I love my sisters.
I sometimes wish I could take people on a tour of our convent in Boston, our largest convent in the United States, and introduce people to all of the wonderful sisters who live there. I think my sisters should all walk around with pieces of paper taped to their backs that say, “This is what happens when you put God first.”
Beautiful human beings are what happens.
One of the beautiful human beings in Boston is Sr. Mary Lea Hill. She works on the Pauline Books and Media editorial team, has written several books, blogs, constantly cracks jokes, makes homemade ice cream, and tweets:
Anyone want a cold? Had it 2 wks & ready to share. It’s well developed. Just think of all the “God bless you” greetings you will receive!
— Sister Lea (@crabbymystic) November 14, 2014
Sr. Lea is constantly making everyone laugh with her dry wit and offbeat way of looking at the world. When I lived in Boston I loved sitting at meals with her because she would have everyone cracking up throughout the meal. Or she would fascinate us with anecdotes about Caryll Houselander.
Sr. Lea recently wrote a book called Prayer and You: Wit and Wisdom from a Crabby Mystic and so I took this opportunity to introduce her to all of you under the ruse of promoting her book.
But then her book was endorsed by Cardinal Dolan who said:
If you’ve ever struggled in prayer, or wished for a better prayer life (and most of us probably have at one time or another), then this book is for you.
I mean, you get endorsements like that and who needs help promoting their book?
So, without further ado, here is my interview with the Crabby Mystic:
Why did you want to write a book on prayer?
I wanted to help people who seemed to have put religion aside as non-relevant. It seemed to me that prayer was the place to start. Theology is important, but relationship is essential. If something could be offered that made God sound personal and interested in them, maybe they would give it a look.
You refer to yourself as the Crabby Mystic but speaking from experience you are actually not very crabby at all. Why this label for yourself?
This is a label that came up unexpectedly from my subconscious, like lava from a dormant volcano. However, on reflection I realized that it is a perfect statement of who I am. I really am crabby by nature. My folks said I started as a fussy baby—to the delight of our neighbors. As for the mystic part, that is the ideal of my spiritual life. It is the bar set for Paulines by our Founder. And so, for now I find myself somewhere between the two: nature and grace. I can’t completely overcome my natural inclination and I haven’t yet arrived at my spiritual destiny. I remain a crabby mystic-in-the-making.
When I read your writing, I think of the GK Chesterton quote: ‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.’ You write with humor and often in a way that is “tongue in cheek.” Why do you think it is helpful to write on spirituality in a way that is light and funny?
Basically, I write this way because it is who I am. I’ve been blessed with a rather quirky sense of humor. Since others seem to enjoy and relate to “my style”, I believe it is a way to reach people. As for spirituality: our engagement with God can often be pretty humorous just because we are children before him and subject to the funny and endearing faux pas. We are taught not to take ourselves too seriously: to me that means not even to take our seriousness seriously. The thing to realize is that God loves us for who we are—of course, we are always trying to overcome our faults (those things of our own making)—and we bless him for who we are (those gifts of his making).
You seem to relate to people who have difficulty praying, is this because you have had trouble in prayer?
Oh, yeah! I have difficulty praying! After fifty years in religious life, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a fact. The solution is so simple it almost makes me laugh aloud. Prayer is a gift. It arises from the life of God within us. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to pray within us. Hearing this, flags go up! “But, then where is my responsibility?” My responsibility is to respond: put my whole being at the disposition of God; put all my dispositions in the hands of God. It’s not easy. It takes a good chunk of life just to figure this out. We are always ready to put in our own two cents: “Hey, I’m pretty good at this prayer business! I must really be into holiness!” No, holiness comes to us, despite us, and only for God’s glory. When I am praying, it can be very difficult; when I am open to prayer, it is pure blessing.
What is the single best piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to pray more or begin praying, but just does not know how to go about it?
This is hard to answer since we are all so individual. However, one suggestion I’ve been making is this: go on a date with God. Buy a coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Sit down a few minutes. No one else needs to know what you are doing. Gaze at God, the one who loves you. Talk to him about your difficulty with prayer and anything else you want to discuss. (This is a good start and it is prayer.)
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There, you have it, the wonderful offbeat Sr. Mary Lea. Now you should buy her book, for yourself and a loved one who needs a laugh and would like to pray but doesn’t think they have the time or they are not sure where to start.
Perfect Christmas gift.