Lent … A Time to Reflect

Lent is a great time to reflect. We often look at how we are doing in our own spiritual life and how best we might be able to improve ourselves and our relationship with Christ. Noble goals and efforts. Some of you may have attended the Lenten retreat this week, led by Fr Paul Fagan, others may be on your own Lenten journey, perhaps helped by some written materials, or practices to help stimulate our active participation in this season.

My own season has started out with a slightly different bent than in previous years. I also have felt that I am in the driving seat as to what is on my “Lenten Bucket List” for the year. As a child, it might have been chocolate, which made Easter Sunday all the sweeter. Excuse the pun. In adulthood, I have tried to focus on issues which are character flaws, or a propensity to sin or deviate from the Word in some way or others. This year was different.

Instead of looking inward, which has been my wont in the past; I am being drawn to look at something different? How others see me, and my actions in the world? The cause and effect of my work in the Church, and my work as a manager in a retreat ministry setting? I must admit, after decades of managing projects and people I have often relied on others being focused on the same goals, creating a good work ethic and a positive (but truth filled) atmosphere as being enough. Now I am beginning to see that perhaps it is not.

While we all look for affirmation that our work in appreciated and understood, we sometimes don’t do that second “mirror check” to see if the traffic is still following us before we make the maneuver into the next lane. There may be someone in our blind spot who is not in the place we expected them to be.

While it can be simpler just to tell someone whether they are wrong, and not following the instructions, directions or guidance we give them, it may not be enough. Perhaps there have been years of practice in place which are now been put into question. Maybe some of the practices are there for a reason. And even if they are not, we should respect them for what they were at the time.

So, Lent this year will be a serious gaze into the lives of others around me; to see how I might appear to them if I was on the receiving end of my behavior, not just trying to correct what I think might need fixing.

St. Theresa of Avilia, the great mystic noted that God is present “in the pots and pans” of our lives, not just the special prayer times. It is there we often have the most encounters with others, so lets as ourselves the questions of how are we doing from the perspective of those around us. We might have a very different response than our own answer to this question.


Can a photograph be a prayer?

During a recent retreat program this year, I briefly mentioned the prayer form known as Visio Divina, which means Divine Seeing. In the Catholic Church, we use visuals for just about everything to remind us and bring us into prayer with God. Crucifixes, statues, images, and paintings all fall into the category. Most of what is in the Church (images) have a theological, spiritual or ecclesiastical meaning. So what about those items in our everyday lives.

During the retreat, we looked at everyday items and discussed their relevance to our mission as Catholics. A water bottle, a journal, even a life jacket all can be handled and seen where God has created something which has purpose and meaning in our lives. I wonder if you notice everyday items in your life?

For myself, a photograph is something of value; often holding a spiritual significance. When we decide to take a photograph of someone or something, there is usually a meaning behind it. Perhaps we want to revisit that moment or situation? Maybe we want to share it with another, to bring this joy to another who cannot be there at the same time.

Imagine you were going to a desert island and you could bring three images with you? What would they be? Who would be in those images? Which images can you study and notice more than is there on first glance? We often see this in paintings, as we pry out or interpret the meaning of the artist. While we are looking at the image, we are also seeing the soul of the artist in some way; even if the artist did not intend it.

Perhaps this week we can look at some photographs and meditate on them. What are we seeing? Someone or something we love, or perhaps less so? What emotions does the photograph evoke? Love, desire, sacrifice, rejection, perhaps sadness. Take a moment and consider it. When you have come in contact with your feelings, then ask what God might be saying to me in this image, and in my reflecting on the image? Is God calling to me? What is that call?


I am attaching an image which to many might seem meaningless. It was taken at Valyermo in the high desert, California. Not that is really relevant to its meaning.

As yourself a few questions about this image. What do the stones represent? Why are some out of focus? What did the photographer have in mind, when you might have passed by these everyday items?

Then perhaps, you can ask yourself the question. Can a photograph be a prayer? Do I have any photographs which I might consider to be a prayer?

Copyright 2019 Reflection and Photography Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

The Coded Raindrop

The Coded Raindrop


Can there be something in the falling rain,

As it drops, what is it thinking,

Can rain even discern its purpose?


Perhaps I am a raindrop;

Or more than one,

Falling through life.


I wonder where I will land,

And what I might nourish …




Bright sunlight deepens the visibility,

Of all my warts and bruises.

Yet, amongst friends it matters not a jot.


And you, the shining Presence,

Cast a welcome shadow on our leaflessness,

As we stand naked; cold; but pleased with our disposition.


Surrendering to your love.


I was on retreat in upstate NY recently, a contemplative program with Fr. Bill Sheehan. This experience was great, and I had the opportunity to review a book that I might recommend from an Augustine Priest called Fr. Martin Laird. The book is called an “Ocean of Light”, and I highly recommend it.

First of all, Father Martin has a great gift to present complex issues simply. The use of analogy and storytelling helps immensely in navigating waters that are often fraught with hard to grasp concepts. These examples help unravel what can be confusing issues, and he does this in a way that never lets us escape from the source of all the goodness which comes from these prayer forms. Here is an example of how he explains the contemplative prayer from the origin of the fourteenth-century book, the Cloud of Unknowing.

“God is beyond the grasp of concepts; no word can capture God, no word can have the final word on the Word made flesh, who yet dwells among us (Jn 1:14). “God can well be loved,” the author says, “but [God] cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought neither grasped nor held.” God is eternal, the human mind is finite. If God could be comprehended, surrounded by a concept, this would make us greater than God. We invent the illusion that God is a thing that we lack and must therefore seek, find, and (attempt to) control. During the practice of contemplation, we do not cling to thoughts (though they may cling to us) that change like the weather; nor do we cling to the illusory sense of self that is derived from the constant mental movement and mayhem. The practice of contemplation cultivates stillness in our thinking mind, so that it does not dominate the time for prayer, hurling at us all manner of concepts and inner chatter.” (pp. xiii-xiv).

Martin describes what appears to be a “bleeding out” of the contemplative into the everyday world, where there are no differences between these elements, just “oneness” in relationship to God. Overall I would say this book offers a very useful contribution to the field of contemplative prayer.

Fr. Laird offers helpful reference places for the soul on a journey. He talks about moving from a “reactive mind,” responding (mostly in a negative way) to the goings on in the world and how this feeds our ego and limits our ability to connect with God through contemplative prayer. Then he offers a logical move to the “receptive mind” opening ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit through contemplative prayer.

I would recommend this book, and it already has a place in our contemplative library at Mater Dolorosa.

We have a great opportunity to practice contemplative prayer you may be surprised how much a contemplative experience can help all your other prayer forms. And give you the bonus of more peace-filled days.

And we can all do with more of them.


The Seat


Each one is uncountable,

Yet beautiful, as if there was only this encounter.


Each one is longer, or shorter than the other,

Yet perfect.


Each one is a seed in a field of love,

Made bigger by grace.


Each one is You.

And each one is Me.