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I blog about my Catholic faith, my prayer life, good books and good movies.

Have Strength of Heart

Abigail Benjamin

On Monday, I ran a mile in 17 minutes and 5 seconds. On Wednesday, I ran a mile in 15 seconds and 7 seconds. Those are pathetic times, I know. When I was 18, I used to be able to run 3 miles along my steep West Virginia Hills in under 22 minutes in various Cross-Country Meets.

What makes these new running times so hard won is that I'm now 41. I've had 4 pregnancies in the last 6 years. My last pregnancy left me with 14 weeks of bedrest. 18 months later, I'm blessed with a handsome son with curly red hair. I love my baby boy, but I'm sad about the 20 pounds of pregnancy weight that stubbornly cling to my tummy despite 12 months of nursing.

This was the week that I decided to self-nurture myself with a gym membership. We don't have a lot of money, yet my health is worth a small piece of our grocery budget. This was my third trip to the gym this week. As an unexpected benefit, my teen gets to come along free to my workouts. Our Mother/Daughter fitness routine is mutual encouragement at its best.

I was born before Title IX, The Federal Sex Discrimination Law, went into strong effect into our public schools. It meant that I grew up in a time when girls athletics was chronically underfunded. I grew up before there was girls intramural soccer teams or rock climbing taught in gym class. We did things like crawl up a scratchy rope or do a 45 second "flex arm hang." None of these awkward experiences encouraged me feel strong and confident in my body. 

This is the week that I take my crummy gym memories and change them into something new. 

In 5 weeks, I'm driving to Charleston, West Virginia. I'm taking the West Virginia Bar Exam in July. I want my Law License back and I want to be a lawyer for the first time in my native state. It's time to put some muscle behind my viewpoints on how to better treat our environment. I joined a gym this week because I didn't want to miss the license point cut off because I was too tired to think well during my 12 hour exam. 

I'm finding that the more impossible things that I try to do, in a calm and consistent manner, the better that I start to feel about myself. This year I'm writing a book. This year I'm getting my law license back. This year I'm getting my body back.

I used to think that you had to pick one--I could be smart or pretty or strong. Now I know that true holiness is a blend of all three: beauty, brains and brawn. 

Heal Your Heart from Orlando: Movie Night with "The Imitation Game"

Abigail Benjamin

The Orlando Nightclub Shooting, with 49 dead and 53 wounded, is the largest mass shooting in American History. I went to church on Sunday when the suspected death toll was 20. I came home to find it at 50. No matter the final number, the amount of hatred and bloodshed from this potential terrorist event is hard for me to process emotionally.

I live in two worlds. I'm a Catholic in a 15 year traditional marriage with lots of children and I believe firmly that discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is morally wrong.

It's embarrassing to say that, while my two thoughts are spelled out clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I believe they both find a home in my spiritual father Pope Francis, I often feel uncomfortably alone among my Catholic Friends on Facebook. 

To be clear and charitible, NO ONE I know on Facebook would ever advocate violence against gay Americans. However, there is this rhetoric that shows up on my daily Facebook feed that isn't so awesome. The issue of Transgendered Rights in North Carolina bathrooms has sparked some strongly worded posts. It felt uncomfortable to read them at first. Now, the memory of more than a dozen Facebook posts I read in the past month make me feel scared and upset at the same time. 

The rhetoric of intolerance towards gay Americans isn't soley limited to extremist Muslims. There are a lot of ordinary, church going Americans who post strongly worded essays about gay sexuality on Facebook with surprisingly little insight and compassion.

After Orlando, I made a new promise to myself. There should be a more clear line on social media between those who believe in the gifts of traditional marriage, and those hate gays Americans enough to kill them in night clubs. The line of Catholic rhetoric and ISIS supporters should never be blurry.  If one of my beloved friends start to go off on "Those Transgendered folks are talking over our bathrooms and hurting our women and children," I'm going to speak up. I don't even know what I'm going to say outloud yet. I only know the time for my silence has past.

As Americans, we have got to find a way to talk about hard issues without screaming at each other. Democracy depends upon dialogue. 

The best way I know to increase dialogue, is to go to the movies. This idea seems simple. Yet one of the greatest movies I saw this week was "The Imitation Game" staring Benedict Cumberbatch. This movie about a gay hero who ended WWII early, saving an estimated 14 million lives, by using his mathmatical skills to break the German code machine called "enigma." This movie is a beautiful true story about beating impossible odds. As a historical movie, it also shows the discrimination that homosexual men faced in Britian in the early 20th century. "The Imitation Game" is gorgeous filmmaking with a deep message of hope. As a teacher, I loved how it placed academic skills on par with the bravery of RAF fighters during the London bombing raids. Watch this movie with friends and family. Give yourself lots of time to talk about it afterwards together.

I think it is good for Catholics to watch movies about real life gay heroes. We need to grapple with the innate dignity of human life. We need to move the cultural war into a place of better cooperation, greater moral theology, and deeper philosophy. Our disagreements with the larger American culture might sometimes be strong, but yet our Facebook posts don't have to ever have to be unkind. 

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us. Make us instruments of your peace.

Note: The Imitiation Game (2014) is currently free on Amazon Prime.

Play Your Cello

Abigail Benjamin

In the middle of an ordinary Mass at my regular church I suddenly heard a cello start to play the Gloria. The sound of the rich strings felt overwhelming to me. I haven't heard strings play the regular church singing parts since my college chapel days 20 years ago.

I sing the Gloria every Sunday, and sometimes on Weekdays. I'm usually distracted by helping out one of my kids or thinking about whatever social or personal problem led me to attend Mass at 8 AM.  This time the suprising cello music made me stop and truly sing the Gloria. I focused on every note. In my head, I thought "This is how God hears the Gloria every time." With or without the cello solo. Even when my 1 year old has accidentally smashed my fingers with a 3 inch leather bound hymnal or wipes his muddy sneakers on my church dress. No matter how badly we are collectively singing the Gloria, God hears music to his ears. 

The cello is an awkward instrument to learn how to play. In a world of violins and violas, the cello player has an instrument that doesn't fit on his back on easily on the bus. There's a lot of social pressure to confirm to downsizing his instrument to fit more neatly into the pigeon holes of life. Yet this one cello player had "stick-to-it-ness", or the virtue of perseverance, and I got to hear Beauty for an ordinary Sunday Mass. 

Right now, my life does not make a lot of sense to outsiders. I'm studying for the Bar Exam while being the full time caretaker for 6 kids ages 13 to 1. I feel some pressure to trade down into a less oversized set of ambitions. The surprise cello music in the Gloria reminded me that God is please when we do our ordinary life with an oversized chunk of grace.