Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 3)

Welcome to Session 3—Silence as Sanctuary

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There are many ways to find refuge in our daily lives if we choose to remember. Too often, we can get sucked into the vortex of expectations and things to do accompanied by a flurry of activities and thoughts, that we forget to ask for help when we need it. Refuge, sanctuary, will not come looking for us.  Consider the first lines of Sanctuary.

Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire’s all but gone?

The lyrics are posed as a question. To ask for help requires self-awareness and humility. We must remember to ask for sanctuary.

You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
A quiet grove of trees
Or between two bookends.

Carrie Newcomer, Sanctuary

sanctuary lyrics

There is no one right way to seek or find sanctuary. Sometimes sanctuary is a place. Sometimes we need to be with loved ones, our circle of friends. Sometimes spending time in nature or reading a good book. Sometimes we find sanctuary through an act of creativity, like collage or journaling or in an activity where one loses all sense of time. And sometimes we just need silence. Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 3)”

Benediction of the Trees

Profoundly impacted by the lyrics and vocals of “Benediction of the Trees”,  written and performed by Derek Dibbern, I share his music and also images of trees I’ve taken through the years in different seasons and from various states and countries.

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Derek and I met at St. Benedict Center several years ago and our paths continue to cross–we’ve been in the same space for Zen meditation, Catholic Mass, my school classroom, as well as local bars and coffee shops where he has performed. Deeply spiritual and always seeking, Derek is a student of inspirational and recreational tree climbing at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon. He dedicates the song to his teacher, Tim Kovar, and “the many woodland creatures that have held us aloft in our arboreal adventures.”

This song is a prayer. It is recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

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Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

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Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

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Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

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A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

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In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

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As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

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In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

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Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar

I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.

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There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…

I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”

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So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others.

We are all vulnerable. I lost a friend to suicide over a decade ago—and it still makes me sad and angry. I have also had bouts of depression, despair and the occasional voice of the devil that rears its ugly head in my thoughts. We are all vulnerable to becoming a victim of suicide—either one who is left behind, as one who struggles with despairing thoughts or the one who completes this final act.

In the weeks before my dear friend, Colleen, decided to take her own life, she suffered from immense physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional pain. No one can feel the pain of another or take it away but, still, I hope she received some comfort that she was met in her pain through conversations with and prayers from her loved ones.

I used to think this was enough—to be available and compassionate, to pray and forgive. But I think there is one more vital thing we can do for ourselves and others—tell them NOT to leave, beg them NOT to listen to the voice of the devil, the liar in their head.

Tell yourself that too. Get help. Stop a Suicide Today.

And as you encounter someone who seems at risk of suicide, consider the advice from St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” and treat each person as if they were Christ himself, particularly yourself. You are the Christ-bearer and worthy of patient waiting for the dark night of the soul to pass. For an excellent article and insight from a Catholic perspective, read A Catholic Approach to the Suicide Epidemic.

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

 

 

What Makes a “Happy” Mother’s Day?

I heard the joyous greeting, “Happy Mother’s Day!”, many times this weekend.  But I was thinking since it is the first of this holiday I have spent without my daughter, what makes a “happy” Mother’s Day?

Although I would love to be with Jessica, what makes a Mother’s Day truly happy (and this mother’s heart full on ordinary days as well), is having a happy child. This is all a mother desires—to know that her child is happy, learning, growing and always becoming.  

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A year ago, just one day before her college graduation, Jessica accepted a full-time research assistant position in Washington, DC. Just a few weeks later, in a car packed to the gills, she made the 1200-mile journey to move into a house with two roommates and begin her first full-time job.

In this past year, Jessica has done some serious adulting—working 40 hours a week, making decisions about her health insurance and retirement savings, learning on-the-job about social policy for low-income families, and challenging herself to grow personally and professionally. She’s had fun visiting new sites and cities, enjoying solitude, making new friends, and finding love. She’s made a few trips home for the holidays, made weekly phone calls to her grandparents and has hosted both of her parents as a guest in her home. She is becoming and it is beautiful to behold.  

“Blessing Jessica, as my grown-up child, is a journey of becoming comfortable with the uncertainty and the many possibilities for her future, letting go slowly, surely, courageously. The blessing card is as much a reminder for me as it is for Jessica.” (from A Mother’s Blessing)

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“When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night…Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” Still, it remains my prayer for Jessica as she continues to become, giving birth to herself over and over again, becoming more herself.

God bless Jessica’s mind so that she make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica’s body so that she grow strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica’s spirit so that she know the love of God and others. Amen.”
(from Jessica Becoming)

There isn’t anything that could make my Mother’s Day any happier than knowing that my prayers have been, and are being, answered. Jessica has made good decisions and choices, she is strong and healthy, she does know the love of God and others. And she continues to—she is becoming.

“I journey with Jessica in her becoming. As she grows, I grow; I re-center, reset and adjust to our new way of relating.  I am learning and re-creating the role of mother as Jessica is becoming. We are both becoming.

When your heart is full because your child is happy, then every day is Mother’s Day.daughter

 

Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

gentle-with-yourself“Gentle” is going to be my word for 2017.

I resolve to be gentle, excessively gentle.

A new year’s resolution implies a determined effort to make a change, of which I certainly could consider—to be more patient and generous, to eat more healthful, to exercise, to lose weight. There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that, but I resolve only to be excessively gentle. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so instead I call this “being gentle” my un-resolution.

I’ve been giving this “being gentle” idea some thought during the sacred waiting of Advent. So often, I try to hurry through the darkness of life, times that are painful, (seriously, who wants to hang out there?), but during Advent I feel I have permission to rest in the womb of darkness, taking time to prayerfully reflect on a very difficult 2016.

Although I want to move quickly through my discomfort, and those around me prefer this as well, I have felt incapable. The lesson of Advent is that birthing cannot be hurried, especially of the Christ; perhaps, this resting gently in my own darkness could have something to teach as well.

So how can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?  This is the question I sought an answer to during a SoulFully You Advent retreat. With the help of compassionate friends and the insightful  SoulCollage® process (called readings), I am discovering how I might move more gently into 2017.

Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by randomly selecting three Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.

I ask my first card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?1470050_10205193566429100_1861880692419772670_n

I am one who looks down on the universe and upon a scene of the Garden of Eden. We are a part of the whole but also in relationship.  I am one who is the light of Christ; I can look upon the universe with love and light, just as God does.  I am one who can be more gentle, remembering we are all connected with the light of Christ shining through each of us. Being gentle with others means withholding judgment, being content with myself and looking lovingly upon myself and others. I am this child who looks upon the scenes of daily life with acceptance, with the feeling that God is well-pleased.  “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

I ask my second card, which is quite different than the first, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?spinning-out-of-control

I am one who is deserted, depressed, angry. I am one who feels knotted up, spinning out of control, losing my head, going in a million different directions.  All negativity and darkness flow from a small place (in the lower left corner of the card). In the doorway is a pile of trash, things that are thrown away. I need to let things that need to be thrown away, be thrown away. I do not need to let the darkness, either outside or inside of myself, consume me. I am one who can give voice to these dark things, not masking it. I can let the darkness be what it is without holding on to it. I am one who can face the shadow side and not ignore it.  In the darkness of the doorway from which all negativity flows, there is still light. I can face everything head on and reside in this place where trash, the darkness, is also present.

I ask my third card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?stability darkness and light.jpg

Unsure whether this card is really finished, I am attracted to the stability represented by different types of stones, all having endured the test of time. I am one who gathers strength in the mother/child connection; I can mother myself through the storm of life. I see the darkness and light in everyone, knowing that no one is ever “finished”. I am one who is strong, committed to stability and grounded in faith regardless of my situation. To survive, to thrive, there must be a convergence of both dark and light in myself and others. I draw strength by resting into the stability of my faith, my God and constant companion.light-and-darkness

Looking holistically, the theme of light and darkness in each card cannot be missed. It can be a harsh reality to accept that there is always a little darkness in one’s life, but, there is inevitable light amidst this darkness that gives hope, purpose, and meaning. I feel affirmed that patiently wading through the dark waters of life will bring healing, a sense of being “finished”.

After reflecting on the insights of my SoulCollage® reading, I felt another card needed to be created, titled—Just Hang It Up.

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I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. Instead place “it” carefully on a hanger, still a part of my personal collection of wounds and wonders. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Perhaps this is the way to learn to be excessively gentle–hang up the past, forgive, move on.

What is the “it” that can be hung up? I’m still praying and seeking answers about the “it”, but I have an idea. “It” is shame—shame that comes from criticism, disappointment, expectations, being silenced, feeling too much…all of these too much, not enough kinds of feelings that lead to discontent, a lack of self and other acceptance.

Our darkness can be carried in the heart as shame, unless perhaps, we treat ourselves darkness-1agently and pray for healing. I’m just starting this journey, I am not “finished”—and in the time I’ve written this post, I have participated in nearly everyone one of the “its” listed.  But there is an awareness  that I can let some of “it” go. I can just hang “it” up. I can be gentle with myself. In the words of John O’Donohue,

At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

May you move ever so gently into the new year.
Take time for silence. Listen.
Take solace in your faith. Pray.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Be excessively gentle with others.
And may your 2017 be blessed!

For posts on similar topics:

Always We Begin Again, Year of Mercy
A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth, Advent
Praying with Scissors, SoulCollage® process

For information about Full Moon and Advent retreats.

 

Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” -Plato

Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it’s the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.

When monks are singing they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.

journey is my own

With music as inspiration, I created this SoulCollage® card to honor my own journey, some new paths I am taking. The words came later:

I am one who is on a journey. I walk this path alone, yet accompanied.  At times I walk a road that is flat, even, predictable; at other times with bumps and bends that I don’t expect. Sometimes it’s all uphill.  Smooth or stony, I walk with the prayer of birthing something new—a new awareness, aim or attitude,  the spark of a fresh idea, or the comfort of a new connection. There are times when the landscape is of no significance. I notice it and I keep walking, nose to the ground. More often, I am one who wanders the road, captivated by clouds and big sky, awake to the countless shades of ordinary green, gold and brown. I notice the details. That is my prayer. I want to see what’s new. I am surrounded by the music of my soul, a prayer, and voice that guides me. I am embraced by the sounds of heaven; I listen to the symphony created  just for me.  And I follow.  This journey is my own.

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“This Journey Is My Own”, a beautiful song by Sara Groves, captures the essence of my spiritual journey, one of my favorites: 

When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone
This journey is my own
Still I want man’s advice, and I need man’s approval
This journey is my own

Why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
What does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

So much of what I do is to make a good impression
This journey is my own
And so much of what I say is to make myself look better
But this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

And I have never felt relief like I feel it right now
This journey is my own
Cuz trying to please the world, it was breaking me down
It was breaking me down

And now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Cuz I know this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life
And you can live for someone else, and it will only bring you pain
I can’t even judge myself, only the Lord can say, ‘Well done.’

Oh, this journey is my own

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This Journey is My Own, Sara Groves

CaptureSinging in God’s Presence #3: In place of the disability to express ourselves, to sing, The Holy Rule of St. Benedict: A Spiritual Path for Today’s World with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B., PhD.

“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”-Johann Sebastian Bach

 

 

 

Made for Goodness: A Child of God

struggle made for goodnessA few years ago, in our attempt to downsize and declutter, I attacked the hundreds of books I own with an attitude of discernment. Where should this book reside? Where would it’s best home be? Shall I keep it to read again or send it along to be enjoyed by another reader?

I was particularly torn about one book, Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu. It was a book my Circle read and discussed together. When I thumbed through the book, discerning, I opted to take a few photos of the pages that had truly made an impression on me, save them and send the book on where it could be loved by another. (Disclaimer: Some books are wistfully retrieved from the send-to-another-home pile and placed back on my bookshelf. With books – and life – this letting go is a journey.)

Yesterday, I came across a photo from this book, a poem written by Tutu for his daughter as seen through the eyes of God. I immediately thought of a friend who could use the comfort and encouragement of this message and started drafting an email to forward the image.

But, wait….I read it again and thought, “This is such a comforting message. I wish every child, every person, knew how loved and special they are; that they need not be so hard on themselves.” I thought of my daughter and my cousin’s daughters. Taking a little detour from the poem (summer days allow for such excursions), I started looking at baby photos of my little cousins, my daughter….and I stumbled upon a baby picture of myself.

I returned to the poem a third time, this time finally realizing that it is meant for me too.  I hear, “Walk slowly. Listen, for God is speaking. You are accompanied. You are known; uniquely created. Be faithful. Trust and it won’t matter how the road may turn. It’s not where you are going, but how. God is with you.”

Perhaps you need to hear this message today too. Here are the words of Desmond Tutu:

Don’t struggle and strive so, my child.
There is no race to complete, no point to prove, no obstacle course to conquer for you to win my love.
I have already given it to you.
I loved you before creation drew its first breath.
I dreamed you as I molded Adam from the mud.
I saw you wet from the womb.
I loved you then.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. ~Psalm 139:13baby

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Stop racing ahead at your own pace; you will only be exhausted, flamed out and spent before the task is accomplished.
Pace yourself with me, walk alongside me.

Do you think I don’t know the demands of your life?
I see you striving for perfection, craving acceptance.
I see you bending yourself out of shape to conform to the image that you have of me.
Do you imagine that I did not know who you were when I made you, when I knit you together in your mother’s womb?
Do you think I planted you as a fig tree and expected you to bloom roses?
No child, I sowed what I wanted to reap.

Be still and know that I am God! ~Psalm 46:11

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You are a child after my own heart.
Seek out your deepest joy and you will find me there.
Find that which makes you perfectly yourself and know that I am at the heart of it.
Do what delights you and you will be working with me, walking with me, finding your life in me.

My precious child, I will call you to account for nothing more than I have asked of you. Just be faithful to the task I have set before you.
Whether you succeed or not is no matter to me.
Live as you hear me speak in you.
Live in the truth you learn from me, then it won’t matter how the road may turn.
The goodness you live will set you free.

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. ~Psalm 131:2

baby love

May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words of false belonging.
May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.
May the expectation in others eyes never decide how you are to be.
May you be blessed with good friends and learn to be a good friend yourself.
May you have friends who can see you.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Respond to the call of your gift and have courage to follow its path.
May your outer dignity mirror the inner dignity of your soul.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May you have the courage to speak for the excluded ones.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

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The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. ~Psalm 23: 1-4

Baby photos: Hadley, Harper (my cousin’s babies),  Jessica and me.
We’ve got good genes in our family. All beautiful babies 🙂

A Mother’s Blessing

 

I thought it would be a little tacky to take a photo of a mother and child I didn’t know this morning in church. I was so tempted to sneak a cell phone shot and apologize later if caught.  It was a tender, intimate moment that I wish could have been captured. But I hold it in my heart instead.

Imagine this: an expectant mother (I would say about 34 weeks into her pregnancy, if I were a betting woman) and her 7-ish year old daughter. The young girl, head resting on her mother’s belly, was tenderly caressing and then, curiously poking at the outline of a baby foot or hand in her mother’s tummy. This simple gesture was a blessing for her sibling, the unborn baby—a welcoming, a communication of love and hope.

Blessing my unborn baby

It is an awesome responsibility for expectant parents to consider bringing a new life into the world.  An avid reader, I couldn’t get my hands on enough books about parenting—parenting an infant, a toddler, a teenager.  I wanted to be the best and most prepared mother I could be, but I experienced an information overload, even without the not-invented-yet, scary, paranoid, hypochondriac rabbit-hole called the Internet, and I started to freak myself out, thinking about all that could go wrong and the weight of this responsibility. quote2

So I scaled it back a notch, deciding, gratefully, to focus only on the moment, on welcoming the life of my unborn baby. In the womb, a baby hears, feels, moves and senses. Despite the 1980’s new agey-ness of the title, I read a book when I was pregnant with Jessica called “Communing with the Spirit of Your Unborn Child”.  I believed that “Every parent has an unceasing responsibility to the child to be the light, to represent the light.” I prayerfully welcomed the baby we had so desired, sending her light and blessings while she was still in my womb. Throughout my pregnancy, I documented my thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams and prayed that we would be good parents.

pregnancy collage

When Jessica was a toddler, I read “The Blessings” by Gary Smalley and John Trent, about the value of blessing a child with words, touch, visions of a positive future and more. Blessing a child doesn’t just happen once; blessing a child continues through their life in a variety of ways.

Recently, Jessica asked her dad and me for a blessing.  While visiting Jessica in Washington DC during her senior internship, she broke it to us, ever so gently, that she had fallen in love with DC. She said she really wanted to pursue working there after college graduation.

And then she said, “Do I have your blessing?” My 21-year-old confident, brilliant, talented, highly employable daughter wanted her mom and dad to say it was okay for her to move away from our hometown and follow her dream.collage2

It was a touching, respectful-of-her-parents-kind-of-request, but she must not have realized that she already had our blessing. Our blessing has always been for her to pursue her dreams, to find her place in the world and to become a joy-filled, independent adult.

SoulCollage ® has become an intuitive, yet intentional, way for me to pray, so when my daughter asked for a blessing, I created an image, a blessing card, that could be a visual way to pray for her—to pray that she listen to her intuition, follow her dreams, and know that she would always have our blessing.

Blessings2a

I’ve been praying with the blessing card for several months, but recently decided to share it with Jessica for an end-of-year celebration at her sorority house. The images I had used to create the collage meant something to me, had help me capture a mother’s blessing, but I added these words to share with Jessica. With her permission, I share them here:

As we said your nighttime prayer as a child, our hand on your head, we gave you our blessing. God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. We give you our blessing now for your journey, wherever it takes you. The bond between a baby elephant and its mother is the closest of any animal on earth—this image represents our connectedness as family, no matter the distance between us. In an African village near a Benedictine monastery, it is tradition for a mother to paint her face when her children are growing into adulthood.  She hides her emotions and opinions so her children will forge their own paths and make their own decisions without the influence or bias of their parents. Our blessing for you is that you bloom into the Jessica you are meant to be. You have been more precious than jewels to us and we look forward to seeing you become a jewel to the world. We love you and give you our blessing as you fly into your becoming.

baby JessA

Blessing Jessica, as my grown-up child, is a journey of becoming comfortable with the uncertainty and the many possibilities for her future, letting go slowly, surely, courageously. The blessing card is as much a reminder for me as it is for Jessica.

This morning, watching the young girl tenderly embrace her unborn sibling, it reminded me of the vision we had for Jessica before she was even born-that she become fully who God intends her to be.  It is a prayerful process, a standing-witness-to the becoming of this young woman, who as an unborn child was welcomed and blessed into this universe so that she could become who she is meant to be. She has our blessing, then and now.

 “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.    -e. e. cummings

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