Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2021

2021, to me, has been maybe even stranger than 2020 for some reason. I think we are all still processing the pandemic while simultaneously still living through it. Certainly our lives are starting to get back to "normal" as vaccines have made it possible for numbers of Covid cases to go down and we are able to now start going places in larger groups even without masks. We are all so ready to get back to "normal" but I hope that we do take time to process and reassess what we have been through and what things we are going to do differently because of it. 

In many ways, my summer of 2021 is going to look similar to my summer of 2020. It was still hard to plan things earlier this year, so while I usually do a big trip in the summer, my travel bestie and I decided to keep that South American adventure we had planned for 2020 postponed until 2022. While many countries are now starting to open up, things still seem somewhat shakey to me and I would rather just be safe and enjoy what I can safely for now. 

For that reason, I planned another domestic road trip for this summer, which have become my thing when I am not planning an international getaway. Three summers ago, my friends and I did a Southwestern Road Trip through New Mexico, AZ, and Southern CA, and two years ago, I went to two cities I had been wanting to visit- Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. 

This year, I had watched A LOT of TV in quarantine, and had seen a couple of food and travel shows about the Mississippi Delta. My parents, who are big music people themselves, had taken a similar trip a couple of years prior. So I decided to start my research and put together yet another domestic road trip, this time, including a state I had not yet been to: Mississippi. 

In addition to wanting to be on every continent (I'm getting close to achieving this! I've been to Europe a bunch, Central America, Asia Minor, Australia, and Africa! Antarctica isn't really on my agenda. If I get there, great, if not, I won't be disappointed to not have been cold for a week or more) I've also made it a goal to visit all 50 states. I'm also getting close to achieving this goal. After this past week, the states I still need to visit are:

- Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Vermont and Maine. If anyone wants to do these with me in the future, let me know!

People always want to know how I plan these road trips and it's a combination of a couple of things:

1.) I usually go to Pinterest and search for blogs and pins about the places I want to visit. 

2.) I go to Trip Advisor and Atlas Obscura and search for things to do in the cities I want to visit. 

3.) I look at Google Maps and see if there are any other cities nearby or things to do that I am going to be passing through. 

4.) Lastly, I go to Air B n B and see if there are any fun stays around the places I want to visit. 

Pretty easy! But does require some time to research. 

Below is a brief outline/timeline of my latest summer road trip to the Mississippi Delta. Usually, I am somewhere exoctic on this feast day like Prague or Portugal like I've been in the past. But today, I am back in Richmond, praying and processing what I saw last week. 

I decided to drive to make it a true road trip and to stop and see some friends that live in Huntsville, AL on my way down from Richmond. But you could very easily drive or fly to Memphis and start there, though I will say, I saw some pretty cool things on my way to Memphis from Alabama. 

Day 1: Huntsville, AL - Muscle Shoals, AL - Tupelo, MS, - Oxford, MS - Memphis, TN

Muscle Shoals is the home of the FAME Music Studio which records famous artists even today. It was a good first stop to get me in the mood for a road trip about American Music. I didn't take the tour of the studio, but they give tours and I wish I would've had time to take one!

Helen Keller is from a small town very near Muscle Shoals and you can also tour the grounds with a guided tour, which I didn't do, but snagged some pictures of the home from the outside. 


From Muscle Shoals I drove to Tupelo, MS which is the birthplace of Elvis. It also has a very cute downtown where I had lunch. I definitely could've stayed longer in Tupelo, but again, I was on a mission that day!

Birthplace of Elvis and lunch in Tupelo, MS

My last stop on my way to Memphis was in Oxford, MS, which was a little out of the way, but I wanted to pay tribute to William Faulkner. I didn't take a tour at his house, either, as it was closed (many museums are closed on certain days which I found out the hard way in some cases, so definitely check websites for the museums you want to visit when planning!)

After all of my early AM and afternoon stops, I made it to Memphis, TN. I had a 3pm ticket to visit the National Civil Rights Museum which is connected to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was a heavy start to my trip, but also set the tone for some of what I would encounter on the trip. I also checked out the Peabody Hotel for a drink afterwards as well as Sun Studios before it closed. It was a very full first day!

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
Peabody Hotel, Memphis, TN- I missed the "Duck Marching" but that is a thing. 
Sun Studios, Memphis, TN- I didn't take the tour, but wish that I could have! Still was cool to be in a space where Roy Orbison, Elvis, U2,  and more have recorded!
Can't walk through Memphis without going to Beale Street. It was pretty dead due to it being a Monday and Covid, but still lots of historic markers and things to check out down there. 

Of all the studios I could've toured on this trip, I chose to tour Stax Studio in Memphis and I'm so glad I did! So many amazing black artists recorded here. Definitely recommend checking it out if you go to Memphis!

Day 2: Memphis, TN - Tunica, MS - Clarksdale, MS

I started my day in Memphis with a tour of Stax Recording Studio and Museum. It was the perfect way to start my musical journey into the Delta Blues. Soul music is so connected to Blues music so it gave me great inspiration to start the rest of my journey. 

After leaving Memphis, my next stop was Tunica, MS. This is kind of a weird place and reminded me a little of driving through the deserts of AZ and CA. Not so much for the landscape, but how deserted it kind of is. There are lots of casinos which I did not decide to stop at, but I did make the following stops: 

Gateway to Blues museum...there will be many Blues museums to come. I couldn't do them all. 
The Hollywood Cafe which Marc Cohen references in his "Walking in Memphis" song about the Delta Blues. 

After my stop in Tunica, I made my way to Clarksdale which is where I would stay for the night. Clarksdale was a historically African American city that birthed many blues and soul musicians. It still hosts a blues festival annually when it's not Covid. There are lots of blues venues to hear music around town, but the town seemed pretty dead when I was there. Maybe because it was a Tuesday, maybe because of Covid. The town is also not your typical tourist town. It still is very rough around the edges, but I found that when I would go into an establishment or store, people were so friendly and quick to tell you about other things to do there. 

I went to an art store called the Cat Head Folk Art Store and had dinner at a pizza place called The Stone Pony. I spent the evening at the Hambone Music and Art Venue. The people were so lovely. I met the owner who is also a musician and artist and had a really nice night. It was a very unique music venue with couches and a bar inside. The music was great, too!

Above- the musicians I heard at the Hambone venue in Clarksdale. Below is the most famous venue in Clarksdale. It was closed the night I was there, but apparently the same musicians I heard were booked for the next night, so I didn't miss anything!

This museum didn't seem like much at first, but once I started to go through it, I learned so much about the tough lives of so many of the blues musicians of the area. Many left for Chicago to escape Jim Crow laws. 


Day 3: Clarksdale, MS- Cleveland, MS,- Leland, MS, - Greenville, MS, - Indianola, MS

I started my day with the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, again, it didn't seem like much, but had a lot of information that I felt prepared me for the rest of my journey. 

My next stop was Cleveland, MS. The Grammy Museum is there, but of course it was closed, however, I made a stop in the town for lunch and found it to be another really cute town with shops, similar to maybe Tupelo. It was becoming clear to me which towns were historically white and which were not. My guess is that Cleveland was a historically white town. It had a university in it and plantations close by. In fact, one of the markers for the Blues Trail is on Dockery Farms which was on Dockery Plantation, just outside of Cleveland, MS

Plantation in Cleveland, MS

Cleveland was definitely a nice place to stop for lunch and if it would've been open, visit the Grammy museum. Going to Dockery Farms was a little eerie but an important stop as it made me reflect on why the blues is such an important art form. It will always have stemmed from the trauma and suffering of slavery. 

My next stop was a little more light hearted. A verrrryyyyy small exhibit in Leland, MS, which is where Jim Henson lived his early years before moving to the DC area. This town claims to be the birthplace of Kermit the frog as Jim Henson grew up on Deer Creek in Leland and his best friend as a child was a boy named Kermit. 

On one of the travel/food shows I had watched and also on one of the blogs I had read mentioned going to Doe's Eat Place. I didn't know what to expect exactly, but could assume that the food was good. The atmosphere is suuuuper casual like you are in someone's actual kitchen. The food is hearty and amazing, serving mainly steaks. It is actually considered a Steakhouse which is funny to probably some of us since our steakhouses in the Northeast are usually fine dining establishments. You will still pay steakhouse prices for your filet, but it is worth it for the experience and the meat is amazing. 


My view from my table at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, MS

After stopping in Cleveland, Leland, and Greenville, I spent the night in Indianola, MS which is where B.B. King was from. Of course, the museum was closed when I got there, but I drove past Club Ebony which was a historical blues venue. I stayed at an Air B n B behind The Blue Biscuit which was also closed that night so I didn't get to hear any music, but if I ever go back, I would totally stay at the Air B n B (it had a pool!) and do the museum and try out The Blue Biscuit. I've also heard The Crown restaurant in town is good but- you guessed it- closed! So definitely check hours of the places around town. I take for granted that things just seem to be open all the time here on the East Coast. 



Above- This venue is closed but apparently can be toured if you ask someone at the B.B. King museum in town. 
My Air B n B in Indianola, MS- behind The Blue Biscuit restaurant and venue and across from B.B. King museum

Day 4: Indianola, MS- Greenwood, MS- Yazoo City, MS- Bentonia, MS- Jackson, MS

I had planned to start my day maybe at the B. B. King museum, but I had made an appointment at The Alluvian Spa which I had read about that was in Greenwood, MS. Greenwood also had a few spots on the Blues Trail map, so I headed into Greenwood to walk around town before my appointment. The town wasn't much. A lot of things again seemed closed and restaurants, I was finding, had very limited opening hours like from 11am-2pm which was exactly the time of my appointment. 

The Alluvian Spa was nice, but honestly, I have gotten better services at other spas I've been to in various places. I was a little sad that I had decided to do that instead of one of the museums I had missed. But I guess it was good to relax, though it felt weird to do before I was going to be visiting some more intense stops on my Civil Rights and Blues Trail. 

At the recommendation of my pedicurist (and also since almost all of the restaurants in town were closed after 2pm) I had lunch at The Crystal Grill. It had a really good menu and my pedicurist had told me about the PIES:


Chocolate Meringue pie in Greenwood, MS. Below: the gravesite of legendary blues musician Robert Johnson at Little Zion Mission Baptist Church outside of Greenwood.  



One of the darker places on my journey was going to be the former spot of Bryant's Grocery where in 1955 Emmett Till- a 14 yo African American boy from Chicago- whistled at a white woman and lost his life for it. Till was later hunted down, tortured, killed ,and tossed into a nearby river by two men related to the woman. The store no longer exists, but I went to pay my respects there. 1955 was almost one hundred years after the Civil War ended and we still hear of young black men losing their lives today. 

My next stop after Greenwood was a very brief one in the city of Yazoo City. I had read in a blog about its colorful buildings, so I had to stop for a picture. I wish I had more time to spend there because I had later found out that Sr. Thea Bowman, an African American Catholic whom I admire, is from there. 

Definitely worth the stop to see these colorful buildings though as like Clarksdale and many of the towns I've stopped through, the town seemed sleepy from the outside. 

One of my highlights of the trip came next. After days of looking at museums and markers about the Delta Blues, I got to meet a living Blues legend. 

I had read on a blog that if you stop by The Blue Front Cafe, you may meet its owner- Jimmy "Duck" Holmes- who is a blues musician. He is in his 70s but still plays almost nightly. The Black Keys stopped here a few years ago and met Jimmy and later recorded with him. 

Again, from the outside, I wasn't sure if I should go in. It didn't look open and I wasn't sure who I would find inside. A couple of other tourists had pulled up and were looking at the Blues Trail marker, but I decided to go in. I'm so glad that I did! 

The cafe is not in great shape and is hardly a cafe. It is clearly just a place for Jimmy to play music and for people to come in and hear him. When I walked in he was sitting there with another older gentleman and a woman who looked passed out in her chair. The place did not have AC and it was super humid in there. I asked to use the restroom which was one of probably the least desirable ones I have used in my life, but he was so gracious with his time. As I looked at some of the merch he had displayed and I talked with him, some of the other tourists and locals came in too. I ended up talking with a teacher from Baltimore whose family lives in Arkansas and was super into the blues. I have to admit, I am a novice and this blues trip has made me appreciate the art form more. I felt out of place but welcomed all at the same time in the Cafe. As had been the theme, I wish that I could've stayed longer and maybe I would've made some new friends and heard Jimmy play. I had to settle for him signing the cd and poster I picked up and carrying the memory with me. 

Outside and Inside The Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, MS

I finally got to my Air B n B in Jackson and decided just to stay in for the night since I had the whole next day and evening to explore. 


Day 5- Jackson, MS

I started my day by going to the Capitol and just taking a couple of pictures around downtown. I had heard that the Lamar Life Building was like Jackson's "Big Ben" so I found it and took a picture. 


I saw that the Cathedral was also nearby and had 12pm Mass. I knew that I also wanted to go to the Mississippi Civil Rights museum to kind of book-end my trip that started with the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis. 

Before Mass, I had an hour or so, so I checked another sad memorial off of my list: the Medgar Evers home. I would learn more about him in the Civil Rights Museum later that day. 

Home of Medgar Evers that is now a stop on the Civil Rights Trail. He was an African American Civil Rights leader in the 60s who was shot here in his own home. 
I also stopped at the Greyhound station where Freedom Riders in the 60s were arrested. Their mug shots line the walls at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 

After visiting those key places on the Civil Rights trail, I had a good southern lunch at Martins and the made my way through what they call the "two museums". The Mississippi History Museum and The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are rightfully connected. I went through both of them which took up the rest of my afternoon. The Civil Rights Museum was of course very heavy. I found myself saying "my God , when will it stop?" because it just seemed too much for one group of people to endure. 

The answer is WE are the ones who have to stop it. I have to educate myself and my students. I have to educate myself about history and current events. I have to educate myself about systems that still exist that are unjust. Representatives are still trying to block voting rights in states like Georgia. We have to donate time and money and stop these unjust systems and help others. 

I ended my last night in Jackson by checking out some fun things after my heavy day at the museum. I found a speakeasy (many exist in Jackson since Mississippi was a dry state from Prohibition until 1966!) and went to hear some live music on my last night in Mississippi. 

 

Brent's Diner is in fact a diner, but if you go to the back by the restrooms, you find this door. Go through and find a "speakeasy" bar- The Apothecary. 

Above: My drink at The Apothecary
Dinner and live music my last night in Mississippi at Hal and Mal's

All and all my Mississippi Delta trip was definitely a success. I didn't even realize how much important history exists in this state. It is a complicated and dark history for sure, but I appreciated that the state didn't seem to hide its mistakes. I found a lot of the exhibits in the History and Civil Rights museum forthcoming about the state's abuses to both Native and African Americans throughout its history. 

I would recommend a trip to the Mississippi Delta to anyone. There is so much history and culture there. Much more than I realized. I was grateful for a full and safe trip! I also realized that if I hadn't gone on my own, I don't know if I would've gotten to see all that I did. Inevitably, you have to make compromises when you travel with others. Traveling with other people often takes longer, too, to make decisions, to get ready, etc. Traveling on my own meant that I could get up and go when I wanted and see and spend as much time as I wanted, wherever I wanted! And social media makes it easy to share and stay in touch with others while traveling. I definitely recommend making a trip and do it solo if you want! As I've heard it said- "we did not survive a pandemic to...." complete your own sentence there! For me, it's giving me license to live a little more and to let go of some apprehensions and fears. 

Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul! I will leave with a thought I had as I traveled through the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. African Americans were very connected to Christianity and the Bible because so much of the Israelites' and early Christians' plights connected with theirs during slavery. The Blues, much like our Christian faith, are about suffering and beauty mixed together. Driving through this part of the country definitely got me thinking about Christianity in all its truths and faults and how ultimately it is a faith about suffering but ultimately freedom. We abuse and manipulate that freedom. We deny that freedom from others. Suffering and Freedom are always linked. But some of us need to sacrifice a little more so that others can be more free. 

Peace,
Julia

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Reflections on My 30s (on the Last Weekend of my 30s!)

I started this blog when I was 26 and had just decided to enter a convent. 26 already seemed so late to be just starting my vocation as so many of my peers were getting engaged and starting families. When I realized quickly that religious life was not my vocation (even after having quit my job that I loved and selling many of my possessions) I had to start over at 27. I moved into a house with a couple of women I knew from college that were also still discerning where God was calling them. I started a new job (that I didn't love), started grad school (that was a lot of work), and put myself back in the dating pool (ugh). Things were starting to come together, but I still had no idea where I was going. 

At 29, while in grad school and still living with roommates, I started teaching. Looking back now, I have no idea how I was able to be a first year teacher in the chaos that was the last years of my 20s, but teaching has been one of the things that has been consistent throughout my 30s. As I reflect and write this on the last weekend in my 30s, I can say that my 30s were marked by their consistencies. Early on in my 30s, I finished grad school, moved into my own one-bedroom apartment, and became a department chair at the school I was teaching at. I discovered art and travel and by my mid-30s, I left the DC area that I had called home for so long and started to cultivate all of the things I had found in recent years for myself in Richmond.

I am not sure if this is the same for everyone, and my story is certainly my own and unique, but sometimes I don't realize how much I have accomplished in my 30s because it didn't have the same huge peaks and valleys that my 20s seemed to. In my 20s, I was throwing myself into "who am I?" and "what is my vocation?" in quite extreme and dramatic fashions. But in my 30s, I seemed to quietly, unceremoniously find it and just flow into it. Like I said, teaching was something I fell into as I turned 30 and it has been that consistent factor for me. I've also been consistently called to preach and evangelize in various ways whether that be through music ministry or blogging or giving presentations at schools and parishes or now Zoom meetings. My 30s have certainly been about laying the foundations of who I am and answering those questions I asked in my 20s without my even maybe realizing it. 

I have heard that the 40s are fabulous. I am grateful that we are starting to emerge from our "upper rooms" of the pandemic as I enter into 40 and can take my vaccinated self out into the world again. I'm also grateful for having been quarantined this last year because it has caused me to reflect and evaluate and re-connect with friends I had maybe lost touch with throughout this decade (and start a lot of projects! You can read more about them here). I get to emerge confident in who I am and (hopefully) ready for whatever God has next for me. 

I got to recently share my story on a podcast I became familiar with this last year, The Feminine Genius podcast, that seeks to present and highlight Catholic women and their own unique gifts. You can listen to the episode here. I'm proud of what I have accomplished in my 30s. I've established myself as a solid Religious Educator through achieving my degree and 10+ years of teaching, become a world traveler dabbling in art and media while continuing to share music and foster communities in the Church with friends. I did some of it consciously but most of it with God slowly, subtly guiding me towards things. I will carry with me all that I've accomplished and established into my 40s with a true sense of gratitude getting to do so after a year in quarantine and living in a pandemic. 

I hope that you all are also in a place of hope this Easter season even as we still grapple with this pandemic and racial injustice in our country. In the Easter Season, we journey with the apostles who also have just had their world rocked and are having to establish something new- the sometimes flawed but Holy Spirit driven Church. We are in good company as we navigate the unknown with the hope of good things to come. Thank you all for all that you have done and do to support me and help me to grow over the years! Happy Easter!

Peace,

Julia


                                                    39 almost 40 doesn't seem so bad...


Friday, April 2, 2021

Lent and Good Friday 2021


Happy 2021?! In many ways, we have still been living as we did in 2020, but as Spring has begun, we have the hope of new life. I received my two vaccines in Jan. and Feb. so am fully vaccinated and ready to have a little more normalcy while still fully knowing that we are not yet out of this pandemic. 

January and February were hard. We were still locked in our houses and the pandemic was in full force after people had traveled for the holidays. Since I have been teaching in person since August, we had a lot of students go remote in January and a lot of teachers were out due to exposure to the virus. We haven't been able to bring in subs this year because of Covid so I had to sub for a lot of classes during my planning time. And we had a very, very cold February with lots of snow and ice. Winter is hard for me anyways, but add to that teaching in a pandemic, not having much social interaction due to Covid, and just the acknowledgment that we still were dealing with this virus a year later, plus all of the division in our country, I was very, very grateful for that vaccine that could provide some light at the end of this tunnel. 

I have been keeping myself busy with a lot of projects that I started in 2020. You can keep up with the podcasts and blogs and things here. 

Along with the vaccine, March and Spring have brought back that hope that I was meditating on back in Advent. Warmer weather and being vaccinated mean that I can leave my house and hang out outside with friends. The governor finally expanded indoor gatherings to 50 people instead of 10! It feels so good to get some life back and start planning events and travel- still not fully the way we were before the pandemic, of course- but it is something. 

It is also Holy Week- Good Friday to be exact. Last year's Holy Week was exceptionally sad for me. To have to watch some of my favorite services of the year online by myself and not travel during the Easter break was so hard. Yesterday, I got to go to Holy Thursday Mass in person. It's one of my favorite services of the year. There was no washing of the feet due to Covid procedures still in place, and still no congregational singing, but there was beauty in its minimalism and simplicity. 


Just to be with my parish in person celebrating one of my favorite Masses of the year was enough. One of my favorite parts of the Holy Thursday liturgy is the praying in silence with the Eucharist after Mass. We remember Christ going to the garden to pray and we have the opportunity to sit there with Him. I always meditate on His loneliness- how He must've felt when His apostles couldn't stay awake to pray with Him- and how He must've felt alone in what He was about to do. In many ways, we can identify with that loneliness, especially in this year that we have just had. But His loneliness in the garden is not the end.

I've been using this book to pray throughout Lent and the men and women who are written about in it have all inspired me with their bravery.


We have had to be brave in many ways this past year. We have had to reach outside of ourselves and try things in new ways because of the pandemic. Today as I pray on Good Friday, I usually find my prayer a continuation of Holy Thursday- uniting with Christ's loneliness and mourning in sorrow. Today, however, I am inspired by the men and women I have journeyed with this Lent in prayer and Christ bravely carrying His cross. 

This Lent has been different. We got to be a little more gentle with ourselves because this whole year has been like Lent in many ways. We have sacrificed a lot this year. Now is not the time to surrender, though, but rather to pick up the cross and bravely carry it all the way to Calvary with Jesus. 

I am empowered by His act of love today. I pray that we can all recognize our bravery from this past year and carry it with us into Easter and the rest of 2021. 

Peace,

Julia




Sunday, December 13, 2020

Joy in 2020: Gaudate Sunday

It's the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We've made it halfway through Advent and almost all of 2020. The pink (or rose as it's technically called) candle that we light on the Advent wreath this week reminds us of this and reminds us that we are to rejoice. 

Rejoice? In 2020? How do we find joy even in this year? 

I may submit to you that this year is the year that we have had to learn how to cultivate joy the most. Let me explain. 

Joy is more than happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion. Joy is something that is underlying and greater. We can be joyful people but not always necessarily happy. This year has certainly not been a happy one. We have seen pain and suffering due to this virus and also the pain and suffering that has existed in our country for centuries due to hatred and racism. 

So where is the joy? We each have different things that bring us joy and I still think that this year is the year we have had to search for those things in new and real ways. We have had to give up those temporal things that give us happiness- like celebrating in large groups or going to a concert- and look for what will sustain us for much longer than those temporary things. 

Now, certainly, we can find joy in groups and in music and maybe some of the things that we've had to give up, but we've had to focus on the things this year that truly matter, and this is how we cultivate joy. 

In my adult life, I've grown to make going to confession a habit as much as I can. I try to go pretty frequently. When I was at CUA, it was so easy to run into the Basilica on campus, that I almost started to take the sacrament for granted. Now, I try to go on Saturdays, but sometimes Saturdays are the days I am running around doing errands, so I really have to schedule it in. 

Since it is Advent and Advent and Lent are the liturgical seasons we focus on repentance, I scheduled some time in to go to confession yesterday. I went to a parish and priest that I had never been to before just to kind of get my out of my comfort zone or routine. When it came time to give me my penance, the priest gave me something that in all of my 30+ years of going to confession I don't think that I have heard before. He told me to "Praise the Lord" as my penance. 



And it occurred to me- isn't this what those who were healed by Christ did in the Scriptures? After He had healed them, didn't they go forth rejoicing? It makes so much sense and I couldn't believe that I have never been given this penance before. Why should we go away still lamenting our sin when He has given us His forgiveness? This was the perfect penance for this week focusing on Joy as well. 

When we think of Jesus, do we think of joy? Perhaps we think of Him as a pretty serious guy, but he would have rejoiced with those that he healed. He would've celebrated things with his apostles and friends. He would've enjoyed spending time with His Holy Family. 

On this Gaudate Sunday in 2020, it's a great time to think about what brings us true joy and what brought Christ joy as well. Do we count ourselves as a source of joy for Him and others? 

Today is a great day to meditate on joy and to go forth praising the Lord for all that we do have in our life. Even in a year when we have had to deny ourselves much, there is still joy. We may have had to see it and experience it differently this year, but even in 2020, joy is still there below the surface. 


Yesterday was also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I played for Mass that has a large Hispanic population and I loved seeing all the flowers and roses amid the rose candle yesterday. 

Here's to being a little closer to Christmas, a little closer to the end of this year, and finding joy even in the darkness. 

Peace,
Julia



Saturday, December 5, 2020

Advent 2020: Wait for It


2020 has been about many things and many of those things have been dark and serious. I don't want to make light OF the darkness that we have had to face and are still facing, but during this time of Advent, we are to start thinking of light IN the darkness; to think about some of the more positive things in our lives and wait with joyful and grateful hearts. This can certainly be difficult in this time. I am currently re-reading Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium"  which he wrote back when he began his papacy in 2013. To read it now in this darkness of 2020 is a little jarring, but also a good reminder that darkness will not last forever. 



To jump to something much more trivial but still joyful for me, Hamilton appearing on Disney Plus was one of the brighter lights this year. I had been familiar with and listened to the soundtrack, but had never seen the production. Since it has aired in July of this year, I've probably watched it at least thirty times and I'm not exaggerating. Not having many places to go this year certainly has contributed to the amount of times I have watched it, plus, we do have to find joy in the smallest things these days.

I was recently trying to name my top five songs from the show and the song "Wait for It" is on that list. It's a song where we get a glimpse into the differences between Hamilton and his friend-turned-enemy, Aaron Burr. While Hamilton is "young, scrappy and hungry" (to quote the song "My Shot") and works "Non-Stop" (the song that ends Act One), Burr sings that he is willing to wait for the things that are to come to him. 

I have always found myself somewhere in the middle of these methods of achievement. I certainly am like Hamilton in his go-getter spirit. If there is something that I want, I will work to obtain that thing as quickly as I can. However, in life, we know that don't get everything that we want. So there are naturally somethings that we have to wait for. 

Advent, as we know, is a time of waiting. And I don't know about you, but usually Advent sneaks up on me and then is over before I even realize it. This year, because of the pandemic, hopefully our preparation for Christmas isn't filled with as much busy-ness. We are hopefully avoiding stores, avoiding gatherings, which means less hustle and bustle. I know that I already feel like my first week of Advent has been much more focused and centered than in the past, and therefore more felt. 

It helps that- to borrow a line from Burr- we are "lying in wait". We have been waiting all year for a vaccine and for our lives to return to what they were before March. We are waiting for a time when we can gather and see friends and relatives as we once did. Maybe we've even gotten a little better at waiting? I have never been a patient person. Ever. However, throughout my life, I have gotten a little better at making the most of the times that I've had to wait for something. I've gotten better at shifting focus and being grateful for the things that I have instead of the things that I am still waiting for. 

I think that this time of 2020 has been just that. Hopefully, we are looking at the things that we are grateful for instead of the things that we don't have right now. Where Aaron Burr is certainly painted in a light that makes him look foolish for waiting in the show of Hamilton, I empathize with him. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything. And right now is the time to wait- both liturgically and literally- as we wait for a vaccine. 

So how are we going to use this time of waiting? I've decided for Advent to not look at my phone first thing in the morning and "wait" to use social media until after I've prayed. It's been a little challenging, but ultimately I've done it successfully and it's been productive. I've been using some prayer devotionals that use Scripture and poetry to remind me of times where God has made things new. 

We are in a new liturgical year since Advent has begun. Things may not feel very new right now since we've been in this holding pattern since March. It's been a nice reminder to read from Scripture that God's people have had to wait throughout Salvation History, but God has always been faithful when it was time for something new to begin. For example: Noah and the new life after the Flood, the Israelites and the new life in the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness, Simeon in the scene of the presentation where his eyes have "finally seen the salvation" of the Messiah in Jesus, just to name a few. The whole of Salvation History is waiting- from the beginning of the creation stories until we meet our God and hopefully remain with Him in heaven.  

However we are preparing for Christmas this year, I hope that we are relying on gratitude and God's faithfulness to get us through. He always provides in His time, we just have to "Wait For It". 

Happy Advent!
Peace,
Julia

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Christ the King 2020 Edition

This weekend is the feast of Christ the King AKA the last week of the liturgical year. 

We somehow made it through 2020, y'all. 

As has become custom for me at this time of year, I like to do an annual round up of my year and we all know that 2020 was a doozey. 

But in many ways, this year was one of my most full and productive, surprisingly. Just like the years about a decade ago that I thought would be terrible because of the endless weddings or vocation woes or jobs that I just tolerated, God brought joy and goodness from those periods of suffering. This year's suffering has been on a much larger scale, of course, but I have seen goodness and change flourish and emerge, despite the hardships. 

To be a Scripture nerd for a second, during the time of the Babylonian Exile- a period where the Jews were being invaded and captured by Babylon which was a time of great turmoil for the Jews- they produced some of their most beautiful poetry and psalms and grew closer to their Jewish faith and their God. It is recorded in the Wisdom and Prophetic sections of the Old Testament. 

While this year of 2020 will go down as one of the strangest in our history, it also produced many movements and work that will hopefully carry through to make change in this decade to come. 

Here are some of my highlights:

We started the year so optimistically...roaring 20s indeed!
January and February were "normal" with trips to VA beach and Texas with friends. 

The last flight I took  the weekend that the world shut down. Clearly, there was no one on it. 
Week 1 of remote learning and not the last.
Attending Palm Sunday (and all Masses from March-June) from home.

Birthday 2020...and pretty much how the rest of 2020 looked from Zoom.
Finally getting to bust out of the upper room and get to the beach with a couple of friends. 

Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond- summer 2020
Mini-road trips to DC around VA in the summer...
I became a part of so many projects! Virtual Retreats for Liturgy Training Publications and starting my own podcast to name two!

Oh! And I moved to a new neighborhood and a new apt!
Going back to school in person and more local getaways distanced with friends. 




Halloween was much smaller this year, but still fun with some of my core people...and we didn't get to celebrate my dad's 70th as we had originally planned, but I still got to drive to Ohio to be with family.

Oh, and we got a new president after a historic election!



Honestly, the year was strange and isolating at times, of course, but a lot of good things were produced as well. I know that we have all experienced this year differently and I continue to pray for our health and our country. This year was a lot, but we learned and grew a lot. I've learned more than ever that we can only plan so much. I have no idea what to expect in 2021, but I hope to continue a lot of the growth that was started this year. 

Peace,
Julia