Thursday, August 9, 2018

Vacant


“When an unclean spirit leaves a person, it wanders through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find any. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the place vacant, cleaned up, and decorated. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and make their home there. That person is worse off at the end than at the beginning.  
–Matthew 12:43-45


Let my heart not be found vacant, Lord,
well-adorned yet empty. Let my heart be
filled with warmth, love and your presence,
that I may walk in your way,
that I may radiate your love to others.
Fill me full of yourself, O God.
Leave no cell void of you
that I may dissolve into you
fully,
completely,
wholly.
Amen.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Birthday Reflections


I celebrated my birthday this week and I certainly know I have much to celebrate. I am living in a place of fullness, joy and peace that I could have never imagined for myself. Some people use the expression “living the dream” sarcastically, but I use it with sincerity. Friends of mine have heard me say that truly, I am living my dream. I am grateful for the way my life has unfolded to bring me to this place of deep gladness.

Frederick Buechner says this: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. When I first heard this quote, I was in a season of discernment about what I sensed as a call for my life. Following that call took me from what felt comfortable and predictable and set me on a journey that defied any effort at making a five year plan. Even if I had made such a plan, the events that unfolded along the way were ones I could have never predicted.

Fullness of life doesn’t mean rainbows and unicorns. I went through the hardest season of my life thus far in the years between following this call and now. In fact, there were days dark enough and circumstances unsettling enough that I questioned my worth and my call. But God’s love was manifested to me in the love, companionship and encouragement of friends. I likewise realized that the consistent practice of centering prayer and lectio divina had led to a sense of God’s presence that sustained me. I was grateful that I never felt abandoned by God, even when I questioned everything else about my life.

As I reflect on life at the conclusion of another trip around the sun, I can’t think of anything I’d wish for if I had birthday candles to blow out. I am grateful for each moment. I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for the communities to which I belong. And yes, I am grateful, supremely grateful, for the season of struggle, the pain and the people whose words and actions hurt me. Without them, I would not be where I am today. I would not have learned and lived the truth of death and resurrection in such a palpable way.

So I celebrate that I have been born and that I have been reborn. Life is good. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Present in the Transitions


When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities.
                                                                                --Matthew 14:13

Jesus needed some alone time after learning of the execution of his cousin John. The only time he could claim was the time on the boat. As soon as he landed, he was once again surrounded by crowds.

I imagine Jesus found the time on the boat soothing to his grieving soul, enabling him to then be fully present with the crowds who were waiting for him when he came ashore. It is a reminder to me to not fail to be fully present in the transitions of life.

Our achievement/accomplishment oriented culture places greater emphasis on the destination than the process required to get there. We are constantly looking ahead to the next thing, but when we do this, we miss the gifts of being on the way.

Recently I observed a Luna moth on a UPS drop box as I was walking on a downtown sidewalk from my apartment to my car. Had I been lost in thought about my to-do list, I might have missed a moment of beauty. And this morning as I parked my car in a large parking lot to go to an appointment, I heard a hawk. I stopped, looking in the sky to see if I could see it. I found it perched in a pine tree that is growing at the edge of the lot. It was a gift to appreciate as I moved toward my destination.

It takes intentionality to be as present climbing the stairs, walking across a parking lot, riding an elevator or standing in line as we are when we first put our bare feet in the sand on a long awaited beach trip, or are eating lunch with a friend we haven’t seen in a while, or celebrating a milestone moment of life.

Seeking God’s presence in the moments between moments, in the spaces between thoughts, or in the transitions between events enriches all of life and disposes us to see God in ways we could miss if we are only focused on accomplishments or destinations. Much of Jesus’ ministry happened when he was on the way. I pray we can appreciate the “on the way” moments as much as the moments of arrival or accomplishment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Seen


Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees the heart.
                                                                                                                --1 Samuel 16:7b

 Because I am seen by God
   I want to see others as God sees them.

There are those who have seen me this way.
   They helped me to live.
   They loved me to new life.

To see another as God sees them—
   what greater gift can we give?

Was it God’s seeing of David,
   his anointing by Samuel,
   that sparked the faith to face Goliath?

Being seen is the sun and water
   for the Godseed in our hearts.

We grow and bloom when seen as God sees.
   We catch fire and burn brightly,
   fully engulfed with life and light.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thoughts on Community


Community is a matter of the heart and the mind. It cannot be created by place alone, and it cannot be destroyed by distance alone. It is the essence of the soul.    –Joan Chittister

If you read my musings often, you will know the value I place on community. Community has sustained me when life has been incredibly hard. I do not take for granted the gift of community and am grateful for the communities to which I belong.

Sister Joan’s observation about community arises, at least in some part, from her own experience living in a monastery as a Benedictine Sister. But hopefully most of us can identify with her observation from our own experiences of community. As she notes, simply living under the same roof does not create community. Nor does being part of a particular group.

Community is not the same as a collection of individuals. There is a quality of soul that true community shares. One can be terribly lonely in a group when there is no soul connection, when there is no one interested in listening to what it is that makes your soul sing. In fact, one of the signs of verbal abuse in a marriage is that the abuser trivializes what is important to the other by being disinterested or dismissive. Proximity does not necessarily create community.

On the other hand, distance does not quash community that is rooted in genuine care for one another. You may have friends you do not see often, but when you do, it is as if no time has passed. You pick up where you left off. When you have such connections, you can be alone and yet not be lonely, for the soul connection is palpable.

If the soul’s essence is to be in community, then it matters that we build relationships that are deep and mutually life-giving, relationships that help you discover your true self, that do not silence your true voice. If we squelch our truth to try to fit into someone else’s idea of who we should be, we will not find peace in our souls.

True community feeds our souls and reveals to us the commonwealth of God.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Yoke of Gentleness


Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.
                                                                                                                                Matthew 11:29

To focus on this one verse helps me to see it differently. Jesus invites us to learn his way of gentleness and humility. When we focus on striving to better ourselves, to win over others, to prove ourselves right, worthy, smart, capable and adept, we will inevitably come up short at some time. There is a limit beyond which our faculties and milieu will not let us go.

We mostly live our lives trying to be superhuman. Our culture encourages it. Perfection, at least in what is visible to others, is the goal. But it is a goal we cannot reach. We dress our family for the perfect family photo and struggle to find one where everyone appears happy. We set a table for the perfect family meal and then the bread gets too brown on the bottom or the dog licks the ham and we can either come unglued or remember that life is not perfect.

In so many scenes of our life—at work, at church, in the community—we envision scenarios where everything goes smoothly, only to experience that they don’t. Real life does not look like perfection.

Jesus’ offer to be gentle and humble begins with ourselves. When we can let go of the superhuman image of ourselves that we strive to present to others and even to ourselves, and can accept our dents and scratches and let these be visible to others, then we can learn to rest.

While we may strive for exterior perfection, the perfection to which Jesus calls us is wholeness, completeness, the fullness of our humanity.

Thomas Merton said that to be a saint is to be who you are. How do we come to know ourselves wholly, deeply, clearly so that we become more fully human? Jesus invites us to a way of gentleness and humility, so we can begin to see the self that God sees and loves. Not an outwardly perfect self, but a self created in the image of God that gives voice to the unique melody God has placed in each of us. When we sing that melody, we grow more fully human n the way God created us to be. To know ourselves more fully allows us to know God more fully.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Scarcity vs Contentment


The man who thinks nothing of goods has freed himself from quarrels and disputes. But the lover of possessions will fight to the death for a needle.  –John Climacus

John Climacus was born in 570 and lived as a monk on Mount Sinai in Egypt. Yet his wisdom is timeless. For it is not the amount of one’s possessions that makes one possessive, it is the inner disposition of heart.

Possessiveness is rooted in a disposition of scarcity, a fear of there not being enough. It isn’t limited only to possessions. I have known people who are possessive of spouses or friends. They see love as a scarce resource. Possessiveness can extend to experiences, where a fear of missing out keeps one always focused on the next vacation, the next concert, the next big event.

Scarcity tells us that we are not enough just as we are and that having more, doing more, or receiving more attention will assuage our insecurity. But this is fear’s way of blinding us from trusting God, who loves us as we are and whose love and provision are abundant and limitless.

When our inner disposition is fear, there is always something to protect and defend. Fear builds walls. When I live in fear, I see situations and people as a threat to my well-being. This happens in obvious ways, but also in ways so subtle and insidious that we may not recognize fear as the driving force. When we are jealous of another because they get more attention than we do, when we worry about what others think of us, when we are obsessed with holding and increasing our possessions, fear is controlling how we see the world and how we see ourselves.

When our inner disposition is contentment, we can share our time and possessions freely with others. We don’t build walls when we live from a place of abundance. We don’t have to quarrel with others when we have nothing to protect or defend. When we can be content with however others think of us, when we act out of desire for the well-being of another and don’t need to be appreciated or recognized, we can come to know the inner peace that passes understanding.

All around us is a culture of fear and scarcity. But we don’t have to buy into that way of seeing the world. That way is a way of bondage. The way of abundance is the way of freedom.