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The Integration

Said Claire, about joining a religious order:

My comment in the last thread lined up possible reasons against joining that immediately come to mind. On the other hand, what would be reasons for joining? What difference does it make to be a secular Franciscan? Is it an alternative Christian support network when parish and family do not provide enough? Are they basically a community, like a parish community, offering one another mutual support to help live a Christian life?

You love your Church, you love your flag, you love your family and the perch you have made yourself at work.But you spend your time carving out that diminishing space for yourself where you can live under your control and do what you want to doYou will not assimilate. You will not give it all up; no matter the money, the time demands, the fame and the glory. You still need a small spot to stand that is yours.But you find one day that that spot is a dream. You surrendered a long time ago. Their ideals are your ideals; their language is your language; their habits are your habits; their opinions are your opinions; theirs; theirs; yours.It wouldn't be so bad to be a sinner if you could be one on your own, with some guts and a little flash. Your sins at least would be wholly yours and you could see at least where you yourself still had enough to be pushing against something.But even your sins aren't even entirely yours. You aren't even that together. The mediocrity is literally that deep. On that black day, if you are lucky to get the gift, you wake up to the fact that you are dead and you see that the black shadow hides you from both God and from yourself.If you manage, then, to clear the surface into some sort of diffused light, support groups and committees looks like a sucker's game. No improved policy or new management is going to save you now. You are soil. You have disintegrated, far earlier than you expected when the priest pressed that thumb full of dust into your forehead.You need to rebuild from scratch, atom by atom. You need something that is more whole than anything you have seen before to become whole yourself again. Associations, collectives, parishes, seminars just won't do it any more.Before, the ants looked like people. Now the people (and you are one of them) look like ants. You might just stumble into the right place, God willing.But then again, you might not.Something tells you that God didn't reach in and pull you out of the shit so that you could join a club. God wants you to go deep this time. Should you board the Ark with Opus Dei? Should you hang in prayer with the Hounds of God? It's your life that you have and a short time left to find yourself a home. Listen, push, read, ask harder, knock harder, listen again. Find something you can integrate yourself into. Find that place that your discouragement says does not exist.Trust God.

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This blog caught my eye, as others have recently, urging me to read it again, perhaps again, and wonder if it includes me. It is strange yet has insights about me, my, mine, especially mine when applied to stuff, books, places, things I like to do and others I do my best to avoid. Sort of a never-never land, in which leaving and joining elsewhere is not an option. Who's in charge here?Paul

Paul --The readers of Commonweal here seem to have very varied opinions and interests, in spite of Commonweal's reputation for being liberal. No wonder you find yourself here. dotCWL even allows you to be a hybrid -- part liberal, part conservative, and you even might (gasp!) find yourself changing your mind.

unagidon --Hold fast!

This reminds me of Paul Erdos's view of mathematical proofs. There are some that he called "proofs from The Book": proofs that are so beautiful that they must have been designed by God, not by us. We work on a research problem, trying to understand its structure, stumbling in our attempts. Then, after spending enough time mulling over it and observing it from every perspective we can think of, sometimes we stumble upon a new insight that gives new clarity to the mathematical structure, and then the solution to our problem unfolds, so elegant and, in hindsight, so simple, so clear and compelling, that we stare at it, amazed that we had not seen it before.But one line of this post makes me shake my head. Its your life that you have and a short time left to find yourself a home. I don't like this angle. I do not think that we can find a home here on earth. "Our citizenship is in heaven." It is inescapable that we are to some degree alienated to our environment here, and some degree of loneliness is part of our human condition, regardless of our state in life, I think. This enthusiasm for the Franciscan home reminds me of newlyweds' belief that, with a spouse whom they love and understand, they will never be alone again. That is simply not true, and they are bound to be disappointed at some point. I read this and think: "This is a new recruit's excessive zeal. Will the commitment hold the test of time? We don't know."But maybe it's just the word "home" that struck me the wrong way. As Ann said: "unagidon -- hold fast!"

What Claire said.I suppose what struck me (in a negative way) about this post was the suggestion of hierarchy -- that one graduates from seminars, support groups or committees to orders. I don't know anything about secular Franciscans, and I can certainly imagine that they could strike the right balance of devotion, activity, service, etc. for many, in which case, go for it. But that you personally don't get a whole lot out of the other things doesn't make them spiritually inadequate, or the Franciscans spiritually superior. Indeed, I like to think that a Franciscan oriented group would try to avoid that kind of thinking as much as possible. Although I think there are limits to seeking spiritual elevation via self-abnegation (I'm trying to take myself out of the picture), nonetheless, it is a far more credible approach than seeking spiritual elevation via self-aggrandizement (I'm better than others).

Claire said: "I dont like this angle. I do not think that we can find a home here on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven. It is inescapable that we are to some degree alienated to our environment here, and some degree of loneliness is part of our human condition, regardless of our state in life, I think. This enthusiasm for the Franciscan home reminds me of newlyweds belief that, with a spouse whom they love and understand, they will never be alone again. That is simply not true, and they are bound to be disappointed at some point. I read this and think: This is a new recruits excessive zeal. Will the commitment hold the test of time? We dont know."My worrying about time is purely a personal feeling of having lived 57 years and moved spiritually (by my impression) about an inch and a half. I am not speaking for everyone.For the Franciscans, at least, one becomes a formal member of the order when one reaches the level of formation called Candidate. Candidates are Secular Franciscans in every way except that they can neither vote nor hold office in the fraternity. I did go through a newly-wed phase a year and a half ago when I went through that (and for that reason didn't write about it at the time), but I think the honeymoon is over now.

Barbara said: "Although I think there are limits to seeking spiritual elevation via self-abnegation (Im trying to take myself out of the picture), nonetheless, it is a far more credible approach than seeking spiritual elevation via self-aggrandizement (Im better than others)."I am sure that my poem sounds very arrogant. I was not suggesting that there is a hierarchy of some sort when it comes to Church organizations. What I was trying to suggest was that in my case (at least) I had tended to think of the stand alone committees, events, etc. as somehow offsetting the secular committees (like work) or events like my life was some sort of calculus and I was all right as long as the (spiritual) credit side was higher than the (secular) debit side. My life was not integrated. And this was something that I needed. (I could have replaced "you" with "I" or "me", but it didn't sound right.)Why do I call the Franciscans (and others) "deep". Not just because of the kind of commitment it entails (although I think the idea is that in some ways the goal is to eliminate the purely "secular"). It's the tradition that caught me. There are 800 years of people trying to puzzle this thing out and writing about it (or being written about). It's sort of like trying to do the Liturgy of the Hours. I had to flog myself to try it and it bored me silly when I did. But then, the different voices of the different people started emerging from the readings (despite the fact, of course, that they are all translations). So I felt that I was hearing 2,000 years of people talking about God and themselves. It was kind of a transforming moment.But I VERY strictly believe that each of us has his or her own way that they need to do these things. There is no key that works for every lock. So I apologize if I sounded arrogant and doubly so if I made the Franciscans sound arrogant. In my experience, even a conversion experience isn't like starting as a caterpillar and emerging as a butterfly. It's starting as a caterpillar and emerging as another kind of caterpillar.

Looking around, it seems there is no one way to the Lord, but I think it's only natural -- or make that supernatural -- that when you find a course that seems to fit you that you want to share it, as I think it's obvious that unagidon does. So thanks, u. That's the nature of a real conversion, I think.I'm not a joiner. When I was in the Sodality when I was about 11 I hated it, and my mother was wise enough to let me quit, and I haven't joined another organized group since except the Newman Club in college. I can understand a bit how Merton wanted to be a hermit. His abbott resisted him for a long, long time, but after Merton's death the abbott himself became a hermit :-) Yes, we do change sometimes. I hope so.

I'm with Claire and Barbara. But I understand Unagidon. I have been in the First Order of Franciscans. Much is promised, little is delivered. Orders emerged in the church because the church drifted from its ideals. The Orders became in effect what the church should have been.Inevitably the Orders strayed as the constant amount of reformers within each group shows. The emergence of Orders is a statement that the regulars of the church are not practicing the gospel. In fact it gives the ordinary parishioner the opportunity to say "they are saints and I can never be that." Which means I attend church because I was born Catholic or for political or family reasons. So the Orders are good and bad. They remind us that we have strayed which is good. They give us permission to keep straying which is bad. They point the way as they relieve us of responsibility.The church at large promotes mediocrity which is the rap against Augustine. Being Catholic covers a multitude of sins and being Catholic is more important than being good. Without vision the people perish.

I am very grateful to unagidon and to others for this discussion of his entry into the secular Franciscans. This blog could use more of this kind of reflection on religious life by contemporaries "in the world." Of course, unagidon writes so well that I would also be entranced if he were describing his entry into the Hell's Angels. One reason why we need much more testimony about spiritual life by lay contemporaries, however, is that so many accounts of spiritual journeys or counsel regarding them sound like we travel those roads as solitary pilgrims. Most of us do not. Our prayer lives, our fork-in-the-road decisions, our general orientations are not shaped by ourselves alone but along with spouses and often other family members with whom we live or for whom we have grave responsibilities. Their privacy and individuality deserve to be respected. (I know that there is a daughter unagidon but I don't know whether there is a mrs. unagidon, and probably I have no business wanting to know.) But the absence of spouses and family from so much spiritual writing is a great weakness. This probably also has something to do with the question of celibate Orders in the church.

"Of course, unagidon writes so well that I would also be entranced if he were describing his entry into the Hells Angels."No kidding! He deserves a much wider audience.

Truly a great weakness, Mr. Steinfels, and since I promised in my first post to talk about my wife I am at double fault.My wife is the one with the formal degree in religious studies (from U of C under Bernard McGinn) and her first reaction to my idea of possibly joining the Order was to say "They are allowed to bury their dead in a Franciscan habit. And I want to tell you right now, that as long as there is a breath in my body, I don't care how dead you are, you are not going to be buried in a habit. Other than that, I will support anything that makes you happy."My wife and friends were confused (as confused as I was) about my sudden attraction to the Franciscans. I have probably said this elsewhere, but we had a running joke in my family, where I was supposed to be a Jesuit in my spirituality and my wife was supposed to be the Franciscan. She initially came to some of the fraternity meetings (once a month on a Saturday) and while she liked the people and often liked the content of whatever the discussion topic was, she didn't seem to quite click with them. Part of the issue might have been my son and daughter (11 and 7), who were often quite bored by the lack of children at this meeting of rather old people. The group loves children and coddled them, but we soon reached a point where I could tell that they really didn't want to attend. So my wife sort of dropped out to take care of them while I went to the meetings.Another complicating point in all of this is that I went through several severe bouts of depression during the whole initiation period, and I was pretty, shall we say, self absorbed during this time. The Franciscans were probably my only rich social contacts at that time and I had the impression that my wife wanted to stay out of the way of that. As I continued with the organization, she was always supportive, but within the organization as we move closer to profession, we go through what I would call stages and I discovered later that being in the same stage at the same time in the same formation class was an issue with her, because it would seem competitive. After I professed, she began to express a formal interest in the Franciscans, and I suspect that she will eventually begin her own formation next month.I have a much older daughter who is 28 and who is engaged to be married. She was not raised a Catholic. But her fiance is from a rather conservative Catholic family. My daughter and this man have been dating for about three years and I have yet to meet his family, because good Catholics though they are, they are apparently intimidated by the fact that I joined a religious order. (Perhaps I will be able to redeem myself at the reception if I get real, real drunk.) I didn't believe this when she told me, but it is apparently true.My wife and I (and the children for that matter, including the 28 year old) talk about religious issues far more than we used to since I started going to the meetings. I can't say that, outside of bedtime prayers, we have started doing any serious devotions at home as a family. I have a prayer life, which I have gone through in excruciating detail in a number of posts here and so does my wife. But we are very private about this and although we will pray for each other (and the children) we don't pray together. I will support my wife should she wish to proceed and I will also support her should she wish to not proceed. The integration that I tried to focus on in my remarks above has definitely had a positive effect on all of my relationships, especially with my wife. But I also know that joining an order seems to change people. It will add an interesting twist into our lives should she become serious about joining. Things will be richer for it, but they will be much harder as well. This is because the whole point of the formation process is to make us ask the very hardest questions about life. I have been surprised in the last three years of my formation at how many things in my life that I thought I had settled and moved beyond turned out to have just been swept under the rug (where they continued to grow in the darkness). This will happen with her too I think and I pray to God that I will be as strong in facing her demons as she has been facing mine.

"So my wife sort of dropped out to take care of them while I went to the meetings."Sounds to me like your wife is pretty much already there.

Unagidon, I was only critical because that's what I like to do. Mere praise is boring. But I am looking forward to your next posts!

"But we are very private about this and although we will pray for each other (and the children) we dont pray together."Unagidon,Offhand this seems to be a deficiency. You pray with others in the Order but not with your family. If your wife did not pray at all this could make sense. Do the leaders in the Order agree with this? Do you pray at meals or is that private also. I understand that each one grows in different ways, but no prayer at all together? Just as Mass should not be private, should not there be some common prayer with one's family?

U:I agree with Peter S. You are a great writer. Like Saul Bellow, Mordecai Richler, et al.As to being buried in a habit? I've heard that's no longer allowed with some third orders, not sure about Franciscans. In Ireland, lots of people used to be buried in habits. There would be ads for burial habits in Catholic papers, etc. I think that's over.

Bill said: "Offhand this seems to be a deficiency. You pray with others in the Order but not with your family. If your wife did not pray at all this could make sense. Do the leaders in the Order agree with this? Do you pray at meals or is that private also. I understand that each one grows in different ways, but no prayer at all together? Just as Mass should not be private, should not there be some common prayer with ones family?"Of course it's a deficiency and a serious one. It's one of many that I have. One of the reasons "one grows in different ways" is that everyone has different deficiencies. One of my many is a tendency to be too solitary. And it's funny, because before I finally started to address this seriously, I thought I was a pretty good father. My own father was a drunk and suffered from schizophrenia and was physically and verbally abusive (but especially physically). Admittedly the bar was set very low for me, but the fact that I didn't hit my children (or wife for that matter) and that I tried to reason with them rather than berate them made me feel like I was doing pretty good.I think a problem with spiritual development is where to start. I had a problem with prayer myself. Some of what I have written here talks about it. Would it now be good to gather together my family for a Rosary session (as our 1950's mind-frame pastor insists that all good families should do) each evening? Or should I really learn how to pray it myself first?It's not that I think (or we think in my family) that prayer is intrinsically private. It's more like no one in my family was or is developed very much in being able to do private prayer, much less public prayer. I pray with my seven year old, whom I think is coming to understand it. I don't pray with my eleven year old yet, because he treats it like a violin lesson ("how many do I have to do?"). I don't want prayer to be some kind of middle class "quality time" that I spend with the family so I can say that I did it and got it out of the way.As I stated above, the problem to me is disintegration. Our Order (as you know) asks us to live a Gospel life. In our fraternity meetings, people are still asking what that means exactly and they have been in the Order for years. Does it mean to somehow do "gospel stuff"? Do we listen to religious music and read religious books for a certain amount of time each day? I am being deadly serious here, because my impression is that we approach even this problem like we approach most other problems in our lives. We want an Answer. If it is a problem, it must be a puzzle. If it is a puzzle, there must be a solution. If there is a solution, it must require certain specific inputs. Let's make a Power Point.I'm rambling. But this is the problem as I see it. My whole life seemed disaggregated and inauthentic to me. My prayer seemed disaggregated and inauthentic to me. I did not want this Franciscan thing to become my personal Catholic thing that I would then drag my family along into (for their own good). The best answer I can give you right now, then is that I am aware of the problem (and you state it well); I know that to live any kind of integrated life much less a Gospel centered life I need to be fully integrated with my own family and the people I love; and I know that I have a million miles to go. Point taken.

Unagidon,You embody well the Lord's injunction: "Seek and you will find." I appreciate your honesty. The fact that you bare yourself before is an invitation to fraternity and wholeness. I Know that God will fulfill your quest. You achieve community as you invite us into your life. That makes us a church, a people of God. Hopefully, your Third Order can bring that church into your parish. Your openness is refreshing. Thank you for the grace you bring into this group.

Things can be a lot worse than not praying together. When I was married, to a non-Catholic, every weekend was a struggle: should I spend our few precious non-work hours doing activities with my family, or should I carve out space for myself where I could do what I wanted to do, namely go to Mass? How much money, time, etc., should I give in stewardship, when that was all against my spouse's opinions, and a source of division within the family? Should I take my children along, leaving my then-husband in isolation, excluded from the feast? What to do when he reacted by competing in the children's minds, trying to convince them that there was no God? How does one prioritize between the longing for God and the desire to be with one's family? Talk about a disintegrated life...

I've made quite a study of conversion stories, written and oral, and I have to give Unagidon points for trying to express his religious experience. But these types of narratives always defy the ability of language to convey what's going on, so the experience sounds kind of vague and airy-fairy ("Its your life that you have and a short time left to find yourself a home. Listen, push, read, ask harder, knock harder, listen again. Find something you can integrate yourself into. Find that place that your discouragement says does not exist. Trust God.")Let me hasten to say that this is not a criticism of Unagidon or his ability to write, which we all enjoy. But I do think that stories like his cannot but disappoint many readers who are hoping to find some sort of prescription for grace that they do not have or to renew a grace that seems to be fading or lost. Grace, of course, doesn't work that way; you can't slide into grace through someone else's door. Everyone experiences it in a different way. For some of us the road to grace is long--Unagidon describes three years of formation, much of that time struggling with depression. For some the road very short. I think Unagidon's wife dropping out of the group to stay home with the kids and giving Unagidon time to wrestle with his demons was a generous act of grace.But is my read accurate? God only knows. Because another pitfall of the religious experience story is that the reader tends to see what he wants or needs to in it. I want to imbue Unagidon's wife with grace because I see myself in her--a drop-out from organized spiritual exercise. If she has grace in giving Unagidon support and encouragement, then so do I (to a far lesser extent) in giving Raber space to be the good and faithful Catholic he is, and to put my kvetching about the Church on here instead of inflicting it on him. Years ago, when I wrote about being a failed convert, I got letters from people complaining that I didn't explain what drew me to the Church in the first place. That story would have been too long (it would have had to cover 40 years and a lot of experiences that would look pretty mundane, or possibly unhinged, to an outsider). Other than the fact that you can't get grace from the stories or experiences of others, I don't pretend to know how it works except that sometimes we experience a joy and peace that has no explanation. And then we often lose it. Sometimes for the rest of our lives. In my case, I have learned to be content with the fact that I once had it, that it exists, that having had it has opened me up to more possibilities. Sometimes that's all we get.

What an interesting discussion. Hope you don't mind if I join in.unagidon's wife here.As unagidon has mentioned, his has been the more Jesuit and mine has been the more Franciscan spirituality in our twenty years of marriage. In that sense, we compliment each other. But he has almost always shied away from my invitations to participate in the airy-fairy stuff, the peace marches, Social Security rallies, or other social justice work I find so essential in my Franciscan kind of spirituality. He relates to it, but always in a less overt way. So when he decided to become a Franciscan a big part of me shouted hooray!, but then I realized that if I helped this might actually be a hindrance to him.Having been active in Pax Christi and various Catholic social justice groups I've met a few Franciscans, and find a natural alliance with them. But in this case it seemed essential, in my view, that the impetus to carry this through was his and not mine. Unagidon, bless his heart, is one of those men who has a high tolerance for pain and is very willing to sacrifice for the sake of others, especially his family. It was critical therefore that this did not become another of my enthusiasms in which he participated as a kind of sacrifice. There had to be no question that this was God calling him through this particular organization.Owing to our mutual interest in history and religion we've shared twenty years of discussion on theology and religious practice. Unagidon and I both have taught our kids' catechism classes for several years, and I think that informs our family life. Looking at our family from the outside, one might say on the one hand that we pray together constantly in our meditations on the wonder of God's revelation, in encouraging thankfulness and mindfulness, and in our discussions about Christ's work in the world and ourselves. On the other one could say that we are deficient in our lack of regular formal prayer together. Regarding formal prayer as a family, this is an interesting challenge! I can say that 8 and 11 year olds have well-tuned bs-meters, so if it's forced they know it. This year I had the joy of teaching our 11 year old's catechism class, and talking with them about the care and feeding of their souls. That is, why we Catholics do what we do and the stuff with which we do it, by which I mean the different kinds of prayer and meditation, especially the more formal ones, sacraments and ceremonies, and what we call holy hardware (icons, rosaries, religious medals, holy cards, etc). By age 11, although they've been exposed to a lot of this already, many of them still don't quite understand what all the stuff is for. In addition, they are beginning to develop the cynicism that so affects teenagers. But they are also coming to an age when their parents will let them forego church attendance and other more formal religious practices if it's their choice. So in a way, the age represents the perfect time to talk about the whys of ceremonies, sacraments and more formal prayer, and represents a critical turning point. If these are some of the tools through which we grow closer to Christ, and which support us in our spiritual journeys, it's very important to understand what they are and how and why they're used. But from my own (admittedly limited) understanding of pre-teens, it seems that unless this other stuff is done first, more formal prayer and these other tools can become a kind of unintelligible formality.So perhaps in this case when the student is ready the teacher (or practice) presents himself/itself. On the other hand, maybe I'm just covering for a deficiency. Maybe both! I'm a firm believer that we have what we need before us, we are exactly where we need to be. The hardest part is opening our eyes to the obvious work before us, which is getting out of our own way.

"Other than the fact that you cant get grace from the stories or experiences of others.."Jean,It may have to do with one's definition of grace, but the above appears awfully cynical. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he brought grace into our lives. It is up to us to pursue that opportunity. Perhaps you are mixing up magic or fantasy with grace. You are right that sometimes we experience a joy and peace that has no explanation. Except that I would explain it by God giving us a taste of what is to come. Unfortunately, sometimes those who bring grace in our lives also turn away from grace. But others do bring us grace. The kind of ground that seed or grace falls upon may be important.

"Offhand this seems to be a deficiency. You pray with others in the Order but not with your family. "This is something I also struggle with. In the diaconate, they strongly encourage husbands and wives to pray Morning and Evening Prayer together (and if we could get the children to join in, the program directors would be ecstatic). I don't doubt there are some deacon couples who manage to do this. But in our case, there are at least a couple of layers of obstacles. One is practical: our harried schedules are such that we're not regularly available at the same times. Another is preference: I have to like the official prayer of the church or lump it, but my wife has the luxury of finding it not to her taste, and it's not, at least not several times a day every single day. (fwiw, I have grown to love it). The fact is that her spirituality is not quite the same is mine, just as unagidon's and his wife's are different (btw, what a delight it is to see chicagomom commenting here!). She reads spiritual books that are just not quite my cup of tea, and vice-versa.FWIW - we do pray together as a family. We drag our children to church every Sunday, and at least a couple of them have been spotted actually participating from time to time. We say grace before meals on the occasions we manage to all be at the dining room table at the same time. When the children were young enough to be tucked in, we said a bedtime prayer for them.

Another comment on the topic of couples praying together: one thing the diaconate tries to be sensitive about is the spiritual development of both husband and wife. That is why wives are encouraged (but not required) to go through formation with the husband. In the very early days of diaconate formation, the wives were not part of the journey, and we learned that it was not good for the marriage that the husband have all of these rich and rewarding spiritual experiences while the wife was, in a sense, left behind. Unagidon and chicagomom, I would ask you to be cognizant of this danger. From what chicagomom has commented here, it seems that her spiritual life is far from stagnant, so hopefully it is not anything to be too worried about. But my personal experience is that it is best for the marriage if both partners have a stimulating spiritual life.Sorry, that's enough about the diaconate, which is not what this thread is about, but just sharing my personal perspective.

Jim thanks for your comments on the diaconate. Actually I think your comments were very relevant; married people are very affected by their spouses' spiritual experiences and devotional lives. There's a multi-part interview/article about married spirituality and religious practice in the making...My grandma Rose's family was full of religious fervor; mystics and missionaries and people full of passion cutting swaths through the unyielding Brazilian jungle. Her husband, a fun-loving, rum-drinking Sicialian sailor, mostly left the religioning stuff to her. I think in many families it was pretty typical for one person to carry the devotional load of praying (and attending church) for the rest of the family. That was the case in my family, anyway. Love and faith are often lopsided.As for us, although we may go out of balance now and then, on the whole I think we've been good for each other because of that Franciscan/Jesuit dialectic (as painful as that can sometimes be). I think at the bottom of both are unagidon's "Wake up! Pay attention!" I think God uses whoever is around to slap you upside the head, so to speak. Disintegrate. Integrate. Begin again. and again.

Bill, didn't mean to be cynical; my point is that there is no generic path to grace; grace is God's gift, not a human achievement. I hope that's not magical or some type of fantasy idea.Reading about how other people have been given grace is not going to confer it on me; in fact, reading descriptions of how others have received may sound hazy and other-worldly. Because it is.However, talking about grace can help people better recognize it, be open to it. Certainly it can also lead to interesting conversations, as this one about the affect of spiritual practices on other family members; religion has always been an extremely touchy subject in my family, but it is interesting to see how others give each other space and encourage spiritual journeys of others.Cheers!

"I think God uses whoever is around to slap you upside the head, so to speak."Yep. FWIW - in our baptism prep sessions, we read the account of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. We note that God's voice was heard from the heavens, and ask the young parents how their infants will hear God's voice as they grow up. That's a parent's job a lot of times - to be God's voice - and to find the right words, the right inflection, the right body language to be that voice.