The Canossian Spirituality Center, where I’m attending a retreat on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is in Albuquerque’s South Valley, which seems to be an old section of town with few zoning laws, an eclectic mix of people, and roots in farming.

The old Camino Real runs through and is now called Isleta Boulevard, and even now is lined with towering cottonwoods, bait shops, and alfalfa and hay fields. Our rooms have swamp coolers. The air is rich with the smell of freshly-mown hay, and chicken feed, and the good deep manure.

Cocks crow day and night and the other morning I went to the corner of the back field to pray the Office and read “Everything that lives and that breathes, give praise to the Lord,” which at that moment included cawing roosters, swooping ravens, neighing horses, a fly that landed on the page of my breviary, and a couple of shirtless revelers who had apparently been up all night drinking and were strumming guitars from an old sofa they’d set up in the back yard of the house next door.

I have always been drawn to the borders of things and am constantly out in the back field, walking the dirt track that lines the perimeter, and peering through the fence at the neighbors.

The retreat place itself is a little oasis with a rose garden, and fountains, and the rooms are cool and comfortable, especially in the heat of the day.

Brother Joseph Schmidt, who is leading the retreat, is low-key and calming and a huge devotee and student of Thérèse of Lisieux. He believes she is truly the saint of our day, and is going to help re-vivify the Church, and is a “bridge” in that she appeals to the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the right and the left, believers and unbelievers, Catholics, Buddhists, agnostics, and many others.

Her message is nothing other than the Gospel message and it is so simple that we have managed to mostly completely miss it and the message is God is love. We are loved to distraction. God doesn’t need our great deeds, he needs our love. And the love of God, and therefore of Christ–this is key–is ENTIRELY DEVOID OF VIOLENCE.

A lot of what we’ve talked about so far is the violence we do ourselves. One, with our incessantly negative thoughts about ourselves: how we tell ourselves we don’t measure up and are not enough and don’t know how to love; two, the way we do violence to ourselves and others by in one way or another compromising our integrity and manipulating in an effort to get love; and three, by judging, and shutting out, and showing less than love to others.

We really can’t love anybody else  better or more or more tenderly and healthily and unreservedly and in a non-possessive way than we can love ourselves.


  1. I like your post but I think I should tell you those are Cottonwood Trees, not Live Oaks.

  2. I'm sure you're right about the one on the right but isn't the one on the left a different kind of tree? Maybe I'm just stuck on the live oaks all over California…anyway, thanks and I changed the caption…

  3. I think the one on the right is an elm but the big old gnarly one on the left looks like a cottonwood. I'm just a tree nut. I like trees.
    I also like spiritual writings such as yours. God bless.

  4. I defer to the tree experts! This stuff IS important!…

  5. okay I went out there and looked and sure enough, they are both cottonwoods. With the heart-shaped leaves. Thanks, guys!

  6. Deeply moving post.

    My friend, Scott, who is battling terminal cancer, will receive later today (God willing) the sacraments of initiation (sans baptism, which he received as a Presbyterian) and become Catholic. Our parish priest is expediting the process — obviously Scott cannot go through the RCIA program. Please pray that Scott is lucid and fully alert as he receives the sacraments and instruction in the Faith.


  7. Outstanding post, Heather.
    Loved 1 and 2.
    So familiar sounding.

    I could be a poster child somedays
    for I am not good enough, smart enough etc.
    ( I won't comment on the trees.)
    Not knowledgeable.

  8. Heather, thank you for this post! Your image of walking in the circle with your mother and children is so beautiful, so paradoxical, so full of mercy.

    I also love this line:
    "Because we really can't love anybody else any better or more or more tenderly and healthily and unreservedly and in a non-possessive way than we can love ourselves."

    It reminds me of something Mary Joyce wrote in that chapter I emailed you (did you get it?): "How true it is that the kingdom of heaven is within me! How can I say that I love God whom I do not see, when I do not love my neighbor whom I do see? But how can I love my neighbor, or even God, who I am not, if I do not love myself, who I am?"

  9. Heather, thank you for your sharing all of your reflections with us. This one is especially moving to me. Your insights about childhood and its affects on us are so true. Now if I can try to do as little damage to my own child as possible…

    I look forward to reading your new book when it comes out! I've got Redeemed and really liked it.