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.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Bless To Me My Belief And My Unbelief

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There is a Celtic custom of prayer that acknowledges the embodied, primordial spiritual hunger that informs humanity. It provides that incarnational spirit that gives birth to divine light through the uniqueness of our be-ing.   And at the same time, it holds the full sense of the mystery of be-ing. It is a paradox.

Oh Blessed Creator who created my soul and its warp and my body. Oh You who gave me breath. Bless to me, My soul and my body; 
Bless to me, My life and my condition; 
Bless to me,
My heart and my speech, 
And bless to me, 
My belief and my unbelief.

This is the paradox of faith. It is something that we must have in order to come to divine presence and yet, it is also something we have to open our hearts to first; and then we find that divine presence that has been there within us all the while.

Our most authentic self sees the world with a sense of wonder and inherent trust in the creator and creation. Paradoxically, to be sincere of heart we must reconcile our doubts, our struggles and our cares in our prayer. In this way, we are able to cultivate sincerity, trust and gratitude for what is and dwell in the fullness of our humanity.

It is in the paradox of our belief and our unbelief that we encounter our faith, our hope and joy. These do not come from avoiding; on the contrary it is possible only when we have gone into the heart of belief and unbelief – and prayed from there…

 

 

 

The Kindess of Humankind

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It is easy of late to look around and wonder, what’s happening to the world around me? From political tension and hyperbolic rhetoric, to racial tensions and polarizing fears, to social injustice and attacks on personal agency, I am confronted by the realities of a dangerous world where people suffer. And I am challenged to wonder, what I can do in this moment to be the change I want to see in the world? I choose to enter the world each day soul first as a spiritual director and chaplain intern. I choose to bring the kindest presence I can to each person I encounter.

Kindness, remember that? ‘Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.’ I remember seeing that as a bumper sticker. And, isn’t it that simple? And, isn’t it that complex? Henri Nouwen reminds me in his reflections on kindness that I am a participant in humankind; I have my immediate kin, my next of kin, kindred spirits through others, and the kinship I offer to all I meet. For me, this reflection on the root connections of kind and kin is the universal, unitive call of being fully human. This is the heart of belonging. This is the gift of seeing others in both their distinction from me, and their connection to me.

Humankind is called to be kind to one another, reaching out and treating one another as valued, respected kin. Each day in the story of my particular life, I am called to this kindness toward the other. And it is in this way, through the actions of my particular life on any given day, that I ‘risk to become’ the change I wish to have in the world.

A Generous Light

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There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it” Edith Wharton

Candlemas is the final celebration of the forty days of the Christmas Season. It is an occasion to recollect the presentation of the baby at the temple – the light entrusted to Mary and Joseph publically and generously enters the world. This is a ‘feast of mission’. Doubtless, a joyful time for the parents whose journey is only just beginning as the child’s life unfolds. And all are welcome to consider the beauty of this light and the transformational Love that is the heartbeat of this life story, this mystery of life.

It is a rich moment, ripe with meaning and profound foreshadowing. The image of Mary holding her son as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes calls forward a similar image of her holding him as a man when his body comes down from the cross. The light of Candlemas links the gifts of the womb to the gifts of the tomb. It connects the co-creative promise of birth to the human experience of loss and the hope of renewal. ‘…simple but not easy, this waiting without hunger in the near dark for what you may be about to receive.’ Esther Morgan

May you open your heart and move into the mystery of life through your encounters- your personal experiences with birth, loss and renewal. And, may you find an infilling of presence and inner life flowing in you, with you and through you.

I tell you,
this is how the stars get in your bones.

This is how the brightness
 makes a home in you, as you open to the hope that burnishes
 every fractured thing it finds
 and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes. 

Still, still, still
 the secret of secrets
 keeps turning in you,
becoming beautiful,
becoming blessed,
kindling the luminous way
 by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
 like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
 that will not fail to come. 

Jan Richardson