From Twitter @EllenKolbNH
Remembering some good walks & looking ahead to others…
Five hundred miles. The app on my phone assures me that’s how far I’ve walked and hiked this year. Not far by comparison with many (most?) other hikers, I know. Still, I covered some fine southern New Hampshire places. Thirty-three towns, according to my trail notes, plus a probably-once-in-a-lifetime visit to a place way beyond the border. Not a bad year at all.
August in Winant Park, Concord: mushrooms, not blossoms, bedeck the trails.
Nashua’s Mine Falls might be my favorite city park, but Concord’s Winant Park was a contender this year. I frequently have business in Concord, with Winant only a short drive away. All by itself it justified keeping a pair of trail shoes in the car for spur-of-the-moment hikes.
I visited Miller State Park one late-spring day just before sunset, and had the usually-busy Pack Monadnock summit and fire tower to myself. In thirty years of…
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Having let this simmer on the back burner for a few weeks, I find it’s still apt, even with the election so close. Therefore, for your consideration:
I’m not a political action committee, nor do I plan to form one. It’s election season, though, so forgive me the occasional rant. There’s a campaign phenomenon that drives me nuts: people who campaign for (insert party name here) candidates for the sole reason that they belong to (insert party name here), because “party unity” or some such thing.
I’ve been a campaign staffer on two statewide Republican campaigns, both of which hired me knowing I’m an independent. A generation ago, back when I was a registered Republican, I was involved in platform debates. There’s pressure to support the entire party slate of candidates, top to bottom. That’s true of every party. I get that.
But I don’t think it’s too much to expect for pro-lifers to be pro-life first and (insert party name here) second. When elected officials of a party with a pro-life platform are not united in supporting that plank, and when the right to life is fundamental, then it’s kind of silly to vote a straight (insert party here) ticket.
I ask my readers’ indulgence as I shamelessly swipe something from the latest update out of 40 Days for Life in Greenland, New Hampshire.
…I also got an update about the women from the Correctional Center who pray for our Greenland 40 Days for Life Efforts. The Godmother to one of the women forwarded my 40DFL email in which I mentioned the women and their prayer support of our local 40 DFL efforts. The women were very encouraged by the connection they have to something outside their walls-the 40 Days for Life Greenland vigil!
No one is beyond prayer, and no one is beyond joining in prayer.
I’m on a business trip in a faraway city right now, when I’d rather be in Stewartstown, New Hampshire. There’s a celebration going on there in honor of a place and people who have come to mean a lot to me. The Cohos Trail is turning 20, and the coming-of-age party is happening today.
In twenty years, I’ve spent maybe eight hours on trail maintenance up there in northern New Hampshire. That’s not even a blip in the tally of volunteer hours and days and weeks given by countless people over the past two decades to build and maintain the CT. If I were at today’s party, I’d be able to meet some of them and offer face-to-face thanks. As it is, this meager post will have to do.
After discovering Tony Agnesi through his book A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life, I’ve looked forward to his newest project. It’s here: A Storyteller’s Guide to Joyful Service: Turning Your Misery Into Ministry takes a look at dealing with tough times, be they simple disappointments or deep griefs, and using them as opportunities for growing in service to other people.
“Lord, if you had been here…”
In an informal style, Mr. Agnesi shares small stories exploring painful situations and ways of responding to them. He is writing for a Christian audience, assuming that his readers have some familiarity with both faith and disappointment. He knows that Martha’s words to Christ in time of bereavement – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” – reflect a deeply human reaction to loss. Where to from there?
One step at a time, responds Mr. Agnesi. He has confidence that in small ways, a day at a time, anyone experiencing major or minor miseries can be equipped for ministry to others. His words might not reach someone in the grip of immediate and profound grief, when looking ahead seems like too much to bear. For anyone capable of reflection, though, Turning Your Misery Into Ministry can be thought-provoking and inspiring.
Small Steps: A Path to Service
The author’s own experience with serious illness makes this a book written for other people, not at them. His descriptions of the ministries in which he’s personally involved enrich the book. His message on every page is I can do this; so can you.
The actions he advises seem obvious, but it’s precisely when challenges are oppressive that solutions are obscured. Pray, even briefly; look a stranger in the eye and say hello; give the gift of listening; do simple things for one’s spouse: page after page is filled with reminders of the little things that draw one’s attention outward, discouraging self-absorption.
That’s not to say he advises forgetting about self-care. He knows that he and his readers need healing and grace and time for themselves.
Grace in the Virtues
Virtues in action are basically habits developed over time. Mr. Agnesi packs his small book with short suggestions for ways to develop those habits. His book concludes with a section called “Grace in the Virtues,” which may seem an odd subject to consider when dealing with miseries large and small. After all that precedes the closing section, though, his reflections on grace and virtue make sense.
Each little step he advises is underpinned with encouragement towards the simple virtues of gratitude and humility. Without them, no one can be equipped for ministry. No formal training or credential can replace them. With them, anyone can begin to offer authentic service to others. Wherever authentic service exists, there is ministry.
Turning Your Misery Into Ministry ends with an exhortation to be passionate, unafraid, and joyful. With the voice of a neighbor, Tony Agnesi invites his readers to join him.
(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.)
This post originally appeared at DaTechGuy Blog.
When an opportunity for me to visit Rome came up unexpectedly not long ago, I dropped everything, including blogging assignments. I will probably never have another crack at a trip to Italy with my husband. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to go.
I figured I might be able to write along the way. Surely there would be time. That’s not how it worked out. No one warned me of the overload of sights and impressions I’d be experiencing, and the deep contrasts I’d be witnessing. They packed an emotional punch. Perhaps the biggest contrast that hit my Catholic sensibilities was the one between churches as places of historical interest and churches as places of faith.
Rome is a city of church domes, not skyscrapers. Vatican City’s crown jewel, St. Peter’s Basilica, holds a commanding position. A walk through Rome reveals other churches that catch the eye: architectural marvels, places of art and beauty, accessible to believer and nonbeliever alike. One could be forgiven for valuing them simply as museums and artifacts of a certain period in history. That might be what brings someone through the doors for the first time.
Yet these aren’t mere artifacts of a lost time. They are places of worship. It’s odd how I felt that so strongly in St. Peter’s, thronged as it was with tourists. In the little side chapels within the nave, people were kneeling. Maybe one in twenty of the people in the vast church was there for prayer. Yet that five percent made the difference between a museum and a church. I asked where daily Mass was said, since obviously the “main” part of the church was occupied by tourists from all over the world. A guide pointed me to one of the side chapels, set apart only by a quiet attendant welcoming to the pews anyone who wanted to pray.
A few years ago, on another unexpected journey, I made a pilgrimage to St. Mark’s in Venice. The main doors, the big ones, were designated for tourists, of whom there were many. Who could visit the city without taking in that stunning edifice? For those wanting to pray, there was a smaller door off to the side: not to shunt anyone aside, but to guide pilgrims to a quiet area devoid of cameras and chatter.
In both Rome and Venice, I recognized those little side chapels as powerhouses, even if my Italy guidebook didn’t.
I came home to my little parish church, where the architecture is far more modest and draws no tourists. No one would ever confuse it with a museum. I came home to neighbors as appalled as I by the news of yet more abuse, more episcopal failures, more reminders that if my faith in God relies on anyone’s miter and staff then my faith is doomed to shatter.
Tough news to come home to after Rome, for sure. Yet in a way, my journey had set me up to face tough news. Rome was a challenging place for me. Beautiful and vibrant, yes. But around every corner and under every dome was that contrast and tension: museum, or house of worship? I think that as long as those side chapels are occupied by people at prayer, the tension resolves in favor of worship.
I think that these days, both in Rome and at home, prayer is not only worship of God but also an act of defiance against people who need to be defied: all those who would weaken others’ faith, break bruised reeds, betray trust. A dangerous attitude, that. Prayer without humility and love becomes the clanging cymbal of which St. Paul warned us. Yet abandoning prayer altogether leaves the field to the museum-goers. I’m not prepared to do that.
Rome and Vatican City were a revelation to me. Nothing I studied prepared me properly for all the food, sights, history, and the accompanying sensory overload. Yet quite against my will, elbowing its way into all my other memories is that sight of people praying off to the side in St. Peter’s. One in twenty, giving soul to the church, quietly pushing back against all that would render it a mere museum.
Photo by author: dome of St. Peter’s seen from Gianicolo hill.