On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Born to Soar,” a spiritual journal

The beautiful monarch butterfly is the source of much fascination, the subject of many grade-school science lessons, and the motif around which Born to Soar, Melissa Overmyer’s new Scripture and prayer journal (Servant Books, 2017), was created.

The image of soaring flight evoked by a brilliant butterfly is a metaphor for the soaring prayer experiences described in the poetry of the mystic St. John of the Cross. The author includes short excerpts of this mystical poetry to remind the reader that, in prayer, our hearts seek to soar toward heaven.



This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to Soar.

Don’t let the butterflies and flowers on the cover of the book fool you: this journal is designed to push you out of your spiritual comfort zone and motivate you to explore ways in which you can take the risk of growing closer to God.

Praying through journaling can be a liberating and beautiful means of expression. Your writing can take on the feeling of a love letter or a song and can be accompanied by a heart-wrenching release of emotions. . . . Do not be afraid of writing down how you truly feel — God knows your heart already. Instead, offer yourself — in all your beauty and your brokenness — freely to God and ask him to use your journal to bring you closer to him. Do not be afraid to give it all to God, who can turn our ashes to beauty, heal our deepest wounds, and set us free. (from the Introduction, p. xvii)

Each of the six sessions follows this format:

  • Description of the physical stage of the caterpillar’s life cycle
  • Overmyer’s reflection on how this stage compares to the process of spiritual renewal
  • Thoughts to ponder, with space for journaling
  • A moment with St. John of the Cross, including a quote from the saint’s writings, questions for reflection, and space for journaling
  • Thoughts for discussion (for group discussion or journal prompts)
  • Prayer
  • A “renewing truth” to be revisited on multiple occasions during the course of the week
  • Scripture passages for daily reflection, followed by a journal prompt and space for writing

I’d recommend Born to Soar to any reader who seeks to go deeper in the spiritual life. Overmyer makes the mystical works of St. John of the Cross accessible even to people like me who tend toward the practical. Her inviting approach and simple language engage the reader; I found myself wanting to go beyond each day’s reflections because I was hungry for what would come next.
Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

New Year’s Reading (on the Spiritual Side)

I’ve always got at least one novel going, but there’s a huge pile of nonfiction awaiting my attention.

Here’s what I’m reading as the year begins.

CM Prayer Companion cover art

The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion will be with me as I start each day. I’ve been reading it since the summer, and its wonderfully-varied reflections fit just right into a busy schedule.

There’s even a book club on Facebook!


I’m not sure where I heard about this one, but it ended up on my Amazon wish list and I treated myself to it last week. Live Today Well by Fr. Thomas Dailey breaks down the work of St. Francis deSales. I knew I’d chosen well when I discovered in the prologue that deSales was heavily influenced by St. Francis of Assisi.

What are you reading to feed your soul in 2017?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! 

Communion and Community

Last night I got out of the house for the first time in 8 days. It took me about that long before I was willing to get into a car again! But our once-a-month Saturday-night Mass gig was this weekend at the Big Church, which is only one mile away, so I figured I could do it.

Except for the homily, I stood for the entire Mass. Sitting is difficult. I can’t sit gracefully or comfortably. I sit like a cellist who has just had her instrument stolen. And then, of course, there is the Wearing of the Yoga Pants– just about any other pants are out of the question right now.

But in that church, the musicians are located in a spot where no one sees how you’re dressed or that you’re pacing around back there during the Creed. So it worked.

I paid for that one-mile car ride, but it was worth it–SO worth it. I paid for the singing, which works the abs more than you might realize. But what I received? Hugs, good wishes, smiles and inquiries about my health from friends, neighbors, fellow musicians, deacon and pastor. The grace of just being there at Mass. The gift of singing at Mass (I was not foolish enough to try to bring my guitar). And the Eucharist, the whole reason I needed to be there.

A friend and fellow Franciscan stopped by last week to bring me Communion. I treasure that. And I treasure yesterday’s venture to church as well. These past couple of weeks, I have really been reminded of what it’s all about: Communion and community. I am grateful–very grateful–for both.

What do the cool kids think?

Apparently I am once again the butt of teenage jokes.  Just like when I was a teenager. I wasn’t a cool kid then, and I’m far from being a cool mom now.
All this came up because I got an iPhone for Christmas. Little Brother immediately begged for my iPod touch, and I am sharing that with him (though the iTunes account is mine alone, so I am in control of any downloads.) The kids are passing the iPod around to play doodle jump. 
Big Brother said, “Mom, you have 2 full folders of Catholic apps on here!”
Middle Sister chimed in that when she told her friend that I had an iPhone, that friend said something about how I had probably filled it with Catholic apps.
At least I’m predictable…
You’d think that at my age I wouldn’t let this bother me. But you’d be wrong.
This is why I am so reluctant to share my technology with my kids. I don’t like to be teased. And apparently, in their world, having Catholic apps is tease-worthy.
Sure, in the scheme of things this is not very major. It makes me wonder, though, if who I am, if how I live, does justice to what I believe. Do I draw strength from my faith to live my day-to-day life in a different way, a better way, than I would without that faith?
Because if all those kids see are the apps, and not what’s really behind them, then I have a lot of work to do.

Catching On

I’m a sucker for those “spend a year doing a certain thing” kind of books.  In recent years, I’ve read Julie & Julia, one where a woman decides to take every shred of advice dished out by Oprah Winfrey for an entire year, and two cookbooks written by someone who used her slow cooker every day for a year–among others.

Kind of makes me wish that I had something I was willing to do for a whole year that was interesting enough to get a book deal out of it.

Heather King’s book Shirt of Flame describes a year spent reading and discovering the life of St. Therese of Lisieux.

I’m only halfway through this book, and I am SO hooked.  And this is a saint to whom I don’t take easily.  A priest once described her in a homily as “immature, fussy, and a bit of a drama queen” and I’m inclined to agree.  I read her autobiography as a teenager, and I think it appealed to me more then than it does now that I’m fortymumble years old and most of my idealism has melted away amid the cares and worries and chores of taking care of my husband and family.

I don’t ordinarily recommend a book I haven’t even finished, but King’s chronicle of her own spiritual journey as well as Therese’s is an absolutely compelling read.  Each chapter ends with a prayer, and so far I’ve wanted to bookmark almost all of them.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, so I can’t properly thank the person who told me about it.  I figured, instead, that I’d pay it forward by recommending it here.  Don’t miss this book.  It’s not big, it’s not complicated, and it really is worth it.

From the Gospel Today: do we really want to change?

Today at Mass we heard this Gospel passage:

Gospel: Jn 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.'”
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Father’s homily today centered not on the fact that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, but on the fact that He healed someone who didn’t necessarily consider himself ready to be healed.
Do we want to be changed? Certainly it is easier to keep things the same–even if things aren’t great, at least they are familiar. That man in the Gospel who was ill for 38 years and then healed would now have to find a way to earn a living and find himself food and shelter. In some ways, it might have been easier for him to stay the way he was.
Lent is a time of healing. In my college chapel each Lent, banners were hung with the words: “Be reconciled to God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” (I’m not much of a “banner” person but that reminder has stuck with me even after 22 years.)
Our Lenten actions of sacrifice and prayer are meant to heal us, to bring us closer to God, to change us.
So is giving up Milky Ways and designer coffee really going to help me to change? Will it bring me closer to God? Only if I let it. Only if I let those very small sacrifices remind me that it’s not all about me. It’s about letting go of something in favor of a greater good. It’s about turning that sacrifice into an opportunity for almsgiving (that’s what those little cardboard “rice bowls” are all about). It’s about remembering that giving up a candy bar is really small in comparison to what Christ was willing to give up, and allowing that realization to lead me to a greater generosity of spirit.