Sunday, October 26, 2014


Saint Therese of Lisieux, 
in her sick bed

No one enjoys being sick, including me, but I find that a protracted illness gives me more-than-usual downtime in which to examine my life, count my blessings, and make some resolutions about possible changes to my lifestyle.

Currently, I have this wretched virus which, thanks to my asthma, is clinging to me like a baby monkey on its mum's back.  Illness, when it is particularly bad, makes me contemplate my impending death.  By "impending," I mean that we are all going to die in the relatively near future.  When it is relatively mild, such as the current malaise, I tend to review my eating and exercise habits with a view toward improving them and boosting my immune system.

First, however, I experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  Thanks be to be God, I live in a relatively secure apartment, and if I am rendered weak as  baby for a few days, no one is going to invade the place, dispose of me and then take up residence, as may happen in some primitive cultures.  I have clean, pure water that comes out of the taps and I don't have to trudge down to the local river and carry it home on my head, as is still done in many places.

Toilet tissue, facial tissues, saline water in a bottle, a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, a refrigerator/freezer containing a supply of foodstuffs, vitamins, over-the-counter and prescription medications, a comfortable, clean bed, and a host of other benefits of civilization are at hand.

When it is all over, I have a washer/dryer, a mop, some disinfectant, and other cleaning items I can use to chase the germs out of the house so that I don't reinfect myself or, God forbid, get someone else sick because they touched a germy doorknob.

Getting sick is a good opportunity to take a step back and acknowledge the overall situation, in a global context.  If I lived in a village in Africa, I could easily be dead by now.  This is a tremendous reason to be grateful to God that he chose to have me born here in the United States with all its lifestyle benefits.  Granted, we have some problems now, but the overall situation is pretty good, in comparison to other countries.

After running through my list of things for which I am grateful, the next thing I feel is a tremendous compassion for those people in the world who struggle with survival in ways that I probably never will.  Then I pray for them.

God bless you all.

Silver Rose Parnell

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Saint Joseph of Cupertino, rising during prayer

Recently, a good friend has betrayed me, lied, and gossiped about me.  An acquaintance I had been helping became so abusive, my PTSD couldn't handle it, and I had to back away from her.  A neighbor screamed at me and called me vulgar names when I asked him to move his car from in front of my garage so I could go shopping.  I am still grieving from the loss of my dog, and now I have a fine virus which has inflamed my throat to the point that I can barely speak.  It all seems a bit much, and, oddly, most of it has happened after I finally was able to get my son's ashes interred in a holy space.  I had been very happy about that when I was deluged with evil.  How do I come to grips with this melange?

When I am overwhelmed with life's traumas, especially when they come in multiples, I have to carefully dissect my self-talk and discard what the PTSD would say in favor of what my Catholic faith says.

The PTSD would say, "I'm at war!  The world is out to get me!  I am not safe! Everything is dangerous!  I shouldn't leave the house or someone will get me!"

Fortunately, although the PTSD has a very loud and strident voice, urging me to flee or to fight,  I have a Catholic perspective that has been gradually taking over.

What I tell myself are varying versions of the following ideas, depending on the circumstance:

  1. God allows evil to exist in the world because we have free will.  Some people choose evil and abuse others with it.  I just happened to get in the way.  Pray for my persecutors.  They need it.
  2. Satan hates Christians and sends his demons out to torment them, as any good saint will say.
  3. In the case of the interment of my son's ashes in a holy place, Satan is infuriated because my son had given voice to the idea that he did not believe in God, and Satan was sure that he would have him in hell.  With the bodily remains in a holy space and with me praying for him in reparation for his sins, Satan may not get his wish.
  4. For some of us, life is very difficult, but it is also temporary.  Heaven, however, is permanent and eternal, and I look forward to it.
  5. In one sense, I AM at war, but it is a holy war that has been going on for a very long time.  It is the war between good and evil and, although it is distressing in a temporal sense, I have to remember the big picture.  Jesus did not promise us sunshine and daisies.  He told us we would suffer for his name.
  6. I am not alone.  Many saints suffered from depression, PTSD, and all manner of illnesses, physical and mental.
  7. Traumas are a good incentive to pray, and are therefore a blessing.
Some of the saints literally rose above the traumas of the world during prayer.  Saint Joseph of Cupertino is well known for this.  Lesser known is one of my favorites, Blessed Margaret of Castello, whose personal condition and tragedies are far worse than I could ever imagine mine to be, yet she still dedicated herself to God by worshiping Him through the care of the poor and the sick.

By allowing this levitation during prayer to occur in view of others, I believe God was giving us stark visual instruction.  Prayer elevates the mind above the world.

Don't get me wrong.  I still avail myself of modern medicine and therapies to keep the PTSD in its cage, but good self-talk with a Christian slant is a crucial piece of my treatment, and I wanted to share it with you because, whether or not you have PTSD or you're just having a crappy week, it might be helpful.

God bless you all.

Silver Rose Parnell

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Saint Marina, whacking one of 
Satan's demons

I LOVE the icon that I have featured on this blog post.  It is an excellent inspiration to remember to defend myself against the demons that Satan sends out to torment the holy.  Every Christian who struggles to reach perfection in spiritual life is, to one degree or another, a holy person.  Every moment in which our minds are immersed in the Divine, is a moment of holiness, and the more holy moments we can string together, the more it infuriates Satan.

1Peter 4:12-16
(New International Version)
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has
come on you to test you, as though something strange were 
happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate 
in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed 
when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of 
the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory 
and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as 
a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even 
as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not 
be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."

Satan will tempt a deranged neighbor to harass us.  He will lead an acquaintance to lure us into unholy pursuits.  He will send demons to visit our dreams and tear down our confidence in the Lord.  He will do anything to weaken our devotion.

Satan does not have to prompt people who are devoted to sinful habits because they are already his minions on earth.  If a person devoted to sin learns that we are Christian, they will persecute us because our quest for holiness insults them.  They are taking a road that leads in the opposite direction, and they wish to justify their journey by taking as many people along with them as they can.

When we examine the lives of the saints, it becomes obvious that there is no earthly reward for being holy.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  Most saints had terrible sufferings.  Asking God to make us saints carries with it a great deal of suffering.  He is all too familiar with suffering, if you will remember, and we have to learn to link our sufferings with His.

Yes, we are all sinners.  I am not saying that all Christians are holy, but I am saying that we aspire to holiness.  We have our eyes on the Lord and we are straining toward him.  Our mind is inclined toward His point of view, His values, and His teachings.  Every step toward the Lord is a slap in the face to Satan.

The last few weeks have been a suffering to me.  Nearly everything has gone wrong, with one notable exception, and I am slogging through persecutions.  Persecutions and sufferings are a distraction from my primary mission, which is to pray for the world and to spend time with the Lord in contemplation. Sometimes it is a struggle to tear myself away from thoughts of the persecutions to thoughts of our wonderful Lord.  I have to force myself to let go of the distractions and tune into the presence of God.  Having PTSD makes it that much harder.

Reminding myself that Satan attacks the holy is somehow very calming, however.  Things are going wrong, therefore everything is right in my life!  It is an odd contradiction, but I know it is true.  If everything was comfortable, all my needs were easily met, and no one was screaming and yelling at me, gossiping about me and working against me, I would suspect that something was wrong with my spiritual life.

I just thought I would put this note of encouragement "out there" for all my contemplative friends whose lives sometimes look more like a demented circus than a spiritual wonderland.  You're doing alright.

God bless you all.

Silver Rose Parnell

Saturday, October 4, 2014


"Ghost Tree"
Silver Parnell, 1995

A good percentage of my fellow contemplatives are also sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)  While they may have had an interest in contemplative practice prior to the traumatic event that caused their PTSD, the quiet regularity and peace-inducing meditation, rituals and contemplative prayer are soothing to a person whose adrenal system has been sent into overdrive due to the witnessing or experiencing of a traumatic, violent event.

I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to embrace their PTSD as their peculiar port of entry into the beauty of contemplative life.  The Lord brings all things to the good for those that believe.  Because I have become disabled due to severe arthritis and some PTSD, I have the wonderful opportunity to spend my days in peace and blessedness, prayer and contemplation.  In this way, PTSD is a type of blessing.

 I used to hide my illness, mostly because I didn't know what it was and I was afraid of the stigma. After more than 7 years of continuous counseling and 10 years of medication, I have come to understand that it is not my fault.  In fact, PTSD is the only mental illness that is caused by OUTSIDE circumstances, rather than arising from within the person themselves.

Most people I meet do not understand PTSD.   When I mention that I have it, their first question is usually, "were you in the miliary?  You do not need to be part of a branch of the military in order to suffer from this illness.  Plenty of women experience more violence and torture than most military men will ever see.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs:

"Although most people who go through trauma will not get PTSD, you are more likely to develop PTSD if you:

(1)  Were directly exposed to the trauma as a victim or a witness
(2)  Were seriously hurt during the event
(3)  Went through a trauma that was long-lasting or very severe
(4)  Believed that you were in danger
(5)  Believed that a family member was in danger
(6)  Had a severe reaction during the event, such as crying, shaking, vomiting, or feeling apart from your surroundings
(7)  Felt helpless during the trauma and were not able to help yourself or a loved one
Women who have experienced severe domestic abuse or some other kind of attack often experience most, if not all of these circumstances. I know a woman with PTSD who had been held captive for 4 days, beaten with fists and the butt of a gun, beaten while being violently raped, verbally demeaned during the 4-day attack, tortured by continually being "choked out," brought back to consciousness, and then chocked into unconsciousness again, and threatened with a loaded gun in the face. She was unable to escape because her abuser had disabled her car in preparation for his attack. The fear, terror and physical and mental pain is obvious. But it can be hard to communicate the depth of the humiliation it causes when a person has to beg for her life from a violent drunken sociopath.

Once a person has PTSD, it is as if their system is permanently set on high. Continued anxiety has to be dealt with.   Hypervigilance is common, as is sensitivity to noise.  Crowds can be a difficult challenge for some.  Each person will have their own set of symptoms, according to the unique triggers of their case.  Managing those symptoms can be a challenge for the sufferer.

If you know someone with PTSD, don't try to have them tell you what caused their illness.  Repeating the story will likely heighten anxiety.  Just understand that they have been through at least one really horrendous thing in their life, and maybe more and that they need kindness and gentleness.  If they have some idiosyncrasies you do not understand, just accept them.  You are not able to cure them. Doctors cannot "cure" them.  This illness can only be managed.

If you are one of my home-bound contemplatives, and you have PTSD, I would just caution you to avoid stressing yourself with too many religious practices or a schedule that it is too rigid, unless that schedule soothes rather than stresses you.  That would be uncommon, however.  Most of us do well with a simplified schedule and prayer routine.  Don't punish yourself with too many forms of penance or acetic routines.  You've had enough suffering for one lifetime.

If you ever start to feel that your illness has rendered you in some way "useless," don't believe it! The world needs your compassionate prayers.  Even if you are having a high-anxiety day and all you can do is pace, recite the Jesus prayer to yourself, aloud or mentally.  Dedicate your pacing to your favorite intercessory prayer topic.  You can pray while you walk.  Pray while you have a soothing cup of tea.  Just pray, in whatever manner you are able to pray, within the limits of your PTSD.

Lord, Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Have mercy upon me
a poor sinner

While contemplative life has a lot to offer us, we also have a LOT to offer to it because we are likely more compassionate than the average person, due to the great suffering we have endured.  That compassion is a great blessing to the world.  Spread it around and, while you're at it, please pray for me as I will pray for you.

Silver Rose Parnell

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Saint Therese as a novice
in the courtyard of the convent

I really love the above picture of Saint Therese because it echoes her philosophy of "the little way."  We see her here as a novice, alone under the cross.  She is dwarfed by the surroundings, hidden by her cloak that seems massive for her frame, her face appearing quite small underneath the billowy white veil.  The courtyard appears to me to be a little forlorn and unkempt, without much in the way of greenery to soften the view.  She clings to the cross with one arm slung around it.  You can just see her little hand coming around from the back.

"I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way
-very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new.
We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not
trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead.  Well, I
mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto
God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfec-
tion.  [....]  Thine arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which
must raise me up even unto Heaven.  to get there, I need
not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little.  I must
become still less."

Many of us have wanted to do something big and grand for God.  I really wanted to join a Catholic convent, but learned that because of divorce and disability I was not suited.  Then, I dreamed of starting a Christian "ashram" of sorts, with a special place for the disabled and elderly contemplatives.  I am poor, sick and old.  That big dream will not come true.  Like Therese of Lisieux, I am learning to embrace my disabilities and my smallness.  Inconsequentiality is a wonderful freedom.  If I am of no account, then people will not be knocking on my door at all hours, wanting things from me.  The phone rarely rings.  There are no parties, no dinners in restaurants, no travel, and few visitors.  Big dreams require big work and big money, neither of which I possess.

Consequently, I am free to spend time with God, free to pray unceasingly and to practice the continual presence of God.  Because of my disabilities, I am unable to keep a monastic schedule at home, so I am free from the stress of trying to maintain that schedule.

Instead of being unhappy about being unable to do the big things, I am grateful for the boundaries that have been thrust upon me.  I am grateful for my enforced smallness.  Instead of regretting it or fighting it, I am learning to cherish it instead.

I also think about how little time we have left.  We will all die. I turned 60 this year, which seemed a big milestone for me.  Anyway, at the same time that I am coming to grips with my smallness, I am aware of the clock ticking and that, whatever small thing I am able to do for Jesus, I must do it.

Today is the feast day of our little Saint Therese.  I am welcoming the day by meditating on my smallness and praising God for it.

In the meantime, I pray for you as I hope you pray for me.

God bless

Silver Rose Parnell