the Ash Wednesday-goer is likely to hear as she walks back into the marketplace. It’s awkward, pushing a cart through Target with what fellow shoppers register as a dirty forehead. We sweep ashes up. We discard them. Ashes are trash, a nuisance, something to be washed away, brushed off and shaken out. “Dust,” we hear, as the cross is marked in ashes on our skin, the skin we strive daily to keep clean. And then, the shock of what follows: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We are marked with what we are. I understand being marked with a cross. I like being marked with a cross. I do it daily when I sign myself before prayer, when I dip my fingers into the small font of holy water by the door leading out to my garage. I depart by the sign of the cross and return by the sign of the cross. It’s the ashes I wonder about. I’m told they are the mark of the penitent, but no penitent leaves the confessional with a smudged face. I’ve come the long way and a hard way to think that the ashes are about the bone-deep reality behind the skin-deep veneer -- the truth, once the varnishes of various kinds are sanded away. The truth, whether we see it or understand it or repent before it. It is awkward, pushing a cart through Target on Ash Wednesday with a grimy face just under the coiffed hair and just above the mascaraed lashes. And maybe that awkwardness gets me closer to some deep wisdom. The deep wisdom that we are marked with what we are. That we are marked with what we must become. In “The Rite of Penance, Volume 3,” theologian Nathan Mitchell writes of the cross and the way Christians speak of having their sins absolved by it. He argues -- and this, I think, is far more difficult for us to accept -- that the cross is also where our illusions of righteousness are wiped away: “God’s act of reconciliation in Christ … liberates people not only from failure and guilt but also from the suffocating goodness and virtue through which we attempt to earn salvation.” The cross is where all that we clutch in our closed fists is carried away on a tide of mercy beyond imagining, beyond possibility, beyond our feeble ability to hope. We are washed on the tide of mercy until it carries us back, where we began, back to the cross. We stand, stripped bare as on the day of our birth. We have no other choice there, for neither committed sin nor confected virtue can stand on that ground. We will come naked to the cross if we come at all. We will come, our bodies soiled and scarred, shorn of pretense and defense and charade. Shed of all our rags, both the rags of our sins and the rags of our righteousness. Perhaps that nakedness, into which we are invited and into which we enter, looks like the ashes from which God fashioned us, the ashes into which God breathed the breath of life and we became. Perhaps that nakedness looks like the ashes to which we will return when we sleep and, sleeping, await in hope the rising day.

Bright sadness is the true message and gift of Lent. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that the sadness of Lent is indeed “bright,” that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access - - a place where they have no power. All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoyevsky, touched “another world.” And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.
— Fr. Alexander Schmemann