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Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation

As a child, the Advent season was musically frustrating for me. With so many beautiful Christmas carols and hymns, I just could not fathom any reason why Catholics must wait until Christmas Eve to sing them. Every department store was playing Christmas songs. Television stations were showing Christmas movies and special programs.

Why wait?  

I prefer not to wait in many situations. For example, I would rather get to the destination of a planned vacation immediately than endure the hours it takes to drive or make the airline transfers needed to get there. I much preferred nursing my infant daughter, playing with her and watching her sleep to the nine months of back-aching pregnancy. When I want to write or create, I often need to wait for the inspiration to strike. Waiting can be an inconvenience, even excruciating, but there is no denying that we must wait for many good things in life. Continue reading “Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation”

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Easter of Light… and Darkness

“We love to think of Easter as the feast of dazzling light. We get up on Easter Sunday morning knowing that the sorrow of Good Friday is finally ended… that Jesus is vindicated, that the faith of the disciples is confirmed for all to see, and that everyone lived happily ever after. We love fairy tales. Unfortunately, Easter is not one of them.” (Joan Chittister)

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During the Holy Triduum, we remember the events leading up to Easter. Each Holy Day is significant to the fullness of Jesus’ story—his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ life was full of joy—learning, teaching, helping others, growing in his authentic identity, and embracing his essence—but, also, as the Gospel of John poignantly states, “Jesus wept.” Even Jesus could not escape his own suffering—the death of a friend, concern for political and religious corruption, the betrayal of his disciples, his own physical persecution, and, finally, his fear of abandonment, that he had been forgotten by God and everyone. No doubt about it, Jesus experienced both joy and suffering.

Jesus’ life is an archetype for our own spiritual journey. There is nothing that happens in our lives that Jesus didn’t also experience. When we live out our own Good Fridays, mini-deaths that bring us face to face with darkness, we know we are not alone. We may feel betrayed by loved ones, blamed for problems we didn’t create, forsaken by those we trust. We grieve the loss of loved ones and lament our own mistakes. We are depressed or sad.

Our Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, enduring or resting, perhaps a respite from problems, a time when we can separate from our pain for moments, even days at a time. In the tomb, we wait for healing. Perhaps, we allow others to mourn with us and wait with us in hope. Our waiting is a gray space of in-between.

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This darkness is not what we want—and anytime we experience something unwanted, or conversely don’t get what we do want, we live in some shade of darkness. Truth be told, we simply want peace and joy. We don’t want to be patient, to feel bad, to hurt. There are times when we cling to the darkness and choose to stay in a place of suffering, but we can both honor the darkness while looking towards a glimmer of light, to Easter. Continue reading “Easter of Light… and Darkness”

You Are Free

I’ve written before about choosing a “Word of the Year.” This year, I chose a phrase to serve as my spiritual mantra—three life-changing words that came as a gift of grace when I felt torn between two possibilities and needed to make a difficult decision.

For me, the process of discernment, especially when I have strong feelings or attachments, often begins with compulsive mental role-playing. I replay conversations—what was said, what was meant, what could have been said, and now what? Once I am able to slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can face a decision more calmly and with a spiritual perspective. I write out my thoughts and feelings, ask questions of myself and God, and listen to what might be beneath the words. I write as prayer, knowing that, so often, an answer is revealed.

The decision I needed to make felt particularly heartbreaking. Feeling desperate, I reached out to a spiritual companion and asked for prayers.

Asking for prayers was admitting I needed help.
Asking for prayers was an act of vulnerability, humility, and surrender for me.
Asking for prayers helped me to be even more prayerful about my situation. I surrendered to God for the answer that my obsessive thinking would not bring.
Asking for prayers opened me for the words that came. Continue reading “You Are Free”

In Praise of Words and Less Words

Sometimes I just don’t know when to shut up. Words, words, and more words.

I love words—to write them and to read them. I have been considering how I use words after reading The Power of Words by Joe Kay at Living Gracefully. It ­shined a light on the word wars often waged in my head, in conversation, in writing—either on social media or my personal journaling.

In some ways, I give words too much power. I think if I keep talking I might find just the right words to communicate my point better. Maybe my words weren’t effective, or they weren’t heard the way I intended, or my words were rejected—so I try again with more words, thinking “this time” I will be understood or be able to help another understand. Maybe “this time” we will come to an agreement or reach a hoped-for reconciliation.

But words do have power, Kay writes “Martin Luther King, Jr., understood the power of words. He spoke so beautifully and prophetically about his dream of a world in which everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.

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Words have the power to inspire us, touch us, and transform us for better or worse, depending upon which words we choose to allow inside of us. They can bring us more peace, love and justice, or they can increase our levels of division, fear and hatred. In the last few months, we’ve been reminded how easy it is to get sucked into the pool of hateful words. Continue reading “In Praise of Words and Less Words”

Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude

Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving planning sessions and meals that immediately followed the passing of each of Joe’s parents was bittersweet. We missed their presence. But the ritual itself, while grounding us in the present, was a reminder to be grateful even in our sadness and grief. Continue reading “Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude”

Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love. Continue reading “Flood the World with Love”

You Will Be With Me Wherever I Go

“Wherever you send me
There will I find you
Wherever you lead me
There will I go
Into all nations
All situations
You will be with me wherever I go.”
-Patrick on the Water, Garrison Doles

I stumbled upon a special song today called “Patrick on the Water”. The writer, Garrison Doles, was inspired by the life of St. Patrick—born in Britain, kidnapped by raiders, and enslaved in Ireland. Years later, after escaping, he felt called by the land where he had been held captive to travel back. The song tells this story while incorporating “The Deer’s Cry” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

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What does it mean to follow God’s call wherever it may lead, “into all nations/all situations”? How can I trust that God “will be with me wherever I go”? Continue reading “You Will Be With Me Wherever I Go”

Stability and Wintry Weather

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Winter weather gives us the opportunity to practice stability. The Benedictine vow of stability provides for our need to be rooted in Christ, to be grounded in the present moment, and practicing gratitude regardless of our circumstances and of the uncertain future.

Seasons come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We learn from the seasons that they, as all things do, indeed, pass. The icy, chilly weather prevents us from traveling too swiftly; there is something to learn from this staying put. This paradox, that we must stay grounded while the seasons change, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment.

The cold and icy weather give us no choice but to stay put. Perhaps when we are going through “icy” relationships or experiences, we can apply the Benedictine principle of stability as well.  Continue reading “Stability and Wintry Weather”

Lord, You Know Me: Friendships and Loneliness

A new blog post from Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, that honors both friendship, which God touches, and loneliness, which can only be filled with God. It captures the essence of the book Anam Cara, by John O’Donohue, which I treasure. He writes, “You should never belong to something that is outside yourself…(it is) important to find a balance in your belonging.” Read the rest of Fr. Mauritius’ blog HERE.

He refers to the friendship of God, who is with us from the beginning as our “secret companion”, our truest friend. Christ is our true companion, nearer to us than any other. There is a danger to become too attached to our friendships, but we must not forget the Source of all friendships, our friendship in Christ. It is too easy to forget that God is our great love, our best friend.

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Lord, You Know Me

It is wonderful to have a friend who knows you well, with whom you have walked for many years. With whom you can share everything; who knows your story. With whom a conversation does not start at zero, you can just jump into it. To have a person who understands and who knows you, is a great gift of God.

However, sometimes not even a friend can reach my heart. This is an odd experience. Sometimes we are just left with ourselves, left alone. We cannot find a partner that adequately responds to our feelings, our story, our thoughts, situation or needs. But these moments that can be filled with darkness and sadness can also turn into a very precious experience. The situation breaks us open to realize that our loneliness is not an accident, but the reflection of our deepest call as human beings that goes beyond what another human being can grasp or understand. We realize that our loneliness touches the dimension of God; it is a result of the fact that we are immediate to God. This is the monk’s moment. The term monk stems from the Greek word “monachos” which means “single, solitary”.

Through God’s grace, we are able in these moments of aloneness to talk to Christ or to God and find his ear. And his response is always exactly what we need. We realize: HE understands, HE knows. His presence resonates with everything I utter and express. I feel understood, appreciated, loved. I feel liked by him as by a good friend. But even better, and in a perfect way. Nothing is missing.  Read more at WildeMonk. 

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The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words

May 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  Psalm 23, God is Our Shepherd and Guide

Psalm 23 is the most commonly known Psalm—simple, familiar and full of richness. In lectio divina we ask, “What does this Psalm mean for me?”  We dwell in the words to make personal the promises of God to the people of Israel–promises of renewal, healing, peace, protection, encouragement, and guidance.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

After reading through the text together and then quietly, we share the words and phrases that come to mind. These words should ultimately lead to personal prayer.

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Oblates share the words that have settled on their hearts, continuing to listen deeply to what God is saying.

“I remind myself every morning that no matter what the day may bring, I gather strength from God. If I forget this, then other thoughts come into my mind and the day doesn’t go very well.”

“I realize that I lack nothing.  When I pray the “Our Father”, I am praying for my daily bread, not for yesterday or for tomorrow or when I retire, but for my daily bread.  When I realize I lack for nothing in this present moment, my cup overflows. Even when it’s cold, rainy, dreary, or my coworkers are a pain, my cup still overflows. I need to remember the gifts rather than the stuff going on around me.”

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“It can be comforting to substitute the name of a loved one who has died when reading Psalm 23. The Lord is John’s shepherd, He shall not want. He makes John lie down in green pastures; he leads him beside still waters; he restores his soul.

“In grief and hard times, we can believe that our happiness will return soon and our spirit will be renewed. If you substitute happiness for spirit, the Psalm can read as prayer and affirmation. Lord, renew my spirit.” Continue reading “The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words”

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