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

 

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.

L.O.V.E.

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Let others’ vulnerability emerge

This is my personal reminder as a Spiritual Director and Chaplain about my purpose, my call to ministry as such. It is a touchstone for remembering who and what I am. It also reminds me that to offer implicit and explicit presence, I must be prepared to give up protective habits to expand my capacity to see and hear Spirit in others. I live service of the Divine by opening toward, and drawing lessons from, all that I see, hear, or experience. On occasion, I add an S making it, let others’ vulnerability emerge safely.

At its heart, this work is all about surrendering the small self and connecting to the Divine in everything and everyone. To fortify spiritual resolve and find inspiration in my work I must humbly seek to be grounded in ‘not knowing’. In the end, Spirit often works through me at those moments when I am able to just be and let go of any notion that I am doing something.

I recently offered Reiki to a patient who was actively dying. I had visited him for several months on a weekly basis. I was blessed to be present to his thoughts, his belief, his unbelief as he moved closer to dying. There was great beauty in his vulnerability and much grace in his softening as he died. And there was that moment in being with him and offering him Reiki, where I sensed his spirit’s presence to my own in a divine energy exchange. I experience this as a dance of life that is never more fully present then when life is ending. I honor his journey as incomparable to the journey of the other, and I am blessed to appreciate that the path towards the original source of light extends through every other ray that comes from it.

“She who binds to herself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But she who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

William Blake

 

Desolation

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Holy Saturday is a time of vigil, a time of waiting and a time of deep mourning. In my heart, I accompany the women at the foot of the cross, and Mary Magdalene and he others bereft at the grave. Bereft and desolate, unable to leave the place where Yeshua is laid, unable to let go of the absence of his presence. This human anguish, grief and mystery of unknowing are at the heart of embodied spirituality as we live into the unbearable loss of what was. It is physical encounter with the truly dark and desolate side of being fully alive. In this place between knowing and not knowing, belief and unbelief our souls are tilled for divine renewal.

“And yet, when the holy affirming of redemptive love meets the holy denying of human hatred and fear in the reconciling ground of Jesus’ surrendered heart—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)— there is, indeed a new arising. It begins right there at the foot of the cross, heralded by a new quality of presence already caught by the centurion in his hushed exclamation, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). In the moment of Jesus’ death, the innermost essence of divine love was released into the planet as a palpable force that continues to make its energetic presence directly known. That is the imaginal resurrection, the real and ongoing source of Christianity’s redemptive power.” Bourgeault

It is in this place that we begin to see the meaning of life and see anew that it is in giving life away that we receive it. “The grain of wheat falls to the ground and dying lives onward. “ So the women who wait at the grave feed and nourish my life with their real, incarnate lives of presence, generosity, forgiveness, strength, courage, guidance, and love. Their loving example challenges me and holds me accountable. Likewise, they encourage me by showing me more than what I could see for myself. They call out of me the very best of who I might become. They point me to beauty, both within myself and in others. They enlarge my spiritual life. They are the faithful witnesses of the dark and desolate unknown where the seeds of renewal are sown.

And so I wait in my inner desolate place and ponder how I might – metaphorically speaking -lay down my life. “This laying down might in special circumstances mean dying for others. But it means first of all making our own lives – our sorrows and joys, our despair and hope, our loneliness and experience of intimacy – available to others as sources of new life. One of the greatest gifts we can give others is ourselves. Do not be afraid, I know what you are living and I am living it with you. You are not alone. Thus we become Christ-like shepherds.” Nouwen

Mary Magdalene my wise, loyal and faithful guide, lead me to ever stronger growth
, inner freedom and Love.
 Help me renew my life’s purpose
 of be-ing faithful.
 Accept my openness and my
 trust. Lead me on paths
 that help me grow in heartfulness.
 Companion me in being an incarnation of love. May I do all in the circle of your wisdom 
and learn from your dance of loving presence and compassion
 in every corner of this universe. May I alight today with warmth and possibility. Thank you for being with me in this desolate place.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

The Presence of the Magi

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This year, the Epiphany illuminated something new for me in how I consider the story of the Magi. So I didn’t dissect it piece by piece to ascertain exactly how it might have unfolded. I didn’t consider the issues around timing, or how exactly the star brought them precisely to the manger’s location. Instead, I experienced it as a metaphor; a metaphor about the power of an open heart and the accompanying willingness to seek for truth.

The Magi were in all ways outsiders. They were astrologers who studied what we might well view as magic these days. They were not grounded in the religious scriptures of the day, nor were they religiously prepared for the concept of a messiah. And yet, it is these three men who traveled from distant lands and followed a star to see what it had to reveal to them. Clearly, they represent all of the “them” we see as “us”. Certainly, this is what is most significant to ponder in heart and mind.

Herod heard the news and started figuring out how best he might preserve his power leading to the slaughter of innocents. And the religious leaders and institutions of the day, the learned ones, seemed to have closed hearts and minds. Closed by the idea that they held the absolute truth. Closed by years of holding authority and the habits of not listening to others. And perhaps most frightening, closed in ways that led to collusion with Herod’s self-serving preservation of the status quo.

The deep significance of this for me is the chilling reminder that preparation is no guarantee that I will be ready; in fact, preparation might blind me if I prepare too much according to my own ideas.  The ideas informed by my feelings, attitudes, biases, values, and assumptions. I must remain sensitive and aware that these ideas flow out of my strengths and my limitations. I must learn from the Magi who followed a star that there is no substitute for listening with an open heart.

“This is the leap of faith and trust that I and others must make in order to communicate even a bit of the Great Truth to which we each have our own limited access. Spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open.”  Rohr