Using Imagination in Prayer

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Many of us, when we think about praying or prayer, generally mean “talking to God.” Whether the prayer is a memorized prayer such as the Our Father, a spontaneous “Thank you God” whisper, reading prayers out of a prayer book, or asking for something, prayer seems to be vocal. We are talking to God. We either talk to God in our thoughts, we talk out loud or we sing. We believe that prayer is a way to contact God and have a conversation. But is that the only form prayer takes?

Praying can also be meditative. Thinking about God is a form of prayer. Reading passages from scripture then thinking about the passage and what it means, is also a form of prayer. (In Catholicism it is called Lectio Divina.) Sitting quietly, attempting to reach your inner core, listening and feeling your breathing, sensing every part of your body, is a form of prayer.

Imagination is a form of prayer. In Catholicism, it is perhaps best known by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius or the Rosary. Praying the Rosary allows the prayer to sink into an imaginative journey through the life of Jesus. The Gospels are alive with images and scenes. For the person who is not gifted with an active imagination, recalling scenes from movies that bring Jesus and his story alive can also be used. After all, movies are just another person’s imagination of the way things were.

The Gospels have many gaps in information that the writers did not feel necessary to include, possibly assuming a common knowledge. Twenty-first century imaginative prayers may find it frustrating contending with the lack of information about culture and customs of the time and may feel a need to seek information elsewhere to fill in these gaps.

Take, for example, the story of the annunciation in the Gospel of Luke. In your imagination, place yourself in the scene. The first problem you will have is in establishing the setting for the encounter between Mary and the Angel Gabriel. What kind of a house did Mary live in? Was it made of brick, stone or mud? How many rooms did it have? How many floors? Were Mary’s parents rich or poor? What kind of furniture did they have? Was the kitchen inside the house or in a lean to outside?

Did Mary’s mother keep a goat or goats for its milk and coat? Did they have a donkey for travel? If so, where were they kept: In a basement room or tethered outdoors? Did the family have a small vegetable garden, fruit trees or other shrubs? Did they have a grape vine for making their own wine? In a hot dry climate with no running water, a woman went to the town well every day to fetch water for the family’s needs whether it was for cooking, watering the livestock, washing, or watering the plants. To get a feel for the interaction between Mary and Gabriel, imagine the scene. Create the setting.

Israel has a climate similar to that of Southern California. It has two seasons: dry and rain. Most months are dry. What kind of a day was it when Gabriel visited Mary?  Dry or rain? Was it overcast or bright? Was it during the heat of the day or the cool of the morning or evening?

You have now created the scene in which the Annunciation takes place.  Now imagine yourself as being present during the interaction between the Angel Gabriel and Mary.  Remember that Mary is a young girl. Scholars speculate that she cannot have been over the age of 15 at the time. What was she doing at the precise moment Gabriel appeared?  What did Gabriel look like? Did he just appear in a flash of light? Was he very tall? Did he look like a human person? Was he dressed all in white robes with a shining light around him? Create your image of Gabriel.

Depending upon what you think Gabriel looked like and how he first appeared to Mary, how does Mary react? Is she startled to see a strange man in her house? Is she startled by seeing an ethereal person? Was she frightened or did she recognize him for what he was – a messenger from God. Did she hide her face in her hands and kneel down or did she stand and look Gabriel in the face? Do you see Mary as a brave little girl or as a self-confident young woman?

Take your time thinking about their interaction. Go over every possible nuance in the conversation. Listen in awe as this momentous conversation takes place.

Gabriel leaves or just disappears. How does Mary feel now? What are her thoughts and feelings? What does she do? Does she just go back to what she was doing? Does she take some time to think about what had just happened? Does she immediately begin to wonder about the implications of her decision?

You may end your imaginative meditation here or you can go on with the rest of the story and fill in the gaps between the Annunciation and when Mary set off on her journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke has not filled in these gaps for you so you must imagine what must have happened.

Using imaginative prayer allows you to feel a personal closeness or kinship with the characters in the Gospel story. You may identify with whichever character appeals to you most or change your identification each time you enter this scene. You become personally involved in their lives as you try to experience what they might have experienced.

Use imaginative prayer in conjunction with the seasons too. During Advent and Christmas time, imagine all that happened prior to, after and at the birth of Jesus. Try to live the events. Holy week is a time for Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus trial and torture before he carries his cross to his death. Placing yourself in imagination in all these events sparks a deep and personal involvement in Jesus passion and resurrection. If you don’t remember the story, go back to your Bible and re-read those passages. Then sit back and relax and let your mind drift into the scene you want to concentrate on.

During Ordinary Time the Church concentrates on Jesus ministry. You can take the daily readings from that day’s Mass for your imaginative prayer.

For some people, saying the Rosary fulfills their need for imaginative prayer as each decade of the Rosary focuses on some part of the life and death of Jesus. The prayer can concentrate on only one scene for all five decades or try to live each decade separately.

Imaginative prayer offers a way to become personally involved in the life of Jesus as a participant or as an observer. Either way, you will grow in love and appreciation for the characters depicted in the stories.

If you have never tried imaginative prayer, try it once or twice to see if it meets your spiritual needs. This form of prayer takes time, it is not a quickie rush job. It takes silence; the TV cannot be blaring. It takes concentration. You will find it is best to do alone or in a group of others who are praying too. Others have found it a very valuable means of prayer. You may find it meaningful too.

Lectio Divina    http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-what-how-why-of-prayer/praying-with-scripture/

Spiritual exorcices   http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises.html

Gospel of Luke 1:26-38   http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201:26-38&version=NASB

Gospel of Luke  2:41-51  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%202:41-51&version=NASB

Ordinary Time    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/overviews/seasons/ordinary_time/ordinary1.cfm

 

 

Using Imagination in Prayer

101_0949

Many of us, when we think about praying or prayer, generally mean “talking to God.” Whether the prayer is a memorized prayer such as the Our Father, a spontaneous “Thank you God” whisper, reading prayers out of a prayer book, or asking for something, prayer seems to be vocal. We are talking to God. We either talk to God in our thoughts, we talk out loud or we sing. We believe that prayer is a way to contact God and have a conversation. But is that the only form prayer takes?

Praying can also be meditative. Thinking about God is a form of prayer. Reading passages from scripture then thinking about the passage and what it means, is also a form of prayer. (In Catholicism it is called Lectio Divina.) Sitting quietly, attempting to reach your inner core, listening and feeling your breathing, sensing every part of your body, is a form of prayer.

Imagination is a form of prayer. In Catholicism, it is perhaps best known by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius or the Rosary. Praying the Rosary allows the prayer to sink into an imaginative journey through the life of Jesus. The Gospels are alive with images and scenes. For the person who is not gifted with an active imagination, recalling scenes from movies that bring Jesus and his story alive can also be used. After all, movies are just another person’s imagination of the way things were.

The Gospels have many gaps in information that the writers did not feel necessary to include, possibly assuming a common knowledge. Twenty-first century imaginative prayers may find it frustrating contending with the lack of information about culture and customs of the time and may feel a need to seek information elsewhere to fill in these gaps.

Take, for example, the story of the annunciation in the Gospel of Luke. In your imagination, place yourself in the scene. The first problem you will have is in establishing the setting for the encounter between Mary and the Angel Gabriel. What kind of a house did Mary live in? Was it made of brick, stone or mud? How many rooms did it have? How many floors? Were Mary’s parents rich or poor? What kind of furniture did they have? Was the kitchen inside the house or in a lean to outside?

Did Mary’s mother keep a goat or goats for its milk and coat? Did they have a donkey for travel? If so, where were they kept: In a basement room or tethered outdoors? Did the family have a small vegetable garden, fruit trees or other shrubs? Did they have a grape vine for making their own wine? In a hot dry climate with no running water, a woman went to the town well every day to fetch water for the family’s needs whether it was for cooking, watering the livestock, washing, or watering the plants. To get a feel for the interaction between Mary and Gabriel, imagine the scene. Create the setting.

Israel has a climate similar to that of Southern California. It has two seasons: dry and rain. Most months are dry. What kind of a day was it when Gabriel visited Mary?  Dry or rain? Was it overcast or bright? Was it during the heat of the day or the cool of the morning or evening?

You have now created the scene in which the Annunciation takes place.  Now imagine yourself as being present during the interaction between the Angel Gabriel and Mary.  Remember that Mary is a young girl. Scholars speculate that she cannot have been over the age of 15 at the time. What was she doing at the precise moment Gabriel appeared?  What did Gabriel look like? Did he just appear in a flash of light? Was he very tall? Did he look like a human person? Was he dressed all in white robes with a shining light around him? Create your image of Gabriel.

Depending upon what you think Gabriel looked like and how he first appeared to Mary, how does Mary react? Is she startled to see a strange man in her house? Is she startled by seeing an ethereal person? Was she frightened or did she recognize him for what he was – a messenger from God. Did she hide her face in her hands and kneel down or did she stand and look Gabriel in the face? Do you see Mary as a brave little girl or as a self-confident young woman?

Take your time thinking about their interaction. Go over every possible nuance in the conversation. Listen in awe as this momentous conversation takes place.

Gabriel leaves or just disappears. How does Mary feel now? What are her thoughts and feelings? What does she do? Does she just go back to what she was doing? Does she take some time to think about what had just happened? Does she immediately begin to wonder about the implications of her decision?

You may end your imaginative meditation here or you can go on with the rest of the story and fill in the gaps between the Annunciation and when Mary set off on her journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke has not filled in these gaps for you so you must imagine what must have happened.

Using imaginative prayer allows you to feel a personal closeness or kinship with the characters in the Gospel story. You may identify with whichever character appeals to you most or change your identification each time you enter this scene. You become personally involved in their lives as you try to experience what they might have experienced.

Use imaginative prayer in conjunction with the seasons too. During Advent and Christmas time, imagine all that happened prior to, after and at the birth of Jesus. Try to live the events. Holy week is a time for Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus trial and torture before he carries his cross to his death. Placing yourself in imagination in all these events sparks a deep and personal involvement in Jesus passion and resurrection. If you don’t remember the story, go back to your Bible and re-read those passages. Then sit back and relax and let your mind drift into the scene you want to concentrate on.

During Ordinary Time the Church concentrates on Jesus ministry. You can take the daily readings from that day’s Mass for your imaginative prayer.

For some people, saying the Rosary fulfills their need for imaginative prayer as each decade of the Rosary focuses on some part of the life and death of Jesus. The prayer can concentrate on only one scene for all five decades or try to live each decade separately.

Imaginative prayer offers a way to become personally involved in the life of Jesus as a participant or as an observer. Either way, you will grow in love and appreciation for the characters depicted in the stories.

If you have never tried imaginative prayer, try it once or twice to see if it meets your spiritual needs. This form of prayer takes time, it is not a quickie rush job. It takes silence; the TV cannot be blaring. It takes concentration. You will find it is best to do alone or in a group of others who are praying too. Others have found it a very valuable means of prayer. You may find it meaningful too.

Lectio Divina    http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-what-how-why-of-prayer/praying-with-scripture/

Spiritual exorcices   http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises.html

Gospel of Luke 1:26-38   http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201:26-38&version=NASB

Gospel of Luke  2:41-51  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%202:41-51&version=NASB

Ordinary Time    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/overviews/seasons/ordinary_time/ordinary1.cfm

 

 

The Frustration of Slow Weight Loss

Anyone who has ever been on a weight loss diet knows that the rapid weight loss experienced during the first few weeks slows to an agonizingly sluggish rate. Those who have been on more than one weight loss diet know that the first weight loss experience is never repeated. The pounds that initially seemed to fall off now stay on stubbornly. Beyond the first two weeks, weight loss progress slackens and sometimes even stops.

From a quick weight loss (mostly retained body fluids), the body needs to reach into fat stores for its energy supplies. Making the conversion from using incoming food for energy to using stored fat for energy takes time.

Why weight loss slows down

There are a number of reasons why weight loss loses momentum. For one thing everyone is different. Everyone has a different metabolism. Everyone has different genes, hormones, stressors, illnesses, allergies and work. Ageing plays a significant factor in slowed weight loss. People with abdominal obesity lose weight faster than people with subcutaneous fat found on hips, thighs and buttocks. The list goes on.

Physiologically speaking, women have a harder time losing weight than men. Women are genetically programmed to store fat so that they will have enough stored fat in breasts, buttocks and thighs to ovulate, carry a baby to term and nurse it for at least one year. Therefore, when women go on a weight loss diet their bodies start to protest and hold on to every fat globule. Men’s bodies don’t seem to hang on to fat as tenaciously as women’s bodies do.

Fight discouragement

The first thing to do is realize that the statement “you will lose about two pounds a week” is not a promise. It is a generalization based upon weight loss histories of thousands of people. Not everyone loses two pounds a week. Some do, some don’t. Depending upon the amount of weight that needs to be lost, weight loss may vary from nothing at all, to a few ounces to several pounds. Those with twenty pounds or less to lose have the most difficulty shedding those twenty pounds. Those with hundreds of pounds to lose, lose their weight much faster.

Accept the fact that you are a unique person and what may be said for one person may not be said for you. The often-heard phrase, “If I can do it, so can you,” is the most overused statement in dieting. No one person is the gold standard for everyone. What worked for your neighbor or spouse may not work for you.

Everyone goes through plateaus, some more extended than others. (Some plateaus have been as long as six months!) Plateaus simply mean the body is adjusting to a lower calorie level or a different mix of foods. Plateaus are unavoidable and the more you worry and fuss, the more difficult the process will be. Don’t stop doing what you have been doing. Just keep on keeping on. If you had been losing weight on your diet, then you are eating the right mix of food for you and eating the right amount of calories for you, so your weight will eventually come off. It will not happen overnight.

Comparing your weight loss progress with others is simply discouraging. Being on a plateau is also discouraging. Try to avoid becoming so discouraged that you are tempted to go off your diet.  Remember that changing our bodies takes time. Athletes understand this. Building muscle and endurance takes time. To train your body for running, pitching, making hoops, ballet, or swimming, means practicing every day. Musicians know that they have to practice every day to maintain their skills. Improvement does not happen quickly, it takes time, patience and perseverance. It’s exactly the same with dieting. You might even think of yourself as a “dieting athlete” if it helps.

Find something else to focus on

For many people, weight loss progress can become an obsession. All they can think about is their weight, measurements, what will be eaten, and what must be bought at the grocery store. All they think about is their diet. They need to think about something else besides their diet and how it is progressing. It’s not easy to do, but do try to find another hobby besides dieting.

Letting go

What your body does while on a diet is not under your control. It’s out of your hands. There is simply nothing you can do about how your body reacts. So let go of your need to control your progress.

Change what you have been doing

Some people fall into a rut when on a long-term diet, tending to eat the same foods at the same time of the day on the same day of the week as well as tending to do the same amount and type of exercise. Change things around. Mix things up. Experiment with different foods in different quantities than usual. Mix up exercise routines. Walk a little longer or a little faster. Find a place to walk that isn’t flat but has some rises and falls. Spend more time in the gym on different exercises. Include both resistance exercise as well as a cardiovascular workout.

Develop a support system

Develop a support system to talk about dieting, whether on-line or in person. Is there someone to talk to about your dieting experience? This is the beauty of Overeaters Anonymous which has a built in diet buddy in the form of a sponsor; someone who can be called at any time of the night and day to talk about concerns and to give some realistic suggestions. Weight Watchers has a built in discussion system at meetings. On-line weight loss discussion forums are a good place to vent, get encouragement or suggestions for different strategies.

Read

Read everything you can get your hands on about your diet. Go on-line to find other people on the same diet who are willing to share their experiences. Many will be knowledgeable about the books, articles and research being written about your diet. The more you know about your diet and how it works, the easier it will be to hang on when progress slows to a halt.

Have some fun

No matter what you enjoy doing, do it. Have some fun. Play with your kids or grandkids or dogs. Watch comedies, standup comics or gags. Something that will give you at least one big belly laugh a day.

The whole point of this is to take your mind off your diet and put it back on living, which is where it belongs. Six months from now, whether you have lost, gained or stayed the same, you will be six months older. What will your memories be of the past six months? Will it be of dieting or of living?

 Live your life now

Live a little, enjoy the discipline of being on a diet, celebrate every pound lost, but enjoy living life to the fullest every day no matter what the scale says. When weight loss progress is slow, as it inevitably will be, think back to when you were ten years old and desperately wanted to be all grown up. Your weight loss will follow a similar pattern. Everything worthwhile takes time.

If you want Patient-Centered Care, Put Patients on Your Team!

Today’s rant is about clinical prescriptions for modifying other people’s behavior and habits – specifically the addictions, diet, and gambling.

I have conducted research on diets and dieting because I was obese and wanted to lose weight. Over the years, I tried several suggested weight loss strategies including the Kelly Brownell plan which is essentially the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Weight Watchers, weight loss programs conducted by nutritionists/dieticians at universities, Overeaters Anonymous, Pritikin, and last Protein Power. Only the last was successful. I lost 80 pounds and have kept most of it off with occasional slips.

When I read research designed to help people lose weight, I look for the diet the research subjects were given. I looked at the backgrounds of the researchers and who constituted the team. Was there a successful dieter on the team? Had any of the members of the research team been overweight themselves and struggled to lose unwanted pounds?  For the most part, the researchers did not have a successful weight loser on the team. There was no personal motive for trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. Instead, the research focused upon calorie counting, exercise and a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. When the research subjects dropped out or were unsuccessful, it was the subjects fault, not the design of the study.

PBS once had a documentary on a hospital in New York for the treatment of the grossly obese. The type of diet was not specified. The emphasis was on not having food brought in by relatives and exercise. In-patients complained of the “tastelessness” of the food which indicated to me they were on a calorie restricted low-fat diet.

For the most part, dieting research is designed by people who believe in certain methods for weight loss but have never, themselves, been obese and tried the diet.

In 2007, JAMA published a breakthrough article comparing four different diet groups: 1) Low Carbohydrate, 2) Low fat/low calorie, 3) USDA Dietary Guidelines, and, 4) a diet of 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat and 30% protein. The research subjects were all overweight women in their forties. The research hypothesis favored the low-fat diet and the USDA Guidelines over the low carbohydrate and 40-30-30 programs. Subjects had all health parameters monitored over the course of the year. The results were not as predicted, the research team was flabbergasted, but they wrote up their findings and were published. I saw this as one of the most honest research designs on weight loss diets that had been published to date. The results essentially have been ignored by mainstream medicine and nutrition.

In the meantime, clinicians who were themselves struggling with their weight, and who had tried a variety of weight loss strategies with little success, stumbled upon a diet that worked for them. They wondered if the same diet would work for their patients who also had weight issues. To their surprise, the same diet worked for their patients. They tried publishing their findings in clinical journals but were rejected. So, they published their findings in book form, explaining the physiology of nutrition and why their diet worked on their obese patients. Many people, like me, who had tried all the mainstream diets without success, found these books, tried the diet and became successful dieters.

Other books followed, documenting the history of weight loss diets in different cultures, examining the published weight loss research studies and the political scene surrounding diet. The public ate it up, the medical community did not.

So, today, we continue to have federally funded weight loss and dietary research which tries to substantiate the USDA Guidelines for Americans.  But the research and the researchers do not have any successful dieters on their research teams. Yet it is the obese who know about the successes and failures of weight loss, not those who have never suffered from being overweight.

Unless you have suffered from obesity, you have no vested interest in how to lose weight. Your goal is to obtain research funds, get published and get promoted; not to find out how to lose weight.

Research on dieting, gambling, smoking cessation, alcoholism and the addictions is best served by having people who suffer from these issues on the research team. Researchers and clinicians who have tried to establish programs for alcoholics, without alcoholics in the planning will not be as successful as Alcoholics Anonymous. “It takes one to know one.” Clinicians who have tried and failed have explained that they wanted to take God out of the program, but they had no alcoholics on their planning team, and the program failed.  It would be an interesting research study to compare long terms success rates between in-patient rehabilitation programs that do not include AA principles and programs with those that do.

If research on the addictions and other obsessive/compulsive behaviors included sufferers on the research team, the results might be more beneficial. Only when research scientists become patient-centered will their research benefit the patient.

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https://www.amazon.com/Patientology-Pamela-Brink-PhD-FAAN/dp/1541191064/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&

Memoirs: A pilgrimage to Medjugorje

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July, 1991, just before the outbreak of the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina, I made my pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had heard about this little Yugoslavian village from a member of my parish and found her descriptions, especially of the little ten year old boy kneeling stock still for thirty minutes at a time, with his eyes riveted, to be compelling. Unless he was hypnotized, this was unusual behavior for a little boy. The happenings at Medjugorje were spread through the parish only by word of mouth. I heard about it quite by chance.

My friend told me of her experience going to Medjugorje with other members of the parish. She said the village was jammed with pilgrims. Housing was provided by villagers who had expanded their homes to accommodate guests. Bedrooms held eight or more and were always full.  There was something going on every day from climbing the Hill of the Apparitions, to hearing talks by the priests, to going to see one or more of the visionaries, to being nearby during an apparition (which occurred daily), going to confession with hundreds of other people, waiting in the proper line for a priest who spoke English, attending Mass and saying the rosary. Crowds of people were everywhere and it was difficult finding a place to sit anywhere. One afternoon when my friend was outdoors, she saw the sun dance in the sky. She was not alone. Some were healed of their physical illnesses. On the plane home, when they brought out their rosaries, some found that their rosaries had turned gold.

I went to the Catholic bookstore in town to look for any reading material I could find on Medjugorje and bought the book by Wayne Weible, a Lutheran, about his experience. (Medjugorje: The Message.1989) There were programs on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) that talked openly about Medjugorje.

Despite the fact that the apparitions had not yet been approved by the local bishop, I found everything I heard and read about Medjugorje compelling. How was it that all the visionaries could become transfixed at an identical moment and remain transfixed for an identical amount of time, entirely oblivious of everything and everyone around them. They did not respond to painful stimuli, even when their eyes were poked. Nothing interrupted their trance state. Group self-hypnosis simply did not explain the exact timing for me.

Why was it that the apparitions were still ongoing? What was Mary trying to tell us that required her to be so persistent? (The apparitions are still ongoing.)

Although the young visionaries were disbelieved, persecuted and harassed, not just by their families and neighbors but also by the Church and Communist government officials, they persisted in their claim that they were seeing the Virgin Mary (Gospa). In fact they were seeing her daily up on the mountain until they were forced, first into the Church, and then into a small room at the priests residence. They had been tested with a battery of tests during their trance states. They were filmed extensively. They were constantly bombarded by questions. Their stories never changed. At every meeting with Gospa they were given a message to share. This had been going on since 1981.

Usually, Marian apparitions are time-limited as in Lourdes, Garabandal and Fatima. Medjugorje was ongoing.

I was intrigued. What was going on?

I found a travel agency that would provide me with a “tour” of Medjugorje which included a day trip to Dubrovnik. I was picked up at the airport, taken to a hotel where I could take a bath and a nap, then was driven to Medjugorje where I was introduced to my hostess. I was to live with a family who had expanded their home to include guests. My bedroom contained six single beds. I was alone in my room. The fear of the imminent outbreak of war kept tourists and pilgrims away.

I had anticipated crowds elbowing everyone out of the way, but I moved about freely in a virtually empty town. No visionaries were in town. None of the pivotal priests were in town.  It was a quiet peaceful village.

My tour guide would appear every day to take me somewhere, whether it was up Apparition Hill (I was able to climb up but fell down the hill) with other pilgrims, or to a talk by one of the priests in residence, or to make sure I was able to get to Mass. The highlight of the week was that one of the locutionists (someone who heard voices but did not see anyone speaking to them) agreed to talk to those of us who were there. She spoke no English so a translator was called. People crowded around her and asked the same questions that had been asked and answered in every book already published on Medjugorje. The locutionist was patient with them and answered each question as if it were fresh and new.

Because there were no crowds and none of the visionaries were in residence, there was no pressure to go here or there or to see this or that. Instead, the village was quiet. There were no sounds of cars or buses, no trains, no television sets blaring away. Because of the silence there were no distractions. I could sit in the garden in the sun and pray or read. I could walk around looking in here and there or take photographs with no one to stop me. All was quiet. People talked in hushed tones.

Instead of being a tourist and having my curiosity satisfied, I found myself making a silent spiritual retreat without a spiritual director. The entire village of Medjugorje was my retreat house. I was able to find more books to read, including a compilation of the messages of Our Lady to the visionaries. My days were spent primarily in prayer or reading. Did I see the sun dance? No. Did my rosary turn gold? No. Was I disappointed? No. I remain satisfied with my retreat at Medjugorje.

There was an urgency to the messages of Our Lady. Repent. Change your hearts. Turn to my son, Jesus. Pray. Fast. The war in Bosnia did erupt and eventually died but not until many atrocities were committed. Ten years of apparitions did not prevent man’s inhumanity to man. (Similarly, Our Lady’s apparitions at Rwanda did not prevent the genocide there either.)

Mary continues to appear to some of the visionaries, but she no longer appears daily. The Catholic Church has not given its stamp of approval to the visions or to the messages or to the visionaries. One possible reason is that the Vatican rarely approves visions and visionaries while they are still ongoing. The decision is always made first by the local bishop. To date the local bishop has not approved the apparitions. The Vatican appointed a special commission to review Medjugorje but no report has yet appeared on their findings.

I am convinced that the Medjugorje apparitions to the visionaries are real. Mary always seems to come at a time when people need to return to God and stop destroying each other. The sheer length of these ongoing apparitions speaks to me of urgency. “Please have a conversion of heart before it is too late.”

Our Lady of Medjugorje is called the Queen of Peace.

Resources

Medjugorje through the writing of Wayne Weibel  http://www.medjugorjeweible.com/

Medjugorje  http://www.medjugorje.com/?gclid=CPGYoLjpwakCFeUbQgodRkpVMQ

The Medjugurje website   http://www.medjugorje.org/

http://allformary.org/our-lady-of-kibeho/

EWTN http://www.ewtn.com

Today’s Rant

Every morning, I read the front pages of some of the major news media on-line. #CNN, #FOX, #BBC, #CBS, #NBC, #ABC, #CBC, #CTV. When a headline looking interesting, I pursue it. It is harder and harder to find a piece of news sandwiched in among all the anti-Trump articles. The BBC is more likely to mention something other than #Trump.

This past week we have had major story headlines on the BBC that were not mentioned on American sources. The BBC reported a major cyber attack in the UK that shut down hospitals. American media headlined anti-Trump stories. Yet this story came on the heels of an executive order by Trump creating a new office for cyber security. Well timed, I thought. The media ignored it.

On this morning’s read, FOX, BBC, ABC and CTV have the cyber attack on their front pages, the others continue to fixate on the American political scene and anti-Trump articles.

I find the continuing bombardment of anti-Trump stories on our major news media to be intensely boring. Seemingly, these so-called news media have sent out hundreds of eager reporters to find whatever dirt they can on either Trump or his family. And if they find nothing, then think of a clever way to spin a negative out of something Trump as done that is either beneficial or innocuous.

Many of my liberal friends eat up these stories. It satisfies their need to prove that they were right not to vote for Trump.

I wonder how many of us would come out unscathed from an intense spotlight on our lives every hour of every day. How many of us have made mistakes, said the wrong things, misquoted something? I know I have. I have lost friends from something I have said. I have done things of which I am ashamed and many more of which I am not proud. Thankfully they are buried under the sands of time. If someone blew the sands away and revealed all my foibles to the world, I would die of shame. How many of us would continue in our jobs if every move we made was blocked or protested by someone? Yet this is how we treat Trump and his family. The liberal media is spending millions to seek out and publicize every blot or blemish of Trump’s personal history.

What amazes me is how little they have found.

When the media can find nothing anti-Trump to publish, they seek out opinions from famous and not so famous “experts” such as actors, professional ball players, politicians who disagree with Trump on either major or minor issues, or people in Trump’s past life that did not like what he said or did.

I wish our news media behaved more as a vehicle for sharing news and less as a gossip column. I realize negative gossip sells papers but there are media outlets for trivia and gossip. Why must the major news sources sink to such a level.

I have already written off CNN from my daily perusal for being so uniformly anti-Trump and for focusing on little else. Yet at one time, I read CNN every morning for its news coverage. I no longer watch CNN on TV for the same reason. Yet, at one time it was my major resource for news.

Worse, is the constant drip, drip, drip of repetitive negative stories. Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea that they are being influenced by propaganda and not news. Americans are frightened by what they think Trump might do while having no idea what he is doing.

A professor I know rants about Trumps travel ban (which is not in effect) that prevented a friend of his from entering the country. He should know better whose travel policies are in effect but he is so emotionally involved in the anti-Trump movement he cannot separate fact from fiction. He is not alone. Canada is now being blessed with an influx of refugees from the US who are afraid of what Trump will do to them because the media has scared them nearly to death. There are protest marches organized to protest policies Trump has not yet written. The media is teaching Americans to fear Trump. No matter what he does, he is wrong and harmful – according to the media.

Liberal Americans eat it all up. They agree without realizing just how damaging the media really is. Conservatives are bored with this constant negativity and, like me, have stopped watching TV channels and reading on-line news media because of the one-size fits all herd mentality.

I wish the left would let Trump get on with his job and the media would start reporting news again.

Church is a Hospital for Sinners

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Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. All are welcome. Some of the greatest saints in church history were great sinners. If sinners cannot come to church, where can they go to be spiritually healed? Jail is not a solution. Therapy does not absolve sins or teach about God’s love. Without church, sinners are lost.

Some say that they do not go to church because church is full of hypocrites. This may be so. Since hypocrisy is a sin, hypocrites are also welcome to come to church.

Jesus said over and over again that he had come on Earth to call sinners and not the “just.” Everyone he came in contact with was a sinner in some way or another. His closest friends, the twelve apostles, were all flawed in some way. Even when they were constantly in his presence, they still failed to live up to the ideals he taught. They are ideals, something to strive for.

Jesus never punished or shunned anyone for failure to live up to those ideals. Jesus deliberately chose to interact and eat with known sinners, the most despised of his society. Whether they were tax collectors who cheated people out of more money than was required, or prostitutes or Pharisees, he welcomed them all. Did they have a bad temper? Did they cheat and steal? No matter, they were welcome to come into Jesus presence, hear his word and be healed.

Jesus was able to read people’s hearts, but Jesus’ spiritual descendants do not have that gift. Some Christians avoid, reject or put down people whose sins are known and even forbid them access to church. Are the people whose sins are known to be denied the chance to change? Spiritual smugness (like the Pharisees’) on the part of church congregations is not pleasing to God. It is a form of pride leading to judgmentalism.

Many famous or admirable people are secret sinners.  Since their sins are not public knowledge, they are assumed to be perfect. How shocked people are when the famous are found out!

Most organized groups, including churches, have rules and regulations for their members to abide by or be excommunicated.  Every organization has the right to set its own rules for the behavior of its members. These rules, however, are man-made. They are commonly a product of the culture, the times or even the whim of a leader, but may not reflect the precepts of Jesus. Sometimes the rules for excommunication are for infractions such as playing cards or dancing. Excommunication can be invoked for committing adultery, abortion or preaching heresy. Was this really Jesus’ message?

Excommunication is the attempt to keep church communities morally pure and free from contamination. Church congregations, however, tend to forget the lessons taught in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Everyone remembers the part of the parable about the merciful master who forgave the servant his debt. What churches seem to ignore is the severe punishment meted out by the master when he found that the servant he forgave did not in turn forgive another servant for a similar but smaller debt. The unmerciful servant did not follow the master’s example. The parable teaches that to receive the mercy from God, one must be merciful first.

Jesus had a unique way of looking at things that is in opposition to secular thought. When the elders (John 8:1-11) brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery, they asked him what they should do with her. (The punishment for adultery was death by stoning.) What did he do? He doodled in the dirt, apparently deciding what to say to these judgmental, upright citizens. Then he said, “The one who is without sin shall cast the first stone.” And one by one, in apparent embarrassment, they all crept away. Jesus said to the woman when all the decent citizens had crawled away:  “Go and sin no more.”  In other words, he was saying to her, “I do not judge you, only God judges you. Try again. Try to do better.”

Jesus sat and talked to the Samaritan woman known as an adulteress “with many ‘husbands’” (John 4:1-26). She was ostracized by the other women of the village and had to fetch water at noon, whereas the other women went in the morning. Yet Jesus chose to reveal to her that he was the Messiah. Jesus frequently chose people who are considered great sinners to do his work.

Jesus preached and acted on the principle of loving acceptance. He never turned away from anyone, no matter their failings. How can his followers do less?

If Jesus gave the example of accepting everyone, no matter how public their sins, what Christian can disagree with Him? Jesus commanded his followers (Luke 15:1-7) to “leave the flock” and seek out the lost sheep. He did not say, “Oh, let that one go. He has a black spot everyone can see. Let’s just keep the flock uncontaminated by letting only the ones with a pure white coat stay in.”  Imagine Jesus saying something like that!

Jesus commanded his disciples to forgive each other, not just seven times, as Peter suggested, but seven times seventy times (Matthew 18:21-22). Forgiveness is a central core of Jesus teachings. He himself forgave everyone. The obvious message is “Don’t judge.  Leave that to God.”

So making judgments as to who is “worthy” to attend church is simply absurd.

Dr Atkins and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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Every five years the US Department of Agriculture publishes its dietary guidelines for Americans. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/ The guidelines, ostensibly directed toward reducing heart disease and obesity, have had no impact on these conditions. Although Americans have been following the guidelines, according to census records, they continue to die of heart disease at an alarming rate and are getting even fatter. What is wrong?

When Dr. Robert Atkins published his first book on low carbohydrate dieting, he was vilified by the American medical community. He was going against the accepted norms of what constituted a healthy diet. His book, based upon the results of his clinical experiments with thousands of his patients, was a brilliant clinical observation. But his work went against mainstream thinking and publishing. Decades later, the medical community, as represented by the USDA committee on the dietary guidelines, are still trying to refute Dr. Atkins (and the many others who have followed him). The committee continues to recommend a high carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet, the antithesis of the Atkins diet.

The problem for the committee is that the volume of research supporting the Atkins diet has been growing exponentially since 2007 with Gary Taubes monumental review of the dietary literature in Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Nevertheless, the explicit recommendations of the committee remain essentially unchanged in 2015.

A major breakthrough was the publication of Nina Teicholtz critique of the 2015 guidelines in the British Medical Journal. It was the first such critique in a major medical journal. Her book, The Big Fat Surprise, like Good Calories Bad Calories, is an extensive literature review of the dietary literature, negating the 2015 Dietary Guidelines by reporting clinical trials and other well documented research studies ignored by the committee.

Another Critique of the dietary guidelines was written by Zoe Harcombe who wrote: The Obesity Epidemic.

The Wall Street Journal also published a critique of the 2015 guidelines.

Last is a discussion and critique of the research evidence behind the 2015 dietary guidelines.

Will any of these critiques have any effect on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines? We shall see.

The USDA dietary guidelines since 1992 have been, and apparently will continue to ignore the work by Atkins and his successors in the United States.

The Atkins Diet really Works

Atkins got the idea for his diet from a man by the name of William Banting. Over one hundred years ago, William Banting struggled to lose his increasing weight.  He sought medical advice and was told to cut back on his food and exercise.  He exercised, got even hungrier, ate more and gained more weight.  He decided that his problem lay in his over-indulgence on the foods we now call carbohydrates.  So he experimented with his diet and came up with what we would call a low carbohydrate diet.  He was so successful at losing his weight and keeping it off he published an essay entitled, “Banting’s Letter on Corpulence.”  This appears to be one of the earliest published low carbohydrate diets.  His essay was so popular, and apparently so successful, he had to reprint it many times.

Dr Robert Atkins, a practicing cardiologist, read Banting’s essay, and since he too was struggling with his own weight problem, decided to try Banting’s method. Atkins lost his weight so easily and so painlessly that he decided to suggest it to his overweight patients.  They too had great success at losing weight and so The Atkins Diet was born.

Medical research shows that the Atkins Diet works

A team of researchers at Stanford University published the findings of their research project in 2007.  They were most concerned about two things:  first, how long will overweight women stick to any diet and second, which diet will they stick to the longest? They designed a clinical trial with overweight, middle aged women (over the age of forty).  Four diets were tested:  The Atkins Diet (very low carbohydrate), The Zone (40% carbohydrate, 40% protein and 30% fat), Dean Ornish (10% fat) and the LEARN program based upon the dietary standard for Americans (the gold standard). The clinical trial lasted twelve months

After being randomly assigned to one of the groups, the women received the published books on their assigned diet, and were required to attend training sessions with a nutritionist who covered the content of the books and answered questions.  All women were weighed, measured, had their blood drawn and had their blood pressure taken at the start and throughout the study

The women on the Atkins Diet were the most successful on all weight loss and health parameters.  In addition, the women on the Atkins program stuck with the diet longer than the other groups.

The Dean Ornish group (10% fat) was the first to abandon their diet program and lost the least amount of weight.

Researchers found that for the women in the groups with lower fat content and higher carbohydrate content, the higher their blood sugars and the higher their cholesterol levels.  The researchers were shocked!  They had not expected this result. It was the opposite of what they had expected.

A second study compared the Atkins diet to the standard recommended diet was conducted in Israel. This study tested the notion that people on a low carbohydrate diet would be able to lose weight without any calorie restriction.  So the researchers created two groups of dieters:  the Atkins group and “the Gold Standard” group or the diet recommended by the USDA.

The results of this study showed that the men on the Atkins diet lost more weight, more quickly and had better blood values than the men on the government recommended diet.  The women in both groups lost approximately the same amount of weight but the women on the Atkins diet had better blood values than the women on the standard diet.  (The reason researchers watched blood values so closely was that they were afraid the people on a low-carbohydrate diet would go into heart or kidney failure as predicted by other researchers.  This did not happen, even over time.)
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Why does the Atkins Diet work?

The Atkins Diet works because it limits carbohydrates.  When eaten, carbohydrates are converted into sugar which, when absorbed into the blood stream, creates a rise in blood sugar.  Insulin is secreted to control the amount of blood sugar in the system.  Insulin drives unused blood sugar into fat cells.   The more blood sugar, the more insulin needed to control it, the more fat stored. Reducing the amount of carbohydrates reduces the need for insulin and reduces fat storage.

Insulin also appears to trigger appetite.  The more insulin in our blood stream, the hungrier we are.

When carbohydrates are restricted, both incoming and stored fat are used for energy by converting it to blood sugar.  With the reduction in instant blood sugar from carbohydrates, the body reaches into fat cells for needed sugar.  When enough fat is consumed, the body does not need to dip into reserves.  Since a low carbohydrate diet also reduces appetite, dieters tend to eat less.

To lose weight, therefore, cut carbohydrates.  With the resulting reduction in carbohydrate and calorie intake, the body pulls fat from fat cells and weight loss results.

The diet our ancestors ate, before the development of agriculture, is quite similar to the Atkins diet.  It was a low carbohydrate diet, and by all accounts, our ancestors were healthy people. Aboriginal Eskimo/Inuit ate an extremely low carbohydrate, high fat diet and they were healthy too.

Obesity seems to have appeared with the onset of agriculture and the abundant production of carbohydrates, especially grains.

And so began our struggles with weight control.

Does the Atkins Diet work?  Yes, it does.

A Personal Statement of What it Means to Me to be a Catholic

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I am a Catholic by choice. I made my choice at an early age after I attended Mass for the first time with my mother.

We lived in a small tight-knit colonial community on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. My mother was the only Catholic in her social circle. We attended a non-denominational Protestant Sunday school taught, in turns, by our mothers – except my mother who was not allowed to teach Sunday School. I found Sunday school intensely boring. My only real memory was marching around the classroom singing Onward Christian Soldiers and dropping our pennies into the poor box. It is probably where I learned to say the “Our Father.”

Attending my first Mass was an awesome event. We lived across the street from the Redemptorist Seminary, so that was where Mother attended mass. For a little girl, the church itself seemed enormous! It was filled with sparkling light; the ceiling was high, giving a sense of spaciousness. We entered from the back and stretching before us was a long central aisle ending in the high altar. There were statues and dancing candles. The air smelled of incense.

Beginning with the procession of the Priest and altar boys, followed by the solemnity of the Mass in Latin, I was riveted. I loved everything about the beautiful ritual. I wanted to go again, right away, but never had another chance.

I had to wait three years before my brothers and I were allowed to take catechism lessons. We had been imprisoned by the Japanese and were housed in the junior college across a field from our house. (See my memoir “Only by the Grace of God” for a complete explanation of why we were in the internment camp.) We were fortunate to have a young and handsome American Priest who belonged to a Belgian missionary order. as our catechist. When he thought we were ready, we were baptized by Father William McCarthy, the Maryknoll Priest who had obtained a Papal blessing for our parents’ marriage. We were baptized on December the 8, 1942, in a prisoner of war camp under the Japanese in the Philippine Islands.

Perhaps because of our imprisonment, which lasted for three years, our faith became an integral part of our lives. Although Priests were available to say Mass, the Eucharistic hosts and wine had to be smuggled into camp by faithful Filipinos.

In the last year of our imprisonment we were confirmed by the bishop. I received instruction from a Maryknoll nun, Sister Patricia Marie. Mass was held in a barracks that had been converted into a church, pews and all. I always sat in the front pew so I could see everything that was going on. I loved Mass.

Perhaps, because my initiation into Catholicism occurred during the internment camp where I was always hungry, always afraid of the soldiers, never knowing whether or not my parents would be taken away, made me rely more on my faith. Prayer for liberation was constant. Prayer for victory and the end of the war was also constant. Faith was the only thing that sustained us.

When we were finally rescued. (A documentary  and several books, have been made of our rescue.) We were convinced it was a miracle as no one died. We were brought home on a converted troop ship, torpedoed, and survived.

That experience has stayed with me all my life, coloring my attitude toward my faith. I went through the years when I was angry at the Church but when someone asked me if, when I died, I wanted a Priest with me  or if anyone else would do, I realized how much my faith meant to me and I returned home.

I am a Catholic because I am certain that the Catholic Church traces its roots to Jesus, as does no other. There is an unbroken line from Jesus to the Apostles to the first missionary journeys, to the establishment of the first Christian churches, the first bishops and presbyters (priests) anointed with the “laying on of the hands” by the Apostles to today’s Magisterium. It was the Catholic church that preserved the early documents and made the decision as to which books belonged in the Cannon of the New Testament and which did not. It was the Catholic Church that decided what was included as Christian belief and what was heresy. Catholicism taught that there was a Triune God composed of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It was the Catholic Church that taught that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. It was the Catholic Church that preserved the Bible from extinction. It was the Catholic Church that had to develop armies to defend Christians against attacking Muslims, even to the doors of Rome, when kings and emperors ran away. It was the Catholic Church that created the first hospitals and schools for the poor and created orders of religious to staff them. It was the Catholic Church that developed the first Universities. It was the Catholic Church that inspired the most beautiful paintings, sculptures and music in the world. It is the Catholic Church, still unified, that has existed for two thousand years.

Am I ignorant of Church history? No. I am aware of the atrocities committed by members of the Church. It does remind me, however, that the Church is composed of human beings, very frail human beings who respond to the times they live in, and acted badly. Some were politically driven. Some driven by greed or a desire for power. Others were driven by an over enthusiastic evangelistic zeal. We have the same drives in the Church today. We have the same drives in the world in which the Church exists. Yes, the church has had its share of dreadful sinners.

At the same time, the Church has fostered, encouraged and inspired a great number of very God-driven people, Great Saints: people who taught about God and Jesus by their very actions. Some were great orators and brought people to Jesus by their convincing sermons. Some were great writers, philosophers and theologians. Some did great deeds of tremendous virtue. The saints that have gone before me and have existed in my day have inspired me by their actions and helped me in my spiritual journey. Outside of the Catholic Church, I cannot find many lives of saints, of people who have dedicated themselves so completely to God, and who serve as role models.

Throughout history, the Church has been composed of both great and small sinners and great and small saints. The Church has been and always will be composed of people.

I am a Catholic because as a Catholic, I learned to pray and I learned that there are many types and forms of prayer and that they all help us to reach out to God. We are not alone.

Being a Catholic means that every time I fall I need to get back up and try again. I am so lucky to have the sacrament of penance and reconciliation so that when I do fail, as I always will, I can confess my sins, make restitution and amend my life.

For me Catholicism is a signpost that shows me the way. I am free to choose how I behave, just as others are, but for me, without the Church, the signpost would not be clear.

I am a Catholic because I experience a uniquely personal relationship with Jesus that I cannot find anywhere else. I am a Catholic because Catholicism is my spiritual home. I don’t know of any place else that is better.