a post-Christmas journey

Merry Christmas!

oh, my goodness…look at the gift I found on my daily troll through Facebook!

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Women’s Christmas Retreat

I am familiar with Jan Richardson from a book called Sanctuary of Women that I picked up many years ago so I clicked on through and I found this wonderful invitation for some post Christmas reflection and (not) coincidentally Jan uses the theme of the feast of Epiphany to center her retreat.  Please peruse and see if it stirs something within you and invites you on a little journey as 2016 begins as it has me.  Let’s see where it takes us!

 

with great, great love,

Linda

Sparks of Divinity

fireplace

 

It is chilly and damp in the Pacific Northwest and we have been building a fire almost everyday in our fireplace.  This morning as I sat by the fire and sparks were flying, I started to think about how we build these particular fires in our fireplace.

Luke builds a bonfire, stacking log upon log, wedging in kindling and fire starter.  Once he has created an enormous blaze, he stands back, admires his work and walks away.  Soon his fire has burned out. (Sorry Luke)

Rick has a different approach.  He also stacks logs and kindling just so but he stays close by.  He tends it, is attentive to it, moves a log this way and that to provide maximum flow of oxygen allowing it to grow steadily.  He may walk away but comes back every now and then, remaining faithful to his fire.  Ultimately Rick’s fire maintains a steady burn, giving away warmth and eventually coming to glow for hours even after the flames have subsided.

Tending to a fire is often used as a metaphor in spirituality and so my mind goes there…to our own inner spark of divinity, the root of our being that unites us to God and one another.  Sometimes it roars and other times it glows, consistently needing our presence and attention.  At times our attention is enough to keep it going and other times it benefits from the fanning from another.  And thankfully, if it wanes and we allow, as the psalmist writes, even in our darkest night, O Lord, you kindle a fire within.

And since I still have Magi on the brain, I recall that we read in the Scriptures that toward the end of their journey, they reach Jerusalem and begin to ask around for the child who has been born king of the Jews.  Herod and the whole city become troubled.  When they don’t find him in the palace, trusting their inner spirit, they set off toward Bethlehem.  Suddenly the star reveals itself again and leads them onward.  Once they find and pay homage to the Christ Child, they are asked to rely once more on their inner truth and go home by their own way, rather than return to Herod and expose the child as Herod had commanded.  Throughout there journey, they were consistently present and attentive to their inner flame and it made all the difference.  Because of it they were abled to be filled with wonder, surprised by joy and overflow with love.

As I sit back and reflect I have to ask myself how faithful I am to my inner flame of divinity?  Do I attend to it regularly and throughout my day?  What is going on for me when it roars…or when it glows?  Am I aware, and do I give thanks when others fan my flame?  In moments of darkness, when it seems like my light has been extinguished, do I remember to turn to God asking that a fire be rekindled within me?  And, finally, do I make room to be surprised by the wonder,joy and love that comes when you least expect it on the road?

The Advent Journey

night starsFor the last few years I have offered a Yoga Advent Series in my parish.  Taking off the general theme of Advent, I choose a focal point for our meditations.  Last year’s was “Praying the Magnificat with Mary.”

This Advent I was inspired by the quiet darkness of the night sky giving way to the glorious star leading the Magi to the Christ child.  In a darkened room illuminated by a sole string of star lights, we offer the prayer of our bodies, mind and spirit.  So everyday during these last weeks I have been walking with the Magi, seeking…following the star of desire and fullness and love.

I have come to wonder about those moments when the travelers on this long journey questioned what it was all about as they literally, trudged through the sand, in sometimes harsh conditions.   Mostly, they probably experienced day after day more of the same.  The same task, the same vista, the same challenges, so much of the same.

What started out as a wonderful adventure quickly turned into the monotony of their daily life on the road.  Did they wonder, as we sometimes do, who we are and where we are going?  What about when they couldn’t see the star–when it was obscured by clouds or during the day?  What kept them going?

We get that, don’t we?  The excitement and thrill of beginnings often turn into the same-old-same-old.  Fabulous honeymoons turn into months and years of tenacity and hard work.  Fresh smelling newborn babies grow into somewhat smelly children requiring daily care.  First days of work or school become endless deadlines and mountains of paper.

Perhaps those were the moments they found their way to ask themselves whose they were as well.  To whom do I belong?  For whom do I get out of bed each day?

Most certainly there were also moments that inspired the answers to those questions.  Perhaps the captivating sight of that glorious, alluring star–the evidence of God creating something new in the world.  Or maybe it was an encouraging word from a fellow traveler.

As for us, the answer forms in flashes and glimpses as well.  A look or touch or memory that reminds us of the deep well of affection we have for our partner.  A moment of awareness through laughter or play  with our child or the marvel that may overtake us every now and then when we look at them.  The gratitude we experience for the gift of work and colleagues or accomplishment of our own.

I am reminded of these words by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. below that so beautifully points me in Love’s direction and begins to answer my questions.

Fall in Love

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

 

St. Agustine’s Thanksgiving Tip

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By now you may have overdosed on gratitude.  If so, please indulge me.  I am a little late to the party.  You see I approached last week’s celebration of Thanksgiving with lack-luster enthusiasm, to say the least.  I just couldn’t muster up the gratitude and I felt completely awful about it.

My Facebook feed was full of grateful friends with lovely things to say about their many blessings and so forth.  But I felt…nothing.  I could blather on about all the things that are in the “not too great” column of goings on in my life (but why?)

And at the same time, of course, I know I have plenty of grace in my life.  But what do you do when it doesn’t bubble up and runneth over your cup or cornucopia, or whatever?

Well, quite uncharacteristically, I took it to prayer.  And by uncharacteristically, I mean, I usually try to hide that kind of thing.  I try to sanitize it (as if God doesn’t know me!)  Or I work like heck to manufacture something on my own, but that never works.  It doesn’t feel organic or honest.  This time, however, I remembered that quote from St. Augustine that I posted here last time.  If you remember, he says something like:  “I have all these things I want to give you, Lord, but first, can you please give them to me.”

I think that is pure genius!  Why do we think we have to be the ones to generate all this goodness and virtue and compassion and gratitude on our own?  Doesn’t it make sense that since God is the Source, God generates everything?  Clearly this was one time when I needed to ask for the thing I wanted to give back.

And so I did.  I asked for gratitude.  I asked to see the truth of my life, not the stories I was telling myself.  And thanks to Macrina Wierdekehr, I turned some questions around a little.  Since I had fallen into my questions about enough, I asked myself if I had enough joy to share with my family this holiday season.  When the answer was “not so much,”  I asked God for the joy too…while God was at it.

The transformation was very subtle, as most are.  I went about my duties.  I dutifully prepared pies and rolls and side dishes and brined the turkey.  Before too long I felt a warmth growing within me.  I started a list on the refrigerator of my gratefulls.  Luke added to the list.

Days later, by the time we all sat down together at our dinner table on Thanksgiving, I could honestly and wholeheartedly thank God for the gifts of gratitude and joy that I had come to through no conjuring of my own but rather, by God’s generosity.

You know what?  The next time I find myself lacking, when I am coming up completely empty, I am going to remember St. Augustine’s tip:  “Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first, give me what I may offer you.”

 

Inspiration from the Week

“Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first, give me what I may offer you.” –St. Augustine

 

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” –Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.

 

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On a walk down the street I find this!  This is the actual photo.  I performed no funny business to enhance or change it.  It’s as if on fire… And this comes to mind:  “Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire within us, O Lord.”  (Taize chant)

 

 

Forgiveness 101

This one is a doozy!  I was out walking this morning in the lush arboretum not far from my house with my doggie.  As is often the case, I had my earphones on.  I was listening to a series of talks given by Richard Rohr (the Franciscan priest) last year at a college somewhere.  At the end a student asked him, “You say you have to be free to receive the Lord’s Love.  How do you get free?”

I held my breath.  This has been my question and heart’s desire for so long.  True freedom from what others think, what I think, what I feel, what weighs me down, seems so elusive to me.  I have experienced it now and again, here and there, but how to live in that freedom for always…that is my question and heart’s desire.

Rohr’s answer: “It begins, I think, with forgiveness…forgiveness of God, Himself…forgiveness of yourself…forgiveness of your parents…and immediate forgiveness of those around you…You see the genius of God…forgiveness requires God…we have to throw ourselves into the arms of God…of your own willpower, you are incapable of doing it on your own.   To put it simply: You will never grow in the spiritual life if you are withholding love, if there is one relationship you won’t forgive.  You love God as much as you love your worst enemy.

He goes on to say that when we do allow God to takeover and forgive, we find ourselves “loving by a power not our own…loving the (previously) unlovable.”  Here I need to take apart the word forgive and perhaps give it a little new meaning.  I know for myself it is such a loaded concept that is mixed up with exonerate, pardon, forget, cancel out.  I have begun to see the forgiveness that Jesus speaks of more like “letting go, surrender, just no longer carrying the heaviness that some event has for me.  I have experienced this forgiveness before, certainly.  There are some things I previously held unforgiven that I can look upon now without the pain or clenching.  I might still be saddened by the event but it is somehow lighter and has no power, if that makes sense.  But as you probably know forgiveness is lifelong call.

So back to the message I heard:  You love God as much as you love your worst enemy.  Yikes!  That stings…truly bites at my soul.  And at the same time, I feel its truth.  Tears sting in my eyes at the realization that I hold onto past hurts and won’t let God have them…won’t let them go.  I won’t surrender and stop hauling them around with me wherever I go.  And I know that in so doing I am not becoming the person I am meant to be.  Holding fast to my resentment of those enemies is blocking God’s healing Love.  And as a result, my love is too small…still too small.

So what to do when I am powerless to do this on my own.  Again, Rohr says we must “throw ourselves into the arms of God.”  Practically for me this amounts to bringing this to God during my reflection time.  I lay it all out, even though I know God knows.  I acknowledge my limitations and weaknesses.  And I sit with my desire for fullness.

In prayer I remind God that my love is too small.  That my love cannot forgive on its own but God’s love know no bounds.  Please, I add, I don’t want this old, putrid resentment to get in the way of who I can be in You!  I desire freedom.  I know God will answer this prayer.

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Taking a cue from all the trees around me…surrendering!

(Just outside my front door)

 

Inspiration from the Weeks

gorgeous sky

Words written to a friend, wife, mother, a women with many responsibilities:

We possess our heaven within us since He who satisfies the hunger of the glorified in the light of vision gives Himself to us in faith and mystery, it is the same One!  It seems to me that I have found heaven on earth, since Heaven is God and God is in my soul.  The day I understood that, everything became clear to me.  I would like to whisper this secret to those I loves so that they too might always cling to God in everything.–Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906)

Last Sunday I began my  second year of Scripture Study with seven middle school age girls.  They are fabulous!  They aren’t particularly talkative or curious or holy but they are perfect and I am so grateful to be sharing my faith with them.  So when I came across these words of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, my heart leaped with recognition.  It is my most fervent prayer that God use me to touch these girls and build a relationship with the Divine.  The only thing is that it is not necessarily my style to whisper such wonderful news;-)  I have to remember to restrain myself with the girls while maintaining my sincerity.  Is there someone or ones that you would like to whisper this secret to?  Who do you wish knew that they possessed all that they are seeking within themselves?

and these words…

Pilgrim God,  bring my soul into harmony with you.  Let there be no false harmony in me, such as saying I want you but not really meaning it.  Give me the desire that brings my whole body into harmony with my heart, that I may become truly at one with you and with the whole of creation.  Thus you will be my companion on the way and the friend who meets me at the end of my journey.  (words of Angela Foligno)

When I read this prayer I am reminded of my yoga practice and the dance parties I have in my kitchen with Tobi (my doggie).  When I am engaged these ways I feel my whole body and my heart as one.  I offer these moments as prayers.

Just Give Yourself Away

WP_20131104_10_49_04_ProEveryday you have less reason to not give yourself away…Wendell Barry

I have missed this blog.  I have missed the reflection that has brought me here in the past and I have missed thinking about each one of you (my six followers;) as I write.  Each time I thought about the blog, there were fewer and fewer reasons to stay away, and, as Wendell Barry once said, “not to give myself away.”  And so, I am starting anew.  We shall see where we go!

I have been reading a book called, “Through Julian’s Windows: Growing Into Wholeness with Julian of Norwich” by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard.  It all started this summer, when everywhere I went and everyone I read or spoke to on spiritual matters was quoting Julian of Norwich.  I even owned a ginormous book on her but had barely cracked it open.  They say she was way before her time and had a theology that was so far beyond what she had been taught.  She was the first woman to write in her own vernacular, for common people like herself, living in fourteenth century England.  Many think she must have been a wife and mother before the Great Plague took her family, because she relates to God as mother, beautifully depicting the tender way that God parents us.

She oozes compassion and longing and I think that is what draws me to her.  Theologians and seekers who have studied her have come away with an understanding of God’s gracious nature that is unparalleled.  I don’t know about you but I could sure use that in my life.  She writes:

“Our soul is so preciously loved by him who is highest that it is far beyond the comprehension of creatures.   That is to say: no created being can fully know how much, how sweetly, and how tenderly our Creator loves us…our natural will is have God, and the good will of God is to have us.”

It is in our nature to seek Truth-God, to want to make meaning of our lives, to search for our true calling and it can’t be put on hold.  If it is then we aren’t truly living.  We are phoning it in.  Over the last year since I last blogged, I confess, there have been many days when I have phoned it in.  There have been many days when my body, mind and spirit were misaligned.  Julian would have said to me on those days, “Just keep doing it!”

She writes:  “Pray wholeheartedly, even though you do not feel like it, for it is a very profitable thing to do even if you don’t feel that way…even though you feel nothing, yes, even when you think you cannot do it.  For in times of dryness and barrenness, in times of sickness and weakness, your prayer is most pleasing, even though you may find it rather tasteless.”  She seems to say that simply placing yourself in the Presence of the Divine is enough.  Remember, the good will of God to have us…

There were days for me with no words, no energy, no enthusiasm for God, or Truth or meaning or purpose.  What remained was simple longing for it to be different.  It was a great longing.  But is was all I had.  And so I offered it, just as it was.  I didn’t know that was prayer.  Thank you, Julian.

Reflections of a Fifty Year Old

Wow! Fifty! Wow!!! It has taken me an entire year to sit with this reality…tomorrow I turn fifty years old. Thank God for the last three hundred and sixty four days as I have needed every last one!
My Grandpa lived to be one hundred and two so I have good reason to believe that this could be my half-life point. I have spent many moments of the last year reflecting on my life and its impact. Many days ago I gave up the questions about large scale impact and career choices and comparisons to my college classmates. And only very recently I began to entertain the idea that my life’s work up to now was loving my spouse well and raising my family. What if that were it…God’s purpose for my life? Would that be enough? And how would I know if that was it? Shouldn’t there be more? And what of the next fifty years?
And then I received a gift…in my email box a link to a short story by Leo Tolstoy. He and I share a birthday and so I thought it was fitting to give his story a listen.

Yes, of course this is the truth…this moment and the person I am with are the most important and to do good, participating in God’s plan, is the most important action. Perhaps the questions I have been asking are not the best ones. Perhaps the only questions for now are these: How am I being invited to be a part of God’s plan right now? How might I live this moment to its fullest? How might I love the person right in front of me to the fullest?
And so what else is there but to try every day to turn over my life, to let go of fear and ego and the need to know and be sure? What else is there but to enter into the mystery and as R. Rohr writes so beautifully, “Live and move and have our being inside this one eternal life and love that never stops giving and receiving.”

 

PS.  Happy Birthday Leo and Margaret and Naomi and Me 🙂

Heart to Heart

When I was younger I was a little repelled by reading the book of Hosea. I found the story unsavory on many levels, the man being asked to seek out, marry and forgive his whorish wife. At first, it offended my innocence and then it offended my feminist spirit. I could not relate to its language and metaphor for Divine/human love and relationship. But somewhere along the way I began to really get it. Maybe after I lived more and gained perspective or maybe during my own awakening to Divine Love. Regardless, I have become so grateful to the author of Hosea and for its Divine inspiration.

Thus says the Lord: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart..I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy.

All that we need to know about Divine desire for us and the nature of our relationship is right there in those words. Allure means to enchant, captivate, entrance. God means to win us back by drawing us into the silence of the desert, the emptiness where nothing can distract or compete for our attention. There in the abyss God wishes to speak to our hearts in love and in mercy.
It is shocking at first, this view of God and us. We have been so brainwashed to feel guilt and shame, to let our unworthiness lead us to hide from God and from our own divine nature. But who would try to enchant or captivate one who was unworthy or beyond hope or redemption?
Instead God’s plan is to bring us to a place where we can be heart to heart. The language of the heart is gentle and kind and merciful. So let’s stop playing those tapes over and over, the ones that accuse, judge and find us lacking and guilty. Let’s stop believing the lies that limit us and deny our true nature as beloved. Let’s instead hear, feel and believe these words. Let us allow them to melt our defenses today and find a home in our heart:

I will espouse you to me forever.