Daily Grace

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“ ~ live and respond to grace in the here and now. … Listen closely. … Don’t cultivate someone else’s garden. Grow where you are planted.~” St. Francis de Sales

My inner longing to dive deeper into the mystery of be-ing draws me exponentially deeper toward the essence of be-ing. In the ebb and flow of this labyrinthine experience of living and longing, I begin to understand the mysterious, spiraling interface of my inner and outer lives. I see that I contain myself and empty myself to enter more fully into this mystery.

While I know in my heart that this is the way to inner peace, I still struggle to accept that I can grow in grace by simply be-ing present. My religious upbringing has steeped me well in notions of elaborate rituals and acts of penance as the vehicles for finding grace. Implicit in these things I am required ‘to do’ is the underlying idea that, ‘as I am’, is not enough. Thus, I hold a sense that I must work hard to achieve grace and I disdain and regret my flaws and weaknesses.

Can I just ‘be’? Can I come ‘as I am’? Can I open myself ever wider and fall ever deeper into the Source of all that is? Can I trust that presence? Can I let go more completely? Can I allow for the possibilities?

My heartful , seeker’s response is: YES

Annie Dillard wisely observed, “how we spend our days, is in fact, how we spend our lives”. At times, this pains me. Mostly, at times when I am engaged in what poet Adrienne Rich refers to as, “the kind of woman’s work that is only done to be undone”. Lately, when I catch myself slipping into a martyr’s approach to ‘enduring’ these tasks that ‘must be done’, I pause, and bring my attention to the moment where I am. In that pause, I reflect on the Buddhist notion that most of life is, ‘chopping wood and carrying water’. Then, I am better able to authentically give myself to my tasks and to see more clearly the connection between how I enter my tasks and how I enter my life. Somehow, the sacredness of my life resides deep within my attention and presence in my daily work and effort ~ tending the garden in me and around me.

There is a sacred moment that I appreciate daily. It is a place where I see the sacred through my spouse as he enters a daily task for him, and a daily gift for me – creating a morning latte. Each morning my husband rises first and makes a latte for me that is unpretentiously delivered to my bedside table. This small and beautiful daily gift is a sacred moment for me. Within this gesture from my beloved, I see the mystery and compassion of Love. I see that I am a recipient of this Love despite my flaws and faults. By some grace of Godde, my beloved has an ability to know me in both shadow and light and love me still.

Best of all, this love humbly reveals itself as it unconditionally illuminates the smallest of tasks. As I commune with this small, daily moment, I linger in the fullness of its meaning and grace; I dwell in a prayer like return to gratitude. Knowing in my heart, that the essence of this mystery expands within me through my daily tasks, my life – .

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Extra-Special Meaning

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I return to sharing my reflections from a summer replete with great joy and much happiness. My own joy and happiness as I completed my training as a spiritual director (I prefer midwife to director a more apt description) and now approach the end of training as a Spiritual Care Chaplain. And my daughter’s amazing strides as a young (15) artist who participated in two art gallery shows while interning with a conservationist artist honing her scientific illustration skills. Plus, my son’s new baby boy who arrived two weeks early and in his splendor reminds us all of the eternal nature of the now. And, my husband’s gardening projects in our yard  while he and my daughter transformed the ‘art space’ they share. His gifts all inconspicuously and quietly unfolding as is his soul’s truest way.

I am overwhelmed by these gifts -all that has been born in and around me – and wrestle with how to open to truly receive it all…. Thus the time out from blogging. The expression that most accurately reflects my current state is that I have taken to kissing the ground in my prayer period. This is the gesture that conveys my very grateful heart.

Meister Eckhart says,“For God to be is to give being, and for us to be is to receive being.” Our true self is a received self. At each moment, we exist to the extent we receive existence from God who is existence. I resonate with this and perceive that at heart ,I am in a very real state of receiving. For me, there is a deep humility that accompanies this. In part, as I ponder my unworthiness owing to my well-known imperfections; and in part, as I feel so tiny in contrast to the greatness of the Creator – my Source. I notice that as I accept that I am unable to reconcile these aspects of my be-ing, I am widened and deepened by simply opening to hold these un-reconcilable pieces. I seek to ground myself in this ‘absolute love’ that seemingly sustains me in everything – the good and the not so good.

It seems the mystery of my faith enables me to ‘be’ and ‘let be’ in ever expanding ways. My faith asks me to honor both what I know and perhaps more, what is unknown to me. From this spot on the revelatory landscape, I am aware that I am growing in my capacity to hold these same paradoxes with others. Indeed, the depth of my simple contributions as a chaplain and spiritual midwife, quietly and gently give everything extra-special meaning.

 

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