The Virgin and the Tempest

The Virgin and the Tempest

Blogger’s Note: A close friend’s home was struck hard by the storm last Sunday morning—in all the wreck and ruin, Mary stood untouched, unfazed. Regina pacis, ora pro nobis!

At dawn she stood upon the hill and pondered things unseen;

The lake agleam with silver sun, the grass a rippling green.

A girl, she seemed, of field and fen, of flock and fish and sheaves;

Her crown, the dappled sunlight filtered through the flutt’ring leaves.

Her simple shift immaculate as she, herself unstained,

Enjoyed Creation’s morning-song—but in the west it rained.


Such peaceful virgin beauty could the Tempest not abide:

He spied her from afar and surged, at a league to every stride.

He stormed and splashed and shivered homes; his thund’ring voice was heard—

With roar and flash and flood he sought to drown God’s holy Word.

In that unearthly twilight knelt the faithful ’round the stone,

And she, exposed and downcast, stood upon the hill alone.


He strode ashore in bloody rage, devouring as he came,

But naught would slake his appetite except the Virgin’s shame.

He cursed her with his forkéd tongue and lashed her with his tail;

He frothed and foamed and spewed his bile, he struck with tooth and nail.

The trees he snapped like kindling with the fury of his wings;

They came down crashing roundabout—but she began to sing.


Her hands were open to receive, her eyes closed in repose,

And all his filth and flotsam could not even foul her clothes.

She sang a canticle of joy, of gratitude and grace,

And deadfalls burst asunder at the radiance of her face.

A lullaby she sang to soothe the Child within her womb,

And at His Name, the Tempest turned and fled into the gloom.


The wood lays wasted at her feet; the grass, strewn with debris;

A splintered path of ruin marks the path on which he flees.

So stands she still upon the hill, our shelter from the storm—

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, protecting all she loves from harm.

Not David’s solitary stone nor Sparta’s gory stand

Struck such a blow as she, although she never raised a hand!

Nothing Safe

This past weekend was Albertville Friendly City Days, our little town’s version of an annual summer festival, featuring  a softball tournament, a pedal-power tractor pull, the Miss Albertville competition, live music, carnival rides and games, fireworks, clowns, and more. The highlight for our family each year is the parade — one of the biggest and best in Wright County, with more than 100 entries including several marching bands. The past few years we’ve enjoyed the spectacle from a beautiful old home on Main Street, right next to the announcer and judges booth, so everyone is looking and performing their best, and candy is tossed by the handful. This year we enjoyed the additional treat of Trevor’s debut as a percussionist in the STMA Middle School Marching Band, playing quads (technically quints, I suppose, since his drum harness has a tiny fifth tom, not just four).


Trevor and bandmates marching

Earlier we had been discussing what we love and don’t love about Friendly City Days. Lily was strongly urging that we walk down to the carnival and at least check out the rides; Jodi and I weren’t anxious to do so. A friend agreed with us: Traveling carnival rides especially made her nervous, she said — so much so that she has been known to pay her children not to go, still spending less for peace of mind than she would have for ride tickets. She even shared a story about a girl who was scalped when her hair got caught during a ride on a classic old Tilt-a-Whirl.


Jodi and Lily sliding

Although we rode the Ferris wheel, the carousel, and the giant Fun Slide last year, by and large, we agree. Anything that’s moves and spins and is not bolted down is just asking for someone to get hurt. Or throw up. Or both.

On the other hand…

What is it about a Tilt-a-Whirl, anyway? I used to love that ride: the unsteady motion of the platform, the off-kilter slide into your friends as your car tilted and spun sideways, first one way, then the other. Yeah, sometimes people puked (I never did), but that was part of the excitement — the sense that anything could happen, at any moment. You felt alive.

Dead people don’t barf.

I think I’ve discovered that ride was so appealing — and why I don’t care to do it anymore. Think about it: what else do we experience that is tilted, spinning, unstable, and potentially dangerous; that sends us careening into the people closest to us; that makes us laugh, cry,  and hurl?

We don’t need some old carnival clunker. We spend all day, every day, on a massive, unhinged Tilt-a-World. As a kid, the simulating is stimulating. As adults, it’s too real, like when you’re watching The Office and can’t laugh because you actually lived through that particular episode.

And it’s not safe. This world is broken, grimy and off-balance, hurtling through the cosmos, and run by grubbing scoundrels, leering ne’er-do-wells and lazing doofuses. We’ll never make it out alive — and yet, here we are: leaning, laughing, spinning…

So let go. Whatever you’re clinging to can’t keep you safe anyway. Let’s throw our hands up and enjoy this ride — together!

Featured photo at the top of the post: Abandoned Tilt-A-Whirl By Derrick Mealiffe from Toronto, Canada (Wet n Wild) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Lenten Hits: Firelight Fridays

One of the most fruitful family sacrifices we undertook this Lent was to fast from electric lights after sunset on Fridays. We had already decided to abstain from television, movies, and video games for all of Lent, when I ran across an article by well-known atheist-to-Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler on the National Catholic Register website: “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” I proposed to the family that we undertake this fast at least once a week, and we decided on “firelight Fridays”once the sun went down on Friday evening, we would use nothing but candles in our house.

My hope was that, as Fulwiler suggests, this would spark a massive downshift in activity and draw us closer together as a family, around the flickering flames. It did exactly that.

The fact that we had already committed to shutting off the televisions for forty days laid a good foundation for Firelight Fridays, since that caused our older kids to break out board and card games and begin playing together and with Lily in ways we hadn’t seen in years. Soon they were inviting Jodi and me to play. Parcheesi, Sorry, Cribbage, Garbage, and head-to-head Solitaire were the favorites, and as darkness gathered late Friday, we would clear the coffee table in the living room, light several candles on a tray, and sit in a tight circle to talk, laugh, and play together. I discovered that Jazz 88 plays the blues all night on Fridays, which offered a suitable soundtrack to our “penitential” family time.

Usually we played together until some of us grew sleepy, then we talked, sprawled across the furniture and floors, until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Often we went to bed earlier that usual for a Friday, and still felt as though we’d had a very full evening, because our time together had started at sundown and was concentrated on the here and now, with the people we love. In retrospect, it strikes as similar to a silent retreat: when we reduce the distractions that keep our eyes and brains flitting about from one thing to the next, time stretches out and we expand to fill it.

By the end of Lent, I was ready to go full Amish and invest in candles for every day of the week. Lily—who each week would begin a countdown to candles on Tuesday or Wednesday—was close behind in her enthusiasm for continuing the practice.

Jodi and the older kids missed family movies and other typical Friday practices, so we compromised: We agreed that, beginning this spring we will commit to at least one Firelight Friday a month: indoors with candles in bad weather; outdoors at the fire pit in good.

Each Lent I worry that we’ll fall back into old patterns as Easter rolls ’round, and we will lose what we’ve gained from fasting. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up Lily from daycare. We hadn’t left Jennie’s driveway when she asked if she could have a snack and watch a show when she got home.

“You can have a snack,” I said, “but we’ll have to wait and see about a show.”

When we got home, she got herself a snack while I put aside my work and started thinking about supper. Next thing I knew, Lily was setting up Clue Jr. to practice playing it by herself. She made no mention of watching a show for the rest of the evening.

If unplugging and lighting candles can work such a change in our biggest little screen junkie, that, to me, is a sacrifice worth sustaining.

LIFT Links for Late Summer

We’re headed into August, and summer is, for better or worse, winding down. If you’re like us, in the flurry of summer and back-to-school activities, it can be hard to find quality time to spend with God, or even with the entire family. To that end, here are a few ideas for a late summer day or weekend:

  • Lakeside Fellowship. Camp Lebanon is coming quickly, but if your summer isn’t plum full already, consider joining other St. Michael and St. Albert families the weekend of Aug. 14-16 for great food, fellowship, and lakeside fun. Details can be found here, and the registration form is here — we still need families in order to hold the entire camp for our two parishes!
  • Family Movie Night. A few years back I watched and recommend the beautiful animated movie, The Secret of Kells. Both Kells and a newer movie in the same style (which I haven’t seen), Song of the Sea, are available for unlimited streaming on Amazon Prime. Ignatius Press recently published this review of Song of the Sea — should be well worth watching. We will definitely be checking it out! (The Secret of Kells is also available on Netflix.)
    • Silent Retreat. Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo is hosting a men’s and women’s silent retreat in late August entitled “Sowing Seeds of Mercy.” The retreat is Aug. 21-23 at King’s House, with a suggested donation of $160. More details and registration information can be found here.
    • Spaghetti Dinner. Sometimes just having a family meal together that you don’t have to cook is the ticket to reconnecting with family. If so, you can eat for a great cause at the upcoming Kunzman Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser hosted by Knights of Columbus Council 4174 at the St. Albert Parish Center. The dinner is Sunday, Aug. 23, from 4:30 to 8 p.m., with free-will offerings to support Brother Knight Erich Kunzman and family. Erich has suffered some complications due to a significant surgery and copuld use our prayers and support!
    Have a great rest of your summer!

    LIFT Links: Summer Break Edition

    Catamaran at Camp Lebanon, Summer 2014

    Today was the final parish school Mass of the year, in which Fr. Richards and Fr. Nathan collaborated on the homily/skit to underscore to the students that we do not take a vacation from God. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few ideas to keep growing in faith during these months of summer leisure.

    The Basics

    • Make Sunday Mass a priority all summer long. Especially for those of us who like to escape to the cabin or lake, or who plan trips during the summer months, it can be tempting to skip out on Mass, or to plan to attend the last possible weekend Mass and miss accidentally or arrive late, hungry, harried, and distracted. But Mass and the Eucharist are central to our Catholic faith — the closest encounter with Christ and the most powerful prayer we can offer! Wherever you are headed, take time to find a Catholic Church along the way and make sure you make it to Saturday evening or Sunday Mass. (We once stopped at the Catholic Church in St. Ignace on the way back from Michigan, and the kids were invited by the priest to help with the May Crowning of Mary!) If you have kids, let them look online and help you pick which church you attend, then check out the stained glass, statues, Stations of the Cross, and such — and see what you can learn about that parish’s patron saint.
    • Make Confession a priority. Most of us don’t sin less during the summer, so Confession is no less important during vacation. Get it on the calendar now, so you don’t forget — and if you do happen to miss weekend Mass, make it a priority to do penance and receive absolution before the next weekend, to ensure you receive all the graces of the Eucharist when you receive Jesus again!
    • Don’t forget prayer and spiritual reading. Some of us relish our down time, and look forward to those quiet moments on the deck, in the the sun, on the water, or in the garden. Before you turn on the Twins game or grab the latest paperback thriller, take a little time for quiet prayer or spiritual reading. Give to God from the top of your time, and He will give you so much in return! Also, don’t overlook the blessings of the Road-Trip Rosary: kick off any long drive with a family rosary and see if the trip doesn’t go more smoothly!
    • Check out daily Mass or Adoration. It’s easy during the summer to run ourselves ragged and need a spiritual recharge. Daily or weekday Mass offers a great opportunity for quiet time to pray and to receive a daily dose of scripture and the Holy Eucharist. Often weekday Mass is early or late in the day, providing a nice bookend to whatever else you have planned, and most weekday Masses are only about 30 minutes long. Or for more flexibility, check out the nearest Adoration Chapel, and spend one-on-one time praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Bring your Bible or current spiritual book and see what Jesus has to say as you dig deeper into the words on the page!
    Spiritual Vacations
    We are blessed in our parish and area to have many opportunities for deeper spiritual recharging for Catholics of all ages — here are just a few options:
    • Sign the kids up for Vacation Bible School (VBS). This year’s VBS offering is Cathletics: Training to Be Champions for Christ! VBS is open to children from four years old through those who have just completed 5th grade. Registration forms and more information are available on the parish website, at the parish office, or in Gathering Space.
    • Take the family to Camp Lebanon for faith-filled fun on the water! Enjoy lakeside cabin and lodge style camping near Upsala for families from St. Albert and St. Michael parishes, coming up  August 14-16 – swimming, fishing, zipline, paintball, fireside rosary, Mass, and more. Information is available on the easel in the Gathering Space.
    • Register for our free series on meditative prayer. Local Catholic teacher Angie Lambert and local Catholic speaker Michelle Steele will be offering two evening sessions on meditative prayer: what it is and how to grow in it–including a little time to practice. They will also be discussing contemplative prayer, a higher form of prayer beyond meditative prayer, toward which meditation leads, as well as the virtues that lead us to a deeper life of prayer.  We all know the key to happiness and peace is a life of prayer. These sessions are free and open to all ages; they will be held at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, on Monday, June 22, and Monday, June 29, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Please RSVP by June 17 at or call Monica at the parish office at (763) 497-2745 to sign up.
    • Go on an actual retreat! We have great opportunities for Catholic retreats in this area, including King’s House in Buffalo, Pacem In Terris in Isanti, and the Jesuit Retreat House (Demontreville) in Lake Elmo. For a more complete listing of Catholic retreat centers around Minnesota, visit
    Recommended Reading
    Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few conversations about books that might help rekindle our love for the Catholic faith in our families. I’ve done some reading myself and have asked around a bit — here are a few recommendations that don’t require a theology degree to read and enjoy:
    • Consider getting one of the publications for kids that explore the weekend Mass readings and discussing them before Mass. Not only will this provide a great and simple opportunity to share scripture and your faith, but it will also deepen their Mass experience, since they will be hearing the readings for the second time! Either Magnifikid! or Celebrating Sunday for Catholic Families are good options.
    • My bride and I are part of a couples group that is just finishing Jason Free’s Parenting on Purpose, an easy-to-read refresher on why Christian (specifically Catholic) parenting matters, with simple, practical ideas on how parents can raise children who catch and keep the faith.
    • For parents of teens, our youth minister, John O’Sullivan recently recommended Blessed are the Bored in Spirit: A Young Catholic’s Search for Meaning by Mark Hart. I’m just reviewing this now, but it appears to be geared toward teens who may just be going through the motions and those who care about them
    • I also know several families who swear by reading about the lives of the saints as a great way to inspire children and teens to lead holy lives. There are lots of books on the lives of the saints, saints of the day, etc. — or you can pick biographies of particular saints that might appeal to specific children. The book we gave away at the parish this past Christmas, Jason Evert’s Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, is a wonderful and inspiring read for young Catholics and older alike — and I’m sure I have an extra copy of it if you missed out.
    Many blessings on your summer — and for those of you traveling, Our Lady of the Highway, pray for us!