Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 5)

Welcome to Session 5—Using Your Cards Creatively

soul pictureCreating SoulCollage® cards has been the focus of the Sprigs of Rosemary retreat sessions so far, but there are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. This prayer, recommended by St. Benedict, embraces the universal roles, the archetypes, of Inner Monk and Inner Artist, instead of the worldly roles that we know we can never be fully satisfied with. Planted deep within us are these archetypes that fuel our desire for solitude and prayer, creativity and expression.

What is special about SoulCollage creativity is that it is time spent listening to the images, drawing on our intuition, creating and then listening to what our own creations are saying to us. We are co-creating with the Divine. Holding an image in prayer is powerful. It is not just a craft project. Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 5)”

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

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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.

Thoughts and Prayers, Guns and School

These past few days our social media feeds have been filled with messages of thoughts and prayers for the victims of yet another school shooting. And there are just as many posts that reject what may seem like Pollyanna, feel-good greetings:

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I understand both perspectives. I want to “LIKE” the thoughts and prayers posts and the posts that say prayers are not enough.

I send my thoughts and prayers to all the families who have lost loved ones because I believe in prayer. My heart goes out to the parents who have lost their beloved children, bursting with potential; for the teachers, inspired to share a passion for life-long learning; for the students who survived, the students who saw their friends die, and the students who will have nightmares for weeks, months and years to come from this trauma.

I believe in the power of prayer to change the person praying and to affect the situation being prayed for. When I pray, I am sending my heartfelt condolences and positive energy to a specific person and/or for a situation. And I know it works—I’ve felt it myself when others have prayed for me. I can only hope it makes a difference when I pray for others.

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But I believe that giving only lip-service to prayer can be a cop-out, a way for some to avoid the responsibility of facing real issues. “Thoughts and prayers” can sound hollow without action, effort, or work towards change.

Prayer must be accompanied with authentic listening and selfless action. St. Benedict refers to this as “ora et labora” or prayer and work. This Benedictine motto has application beyond the monastery.

God empowers us and encourages us to put our prayers to work. Prayer alone is sentimental; work alone lacks heart and soul. It is not either prayer or work, but both prayer and work that can make an impact on those we love and for situations that need healing. We need both prayer and work.

This either/or thinking is what has brought our country to be divided on more issues than I can name here (besides, it just exhausts me.) There is not one single reason that America has found itself the leader in gun murders; there are many.

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A teacher colleague, Alan Holdorf, wrote, “We have a gun problem. Or we have a mental health problem. Or a discipline problem with our children. Can we have all of the problems? Then again, how silly would that be to have a multi-faceted problem that can’t be tackled by a single hot-button issue.”

Of course, America’s problems are multi-layered. There is something Americans are doing differently than other countries. There is something we are doing wrong. It is undeniable, but there isn’t one simple solution to our complex problems. The solution is not one thing or another, it is a both/and situation. There are layers of possibilities for addressing what ails our country, but for God’s sake let’s do something.

This crisis of gun violence in America is an opportunity to be open-minded listeners and to be leaders sans political agenda; to be compassionate and to detach from our own opinions long enough to realize that we all want the same thing—for our children to be safe in their learning environment.

It’s being humble enough as people, as a country, to say that we aren’t getting it right yet. We aren’t great and we never were. We have a long way to go to make all of America feel safe, let alone great.

But America and my classroom are two different things.

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My heart belongs to the classroom. I look out my window at the flag flying half-staff, and I am reminded how much I love my students and want them to succeed. I want them to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student comes from an environment that doesn’t encourage or support that.

Students have so many more issues than they did when I started my career in education 21 years ago—there are m­ore broken homes, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty, personal and family trauma. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the heart, soul, and mind of my student.

But this does not require me to carry a gun—that’s too easy. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind. Instead, some policy decisions need to be made to prevent school violence. Some decisions need to be made to give teachers the tools they need to connect with and help our most vulnerable students. I will continue to PRAY and WORK towards this goal. 

“I’m a teacher and you want to arm me? Then arm me with a school psychologist who has time to do more than test and sit in meetings about testing. Arm me with enough counselors so we can build skills to prevent violence, and have meaningful discussions with students about their future. Arm me with social workers who can thoughtfully attend to students and their family’s needs. Arm me with enough school nurses so that they are accessible to every child. Arm me with more days on the calendar for teaching and learning and fewer days for standardized testing. Arm me with smaller class sizes that allow my colleagues and I to get to know our students and their families better. Arm me with community schools that are hubs of educational, cultural, health and civic partnerships, improving the entire community. Until you arm me to the hilt with what it takes to meet the needs of our school and students, I respectfully request you keep your guns out of my school.” Source: UTLA, video below.

I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag…despite my disappointment

Each school day during my 3rd-period Marketing class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012  stating that all public schools must provide time every day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already a common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was a new practice for most high school students.702848[1]

After the rule passed, teachers took an inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8 ½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until a generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.

Reciting the pledge is voluntary for students and teachers. We can recite the pledge either standing or sitting or remain quiet showing respect for those who do participate. After five years, I am still surprised when there are a few students that don’t stand to say the pledge. I’ve wondered why. This semester every student stands. DSC_0874a.JPG

Regardless of our different political views or opinions, it feels like the one great gesture we can make together is agreeing to pledge allegiance to the flag. We have so many other opportunities, especially this past year, to take a stand (or sit), to disagree, to voice an opinion, to protest or resist. But I’ve also come to the conclusion, and I respect, that not everyone feels the same and that perhaps they have good reasons for not standing or reciting the pledge (besides it’s their constitutional right). In the words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge?

For a few years, I showed a short video clip with Red Skelton explaining what each line of the Pledge meant to him (if you are old enough to know who he is, likely you stand without question for the Pledge of Allegiance).  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I will continue to stand in spite of my disappointment, even shame, at what has become of our United States. I have faith in the words of our Pledge and faith in the meaning behind the words.

 

As I say the Pledge, I take the time to breathe, slow down and really think about the words I’m saying. I hope and pray that my country will live up to the words that each day we profess. There are far too many days lately when I’m uncertain what America really stands for, but when I say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, it is this in which I believe:

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE, promising to speak my truth while remaining committed, TO THE FLAG  as a symbol OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  I pray, even when we seem so divided, that we are united in, and take seriously, our responsibility to all people within and beyond our borders, especially those who flee their own country seeking a place of peace and promise.  I hope we are not so proud of our country that we forget about others, that our desire for unity does not become exclusion.

AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, a country that is a worthy and wonderful place to live, grow and be, representing a land of opportunity and a chance to always begin again. 

ONE NATION that represents a diversity of opinions, beliefs, ethnicities, lifestyles, socioeconomic and educational groups, yet a nation that comes together and is unified in times of tragedy and trial;

UNDER GOD, through our faith, hope, and prayer, in the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, guided by a morality that resides within;

INDIVISIBLE, without division, united with wholeheartedness of spirit;

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, in gratitude for our freedom, with a duty to be fair and honest, and respectful of all we encounter.

FOR ALL.  In God’s eyes, there are no borders—we breathe the same air as the refugee, immigrant, gay, straight or transgendered, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic. We breathe the same air as those we disagree with and those we live with. We are one world. Oceans cannot be divided, this part belonging to Europe and that part belonging to America. The air cannot be split—Mexico breathing this air and America breathing that. No, we breathe the same air. We are connected to all people, all countries. All means all.

This I pledge. This I stand up for. This I place hand over heart for and recite every day of the school year. This I pray.

Our words matter, so how can we live what we profess and believe, as individuals and as a country? Each of us must reflect on what it is that we place hand over heart and stand up for.

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“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

 

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