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

 

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.

 

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.

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…

 

 

 

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

 

 

Now And Always

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January 12th is the anniversary of my mom’s passing. It is five years now since she died. I am struck still by what a huge shift it is to lose your mother. The first home sound we come to know after forming under her beating heart for nine months,

Henry Nouwen says, “Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.” Wise words. Perhaps this accounts for why I feel my mother’s spiritual presence always as I live forward without her physical presence.

My mom was a devotee of the rosary. I find myself meditating with a rosary and speaking from my heart as I hold the small circles of mystery that comprise a rosary. It has become my way of connecting with prayer beads more closely. I find rote prayers are repeated in ways that, for me, dispel the sense of presence in the meditation.

In celebration of my mom’s spirit, I share here the prayer that I whispered to Mary on the fifth anniversary of mom’s passing:

Mary full of love, faith, grace and hope;

Christ breathes in you, with you and through you – Be with me now

Blessed are you in your capacious heart and sacred are you to women through the divine spirit of your be-ing;

Holy Mary, pure of heart and spirit – Be with me;

Willing co-creatrix in the divine plan – Strengthen me;

Guide me beyond the brokenness that binds me;

Now and always until I enter into the fullness of time.

Doe, A Deer – A Female Deer

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As Advent flows into Christmas, I have had the sweet and moving companionship of a doe that rests in the woods just at the edge of my yard. I noticed her one morning and then again one afternoon; eventually, I came to look for her each day. She simply rests, peaceful yet alert seemingly, contemplating my home. Initially, it struck me as a lovely, serendipitous encounter with nature. Eventually, she began to feel much more like a kindred spirit who visits to both offer her spirit to me, and receive my spirit in return. As a spiritual director training in a Franciscan program, I am open to experiencing Spirit in all of creation. This sways me, nurturing the sense that Doe and I share a ‘sense of sorority’ with all of creation and the creator. ‘Praised be You, my Lord with all Your creatures’ – St. Francis of Assisi

It is not the first time on my spiritual journey that I have encountered the deer. On several retreats, deer and I have crossed paths. A quick search on the web reveals that the deer symbolizes: Gentleness; Ability to move through life and obstacles with grace; Being in touch with inner child, innocence; Being sensitive and intuitive; Vigilance, ability to change directions quickly; Magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries. All in all, a nice assortment of life skills and spiritual literacy! Seeing her, feeling her presence emerges as a natural moment of grace for me. A tiny experience of unity and connection with all around me delivered to me by a doe.

With my new appreciation for the doe in heart, I am able to rest with her as she lingers near me. Perhaps we will welcome Christmas together. All I know is that her presence heightens my awareness – my reverence for nature – draws me into the moment here and now with the divine, and models the patience and perseverance that is Advent. So, as Christmas arrives, my spirit longs to resonate with belonging to the moment when everything fits … and all we hoped for is present – perhaps this is what it is to know the fullness of time“spreading the knowledge of God like a sweet smell everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14)