Monday, January 28, 2013

Emotions, Darkness, and Dreams

I have started several blogs in the last week, whether on paper, my computer, or in my head. I couldn’t finish them. There’s too much emotion bottled up inside me right now. I just need to let some of it free.

I feel as though my spirit is just weary and worn. I’m tired. I’m torn between a need to grieve for my friend, concern for another friend going through a rough time, sadness from what has happened, and just plain exhaustion from trying to do and be so much for so many. I’m confused about plans for the future and what God is really calling me to. I’m so Rome-sick that I went and bought prosciutto yesterday. My dear mentor brought in blood oranges—he’s a saint. I have taken to sitting and watching multiple hours of Rome, fast-forwarding through the bad scenes and watching the historical notes commentary. I have even been leafing through my Blue Book guide to Rome. I feel like you can tell that Kaitlyn is struggling when she’s buying Roman comfort food and reading guidebooks. That means we are dealing with things worse than Chocolate and Henry Adams or Homer or even Greek can cure. I’m not sure that I knew before that there were such things—but, apparently, there are.

To distract myself (and also to remind myself that life moves on), I have been obsessing about next year. For those of you who have had a conversation with me in the last couple months, it’s probably obvious that I’ve been doing this for a while.

At the retreat about which I have written so much recently, I re-encountered a young woman who graduated from Echo and is now working as an intern on a farm. Sound familiar? Yes, that is what I wanted to do... two years ago when God put me in Echo instead. And really, I realize more and more that it’s what I still want to do (thought I don’t regret doing Echo—I love this program more than I can explain). It’s funny because I’m quite sure that neither of my grandfathers (both of whom were farmers, both of whom encouraged me to get an education and a life away from the farm) could have begun to imagine that I, six months away from a Masters degree from Notre Dame, would say that my life’s dream is to own a farm. Not just a little farm, either. I want milk cows (yes, Larry, with the getting up to milk at 4am if need be), bees, and chickens, and possibly a goat or two (because really, how much can milk cows help the lactose intolerant??). That is my DREAM. Of course, there’s also the idea that this farm might be a working retreat center, where Molly and I will run our art retreats and where my dear David will have his sheep. Well, probably not David and the sheep, since he’s becoming a Dominican. But Molly and I are definitely having that retreat center. First, however, I need the farm. And before that, I need to learn how to farm, because somehow between the many years of piano lessons (that were utterly useless—I still can’t read music) and the poking and prodding to get good grades in ridiculous things, like Math (Really, Mom and Dad, I promise that it doesn’t matter that I can’t do calculus. I have other completely useless talents, like reading Greek.), my parents failed to pass on the farm wisdom that their parents gave to them (It’s okay, parents, I still love you). So, when I’m avoiding my comps studying (which is all the time, now that I’m back to that book by Kathryn Tanner on Christology that I just can’t read more than a paragraph of at a time), I’m reading books on farming and gardening and intentional Christian community. Because that seems like an obvious hobby for the future Director of Campus Ministry for Butler U.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m almost certain that I am staying at Butler for another couple years at least. It’s not official yet, so I’m trying not to tell students yet. I’m trying, and more or less failing, because Father and I talk about nothing else ALL THE TIME. But now, I’m looking for a house to rent in Indianapolis. Yes, a house. I don’t want an apartment. Why doesn’t Kaitlyn want an apartment, you might ask. Well, I want a house BECAUSE I WANT A DAMN GARDEN.  And these books I’m reading are giving me all these dreams of grand gardens that will NOT happen because I’m not building anything big until I am somewhere I plan to live longer than two years, which is probably not Indy (well, I might be here for four years… depending on a lot of circumstances so outside my control). But at any rate, yes, friends, I want a garden. And a dog. So, I need a house. I would like one in Indianapolis close enough to walk to Butler. Lord, help me when my students figure out where I live (which they certainly will, because those frat boys are going to be harangued into helping me move, and I don’t trust their ability to keep secrets). I want a house near Butler with a backyard big enough for a dog and a garden, which means I need a housemate to help pay rent, because the houses I’ve found are all $800-900. Anyone want to move to Indianapolis?

It’s a bit disappointing, really. Two years ago, I had a compost pile behind my condo and, until a disease devastated them, herbs growing in my kitchen window. That seemed like a semi-promising start for my farm dreams. Now, I share a house with nine other individuals and, although we have a backyard big enough for a legit urban farm (I mean, we could have a goat if we wanted, it’s that big), we cannot use the backyard because we share it with an office. A bit of a step-down, I think.

And yes, friends from Dallas, I know I promised I’d move home soon. Well, God never gives me what I ask for, so I don’t know why you’re surprised at this. I mean, look at what happened two years ago when I ended up in Echo. And, a year before that, when I had to change my major? It always seems to work out in the end.

As part of my Christmas gift, Molly sent me a picture of my patron saint, Mother Cabrini. It arrived in the mail today. It reminded me of how she had dreamed her whole life of going to China as a missionary and instead, the pope sent her to America. “Not to the East, but to the West,” he said. Well, I guess God is telling me “not to the west, but to the east.” (Because Indianapolis is really far east for someone who wants to live in Texas!) I’m trying to take comfort in reminding myself that if Mother Cabrini hadn’t been sent to the west, I might not exist because she would not have cared for and healed my great-grandmother, which would have made my grandfather a vastly different person who might not have married my grandmother. I can only hope that Providence has some sort of designs for me that might make my sacrifice equally valuable.

So, Texas friends and family, know that I am always holding you close to me through prayer and that I miss you each painfully. On the worst days, I dream of running away and living on Patty and Mark’s couch the way little kids used to dream of running away to the circus. Then, I remember that they would send me back because they love me and want me to succeed. Dang, a kid can’t even run away to her “second parents” without them doing what is best for her. Look at how blessed I am!

Non-Texas family and friends… want to move to Indy? (I know the Texans won’t give up Texas…) Seriously, though, I miss you and love you.

I ask for your continued prayers. I need them badly. Know you are in mine.


K. M. F. W. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Quick Note on the Psalms

“The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness” Part III

A Quick Note on the Psalms
by Kaitlyn Willy, Chaplain’s Apprentice

The last of my series on the retreat. Originally posted at 
First of all, thank you to everyone who sent me supportive emails and texts after my last blog. I am still processing my grief. I appreciate continued prayers.

I wanted to talk about one more thing that happened at my retreat, a tool that I believe many of us forget about when it comes to praying through darkness: the psalms.

During my first Echo Summer, before I came to Butler, I took a class on the Psalms. Ever since, I have loved them. And really, why shouldn’t we love the psalms? They are the prayer, not only of Christians, but of our Jewish brothers and sisters as well. Jesus himself was taught and prayed the Psalms. If they’re good enough for Christ, they’re good enough for me.

Throughout the retreat, we kept coming back to the psalms. We talked about how the psalms can give words to our emotions. There are so many about so many different things. There are psalms of lament and psalms of praise. Some end happily, some are just angry all the way through. Our director of formation reminded us that when praying a psalm of lament, it’s always good to pair it with a psalm of hope. Or, you can do one that covers both. My personal favorites are 23 and 42. Then, rarely, when I’m really angry and refuse to be consoled, I go to 77.

Since the early church, it has been a tradition to sing the psalms daily. Monks used to have to memorize the psalter before they were allowed to officially join the monastery. St. Augustine says: “Singing is for the one who loves.” The Psalms were the most common songs of the early church and Augustine wrote hundreds of commentaries on them. I’m not certain, but I think that the only thing in scripture with more commentaries than the psalms is the Lord’s Prayer.

So, my invitation to you is to open up your Bible to the Psalms and give them a try. They’re good consolation in times of distress.

Monday, January 21, 2013

He waits in the Heart of Darkness

“The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness” Part II

He waits in the heart of darkness
by Kaitlyn Willy, Chaplain’s Apprentice

This is the second in my series of reflections from retreat on the BCC Blog.

The original post can be found here: 

As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, the theme for the retreat that I just went on was “The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness.”

One of the things that occurred to me on this retreat was that if I take the beloved to be Christ, then Christ waits for me in the heart of the darkness. He doesn’t wait on the outskirts, he waits in the center of it. In order to get to him, I have to go through the dark and then he will help me through to the other side.

This revelation was truly a grace to me. My retreat director could not have chosen a better time to give me this piece of wisdom. I need it right now. I woke up this morning to find out that one of my dearest friends from high school had passed away. I haven’t processed the emotions from this yet; it’s only been a couple hours since I found out and right now, I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t know yet how I feel, other than the obvious answer of sadness. I don’t know what I’m going to do, or how I am going to find consolation in this. What I do know, I know from experience. The sadness I feel now is nothing compared to the darkness that I might face in the next few days as I slowly come to know the reality of Jessica’s death. Thanks to this retreat, I also know this: I cannot sit on the outskirts of grief and avoid dealing with my emotions if I expect Christ to be with me. He is waiting for me in the heart of that darkness, and I will have to go there to find him. As much as I would like to just bury myself in my work and avoid thinking about it, I can’t. I have to go there.

During the retreat, it hit me that this is like the Paschal mystery. When we’re on the outskirts of the dark, it’s like Holy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s like when the soldiers came and took Christ. We’re scared, we’re sad, we’re confused. Darkness is threatening to overcome us. We want to run, like Peter ran when he denied knowing Christ. But the thing is, we can’t run if we want to get to the Resurrection. Only through the Passion can we come to the Resurrection.

In one of the texts I’m reading for comps (Athanasius’ On the  Incarnation) I was struck by a simple line, something that any kindergartener would think was obvious. But this statement must not have been too obvious, because Athanasius bothered to say it and, let’s be honest, paper and ink was not cheap back then (really, papyrus and ink). The line was this: “Death must precede resurrection.”

I think this is a fact that we all too often want to overlook. I would like the resurrection without the passion, thank you very much. I’ve seen a crucifix. The passion doesn’t look too fun. I would like to avoid that part, just like I would like to avoid recognizing the reality of grief. But consolation cannot come from avoidance. That’s not healthy. We have to go into the heart of darkness, where Christ, the Beloved, is waiting. He will bring us out the other side.

So, friends, have hope. Do not be afraid to know the dark. Instead, fear the unlived life—the one that is avoided by living in fear. And know that for every Good Friday, there is always an Easter Sunday. As my favorite poet, Wendell Berry, says: “Practice Resurrection.”

Please pray for Jessica and her family and friends. And friends, please know that whenever you feel alone in the darkness, Fr. Jeff and I are here and we will always be willing to sit with you and be with you. You are never alone. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

“The Joy of Waiting”

The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness, Retreat Reflections part 1:
“The Joy of Waiting”

This is part of my short series of reflections about the Echo Winter retreat.

Originally posted to the Butler Catholic Community blog ( 

Last week, as many of you know, I was away on retreat for five days. It was a retreat with Echo (my graduate program) and in packing and preparing for the retreat, I was much more focused on the idea that I would soon see my friends than I was on spending five days with Christ. I am embarrassed, as a campus minister, to admit that. Yet, as I have spoken with my students so many times, friendship is in itself a form of prayer. Everyone in Echo is close, and it had been since August that I had seen my fellow Echo Apprentices, my dear friends. Perhaps it is fitting, given my attitude, that when my community (Pat, Amy, and Joe) was almost all the way to the retreat center, a four-hour drive for us, we started receiving text messages from our friends that their flight into South Bend was delayed.

We arrived at the retreat center thinking that perhaps our friends would be there later that night. As time passed and the plane was still not leaving, we all realized it was not going to happen. Instead, my community would wait with the Associate Director of Echo, Luke, and hang out at the retreat center and the retreat would start the next afternoon, when our friends would finally arrive. While twenty other Echo apprentices were stuck in the airport for almost an entire day (and later, stuck at a shabby hotel where Delta had put them up), my community and I were forced to entertain ourselves. Patrick, Amy, and I played soccer in the dining hall (or, more accurately, half-heartedly kicked the soccer ball back and forth) for an hour and then, joined by Joe and Luke, we ate pizza as a community. We were not in the highest spirits—we were waiting.

After dinner, we managed to raise our spirits a little. I confessed I had never played pool, so the men decided I needed to learn. Patrick and Luke patiently taught me. While I was frustrated at first, they coaxed me into having fun. We managed to enjoy ourselves and lose track of the time amid our laughter at my epically poor pool skills—all the while anticipating our friends’ arrival the next day. We tried to come up with stories to tell them when they arrived and, through the glory of technology, kept up with where they were and what they were up to, even though we were still apart.

It is interesting, given this incident at the beginning, that the theme chosen for our retreat was “The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness.” We spent a lot of time waiting that first night, waiting to hear if our friends would come. Once we knew they weren’t, we were waiting for the morning when they would be there and the retreat could begin in earnest. All the while, we reminded ourselves that we were not alone—we could wait together and in our companionship, find consolation for missing our dear friends.

I think that one of the great things about this retreat theme was that it was ambiguous—we weren’t really sure what or who the beloved is. Perhaps I am the beloved one, the beloved of God who is waiting amidst the darkness of my life—waiting for God, waiting for love, for hope, for light. Perhaps Christ himself is the beloved and he waits for me in the darkness. Or, perhaps it is the waiting itself that is beloved.

During one of the talks during the retreat, the last of these was suggested by our formation director, Jan. What if it is the waiting itself that is beloved? She told us a story she had heard about a grandmother. This grandmother was well loved by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. On one of her birthdays, they threw her a surprise party. When the party came around and the grandmother walked in and they surprised her, she was disappointed. She asked them, “How could you rob me of the joy of anticipating being with you?”

The joy of anticipation… how beautiful is that? But you know, thinking about it, it is true. I know that before my students all come back at the beginning of the semester, when I’m sitting in my office, organizing for the upcoming events, I anticipate their arrival. And it’s a joy to anticipate. I know that soon, I will be busy and in the thick of it. At the beginning, I spend some time just anticipating, preparing, and readying myself… and, hopefully, doing so with love. Anticipating is part of the loving.

My community and I experienced this very clearly as we were anticipating our friends at the retreat center. When they arrived, the vans pulled up and they piled out. We raced out to the cars and hugged each of them almost before they were out of the car. And as we waited for the last two vans, I know that the anticipation was growing in my heart. My best girlfriend from my senior year of college, Meg, was in the last van to arrive. As much as I LOVED hugging each of my other 19 friends, I know that I kept anticipating her arrival even more after the others were there. Having friends like Matt, Sarah, Annie, and Kathy in my arms made me want to hug Meg all the more. The promise that she would arrive soon took away any anxiety of the waiting. The waiting was truly beloved, and it made the moment of reunion that much more beautiful. Had Meg arrived first, I might have lost track of that moment, or, worse, I might have been denied a moment of reunion with my other friends. Instead, the waiting was beloved and beautiful.

Perhaps this revelation for me, the beauty and beloved quality of waiting, should have come about before… like, at Advent, for example. I mean, it is the season of waiting ( and, as I have said before, my favorite liturgical season). Advent is dark—literally, as the days grow shorter; and figuratively, as many people face seasonal depression or sadness related to loss experienced during the holidays or simply from being alone. But even now, in ordinary time, we might face waiting. I wait anxiously for a final decision to be made about my plans for next year. Seniors wait for jobs or acceptance to grad school. Many sophomores wait for acceptance to the Pharmacy program. We are all waiting for something.

As for the anxiety associated with waiting, I found consolation in some of the reading we did on retreat. Thomas Merton wrote: “On all sides I am confronted by questions I cannot answer because the time for answering them has not yet come.” (from The Fire Watch)

We have to trust that God’s silence is not because He doesn’t know the answer or, an even worse thought, because He doesn’t care. It is simply because the time for answering has not yet come. There can be any number of reasons for this. In my experience, it is often because I am not yet the person who God intends to give an answer to.

My invitation for today is to remember that even in the heart of darkness, the waiting can be beloved. Let the joy of anticipation fill you. Trust in the Lord, do not be anxious. The time for answering will come. For now, we wait in joyful hope.