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.

 

Infinite, Immanent, Intimate

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The G*d of my understanding is a relational G*d which means that all of my relationships in my studies and work in the world are revelatory. In others I encounter the infinite, immanent and intimate presence of the Divine.

I begin with immanence in relationship that to me suggests the omnipresence of divinity reflected in all of creation, and a hospice patient ill with MS teaches me this. He is a divine illumination for me as he regularly takes ‘risks to become’ – in small – yet immense ways -his fully human self as he slowly dies. His willingness to speak increasingly of his diminishment with me and to share his feelings is a sacred trust that I heart-fully honor. Watching the patience with which he accepts this illness that claims him from within is beautifully juxtaposed with the outward expression of his soulful sense of Love in him, through him and with him. I see so clearly how powerless I am to do other than companion him. I understand that seeing him as he is makes all the difference. I hold carefully and attentively the preciousness of presence in our encounters. I give witness to his suffering which becomes implicit to transcending suffering – for him this is the belief that Love is stronger than Death held where he is in this space between his belief and his unbelief.

Intimacy in relationship suggests to me the spirit of G*d in the moments of my life – a sense of the liminal – this is my grandson.  He and I are able to share our Monday’s together and I experience him emotionally and kinesthetically as – Sacrementum Mundi – G*d’s grace as the action of G*d’s self-communication. Our time together in taking walks, eating, or holding each other in an embrace feel like the embodiment of the transforming grace of G*d. I know without being told that I am as near to touching the divine mystery as I may come. We hold each other as the fruit of divine promise – in which G*d’s vision for creation is restored. This relationship opens my ability to ‘think with my heart’.

In all of the relationships I experience, I expand my awareness of Divine Presence and Grace in others. I perceive that my ability to give and receive in reciprocal relationships of human and divine love reflect a capacity for constant revelation and transformation. And it is in this that I see dimly the infinite nature of Divine Love as the source of insight and knowing in my relationships extending to me a deep and meaningful mirroring or ‘ seeing’ through encounters with others.

For now I see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  Corinthians 13:12

 

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 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.

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.

AND WE PRAY

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As Advent begins, I look forward to creating an advent wreath. I take solace in this ritual of an evergreen circle holding candles of purple and rose. I am drawn to the spreading of light as we illuminate more candles each week we move closer to Christmas. For me, the wreath feels ancient, connected and sacred; it is a sacred gift to imagine ways that I, my husband and daughter might enter into a nightly process of lighting a candle and praying.

It is my sense that our prayer expresses our deepest reality and offers us a potential experience of deep well-being and belonging. Still, it is not a facile process to gather from our separate activities and join each other in a mutually agreeable moment of prayer. It is my dearest hope for us that we meet in a moment of sincere and mutual desire for “we know not what”. That which draws us beckons us to gather together so small before the mystery of life, and reach toward a relationship with the ground of all Be-ing or Love.

Our nightly candle lighting and prayer together provokes and generates real intimacy – a quiet moment to know the heart of things. Practicing intimacy begins with creating space to be in contact with our inner self and each other. Be-ing in touch with self enriches and energizes our ability to give or share self beyond the moment. So, the sacred gathering ritual around our advent wreath connects us to our deepest human experience where Love is present to us. It seems that when and where we are most present, Love too is most present.

So, we pray from the very center of the heart of our be-ing. And we pray that creating this sacred space, these sacred moments together will deepen our sense of divine grace in us, with us and through us.

 

Serving Rather Than Achieving

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Having grown up in a large, dysfunctional family, I internalized the sense that earning love and approval were grounded in achieving success in the world. Self, chores, school and eventually career were measured by their intrinsic worldly value. Underneath this current of get out there and ‘do it’ there was a river of love and belonging that felt predicated on achieving. So, not so surprisingly, it took me a long time to dive deeper and surface in a new place that compassionately encompassed that personal history and moved beyond it. The roots of that new landscape are fecund and grounded in serving rather than achieving. Underneath this new landscape of being present here and now ‘to serve’ there is the energy of love and compassion that feel predicated on co-creating. So, serving rather than achieving becomes the means of co-creation in the world.

There are moments where the pull of my family life and achieving surface as distractions that I need to catch and release as I witness my authentic self and gently allow myself to be drawn more and more toward my soul’s discernment of what is real. This leads me deeper into loving and compassionate service.

Recently, one of the people I work with who is crippled by illness and bed ridden taught me anew the vulnerability of receiving and the gifts of opening and accepting. The encounter revolved around my offering Reiki for the first time to this person who has been bed ridden for more than a year. Disabled and living with the expanding diminishment of an illness that will end in death, this person has become bitter and closed. I have visited for many months now and offer what comfort through companionship I am able. I suggested Reiki and demonstrated on myself exactly what would occur. This person reluctantly agreed to try it caustically asking first, ‘Will it give my legs back?’ I responded, ‘No. But it may feel comforting to the emotional pain you feel about the loss of your legs.’

And so I served this patient through Reiki and once again touched the hem of authentic inward healing in those places we are socialized never to speak about. Just two human beings, in full and aware presence in, through and with each other sharing energy through the heart’s hands.

As I reflect on this watershed moment in our relationship, I am overwhelmed by the joy of serving. No thunder, no lightening bolts – just the gentle softening of a suffering human being – the opening to being fully seen, the vulnerability of our humanity. And touching humanity in this way fills me with awe at our capacity to care for each other. I am humbled in the wake of such ‘aliveness’. And, my capacity to serve expands as I wholly/holy surrender to this person – this amazing teacher- who serves me.

“I live in him, am him, am him-as-me Living as me, with me, as me-with-him.”   Rumi

A Time For Remembering

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October 2nd is my father’s birthday. Perhaps I should say was as he died eight years ago. And yet, for me it is his birthday now and forever. It so happens that it has only been since his death that I have become aware that his birthday is in fact the Feast of the Guardian Angel. And along the way, I read that devotion to the angels is, at heart, an expression of faith in G*d’s enduring love and providential care extended to each of us day in and day out. This is of course a beautiful thought and movingly, the same love that anchors my father’s heart in his children.

My dad, like me, was fully human, and so, complex and imperfect. It is amazing to me that as I grow in my ability to welcome my own imperfection, I am able to see him more clearly and love him more dearly. Thus, as I perceive that the interplay of light and shadow is what gives us depth, I am able to see the divine at work in dad and in me. And so, I see that like dad, the light makes its way into the world through my many cracks. I also understand that in being fully human, I wrestle with my imperfections, my demons. Dad’s spirit is intertwined with mine always and the gift of his spirit thrives as everlasting love.

When I think of my dad’s soul light I see clearly what I will call his authentic spiritual literacy; Justness, kindness, love, devotion, nurturing, compassion, and imagination. These are among the qualities that offered meaning to his life and that shined through his life struggles and personal imperfections. In naming his spiritual gifts, I deepen my connection to his spirit as a force ever entwined with my own desire to attend to suffering in my ordinary lived experience. Seen in its purity, this desire asks that I protect the dignity of all beings and challenges me to authentically offer my being as a channel of divine compassion.

Thus, my father’s ordinary life experience full of light and dark; beauty and challenge; love and suffering; presence and distraction, continues to evolve in an eternal way. It mirrors the true, sincere and indissoluble intimacy of a heart seeking to connect and unite itself with the divine heart.

As is customary with feast days, there is a devotion to the Guardian Angel that resonates with my heart’s way of knowing my father. He is ever present in me in deep time – everlasting life. The Devotion reads: “O Angel of God, to whose holy care I am committed by the supernal clemency, enlighten, protect, defend, and govern me. Amen”

 

Life’s Work

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This week my studies to complete spiritual direction training and my chaplaincy training catapult me deeper into my work in the world. I will be interning in a local hospital, a woman’s shelter, and hospice, while also offering spiritual direction with individuals and groups. This work is the heartbeat of my own life’s presence as it reveals more clearly my notion of the nature of divinity and my envisaging of the future of a common world. In this work, I encounter, experience and ponder the relation of theology to my desire to seek and create a more congruent and just world.

My journey draws me deeper into dialogue and conversation about divinity in my life as I endeavor to make sense of the world I share with others – our common world. To do this, I create or enter space where I meet others who are also pondering; together, we search for a language or vocabulary with which to comfortably, respectfully probe life’s deepest meaning. In this way, our experience emerges as a kind of ‘theological matrix’ by which we make sense of our lives. It becomes a lens with which we can appreciate the differences in how we each arrive at our understanding of the nature of the divine.

Ideas about the sacred are central to my bearings in the world, my values in service and action; and most important, my sense of what I want to bring into the world through my be-ing. And yet, these sacred understandings also illuminate concerns and questions about the real purpose of life and most especially, the intention of my life. The sacred invites, draws and compels me ever onward toward my own fecundity and authenticity.

There is really no way to make enquiry into this that does not become personally revealing. No way to side step the personal vulnerability and exposure that accompanies openly speaking and writing about this most intimate way of knowing. My life as embodied reality is informed by my understanding of divinity as it emerges in my personal, communal and social life experience. It is all an inherent and integral piece of my risk to become fully human, fully alive.

The secret of living well is not having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.

                          – Rachel Remen

 

Exchanged Life

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Today is my son’s birthday. As it turns out, he shares a birthday with Mary – mother of Yeshua. Two days ago, his own son turned one year old. I hold and cherish the beautiful symmetry of this. It emerges as an intimate, dynamic sense of an endless exchange of love that births an endless exchange of life. Both are implicit in the togetherness or inseparability of Mary and Yeshua. It seems a beautiful expression of divine mystery.

And this exchange of love and life feels central to divine mystery. Somehow, knowing this, allows me to also understand in my heart that giving and receiving love is my particular participation in the reality of endlessly exchanged life.

So, as I look upon my son and my grandson, I enter the divine mystery that is so central to being alive and present. And, today, in this beautiful moment so replete with the symmetry of an endless exchange of love birthing an endless exchange of life, the mystery emerges as inextricably connected and dynamic.

How we happen and continue to happen in each other- through love -feels central to the divine mystery. At the same time, it feels unique and distinctly personal – it is a divine relationship – an intimate dance of co-creation.

‘Blessed be the mind that dreamed you into being. On this echoing-day of your birth, May you open the gift of solitude in order to receive your soul; enter the generosity of silence to hear your hidden heart; know the serenity of stillness to be enfolded anew by the miracle of your being.’ John O’Donohue