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Get a Vowel

Get a Vowel

MirrorOfHikerClimberWithClimbingEquipmentHangingFromRocksYou are climbing a mountain, working hard, pushing yourself to fight the fight and finish the race. There are times to relax and let go of a struggle for a while, but there are times to persevere. Right now, you know you have got to keep going in the face of opposition, keep trying in the face of failure, keep hoping in the face of despair.

But you can’t. You’re up against something that might seem unimposing to others, yet is an obstacle that seems insurmountable to you. What do you do?

Get a vowel! A vowel is actually ‘shaped breath’ between consonants that stop sound. They are easy to remember (a, e, i, o, u), so I use them to breathe five helpful words into my soul when I feel up against something I can’t overcome. I’ll tell you what my vowels mean to me, then give three examples of situations in which this exercise was helpful to me.

A – Altitude

I need to rise above the current situation in order to see it more wholly, or in a fuller context.

Lord, help me rise up over this and see what else is real besides this obstacle!

Queen Mary, help me to have your poise and equanimity in the midst of this stress.

E – Edify

The Body of Christ is edified, or built up, by little people and their little victories. If I win, here, I may help others endure when they are overburdened.

Lord, help me persevere, that I might strengthen your Body.

Mother Mary, I give you the small merits of this work for the building up of the Church.

I – Invitation to Freedom

I can do all things through Christ, but I may stop this work, this discipline, this forward movement, this struggle – or continue in freedom.

Lord, help me find the interior freedom to do this or stop this without violating myself or others.

Mother of God, help me to offer Christ my assent in true freedom.

O – Open

I need all the help I can get, and I consciously open to it.

Lord, I beg for your help. Please open my soul to receive it.

Blessed Mary, I ask for a share in your perfect receptivity to the Holy Spirit.

U – Untie

I cannot move forward if there are knots tied in my body or my soul, preventing free movement, deep breathing, trust, and surrender to God.

Lord, please release every tension in me that is not constructive, or that fights against your will.

Mary, Untier of Knots, pray for me!

Three Examples

1. I Cannot Forgive

GirlFrownStareA – I rise, and see this offense against me made small in light of the long years of relationship we have ahead.
E – I may not want to forgive, but I do not want to tear down even this small part of the Body of Christ.
I – I am truly free to say, “I may stop trying hard to do this. I may rest, and try again later.”
O – I am open to your action, Lord, and believe that you work in me to will and to do as you desire. I can’t force forgiveness to come, but I am open to it, and willing.
U – Mary, I’m clutching at ‘getting an apology’. Please help me untie the knot of that demand, and let go of it. Please untie the knot of bitterness and resentment that keeps this wound open.

2. Writing a Book

AugustMullerTagebucheintragJournalNotebookDiaryThoughtsMeditationA – Up, up, up – to see how ridiculous it is to be so frustrated by my technological incompetence. If I can’t learn to use this computer, it will have to happen some other way. From above, I realize my deadline is self-imposed.
E – But I do so want to have finished it, to offer it, to build up the Body of Christ. Lord, let that be my motivation, but not something I demand and grasp at.
I – I may stop, if I want to. I am not a slave, even to a good cause. Yet, if I will go on in freedom, I know I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
O – I need help! Holy Spirit, pray for me. St. Francis de Sales, pray for me. Guardian Angel, pray for me. (And, could one of you get this computer to give me back the book it just destroyed??)
U – Lord, help me with the tensions I feel. Untie the knots in my neck and shoulders. Help me release the demand that this get done today. Release the knot of insecurity about money, and the knot of longing for approbation, and untie the knot of trying to earn your affection by performing well on this project.

3. On the Treadmill

TreadmillsAtGymA – I can’t go the full twenty minutes! Help me rise up, to see the top of this mountain I’m climbing. Perspective. Up, up. Lift me Lord!
E – I really want to be a good example for my children. Help me, Lord, with this self-discipline, for their sake.
I – I may stop, if I need to. Just because St. Paul buffeted his body doesn’t mean I have to. Even ten minutes is better than nothing. I may stop at 12 – let’s just see how I feel. I may stop at 16 – we’ll see. I may stop at 18, and that will be okay.
O – Open my lungs, Lord. I need air. Help me just keep breathing please!
U – Untie the knots in my legs please, Lord. Help me to do this with good posture, with ease. Help me to find a way to relax and not add tension to each step. Mary, please untie all the “you aren’t beautiful” knots, and the “you’re going to fail again” knots and the knot of condemnation that makes me feel ashamed and punished for being out of shape.

Well, I hope you see why I often ‘get a vowel’ to help me through my struggles. Altitude, Edify, Invitation to Freedom, Open, Untie. I hope you’ll find your own way of breathing new life and freedom and healing and strength right into whatever struggles you face.


Art: Mirror of Hiker Climber with Climbing Equipment Hanging from Rocks, Peeples Gary, undated, PD-Worldwide; Girl Frown Stare, Stephen Depolo, 13 May 2010, CCA; Liebesglück – der Tagebucheintrag (Happiness–the Diary Entry), August Müller, by 1885, PD-US copyright expired; Treadmills at gym, U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sargeant Araceli Aracon, PD; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Charlotte Ostermann

Charlotte is a Catholic convert, home educator, freelance writer and editor, poet and spiritual mentor with the Apostles of the Interior Life. She's the author of Souls at Rest: An Exploration of the Eucharistic Sabbath, Souls at Work: An Invitation to Freedom, Catholics Communicate Christ: How to Serve the Church as a Writer and Making Sunday Special. She has earned the Maryvale Institute "Certificate in Art, Beauty, and Inspiration“ an approach to the arts rooted in the Catholic Catechism. Her feature articles and poems have been published in Envoy, Canticle, Hereditas, Thessauri Ecclesiae, Mater et Magistra, St. Austin Review, and Gilbert magazines. Charlotte lives with her husband, Russ, and five of their eight children on a "farm wannabe" north of Lawrence, Kansas. She sings in the Sursum Corda Polyphony Ensemble and at her home church, the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. She's a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, the Catholic Creatives Salon and the Contemporary Religious Artists Association. Charlotte has spoken for home educators, women's retreats, moms groups, C.S. Lewis Conferences, and more. Her topics include poetic learning, aesthetic education, true beauty, creativity and faith, the art of dialogue, holy leisure, literature and life, interior freedom. Do you need a speaker? See for more information.

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  • Candace Greco

    Thanks for the both uplifting and practical advice. Your ‘vowels’ are beautiful means to develop the healthy detachment and holy indifference, embodied in our Mother Mary, that encourages ‘Christ to increase and me to decrease’.

  • Mary L

    Thank you for a practical and helpful tool. I also appreciated the clarity and honesty In your examples. That makes it authentic and do-able for the rest of us.

  • Patricia

    It is insightful to see how our own thoughts, expectations, and attitudes can impede our spiritual growth by imposing false conditions on our actions. To realize that we have the freedom to chose a higher perspective, to stop and rest, to say not right now, but I will try again later, to realize we need and to ask for divine assistance, to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit are all excellent and effective techniques to be recollected throughout each moment and in every circumstance! What a great interplay between humility and uplifting our soul to God in every situation because we can’t do it on our own and so we are being open to the results He creates if we let Him. Humanity becomes the Living Body of Christ in an everyday and very real way. Sometimes it is hard to breathe when we are climbing that mountain! Thanks for the fresh air!

  • LivingCatholic

    Charlotte, I love the creativity of this approach. It came to my inbox on a day that my husband and I have been presented with a considerable financial challenge and decisions to be made. We will be choosing many vowels over the next months!

  • Barb Schoeneberger

    Charlotte, this is so cool. It’s easy to remember and to practice. I like the way you address both the body and the spirit. Too often we forget that our bodies are just as important as our souls in overcoming obstacles. God made us that way.

  • littleeif

    Charlotte, thank you so much. At this moment in my life, this exact moment … I thought you were talking to me. I needed this. I’ll work it for a while.

  • Nancy Ward

    Charlotte, Love this!

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