The book of creation tells us
… the sun will rise, even in our darkest hours
The book of creation tells us
… the sun will rise, even in our darkest hours
Sometimes we see only what we want to see.
Or our vision is clouded …
by fear or worry or grumpiness or distrust or
[feel free to fill in your own blank].
Maybe we want to see through rose colored glasses,
and so what we see is not quite true.
But sometimes our vision is
Maybe it was a friend challenging us,
or a listening ear,
a lifting of mood,
or simply waking up on the right side of the bed.
Whatever the reason, rejoice!
To see the horizon clearly.
To see bridges as opportunity not obstacles.
To see the tiny beautiful bird in the midst of the mess.
On days when my perspective is clearer I give thanks.
Whatever the cause.
Last summer I had four flight cancellations due to weather, which may explain why I wasn’t too upset when my flight from the west to east coast today was delayed three and a half hours. It was still going and it was a direct flight for me, no connections. No worries.
Of course those with connections were no doubt put out as their carefully constructed plans fell apart. I get that.
But I was fresh off a mini break weekend at the Oregon Coast with a friend I have somehow already known for 28+ years. I was renewed, mostly grumpy free, and a bit zen. I had just watched the choppy waves of the storm one day become beautiful shining waters the next day.
The plane ride itself was uneventful, until, that is, we started our descent just as the sun was setting above the skies and the storms brewing below. Breathtaking.
We landed into mid storm, with lightening strikes and tornado warnings. Ground crew were grounded, so it took awhile to get to the gate. But we were safe.
My positive attitude lasted the next hour while we waited for our bags. Remember those storms? Baggage crews were also grounded, not able to go outside and take our bags off the plane.
Bags started finally to come out of the gate and make their run around the circle. Bags from Aruba and Chicago, but none from Portland. Then the bags stopped their ride around the belt, and no new bags appeared. For quite a while. Admittedly, my positive attitude had lost some of its shine by now. But there was bonding with the other passengers. Two of us embarked on fact finding missions. And one or two walkie talkie messages later and magic … bags!
Storms come, and sometimes a grumpy or angry response is warranted and appropriate. But other times going the grumpy annoyed route just makes you grumpier. How we approach the storms of our lives makes a difference it seems.
And of course it always helps to be coming off of a three day weekend of friendship, fun and fabulous walks on the beach.
My Christmas card this year is a picture I took of a statue of St. Joseph “looking” at a Christmas tree lit up on the grounds of Bon Secours retreat center in Maryland that I took last year on retreat.
As I wrote in my Christmas Letter to family & friends:
I’ve been spending time talking to Joseph these days. In our CSJP constitutions we say about Joseph: “His courage to life a life of faith inspires us to trust in God’s abiding love, especially in times of struggle and uncertainty.”
Pope Francis writes about his own prayer practice with Joseph, and that he’s the one he goes to when he is “in a fix.” He writes little notes of problems that need fixing and slips them under a statue of Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter after all. When we spend time with the Gospel readings about the birth of Jesus, Prince of Peace, during the time of empire, we can see that Joseph understands what it’s like to keep on keeping on during challenging times.
We don’t often spend a lot of time with Joseph, but I think we all could use a little Joseph in our lives these days.
This Christmas Eve, I prayed with “As Joseph Was a Walking” recorded by Annie Lennox. If you want to spend some time with Joseph, here’s my video prayer reflection:
When I was a novice, we participated each week in an intercommunity program with novices from other religious communities–men’s and women’s communities across the entire spectrum. We gathered each week to learn about the various aspects of religious life. When it came time to learn about the vows, the presenter shared unique perspectives present in the Constitutions of each community. That is when I realized that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace “recognize the value of leisure as contributing to restorating and wholeness.”
Now, of course, this is both common sense and good self care. But we put it in our Constitutions! Not only that, we placed it in the section on the vow of poverty and in the context of work.
In solidarity with our sisters and brothers
we engage in human labor
as a means of service and sustencance.
We recognize the value of leisure
as contributing to restoration and wholeness.
In these ways we come to share
in the creative power of God.
(CSJP Constitution No. 54)
For Apostolic religious women, leisure is not the aim or the goal or the norm, but it is critical, so critical that it enables us to live our vow of poverty and be about the mission of peace with joy, and from a place of wholeness. I write these words a few days into my annual summer vacation, this year a solo adventure to a spot that’s been on my bucket list for years … Prince Edward Island.
Yesterday when I was driving around a part of the Island where one of our CSJP Sisters was born, this view caught my eye and so I pulled over to take this picture:
The perfect juxtaposition of the value of human labor, leisure, and the creative power of God.
Work is the norm, but sometimes we just need to stop and soak in the beauty to remind us that in the end it’s not up to us, but to the creative power of God. And besides, we all need to stop and take some time to just soak in the sheer beauty and wonder of the world God has created, including us!
Things can seem to be spinning out of control these days
From the news cycle to the general frenetic pace of life
(and from meeting upon meeting in my own life)
To the growing inequality, systemic racism, uncivil discourse and general status quo which seems to inch farther away from the benefit of ordinary folks, especially those on the margins who Jesus loved so much.
How do we/I stay centered in the midst of it all?
To do lists, crisis management and holding the powers that be (and each other) accountable, to be sure.
But also kindness?
And looking with eyes of hope for signs of joy?
And slowing down
Yes, slowing down.
Slowing down to keep up.
It’s Holy Saturday, a fitting time and space for prayer these days, when we often seem to find ourselves in the Holy Saturday moments of our lives. There’s so much suffering in the world, yet even more there is so much love in the world (f we can just remember that!), and here we are called to live into the promise, in between the already but not yet.
This morning I found myself praying with Mary, friend of Jesus. She had stayed with her dear one to the end, through the suffering that she was powerless to stop, even standing at the foot of the cross in witness to love and life. She was there as his body was laid in the tomb, and the stone rolled across its entrance. The others departed then, but as Mathew’s Gospel tells us, she stayed there, unable to leave just yet. Another friend kept her company as they sat together with their memories and grief and uncertainty.
“But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb”
We too keep her company. We face the tomb. We love, we remember, and we live into the promise of Easter Sunday, even in our Holy Saturday moments.
And so I share with you this video prayer reflection, the fruit of my contemplation this Holy Saturday, as we await the Resurrection. Peace.
I had the best of intentions at the start of this Advent season, hands down my favorite liturgical season. And then …. life happened and I responded with my little human ways. You know the drill, anxiety and busyness leads to stress and grumpiness and less patience and less compassionate responses to the folks in your own life because of course you are busy and stressed. Maybe you don’t know, but it’s a familiar pattern for me unfortunately, and one I fell right back into the past couple of weeks.
Thankfully, this past summer when I was on my annual directed retreat I made a commitment to schedule some mini-retreat time this December. I tend to take the most beautiful photos when I am on retreat, and so when I saw a listing for a Contemplative Photography retreat in Advent, I signed up right away. For the months since, I have guarded this weekend on my calendar, knowing I suppose deep down that by now, I’d need it. And I certainly did!
While the retreat itself was excellent, especially the experiences of guided visio divina and the opportunity to pray with the photos taken by the other retreatants, really it was an opportunity to reset my own best intentions. Adapting today’s second reading from the 2nd Letter of Peter, I pray:
I can no longer ignore this one fact,
I am beloved, and so are those around me and all of creation,
and with God one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
God’s promise is not delayed, as some think of ‘delay,’
but God is patient with me,
not wishing me or you harm
but that I would return & center myself on love.
Since everything is grounded in love,
what sort of person might I be
living with a spirit of gratitude and compassion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of love in our midst.
That is of course the kind of person I want to be, to see with God’s eyes the beauty and love and light and hope in the midst of the busyness and anxiety and sorrow and uncertainty. My best intentions may not seem like enough, but they are because God is patient and there is always today to return to the center and prepare the way for the incarnation of love, reflecting God’s love for us to the world.
One of the most life-giving parts of my year is the time I am lucky enough to spend on retreat. Most years I get away for a week of sacred silence for a silent directed retreat. I never cease to be amazed at the gifts God presents us each and every day, especially if we are able to pay attention.
Retreat is a luxury and a responsibility. Luxury because there is nothing else to do but pay attention to the goodness that comes from God, all around you (except of course for the distractions and worries that hover in the shadows). As I wake each day on retreat, I give thanks for this opportunity and promise to share the gifts I receive.
It’s also a responsibility because taking this time away from the many things I should be busy about is important. I/we need to tend to the relationships that matter most, and what is more important than my/our relationship with God? The regular time I spend each day in prayer with my sisters and on my own is key to this relationship, but so too is particular time away just to nurture that relationship and ourselves.
As we say in our CSJP Constitutions:
Personal prayer deepens our desire
to be united with God in faith,
enabling us to see God’s presence and action
in our lives and in the world.
We commit ourselves to daily prayer.
We nurture our life of prayer
by reflective reading, particularly Scripture,
by periods of solitude and silence,
and by an annual retreat. (CSJP Constitutions 29 & 30)
This year I returned to Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT, a retreat center sponsored by the Daughters of Wisdom. I was last here on retreat when I was a novice, and it was a joy to discover things that remain the same and things that have shifted and grown, both at the retreat center and within myself. Natural beauty abounds here, and I spent some quality meditative time walking around the grounds and nearby sights with my camera.
The result is this video prayer, set to “Magic” by the duo/collective Gungor (the music is a new-to-me discovery and gift of the spirit to match the movement in my heart this week):
Click the picture or this link to watch the video prayer on YouTube.
The words of the song say it all I think, and with a catchy tune:
All this miracle and light
All this magic
There is nothing left to hide
Bring your sadness
Bring your disbelief
Bring your tambourine
You can dance and sing
Here in the magic
Come breathe the air
Feel your skin
Come play your drum
Feel the beat within
La lala la la la
Come breathe it in the air
Feel it on your skin
Come play it on your drum
Feel the beat within
Love like a mystic drug
La lala la la la
I am spending this week steeped in the wisdom, presence, inspiration and challenge of my sisters in leadership at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious annual assembly. This is my fourth assembly, the second I have attended in my role as an elected leader of my own congregation (the first two I was here representing Giving Voice). As one sister shared yesterday, this experience of contemplative listening and dialogue with 800 other sisters has been balm for my soul.
Yesterday, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF gave one of the keynote presentations, “Leading from the Allure of Holy Mystery: Contemplation and Transformation.” Pat was of course the president of LCWR during the kerfuffle with Rome. Her integrity and contemplative leadership helped us shift the narrative and reality of our relationship with the hierarchical church from one of conflict to one of faithful dialogue. I was particularly moved by this passage of her talk:
“This is our moment. The world around us teeters on the edge of both peril and promise. Breakdown and breakthrough tussle with each other. The path forward is hidden in fog. It is your time to lead. To do so you must learn to be led and to listen deeply. Together we will discover personal and communal processes for deep prayer and dialogue. We will be given what we need to tend the soul of our communities by nurturing contemplative spaciousness.”
In other words, to lead in fog, we must be led.
Yesterday, another sister shared an image that came out of her small group contemplative dialogue experience.
“When the redwood sits in the fog (rooted in contemplation) it absorbs the moisture within the fog and nourishes the entire tree and allows the moisture to reach the earth which nourishes other creatures. We (LCWR and our congregations) are a forest of redwoods focused on contemplation that the world may thrive.”
A northwesterner at heart, I immediately imagined this picture in my heart, which I took this summer on retreat in Oregon not of redwoods but evergreens in fog.
Truth be told, I have been feeling a bit lost in the fog of late. The fog of fear, hatred, and isolationism which seems to be taking hold among much of our body politic. The fog of grief and loss that is such a part of religious life these days, as our elders transition to the next phase of their journey with God. The fog of uncertainty about exactly what the future holds for our communities which are in the midst of yet another period of transition and transformation. Lots of fog.
This week in Atlanta has given me companions in the fog and given me a clarity in the mist. Contemplation is the way. And so, once again, I recommit to my own regular contemplative practice, in my own life and in my life in community. As another group shared during our contemplative dialogue process, contemplation is essential to leadership.
I remember many years ago when I was discerning religious life, I felt like I was driving down a mountainous road in the dark, where my headlights only showed the way a few feet ahead. I felt an invitation to trust that when I turned the bend, I would see the next steps, and so it has been. At this particular moment, to be honest, I feel like the high beams would only reflect back to blind me. I cannot see the way forward. And yet, I feel called to stay on the path by my loving God. Jesus is the way, even in the fog, and it is in the still quiet moments that the Spirit speaks. We need only to listen, to listen often, and to listen deeply.