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Every Day Catholic - January 2011

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Rising From a Spiritual Rut
By: Kathy Coffey

She was in a rut. As she trudged through the routine, she ticked off the mental litany: Get water, wash dishes, do laundry, cook meal. He was in a rut. He’d learned to think along straight lines: Follow direct paths, don’t deviate from safe assumptions. Then they both got nudged out of their ruts and into another world.

Sound familiar? You may know them by other names: the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42) and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).

They may seem like us. The woman at the well follows a worn path which continues, even in her way of thinking, when she’s surprised by a stranger. Jesus’ request for a drink is preposterous. Even today, Orthodox Jews don’t share meals or vessels with those whose dietary practices are less strict than theirs. Furthermore, Jesus comes thirsty and tired to a well without a bucket! Even more shocking, he, who isn’t supposed to talk publicly with a woman, takes a playful tone with her.

Jesus also nudges Nicodemus. As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus complacently adheres to tired concepts which Jesus tries to broaden and expand.

It appears that Jesus is no lover of ruts. It’s heartening to hear that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19) and “[f]rom his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Jesus repeatedly reminds us that he came to bring abundant life, spilling over any rut.

He entered human life in a totally unexpected way—born in a stable, not a palace; to young peasants, not royalty. He refused to believe the teachers who protested, “But we’ve always done it this way!”

Jesus often shakes people out of their comfy grooves. He broke taboos; he healed and invited people to more compassionate life. Blind Bartimaeus gladly gave up his begging routine. Matthew abandoned the daily grind of tax collecting. Jesus startled his disciples, upsetting their calcified notions of holiness. And we who follow Christ, what do we do when we’re stuck?

Many spiritual writers address the problem. Kathleen Norris has written a whole book, Acedia & Me, on the “noon-day devil,” acedia or sloth. St. Benedict wrote in his Rule, “Each day has reasons for joy.” Each day’s joys are unique and intriguing, and searching them out can entertain us daily.

St. Francis of Assisi’s delight in creation could also bump us out of a rut. In any season, we can find beauty: blue shadows on snow, first buds tight as fists, sunlight playing on summer leaves, brassy colors of autumnal harvest. St. Teresa of Avila once described the spiritual life as dragging buckets to water a garden (remember, she lived in dry Spain). Then, God’s grace comes as rain, disrupting the weary routine.

Piero Ferrucci in What We May Be gives helpful imagery for directing the psychic energies. The psychotherapist asked one client to reflect on risk. It channeled the person’s natural vitality so that he was soon doing small things to jolt himself out of his “cocoon”: phoning someone he hadn’t seen in a long time, starting a new hobby, challenging co-workers to ping-pong games.

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If we don’t take our routines too seriously, we discover that the world doesn’t end if we shift them a bit. Listen to jazz a lot? Try classical. A regular at the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass? Try the Saturday afternoon. You may meet old friends you haven’t seen in years. For a wild-and-crazy break from routine, attend a different parish! (It might make you appreciate your own.) If Scripture is growing stale or overly familiar, spend time instead with the marvelous spiritual authors writing now: Rolheiser, Rupp and Livingston, to name a few.

If your routine has been centering prayer, try praying with music. Or set aside your usual devotions and spend a few silent minutes each day simply listening for God’s whisper. Why cling to practices that fail to nurture? The bottom line: If it’s not feeding you, quit doing it—at least for a while. No hard, fast rules restrict how we read, reflect or pray.

One man vowed on his 50th birthday to do something new each day. Such openness, such a spirit of adventure, challenges us all. Some days it might be a small thing, like flipping to a different radio station or Web site. Others may be major changes, like not vacationing in the same spot we’ve visited for 20 years, or changing jobs.

The worst mental ruts are those of anxiety, bills and health concerns. These can be so paralyzing that our creative juices—exactly what we need to address problems—stop flowing. Surely the disciples on the road to Emmaus knew that experience. When a “stranger” (Jesus) joins them, Luke 24:17 records, “[t]hey stood still.” Stuck in the ultimate rut of grief, they don’t start moving again until Jesus encourages them to share their story. Despite already knowing, he asks what’s been happening in Jerusalem. Those of us in ruts should take note: Telling Jesus of our stuck situation is a good first step beyond it.

If we’ve slid into a rut, we must nurture our deepest selves with whatever we need: a walk, a bike ride or a swim, a latte, a new shirt, a change of routine, time with a friend or a book. Self-nurture may seem “selfish,” but we are God’s beloved children. God designed the human mind, soul and body for stimulation, not stagnation.

God’s creation brims with beautiful variety. It must disappoint God when we explore only 10 percent of it. Read the Genesis creation story for the marvelous unspooling of sun, moon, stars, oceans, lakes, rivers, creepy crawlers, chirpy birds and lithe gazelles. All of this, God creates with glee—insects, trees, innumerable shades of green, each flower, snowflake and fingerprint unique. Maybe it’s time to look at the night sky, stroll through a meadow or a botanical garden, taste something new from the produce aisle or farmer’s market. Vive la différence!

Permission to Publish received for this article, “Rising From a Spiritual Rut,” by Kathy Coffey, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 9-21-2010.

Kathy Coffey, the author of Hidden Women of the Gospels and Women of Mercy (Orbis Books), gives retreats and workshops nationally and internationally. She lives in Denver, Colorado, and may be contacted at

Making Connections

■ When have you been in a rut—spiritual or otherwise? What got you out of it?

■ What can you do differently the next time you find yourself stuck in a prayer or spiritual rut?

■ What will you do today to change your life—and your relationship with God and others—for the better?

Movie Moments

Groundhog Day
By: Frank Frost

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?” Phil (Bill Murray) asks in Groundhog Day, the ultimate movie about being in a rut.

Phil is a Pittsburgh weatherman who has been assigned to cover Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog. He’s just waking up to the fact that his unhappiness, cynicism and disaffection with his life are symptoms of being in a rut, because he now literally wakes up every morning in Punxsutawney to live the same day all over again.

At the beginning of this funny and insightful film, Phil is concerned only about himself. He doesn’t have any relationships. His producer, Rita (Andie McDowell), is only someone to serve him—and someone to try to seduce. But when he finds himself trapped in the same day, he starts examining the implications of that fact.

His first insight is that, with the same life constantly reoccurring for him but not for others, he has a chance to exploit them, which he does. Then he realizes that a life repeated is a life without
consequences and he can do anything with impunity. But this only leads to greater dissatisfaction and meaninglessness. He finally discovers that he can’t even commit suicide to escape this rut.

Only then does Phil start looking at the other side of the coin—at things he’s wanted to do and never had the chance. He gradually starts seeing others around him in a new light and finds that being unselfishly helpful to them wins him friends, meaning and happiness. Risking altruism leads to genuine love for Rita and ultimately a new life worth living.

Next time you watch Groundhog Day, ASK YOURSELF:

■ Did Phil made a conscious choice to pay attention to others and act unselfishly, or did he just happen on that behavior by accident?

■ Is he aware of what first trapped him in his Groundhog Day, and what allowed him to escape from it?

■ Do I reflect on my own behaviors that either stifle or enhance growth?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Jamie Willhelm
By: Joan McKamey

Why would a recent college graduate from Indiana want to spend the winter in sunny Florida? Stupid question. But what’s drawn Jamie Willhelm to Florida is less about worshiping the sun and more about her relationship with the Son—of God. Jamie is a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Jamie says, “Growing up Catholic, I knew about God but didn’t know God. I didn’t connect my head and heart.” That changed in high school when she joined Youth for Christ, a nondenominational group. She tells Every Day Catholic, “I didn’t know any Catholic peers who took their faith seriously. Through Youth for Christ, I met people who had an open faith and were excited about it. I got to know Christ.

“At college, I went to Mass because it was ingrained in me that I should. I wanted to go but sometimes found it boring. I realized that ‘God is only boring when you stop paying attention to him.’ My prayer life can seem dry at times—when I’m not paying attention. The same goes for Mass. If we’re paying attention, God can speak through everything.”

“My roommate and I went on a Catholic retreat. It’s my first memory of being with Catholic peers who talked openly about their love for Christ. My faith was also strengthened by two Catholic friends who were in Newman Club and Student Christian Fellowship with me. It was good to have that encouragement.”

The director of the Newman Club suggested that Jamie consider working as a missionary for FOCUS after college. She checked into it and says, “It looked perfect. FOCUS combines the styles of Newman Club and Student Christian Fellowship.” Its model is 1) Win college students over through genuine friendships, 2) Build up their personal relationships with God and equip them with tools needed to thrive in college and beyond, and 3) Send them out to share faith with their peers.

Much of the work is one-on-one. Jamie says, “Sometimes I get discouraged because it seems that I’m not accomplishing anything. My aunt writes me letters and reminds me that if I only help one person, then everything I’m doing is worth it.

“FOCUS asks us to take a daily holy hour. Sometimes an hour doesn’t seem like enough; other times it’s hard. If I’m in a prayer rut, I try to find a different posture, place or way to pray.

“I keep a prayer journal. Sometimes I go back through my journals to see how God has worked in my life. I may see that two years ago I struggled with the same thing and pray, ‘O.K., God, help me again. I’ve regressed.’”

Going through dry spells and various kinds of ruts isn’t all bad—as long as you work to move beyond them. As Jamie says, “If you’re getting comfortable in your faith, you need to start growing again.”

To learn more about FOCUS and how to offer support to missionaries like Jamie, go to

Passing On the Faith

Family Prayer
By: Jeanne Hunt


“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts....” The kids race through the prayer like a dog after a bone, thought Dante as he sat down for Sunday supper. “Do you even realize what you just said?” he asked the boys, already deep into Caroline’s famous macaroni and cheese.

Dante looked to Caroline for help in pointing out that prayer had become a thoughtless routine. Somehow they had lost that sense of prayerfulness that used to guide their days.  
A Response

Most families are very busy. Time for family prayer is often the first thing to be overlooked. It may help some to find a time to pray together other than before meals. Families can gather after supper on a weeknight for a family time that begins with prayer. Married couples can pray together before bed. Whatever time is chosen, make it a priority.

Parents should also look for moments of spontaneous prayer with their children. When a need arises (sickness, injury, disappointment, etc.), stop the activities and pause for a moment of prayer. When we model praying from the heart, we’re teaching children how to speak to God in an intimate way.

Another way to get out of a prayer rut is to have a family prayer bowl. Place a small wooden bowl in a prominent spot along with paper and pencil. Invite family members to write their prayer intentions and put them in the bowl. Each night before supper, have a different family member lift up the bowl as everyone asks God to hear those prayers. Once a month, empty the bowl and give thanks for prayers answered.

Parents can create seasonal rituals as well. Pray for peace, have a quiet period each day of Lent, create an Alleluia banner for Easter, bless your pets on the feast of St. Francis, write a family thanksgiving prayer, pray with an Advent wreath, bless your Nativity scene and Christmas tree. Do something different and special every month.

Dante and Caroline still laugh about his outburst at that Sunday supper. Yet, it was a life-changing moment for them. Hoping school will be canceled, Theo prays for snow during their new Wednesday night prayer time. Dante and Caroline have started holding hands as they fall asleep, thanking God for the day and their life together. They’ve emptied the family prayer bowl for the first time and were amazed at the small miracles that had happened since they escaped the rut.


Prayer for Lukewarm Disciples
By: Jeanne Hunt

Preparation: Place a lighted candle, a bowl of ice cubes and a basket containing paper and pencils on a central prayer table.


“Sing a New Song” (or similar hymn)


Maker of sunrises and exploding blossoms, renew our joy in your spur-of-the-moment grace. Let us never tire of watching creation. Keep our pace quick and our hearts open to change. Banish any ruts and roots that could make us lukewarm followers. Amen.


Revelation 3:15-16

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”


Write down an idea for sparking renewed passion in prayer or eliminating a routine or rut in your spiritual life (e.g., attend Mass at an ethnic parish; go for a walk with a saint, imagining that he or she is speaking to you; take your godchild to church). Fold the paper and put it in the basket. (Pause)

Come forward to the fire and ice. Put one hand near each and ask God to heal that lukewarm area of your life. Take a paper from the bowl, resolving to do what it describes. 

Let us go forth to live the gospel with spirit, with passion and with excitement. May our faith be on fire with God’s love, and may God bless us in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão: God’s plan in a person’s life often takes unexpected turns which become life-giving through cooperation with God’s grace. 
<p>Born in Guarantingueta near São Paulo (Brazil), Antônio attended the Jesuit seminary in Belem but later decided to become a Franciscan friar. Invested in 1760, he made final profession the following year and was ordained in 1762. </p><p>In São Paulo, he served as preacher, confessor and porter. Within a few years he was appointed confessor to the Recollects of St. Teresa, a group of nuns in that city. He and Sister Helena Maria of the Holy Spirit founded a new community of sisters under the patronage of Our Lady of the Conception of Divine Providence. Sister Helena Maria’s premature death the next year left Father Antônio responsible for the new congregation, especially for building a convent and church adequate for their growing numbers. </p><p>He served as novice master for the friars in Macacu and as guardian of St. Francis Friary in São Paulo. He founded St. Clare Friary in Sorocaba. With the permission of his provincial and the bishop, he spent his last days at the Recolhimento de Nossa Senhora da Luz, the convent of the sisters’ congregation he had helped establish. </p><p>He was beatified in Rome on October 25, 1998, and canonized in 2007.</p> American Catholic Blog Christians must realize that the Christian faith is a love affair between God and man. Not just a simple love affair: It is a passionate love affair. God so loved man that he became man himself, died on a cross, was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven—and all this in order to bring man back to himself, to that heaven which he had lost through his own fault. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

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