God Loves a Cheerful Giver

God loves a joyful giver

People who don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on alcohol and not food should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on, Pope Francis said. “There are many excuses” to justify why one doesn’t lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

I’ve been thinking about the decision to give (or not to give) to a beggar on the street since Pope Francis suggested that giving “is always right,” whether one thinks the other is truly in need or not.  A few months ago when I was leaving a movie theater, having spent an evening out with friends, I saw a homeless man with a sign asking for money. Engaged in conversation, I quickly walked passed him. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any cash on me anyway. But later, upon reflection, I realized that I did not (or could not) look the man in the eye, and I wondered why.  If I had money with me, would I have given it to him? Would I have looked him in the eye then? I felt a sense of shame, partly for not giving him some money,  but more so because I hadn’t looked at him directly.  Looking someone in the eye honors their dignity; it acknowledges WHO THEY ARE.

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I have considered more that “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving, either. Pope Francis suggests the way one reaches out to the person asking for help is important and must be done “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.” It honors the dignity of the other, regardless of whether we feel the other is deserving. In this way, we face our own judgments of another, our implicit bias.

When encountering people who live on the street, the pope said he always greets them and sometimes inquires about their lives and background. He always chatted with a homeless family and couple that lived next to the archbishop’s residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said, and never considered getting rid of them. When “Someone told me, ‘They’re making the chancery filthy,’ Well, the filth is within” one’s heart, he said. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

Several days after walking by that beggar, my husband and I encountered the same scene, a homeless man with a sign asking for money. As we walked by, not looking at him directly, I paused. We had a quick discussion about giving some money or not, and I remembered Pope Francis’ advice: It is not my job to determine whether this man is truly in need or to be concerned about where the money shall be spent. And it’s not even about whether I can afford a dollar or two, of which I am quite able. If I can’t spare a dollar after having a lovely dinner on the way to a concert, then it says more about me than the beggar.  Continue reading “God Loves a Cheerful Giver”

Many Ways to Pray: Take a Hike

always we begin againThere are many ways to pray. Really all of life can, and should, be a prayer. We are never not in connectedness with God, but it is in prayer that we become aware of this union even more.

Recently, I shared an experience of walking a labyrinth, an ancient portal to prayer that has only one distinct path on which to walk; it is not a maze as some misunderstand it. A maze typically has just one correct path, but it has many confusing choices and dead ends that lead to nowhere obliging one to make a decision about which path to take. One may have to “begin again” several times before completing.

St. Benedict, in his Rule, encourages his monks to always begin again. He knew there would be times when life, even our prayer life, could be more like a maze than a labyrinth. Despite its challenges, our maze-like experiences are a prayerful opportunity to practice awareness, patience, and gratitude. 

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I had this opportunity recently. Surrounded by the wooded hills of western Iowa at the Creighton University Retreat Center, I attended an eight-day silent Ignatian retreat. I was excited to take the loop hike that goes down to the Nishnabotna River. I love to be in nature and believe wholeheartedly, that “every time you admire something in nature, it’s a prayer to the Creator.”  (Vernon Harper)

trail map

Note the easy-to-read map: one can enter the loop hike from two different points and arrive back to nearly the same point.

I started from the north end of the property, but the path seemed overgrown in areas and I wondered if I was on the right trail. Soon enough, there is a fork where I could go right or left. I went right because it seemed the better path. Eventually,  I came to a very steep decline that I wasn’t sure I could navigate. Surely, I thought, I am on the wrong path.

Better safe than sorry, I hike back and take the left path instead. I hike and hike. I end up at yet another steep decline.  I’m no sissy (I have walked on a treadmill with a 10% incline for goodness sakes), but I think this might not be the right path either.  Tired and sweaty already, I decide it’s better to cut my losses and start out at the south end tomorrow where there might be a clearer path.

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It’s a new day…feeling good and my selfie shows it!  I begin again, this time from the other side of the property.  It was a much better trail. Birds chirping, deer scampering, butterflies flying and silence—this is the prayerful connecting-with-God-and-nature hike I was expecting.

Wait, what? Hmm, a choice of two paths—the lower trail or the River view trail. I choose the river view…the whole point of the hike, right?

Riverview sign

Wrong.  Note: this necessary decision is not on the map. I hike to the river view and sit for a moment on a bench to view a sliver of the river. Hiking to the left, I find an even steeper decline than the day before. Hiking to the right, a dead end.

trail dead end

I hike back to the original choice of trails and take the lower trail.

lower trail sign

I hike for about an hour (the time estimated for the hike) with many choices of trails (which I did not expect….remember, it’s a LOOP and not on the map). If there’s a wrong choice of trail to take, I take it.

I hit several dead ends: at the river, at a sign that reads “End of CU property”, at a few very steep inclines, and at a cave. My love of nature and the enjoyment of the journey is challenged. “Always we begin again” has been replaced with, “Will I ever get out of this maze?”deadend collage.jpg

I considered turning back, but I just couldn’t bring myself to “begin again” two days in a row.  It would take another hour to retrace my steps. Yesterday it was the right thing to begin again but today I need to focus on the present and future, and leave the past in the past. A lot like life, I think. “Always go forward and never turn back.” (St. Junípero Serra)

I consider walking the river until I  meet a road; thinking surely there will be a road eventually.  (So like some life situations: Can I just bail now?) I know this is the panic speaking so I retrace my steps back to a fork in trails and a sign that reads, “Upper Trail”.

Upper Trail is a hike up and up and up and up, likely one of the very steep trails I encountered the day before that I felt incapable of going down. I laugh. I take a short break for a few minutes…and then continue up and up and finally, I am on a walking path. I have to be close now. I see a shed. Wait, no, I don’t. Dear God, it’s a mirage. I laugh again at myself.

I consider taking an “after hike” selfie but know that it wouldn’t be web-worthy and would challenge the “sweat is good” attitude I’ve tried to attain. I realize I have seen NO ONE on the trail in over an hour. Have the others heard the trail isn’t really a loop? Thank God, I have my cell phone. Could I be found if I called for help? I don’t think it’s possible to die from thirst or hunger this close to….wait, I see a building. A real one this time.

I have arrived. Relief.

home

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  -John Muir

I received more than I was seeking, no doubt. A simple loop hike turned into a frustrating and, in hindsight, funny experience.  I took only short hikes for quite a few days, but as the end of the retreat neared, I knew I needed to challenge myself to the “loop” again. Surely, it would be easier now that I had done it.

The trails were familiar so I trusted myself and the route I chose. I hiked this time with a new set of eyes. I noticed things I hadn’t before—the signs seemed more clear and logical, sounds from each of the birds were clearly unique, a turkey family trotted quickly into the trees, blue insects escaped into cracks in the dirt, and there were forks in the path I hadn’t noticed before. But, this time I felt more comfortable being adventurous and going down those uncertain paths.

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With experience behind me, I knew when I had come to the final fork in the trail. I hiked up the last hill and when I came out of the top, I realized, NO, that I was not at the end of the loop but at another offshoot! I laughed out loud. My confidence did not waiver; now I was able to trust where I was and navigate back to more familiar terrain.

trail options

Sometimes we must begin again. And when we do, we bring what we have learned from earlier efforts. I find this in my spiritual life as well. The more I pray, the more I trust. When I become afraid or anxious, I begin again. I go back to my faith, to prayer, and trust that God has been there before and always will be. I just need to begin again. 

When we finally broke our silence at the end of the retreat, I realized I was not the only one that had this experience. Everyone else had gotten lost in the woods too. Now isn’t that just like life? There are no new problems under the sun.

No one, not even our closest soul friends can “hike the loop” for us, but, thankfully, they share with us solace, encouragement, and prayers.  This journey is our own. We learn on the way. We are accompanied. And always we begin again

And for future hikes—this is a better idea of what the map should look like.trail map2

Recommended article: “How Hiking Can Help Your Spirituality“, by Megan Bailey at beliefnet.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Ways To Pray: Walking A Labyrinth

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel and bow. These gestures, postures or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. 

This summer I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.”Carrie Newcomer

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There is a clear design to a labyrinth with only one path to reach the center, albeit not direct, and the same path to walk  from the center outwards. Bringing one’s prayer to the labyrinth helps engage the mind, body and spirit.

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world…Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger, and grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives.”  Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

Often before starting a labyrinth walk, I offer an intention, ask a question, or prayerfully surrender a situation to God. Sometimes I carry a SoulCollage® card with me as I journey towards the center. Because there is only one path inward, the mind can let go of how one while arrive at the center. It is a certainty that I will get there eventually. I practice trusting that wherever God takes me, I will be led both inward to the center and back out. I can settle into a knowing that God is with me, that God accompanies.

This walk, or journey inward, is a metaphor for life—really all situations, relationships and decisions are a journey. So often we don’t know where we are headed, even with the best of plans or intentions. With a labyrinth walk, one has the experience of letting go of their own plan—surrendering and trusting that the center will be reached.  It is nearly impossible to rush through a labyrinth. Just imagine what that might look like at the turning points. It is actually dizzying to make the turns, circling around from one quadrant to another, if moving too fast. The best option for the labyrinth (and perhaps for all of life) is to move in a rhythmic, slow, meditative walk.

Despite the appearance of a dead end, or another switchback, the journey continues inward and will ultimately arrive at the center. The route isn’t always clear. I often wonder if I somehow lost my place. Am I just walking in circles? There may be a bit of anxiety, but trusting that the path is the right one brings freedom. If this can be transferred to our life’s journey, imagine what that freedom might be like! Wherever God takes me, whether I am led inward or back out, when I feel I’ve lost my way or the walk feels longer than it should, I am reminded that God holds the divine design to our personal journey.

labyrinth prayer

When I arrive at the center of the labyrinth, I surrender my intention, rest and pray. Recently I learned the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral is situated where the womb of Mary would be if the cathedral itself symbolized the head, arms and body of Mary (see Bishop Robert Barron’s description of the Chartres Cathedral and the image of Mary). It is a beautiful image to bring one’s prayer and concerns to the womb of Mary, surrendering into Jesus who surrendered for us. God makes our offering into something new; through our surrender, something in us can be birthed or transformed. The labyrinth, of course, is a symbol of this—we can surrender anytime. We are called to, as Jesus said, “Follow me”.

 

Wisdom Ways Labyrinth Building
Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth completed in 1220, France

 

Bishop Robert Barron describes the stained-glass window, perfectly shaped to reflect on the labyrinth, as a symbol of heavenly light shining on the womb of Mary, receiving the light of Christ as the bearer of the divine word. Spending time in the center of the labyrinth, we can make personal Mary’s acceptance, “Be it done unto me (Luke 1:38).” We surrender as Mary did when she received the news from the angel Gabriel in the Annunciation.

“Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping.”-Julia Cameron 

The journey outward is a continued expression of the prayerful surrender. It occurred to me while walking outward that I was moving more quickly. I was in a bit of a hurry even. Almost as if to say “I surrender, but please, answer my prayer quickly” or “There, I did it! I surrender. Done!”  I am aware that I prefer difficult situations to be “fixed” now. I want a resolution; I don’t want to wait for an answer or solution. I don’t want the pain of the journey. I want to get straight to the center and back out again. Of course, the hurrying really doesn’t work. Staying attentive and slowly walking the walk is the only way to stay in God’s presence, to truly surrender. 

Walking the labyrinth brings new insights each time—about the process itself, as a metaphor for life’s journey, and about the situation in need of prayer. Praying while walking a labyrinth can be combined with many other forms of prayer as well.

 

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A SoulCollage® card I made to represent a recent dream.

 

 I love labyrinths and am so excited about one being built at St. Benedict Center! “Its model is the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres, France.  When the Holy Land was closed to pilgrims in the Middle Ages, labyrinths abounded in the churches of Europe.  They were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our life is a pilgrimage, a journey to our eternal home with God in heaven.” –Father Thomas Leitner The labyrinth will be completed by spring 2018.

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Consider attending a retreat I am leading hosted by St. Benedict Center called Living in the Fullness of God, October 27-28, 2018. Through prayer, we grow in the fullness of relationship with God. “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything” (Julian of Norwich). What does it mean to live life to its fullest? Is it possible to always live with joy? Explore the paradox of embracing joy and sadness, light and darkness, birthing and dying, God in all and God within as we explore our greatest joy—that we are created in the image of God and we are created to create! Embrace the fullness of God’s gift of creative prayer including lectio divina, SoulCollage®, guided meditation and a labyrinth walk.

labyrinth June 2017

 

 

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