Monday, April 17, 2017



I was out in the desert at Joshua Tree last week without wifi, but here's how my arts and culture Holy Week piece begins:

Mary Ann O’Connor, 69, is a cradle Catholic and the oldest of seven children.

She was born in Santa Monica, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and trained on-site as a nurse at L.A. County-General — an experience that had “a huge impact.”

She worked bedside for 12 years, served two years in the military during the Vietnam War and then moved into management and hospital leadership. And for the last four years she has traveled to the L.A. Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Skid Row to wash and tend to the feet of the poor.

“You really can’t do something like this without a place like the Catholic Worker,” Mary Ann said. “If you tried to do it anywhere else, you would have formalities related to licensing and liability.

“But you walk into the soup kitchen at Gladys and 6th, the heart of Skid Row, and you are free to do the work, not as an expert, but responsibly, thoughtfully,” she added.

Karan Founds-Benton, the lead person and organizer of the foot care ministry at the Catholic Worker, has been Mary Ann’s teacher and mentor. “Through her, I came to love the work. I owe her so much,” she said.

By and large, people make a commitment to show up by signing up when they come to the kitchen for their Thursday noon meal. The foot washers usually start with a list of about 12 people, and they take walk-ins when they can. They work from 8 a.m. to noon every Friday.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017



Gil Baile, follower of philosopher/theologian Rene Girard, and a philosopher/theologian in his own right, is the author of the stellar and important Violence Unveiled.

His new book is called God's Gamble

An excerpt:

"Was the outcome of Christ's incarnation and death a foregone conclusion, or did something hang in the balance?...Did Jesus's Passion pose any risk for the Triune God and for the created order stamped with a Trinitarian ordination? Having chosen to bring the created order into the Trinitarian communion through the one creature endowed with true and truly consequential freedom, was the outcome of the plan of redemption--foreseen by omniscience though it was--nonetheless truly dramatic? Was there a sense of a divine gamble on the outcome of which both Jesus's Resurrection and the continued existence of the created order itself depended? "Is there not, right from the start, writes [Hans Urs von] Balthasar, "something we might call 'hope' on the part of Father and Spirit, namely, the hope that the Son's mission will succeed?"

Whatever unimaginable degree of divine condescension the Incarnation itself must have entailed, might we not draw closer to the heart of what Balthasar calls the theo-drama by framing Christ's culminating plunge into the realm of sin and death as quite literally the greatest gamble of all time: the "momentary" interruption within the Trinity of the world-sustaining exchange between the Divine Persons. As preposterous as this may sound, no one has captured this possibility better than did Joseph Ratzinger. Commenting on Jesus's death on the Cross, he writes:

When the human instrument comes to fall away, the spiritual action which is founded on it also disappears, temporarily. Thus something more is shattered here than in any ordinary death. There is an interruption of that dialogue which in reality is the axis of the whole world. The cry of agony in Psalm 21, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me," makes us perceive something of the depths of this process.

The Passion of Christ consists of a series of the most important events in history and beyond, but these events are also--and even more importantly--traces of and evidence for an inner-Trinitarian event of literally earth-shaking scope and consequence. For what is at stake is the survival of the created order, imperiled by man's misused gift of freedom and threatening the irreversible disfiguration of creatures divinely destined for participation in the communion of Trinitarian Love. Giorgio Buccellati saw the cosmic peril in Christ's godforsakenness prefigured in Jesus's temptation in the wilderness:

In the tempter's view, the possibility that Jesus might succumb to temptation would have caused a seismic rupture such as to rent asunder (again, in his view) the very core of trinitarian life, hencethe order of being in its integrity. If so, it was by avoiding sin that Jesus saved the whole of reality from ontological collapse.

--Gil Bailie, God's Gamble, Angelico Press, 2016, pp. 218-220.

In my clumsy way, I tried to get at something similar several years ago, in a post called "Waiting Without Anxiety."

Did God himself not know how the events of what we now know as Holy Week would pan out? The more I think about it, the more I think not.

A simple way to say it is that God would never ask Christ and thus us to do something he hadn't done or wasn't doing himself ("If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."). He wouldn't ask us to hold the tension of an anxiety he hadn't himself consented to hold. The whole thing HAD to be a gamble.

Thank you, Gil Bailie, both for the book and for my inscribed copy.


I'm headed out to a cabin in Joshua Tree with no electricity and no running water for the rest of Holy Week! Sardines, crackers, vinegar mixed with gall...let's see if I make it.

Wishing one and all a deep Semana Santa. I'll bring my camera.

Monday, April 10, 2017


My avoidance of PR may have hit a new low. I myself didn't realize that as of April 1, my newest book is out!

I'd love for you to read it.

Here's the press release:

Holy Desperation by Heather King
New Book Offers Spiritual Survival Guide for Desperate Times

Heather King’s new book Holy Desperation: Praying as if Your Life Depends on It (Loyola Press, $13.95 paper back, April 1, 2017) combines mysticism, 12-step wisdom, and a clear-eyed view of human nature into a survival guide for desperate times. “When life has driven you to your knees, this is the prayer book for you,” says King, a recovering alcoholic. “No one knows better than a drunk who’s been struck sober that things happen on a level we can’t see.”

King reclaims prayer for those who feel beyond the reach of God, debunking the myth that we have to shape up before we come to God. Prayer is not about becoming good, it’s about becoming fully human.

A survivor of years of hard living, King’s first prayer of desperation was said on her knees while she was strung out and half-drunk. “I was thirty-four, and it was the first time in my life I had ever sincerely prayed. I had just had what we drunks call a moment of clarity,” King writes. “For me, the moment consisted of the realization that if I didn’t stop drinking, I was going to die.”

Her recovery remains the central fact of her existence, King says. When she joined the Catholic Church twenty years ago,“the paradigm of Crucifixion and Resurrection, the parable of the prodigal son, the merciful God, the conscience-based teachings—all made perfect sense to me.”

King offers ways to pray when you’re uncertain that God exists or when you feel that you’re beyond God’s reach. Practices she has found transformative are Lectio Divina, a slow, rhythmic reading and praying of scripture passages; the Jesus Prayer, a brief, repetitive prayer; and examination of conscience or moral inventory—the basis of Ignatian spirituality, 12-step spirituality, and the Gospels. She also recommends the Divine Office: “If you don’t know about the Divine Office of the Catholic Church, you are missing one of life’s great mysteries and joys: psalms, feasts, solemnities, saints, and holy days; birth, death, resurrection, the whole cyclical pageant of the liturgical and human seasons.”

Prayer leads us beyond ourselves—beyond our own suffering and into a life of purpose, lived for the good of others. As King says in Holy Desperation:

• Prayer can help us wake up “from a narcotic culture that at every every turn numbs without ever really killing our pain.”

• The Gospels are meant to have practical application: “The teachings of Christ apply first, forever and always at the personal level: to our daily interactions with our fellows, to our relationships to money, power, and sex, to our secrets resentments and fears.”

• “Prayer gives us the increasing ability to discriminate between the true and the false, the authentic and the fake, the excellent and the mediocre, the vital and the inert.”

• “The sign of a follower of Christ is not necessarily that we have only healthy relationships and our checkbooks are balanced and our children are going to Ivy League schools. The sign of the follower of Christ is that we get a kick out of life.”

• “Spiritual awakening consists in our ability to rejoice at the awakening of another.”

• “I began to see that I had always loved God and that what I did each morning —sitting quietly watching the light, listening to sparrows, feeling incoherently grateful, letting my mind wander to the mysteries of the universe as prayer—was a form of prayer.”

King eschews the idea that prayer, or mysticism, for that matter, are esoteric matters. “Mysticism is not antithetical to reality. Mysticism underlies reality,” she says. “Prayer means nothing if its fruits can’t be communicated to a person of reasonable intelligence and goodwill in a way that is completely relatable and understandable. What is our prayer for if we’re not able to sit down with another human being, face to face, and say, ‘Tell me your story?’”

HEATHER KING is a Catholic convert with several books, among them Stripped. Parched; Redeemed; Shirt of Flame; Poor Baby; and Stumble: Virtue, Vice and the Space Between. She writes a weekly column on arts and culture for the Angelus magazine of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. King lives in LA, and blogs at

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126



Friday, April 7, 2017



This week's arts and culture column is about a way of teaching religious education that is all about touch, smell, sound, rhythm, contemplative silence, work and beauty: Namely, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a method based on Montessori principles co-founded by Hebrew scholar Sofia Cavalletti.

Here's how the piece begins:

Sofia Cavalletti (1917-2011), co-foundress of the Cathechesis of the Good Shepherd, developed a three-level, nine-year method of religious education for children based on Montessori principles.

A native of Rome and a Hebrew scholar, she had neither the background nor interest in children’s education. But asked by a colleague in 1954 to teach a religion class to young people, Cavalletti read aloud from the book of Genesis. And a 7-year-old named Paolo, wept.

Those tears of joy amazed her. Through a teacher named Gianna Gobbi, Cavalletti learned of the child’s natural capacity for contemplation, love of order and silence and delight in work.

Together they developed a space for combined learning and worship that they called an atrium, and a method — the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) — that has changed very little to this day.

A couple of Saturday mornings ago, I drove to Fillmore, a ranching town outside Santa Paula. Here, Richena Curphey, a librarian at Thomas Aquinas College by day, has established a CGS atrium for the children of St. Francis of Assisi parish.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017



“People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am back from Death Valley.

The trip was not "easy." The trip in many ways was kind of harsh.

My rear "spoiler" (which sounds hot-roddy but I drive a Fiat; the little ledge above my rear window) blew off on the way out. For several miles I kept hearing what sounded like pebbles hitting the underside of my car: I looked in the rear view mirror, saw nothing, kept going. Only upon reaching my hotel the first night did I see it was gone, leaving an unsightly oblong patch rimmed my dried glue on the roof of my beloved vehicle. As car repairs go, I figured this would be several hundred dollars.

Death Valley is huge, isolated, desolate, sparse. There is no cell reception. I saw about three clumps of wildflowers (wildflowers were one of the many reasons I'd come) the entire time.

Badwater, the lowest point in the lower 48 states, consists of miles and miles of open, utterly empty salt flats. My second day I parked there, walked way out, and lay down. Miles of openness and utter quiet and mountains on every side.

I got alone with God, and what I felt so strongly was the anguish of my heart. So much fear. Will the ice run out? What if my car breaks down and I can't even call AAA? What if no-one ever loves me? What if I never learn to love anyone else? What if AT&T doesn't refund my $17.64? What if back home my hollyhock seedlings are wilting? What if I get Alzheimer's? What if God is mad at me for being so weak, so broken, so lukewarm, such a baby, so stubborn?

From Badwater, I went to Zabriskie Point and hiked down into the badlands a bit. Just as I was leaving, a rogue wind blew up.

As the afternoon wore on, what with the dust and sand, visibility was virtually nil: the highway patrol I learned later, had issued a don't-drive advisory. I arrived at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel, former home of one of my heroines: ballerina Marta Becket, just in time to avoid perishing on the road. Marta died this year and I wanted to say a prayer for her soul and ask hers for mine. The wind howled and I do mean howled all night. I tucked up the curtains so I could see the boughs of the trees in back wrenching and twisting.

On my way out the next morning, with 50 miles to the nearest gas station, my "Check tire pressure: low right rear wheel" light came on."

I limped into Shoshone, commandeered a guy to help me fill my tires, and continued down the lonely desert highway of Route 127. Fifteen or so miles shy of the 15, sitting untrammeled on a nice wide shoulder on the opposite side of the road from the direction I'd been travelling, I spotted my oliva verde spoiler,

I wheeled over, nabbed it, once home brought it to a body shop, and the guy simply snapped it back on. No charge!

This frees me up to concentrate on my many dental problems.