Hold On

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As I move closer to summer’s close and autumn’s arrival, I encounter the bittersweet feelings that permeate transitions in me. My desire for belonging and my longing for the comfort of the familiar stir a kind of restlessness in me. Sure, I know that summer moves into fall and I have lived it (thanks be to God) many times. Yet, I also know that what lies ahead is unknown. I can of course buoy myself with the proof that I’ve transitioned before, and still, I must authentically enter each new transition as what it is – new and unknown – unlike what has come before by its very uniqueness.

And so, I open to receive the unknown gifts and edges of what lies ahead in my life and I hold on to the notion that I am sustained inwardly as I do. I hold on to the infilling source – Love – as my touchstone and my hope. Another way of saying this is that I have faith and hope that in my brokenness, the sacrament of Love will make me whole as it connects me to the infinite source. Rumi speaks of ‘broken open lowliness’ I look inside at the humility. That broken-open lowliness is the Reality.

The truth is that I am human, I am flawed and in both I am most deeply connected to others and our mutual existence. And so, as I live forward into the unknown, I choose Love as my path. I hold on that I may allow Love to act in me, with me and through me every day more fully. This becomes a trust and a sense of patience that things undoubtedly will unfold in ways I was not counting on and still, all will be well and I am sustained as I hold on.

The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. Bell Hooks
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Abundant Joy

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July is a month of wonderful celebrations in my life. I mark my birthday and my wedding anniversary in July. Both occasions have now passed and the riches they deposit in me flow forward. These are both moments for me where I am enveloped in the experience of the whole of my life – husband, children, grandchildren and siblings. I am surrounded in love and appreciation. In the face of these truly amazing gifts, this fullness of heart, I feel overwhelmed – almost afraid of the deep joy I experience. And so it is that I enter anew a paradox of my life. By paradox, I mean the mystery of having and holding joy in the midst of a world of suffering and strife. I live a regular life wherein I encounter frustrations, disappointments, stress and unhappiness. Sometimes, these belong to me, sometimes they involve those I love – a teenage daughter, a husband with a stressful job, a son raising his family, etc.. Sometimes, these belong to those I encounter as a chaplain or spiritual director. So, I am no stranger to holding and witnessing suffering and sorrow, my own and others’.

Wisdom helps me know in my heart that it is in fact the fruit of my own contemplative and spiritual practices that sustain me and connect me deeply to a sense of belonging that holds me always. I am led to a place of faith, hope and love in this subtle daily way of being in the world. Faith that opens me; hope that allows me to await with patience; and love as the source that richly infills me.

My ‘self’ wrestles to surrender to these deepest truths attracting me to cling and to fear the ‘whole of it’. Ironically, as I loosen my ego’s grasp of things and empty myself, I feel more whole. Time and experience illustrate over and over again that all is well and all will be well as I ground myself in the source of all be-ing. Trust in G*d with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5

And so today, I sit on my porch and savor the beauty of the summer day that unfolds around me as I write. I light my morning prayer candle in gratitude as I do everyday – happy or unhappy days. And I wait in joy now as I wait in suffering then to be drawn forward as I am meant to be. In the meantime, like a herald, I give witness to the amazing things that the creator has done in me, through me and with me. And I endeavor to allow joy to break my heart wide open just as I endeavor to let sorrow break my heart wide open. This is the continuing paradox – that these two realities co-exist and co-mingle within me.

In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.  Thurman

 

Gratitude

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Each morning when I wake up, before I get up, read scripture or drink coffee, I begin the new day by lighting a candle in the name of the Creator who is life; the Savior who loves life; and the Holy Spirit who is the fire of life in gratitude for the gift of the day. This has been my daily ritual for five years now as I have entered my spiritual journey more fully and opened myself to G*d’s presence in me, through me and around me.

Just this past week, I crossed another life threshold I graduated from my Spiritual Direction Training program after two years of study and practicum under supervision. Like so many huge moments, it arrived before I knew it and it passed quickly. Tempus fugit! I noticed the subtle shift in my experience at this threshold. While I deeply experienced processing and recessing with my peers in the program, the beauty of the mass, the music, the graduation ceremony, I did not cling to it – I entered into it fully for the moment and then, let it go. I notice that there is something about being fully present to the moment – the now of life- that graces letting go and living forward. There is a new depth to the here and now which seems to lessen the desire to hold onto what was or worry about what will be.

In gratitude and through an amazing gift of grace, I bring myself to all of my experiences. I see spirit working through me and dimly begin to perceive that it is G*d’s love for me, and not my love, that is the measure of love.  This guides me to the belief that G*d’s love is uniquely and distinctly personal – not love in some general diffuse way. Every single life is loved in a unique, personal, and distinct way. This is a living G*d who is always ahead of me, always surprising, always calling me to come ahead. G*d reaches me, through my experience—Spirit. I live the Spirit as always present in my human interactions, in the nature that surrounds me, in the depths of my own soul, at the end of my reaching out in love. It is this Spirit that enters me through my own brokenness to make me whole and empowers me and allows me to be a healing presence. How could I be anything less than wholly/holy-grateful?

         Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

 

Noticing

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Last evening the contemplative circle that I convene gathered. We are a small group and enjoy a lovely intimacy and immanence in our time together. It just so happens that yesterday – June 1st – was my deceased nana’s birthday and as it turns out, the feast day of St. Justin – my son’s namesake. I held the symmetry of these things inwardly as I lived the day. I shared my sense of the day as it began via text with my son and I offered blessings to my nana. Her heart held memory and companionship allowed me to surrender to the infinite nature of our deepest belonging. This connects me to an inward pulse and tender live spot to ‘plug into’ as I trust in my authentic identity and the unique connection divine life holds in all things.

And so it is that I notice how this trifold of the infinite, immanent and intimate in my experience effect and affect my presence. Through these spiritual thresholds I emerge a more skilled, supple be-ing ~ offering, knowing, loving, and serving in my encounters. In this movement there is flow – a flow that expands and sustains a fecund sense of being awake to the source of all being. In noticing, I appreciate the subtle and not so subtle transitions that unfold in me and around me all of the time. By some divine grace, I am less anxious about transition and notice a steadier trust that all will be well.

In surrendering to what is, I ready myself for what may come and I die to that part of me that clings. Noticing my nana’s presence inspires me to appreciate anew all that is eternal in me. Contemplating with other souls connects me to immanence and intimacy; and I notice innate Goodness, Love victorious, and the everlasting life of Spirit. Perhaps this is the transition to heart centered knowing or a more authentic understanding of my place in the unity of all that is….or just my own ego sensing that I am heading into a new transition.

Soul’s Gift

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«Our soul cannot live without love, it always wants to love something, for our soul is made of love, as I made it because of love» (Saint Catherine of Siena)

There is a sweetly luminous space in my own heart that I do not see. Even when I am deeply self aware of my gifts and edges, my motivations and desires, much of my-‘self’ is hidden from my consciousness. Perhaps it is for the best that I am somewhat obscure to my- ‘self’. Maybe those around me, maybe especially, those who love me, see this luminous space within me better than I do.

In this way, to be loved is to be seen and understood in ways that are surprising to me – gifts of the soul. I always tease my husband that this explains why he is with me! He sees things in me that I do not – indeed, I often say, “I am glad that you say that – I don’t see it”. As a wife, mom, sister and friend I can never fully know the significance of my presence in the lives of those I touch. I am sure that this too is a gift – a gift of mystery.

I think there is a beautiful, humbling and quiet grace in this notion that others see my light in ways unfamiliar to me. And it invites me to trust that it is the light of my secret heart that draws me toward a deep belonging to those who love me. It is there, within my secret heart that the spirit of love and friendship gently glows. Love, as the deepest part of my soul’s connection to all that is, graces me with embers that catch and reflect light like prisms for others’ love to see.

The Purpose Of My Prayer

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We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of the Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of G*d’s compassionate love for others. Clare of Assisi
In my work as a chaplain and spiritual companion, I often gather myself in a small prayer as I prepare to visit with someone. At these times, my prayer is typically the same, I pray for the eyes with which to see who is before me, the ears with which to listen to who is speaking to me, and the openness of heart to offer my full and loving presence to her/him in our moment together. In a way, my prayer is often a heartfelt request for ‘right presence’ in be-ing with another. Clare of Assisi lived this way and engaged with St. Francis, the women who joined her, and the world of her day in this way. Following her heart’s prayer, she founded the first order of women who lived by their own rule – the Franciscan rule. And, in that way Clare quietly, steadfastly and strongly followed Love and through Love breathed witness and presence into the Franciscan ideal, infusing it with a life and vitality that is integral to its animus, even today. Her purpose and her prayer united her in her life story – her life became a gospel narrative.
In chaplaincy, we speak of human beings as books we are to read– as our curriculum; each person we encounter holds a piece – their unique piece – of a larger spiritual landscape. There is a reverence in this – a sacred quality to meeting others in this way- that generates holiness as moments become sacraments, and our encounters become sacramental.
So, the purpose of my prayer is to open my heart and soul to the work of the Spirit and allow Spirit to lead me from my knees or my contemplative pillow, into the world where I attend to others. My prayer becomes my life as I recognize more deeply what I truly need from prayer en lieu of bringing what I truly want to prayer. In essence, I surrender my ego and open myself to a vast landscape of authentic belonging.
As I begin each day, I light a candle offering my gratitude and the gifts of the day to the Spirit of Infinity, Immanence, and Intimacy – the love that creates, liberates and makes whole. It is my heart’s deepest desire that these are made real through the communion and mutuality offered and received in my experience with others. May the fullness of life in me here and now draw me forward to live anew and offer this divine presence each day ~ May it be so!

 

The Beauty Of Sacred Dancers

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Last weekend, my husband and I attended a sacred dance gathering with a small group of people and a celebrated Celtic teacher of sacred dance. I have had the opportunity through my spiritual direction training to practice sacred dance in different sized groups.  For my husband, this was a first experience. If I am honest, it was challenging for me to surrender to the movement of the dance when I first tried it. Now, I am able to freely give myself to the rhythm of the dance and connect with the kinship present in moving in this sacred way with others.

For my husband, this first experience was most positive and his reluctance melted away with each new dance. I am greatly admiring of his willingness to risk as a participant in the gathering. There were, of course, a handful of other men participating too. Nonetheless, my husband opened himself in a new way and it was lovely to behold.

As we reflected on our mutual experience, we recognized an almost primordial sense of kinship present in the dance that was at once healing and energizing. It was a real gift to engage in what felt like a celebration of belonging. And now, we are not just husband and wife – we are two dancers –  and as we dance we become the beauty of the sacred dance

What follows is a wonderful reflection on the ever present  invitation to enter life as a sacred dancer – to join the sacred dance.

Prelude to The Dance   by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

What if it truly doesn’t matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?
 How would this change what you choose to do with your life?
What if you could be more present and openhearted with each person you met if you were working as a cashier in a corner store, or as a parking lot attendant, than you could if you were doing a job you think is more important?
How would this change how you spend your precious time on this earth?
What if your contribution to the world and the fulfillment of your own happiness is not dependent upon discovering a better method of prayer or technique of meditation, not dependent upon reading the right book or attending the right seminar, but upon really seeing and deeply appreciating yourself and the world as they are right now?
How would this affect your search for spiritual development?
What if there is no need to change, no need to try to transform yourself into someone who is more compassionate, more present, more loving or wise?
How would this affect all the places in your life where you are endlessly trying to be better?
What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature — gentle, compassionate, and capable of living fully and passionately present?
How would this affect how you feel when you wake up in the morning?
What if who you essentially are right now is all that you are ever going to be?
How would this affect how you feel about your future?
What if the essence of who you are and always have been is enough?
How would this affect how you see and feel about your past?
What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?
How would this change what you think you have to learn?
What if becoming who and what we truly are happens not through striving and trying but by recognizing and receiving the people and places and practices that offer us the warmth of encouragement we need to unfold?
How would this shape the choices you make about how to spend today?
What if you knew that the impulse to move in a way that creates beauty in the world will arise from deep within and guide you every time you simply pay attention and wait?
How would this shape your stillness, your movement, your willingness to follow this impulse, to just let go and dance?