Gratitude amid the mess

I am grateful for today, for every day really. Yet today is a day set aside to give thanks and, as one is able or in the mood, to celebrate these gifts in the company of family and friends.

This week in the United States has seen the tragic and bloody consequences of violence, the power of the gun lobby, and the consequences of division and hateful rhetoric. It sets an odd context for giving thanks.

This month began with elections that mirrored the polarization and division in our land. Sadly too it seemed that even the Bishops conference was not immune.

Wars continue amid our global family in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and far too many other countries. As we speak families are on the march through the dangerous Darien Gap while others have finally safely reached our borders to seek asylum, only to be turned away.

Our human family is in the midst of a mess. And Earth our common home is caught up in it all too.

And it is in this context that we are to give thanks?

Yes!

Thanks for the gift of life and love.

Thanks for the possibilities and opportunities to turn things around for the common good.

Thanks that the sun rises and sets each and every day, most often with amazing artistic touches.

Thanks for the people in our lives and the air that we breathe and the creativity within our hearts and minds.

Thanks for all that is and was and will be, even if it is messy. Thanks that God is with us in the mess.

Thanks for companionship, family, friends and four legged friends.

Thanks for the gift of hope.

Today we celebrate and give thanks.

Tomorrow the work of making the world a better place continues.

Consult your hopes and dreams

Today is the Feast of Pope John XXIII. More than a decade ago I was a speaker at a conference where I saw this banner with the beginning of one of his famous quotes:

The rest of the quote is also worth reflection:

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”

Hope. Dreams. Possibility.

More and more I am convinced that this is the way, to lean into these, to live into these. How often do we instead despair or compare? What would the world be like, our communities, our planet, if we put all this energy into creating goodness in a spirit of hope and possibility?

As I begin my day, how am I called to live into hope and possibility?

Praying in gratitude this day for the witness of this holy man who opened the windows of the church all those decades ago. May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit among us for the good of the whole.

Today also happens to be the 14th anniversary of my first profession of vows as a Sister of St Joseph of Peace. I could never have imagined all the possibilities that have taken shape in my life since that hopeful yes all those years ago!

How long

Yesterday I accomplished something I have not done in a long time … I got a 100% score on the Saturday New York Times News Quiz. While I am ridiculously proud of this feat, I sincerely wish the news stories were less along the lines of the lamentations of the Prohpet Habakkuk in today’s first reading:

How long, O Lord? I cry for help / but you do not listen! / I cry out to you, “Violence!” / but you do not intervene. / Why do you let me see ruin; / why must I look at misery? / Destruction and violence are before me; / there is strife, and clamorous discord. / 

Discord and strife, violence and destruction. That is what filled this week’s news quiz. It is enough to make one wonder … how does it all end. It is enough to make one despair, what can I do. How to focus on the good amidst all the messiness.

Last week I was blessed to be able to spend some time on the lake. I was working remotely some and taking some down time as well. Much of the said down time was spent looking at the lake, observing its many moods.

Often in the morning, there would be a mist floating above the waters. There is tremendous beauty there in the fog. Potential and wonder, if only we look at it. Perhaps the day will end up cloudy.

Or in beautiful sun and blue skies.

Or a mixture of the two.

Then the Lord answered me and said: / Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, / so that one can read it readily. / For the vision still has its time, / presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; / if it delays, wait for it, / it will surely come, it will not be late. / The rash one has no integrity; / but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

We wait. We live. We love. We work.

We don’t ignore the messy bits, but we also can’t ignore the promise and possibility. What we notice makes a difference, as does how we engage, whether it is the news headlines or the literal horizon before us. We have two eyes and a heart and God intends for us to use them for the good of the whole, for the vision still has its time. Wait for it. It will surely come. It will not be late.

Sleuthing and solving

Over my lifetime as a reader I have devoured many genres from literary fiction to historical novels, sci-fi and speculative fiction, young ault and the classics to name a few.

Ever since I began my role in elected leadership of my religious community seven plus years ago, I have found myself drawn to the cozy mystery.

Light, simple and enjoyable, the well written cozy is also clever and gives you a sense of immersion into a particular community. Open the pages and you step into your sleuth’s world and follow her as she peels back the layers of disruption and deception that are threatening the coziness of her beloved community.

They also have a beginning and an end. And by the end, the problems are solved. Truth be told that is probably the main appeal for me at this time in my life, when the problems I attend to in my own ministry tend to be more of the lingering and unsolvable kind. Not to mention the problems in our wider community.

All this to say I have had a cozy mystery living inside my head for the past year. My sleuth? Sister Izzie, a youngish nun living on the Jersey Shore.

This week I was blessed with a week away for a writing retreat. The biggest unsolved mystery– would the characters living in my head translate to the written word–has been solved. They now exist in my cozy mystery in progress. And what fun the whole process of writing a cozy mystery turns out to be!

I am only beginning this writing adventure, but so far it has been very enjoyable and a little surprising, in a very good way. These past few years I have discovered great joy in writing, but fiction writing is new to me.

I can’t wait to see how the story turns out. I have an idea of course, but have learned this week that the characters sometimes have ideas of their own when my fingers hit the keyboard.

Hammering reflection

I like to begin my day with a cup of tea, some reflective reading, and quiet time with God.

I am slowly working my way through The Listening God by a Trappist nun, Miriam Pollard, OSCO. This morning I sat down for meditation time after reading a beautiful yet down to earth reflection by Sister Miriam. Pondering the “little pains” and “discordant restlessness” we all have in our pockets and on our hearts, she ends by turning to God who says to our most wounded self:

“Give me the self you do not want to be. Give it here. Let it stop squirming and be still in the self I am. Let it sleep my sleep and wake my waking.”

This spoke deeply to me. And so I sat in my favorite spot, holding my warm mug, and closed my eyes to sit with God for a bit before I started my day.. To sit with this giving over of my most wounded and squirmy bits to my loving creator. Breathing in. Breathing out. Peace.

And then.

I had forgotten they are doing road work outside my window. Bursts of rather boisterous jackhammering interrupted my quiet time. My peace. Sigh.

And yet.

Somehow, perhaps because I am becoming more accustomed to the mess and chaos of life these days, I found peace between the boisterous bursts. And humor in the interruptions. And gratitude for those people working on this early morning. And sympathy for neighbors roused from slumber or otherwise disturbed in their morning routines. And loving concern for all those truly suffering these days, lives interrupted by war and violence and illness and death of loved ones.

Once again I learn the lesson that God is with us IN the mess of life, in the noise, the chaos, the pain, the tearing down and building up. God is there, God is here, and so are we.

Jumping into Christ’s Love

I love this bit in today’s reading from John 21:

“When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.”

Peter’s reaction is so human. He has so missed his friend, his teacher. Hearing that Jesus is here, NOW, he can wait no more. He jumps into the sea, fully if lightly clothed. He abandons his task and leaves the job of bringing in the boat and the fish to his companions. He couldn’t wait.

Also of course he must have been remembering how he left things with Jesus. How he denied him not once but three times. How he abandoned him at his most vulnerable. How he lacked the strength. (Nevermind that in his excitement to get to shore he abandons his friends and his job. We are all slow learners.)

“When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come, have breakfast.’”

But Jesus never gives up on us, no matter how many times we abandon him or our tasks. He helps Peter remember what is his to do. And he feeds him and all the disciples.

There is a lesson there for all of us slow learners.

Love shall overcome

Who does not have half their attention elsewhere these days.

The horror facing civilians in Ukraine. The dawning reality of the climate crisis. Political polarization even in families and churches. Racial and economic disparity that seems entrenched and at the same time dismissed.

These are the signs of the times that led my religious Congregation, the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, to commit in our Chapter Act this week To Be Who We Say We Are.

“Urged by a burning desire to speak and act boldly with open, loving and adventurous hearts, and in collaboration with others, we now commit to:

  • Cultivating and practicing peace through justice by the intentional living of interculturality, anti-racism, and inclusion
  • Addressing, healing, and being present to the wounds and broken relationships among ourselves and all of God’s Creation
  • Resisting every form of war and violence
  • Making a place for everyone at the table where all are welcomed and gifts are honored

It is time to be who we have always said we are. It is time to live our words.  We embrace these promptings of the Spirit with courage, humility, hope and trust.”

As I have prayed with the Chapter experience and these words, the words of the song Free by the Good Shepherd Collective and Liz Vice keep playing in my head and heart. So I did what I do and made a video prayer.

🎵 So let the light in, keep it shining, let it break into the darkness … Love shall overcome 🎵

Margaret Anna Cusack, our founder, said: “The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire a love and desire for it.”

Bishop Bagshawe, who we claim as a co-founder, told the first Sisters at their profession in 1884: “To secure this divine peace for ourselves and procure its blessing for others in the midst of the sin, turmoil, and restless anxiety of this modern world is the object of your institute.

So on the one hand the task can seem huge and overwhelming. Impossible even. And yet … Love shall overcome. Peace is possible. Peace is God’s gift. A gift to love and desire and work for and share. For then, indeed, we will all be free.

LENT: Wearing Love

One word keeps coming to me in my prayer these first days of Lent in 2022: Love.

In our first reading today from Leviticus we hear the great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I have long wondered if the greatest crisis in our world today isn’t that we don’t realize how much we are, each of us, worthy of love. We are all God’s own beloved. God loved us into being. God calls us to love one another as God has loved us.

This morning I prayed with a booklet created several years ago by a group in my religious Congregation focused on growing in nonviolence. Each week the booklet explores Lent with the Principles of Nonviolence. The principle for the first week of Lent is: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Our founder Margaret Anna Cusack wrote in 1874: “Force was no longer to be the rule, except, indeed, the force of love.”

In 2020 Philadelphia singer songwriter Joy Ike released a song called “Wearing Love.” It is a song I return to again and again to reground myself on this journey. (It is also good to dance to.)

Slow your breathing
No more scheming
Quit competing
Just love 

And everyone will wonder
You did not go under
You were undercover
Wearing love 

 Keep your words
They won’t fix anything
All that works is the love that you bring

This Lent, and beyond, may I find my ground and center in God’s unconditional love. May I bring the force of that love into my actions and relationships. May I wear love always. Just love.

Thoughts and Action

Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord, and further them with your constant help, that all we do may always begin from you and by you be brought to completion.

The above words come from the collect for today’s liturgy on this Thursday after Ash Wednesday. As we begin this Lenten journey, there is so much in need of constant help.

The wars raging in Ukraine and so many other parts of the human family.

The cries of Earth as temperatures rise and our planet’s ecosystem struggles to keep up with harm caused by human activity.

The cries of people who are living in poverty or otherwise on the margins, wondering how they will provide just the basic necessities for their loved ones.

The divisions between and among us that deny human dignity and prevent us from treating each other as the beloved of God we are.

This is the context as we begin Lent. And we are called to begin the Lenten journey in our own hearts.

Purify my heart!
May every word, every thought!
Every motive, every intention!
Be pleasing in your sight O God!
Be pleasing in your sight O God!

This song by Jess Ray, based on Psalm 119, rings true of my heart’s desire for this Lenten journey.

May my heart, my every, word, every thought, every motive be pleasing to God. A high order, but all things are possible with, through, and for God.

In our CSJP Constitutions we say that prayer leads to action, while action leads us to pray. As we hold the many needs of our world crying out for help, may our heartfelt prayer lead us to actions for peace through justice.

Amen

Learning to love, give, and weep in 2022

I prayed this morning with this song by The Porter’s Gate: Teach Us Your Ways.

Such a fitting prayer as we lean into 2022 and all it will hold. A prayer that we will:

Learn from one another.

Learn to love each other.

Give ourselves for one another.

Weep with one another.

There will certainly be lots to learn this year, lots to give, and tears to be shed. This is life. And we are learning, this is life in times of uncertainty and ambiguity.

May we live into it all with love.