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Spiritual Journey

Foolish Fears of The Night Before The First Day of School

It’s the night before the first day of school and it is debatable who might be more nervous—my freshman students beginning their high school experience tomorrow or me, a 21-year veteran teacher.

I love starting a school year for lots of reasons—“Every day is an opportunity to embrace “newness”—new technology, new family and social dynamics, new attitudes, new behaviors, new teaching strategies, new curriculum. I am a teacher with experience, and yet I still have so much to learn. I dance between both realms.” (excerpt from “Why I Teach”)

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SoulCollage® card: My vision of what teaching would be like, in my idealistic naiveté, is represented by the black and white, old-fashioned image—students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn; happy, compliant, and respectful, mesmerized by every word I said.
The reality is that teaching is a more “colorful” role than I had expected.

It’s the “so much to learn” part that makes me anxious. Each school year, there is the nervousness that goes with meeting new students. But this school year, I move into a new classroom with brand-spanking new computers to teach a new Digital Design class. I will need to learn Adobe software programs throughout the semester, often just a day or two before I teach my students. I am also cooperating with a new student teacher as she begins a career in education.

“Embracing newness” feels a little scary right now and, truth be told, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to answer student questions, that there will be problems I cannot solve, that I won’t be knowledgeable enough, that I won’t look and feel like a good teacher.

In many ways, this fear is a good thing—if I didn’t have some healthy fear, perhaps I wouldn’t be conscientious about planning and preparing. A healthy fear motivates me to provide the best educational experience for my students. This kind of fear can be useful information in many situations to move us forward.

But, fear can also be an indicator that something is not right, either within us or in our environment. We can become immobilized by fear, overwhelmed by what could happen that is out of our control.  Feeling incapable of escaping it, this kind of fear is a prison.

Recently, Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, shared that he was struck by these lines when chanting the morning Office, “May angry words and foolish fears, Be exorcised by heartfelt tears.”

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He writes, “Yes, fears, for a Christian, are always foolish. Why should we be afraid? Of whom should we be afraid? ‘What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?’ says St. Paul (Rom 8:35).

Of course, when we look with concerns on what is going on in the world: we might have some fears. I am not saying that there are no justified fears. Sometimes they function to warn us or to bring us the right energy level, for example, stage fright. Still, in the end, fears are foolish if we deeply trust in God.” Read Fr. Mauritius’ post “Foolish Fears.”

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Sometimes I forget that trusting God really works—it may not predict or change an outcome, but my fears are calmed. Sometimes I think that my efforts, combined with worry, can somehow accomplish more than trusting in God can. I choose control over faith. I choose foolish fearfoolish because it is impossible to control everything anyway. I can plan, do my best, and, then, trust in God. I need not be a slave to fear. 

The song reminds me: 

I am no longer a slave to fear / I am a child of God / You drowned my fears in perfect love / You rescued me / And I will stand and sing/ I am a child of God.

God knows we fear. “The best way to control fear is to offer it to God… In Holy Scripture, it says 365 times, “Do not be afraid.” …Fear of fear is a vicious circle that ends in panic. How can I control my fear? I can’t. Let God control my fear.” (Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, “The remedy for fear is love” podcast)

God knows we can become a slave to fear. The remedy is love. We cannot overcome fear with fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

So this night before school starts I surrender my fear and anxiety, trusting that this new school year will unfold as the 21 years before have—uniquely, organically, mysteriously, and not without problems. And all shall be well. (Julian of Norwich)

HR#16 “The remedy for fear is love” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

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Images of Faith: My Grandma and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Images are so powerful. They tap into the pool of memories, both personal and universal, that are deep within us. One image can be understood in so many ways—for different people, faiths, and cultures or for the same person over time.

Recently when the Sacred Heart of Jesus popped out in my Facebook newsfeed, memories of my grandma came flooding back. 

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She had a framed image of the Sacred Heart between her living room and her kitchen. As a young child, I remember wondering why the heart had fire and blood on it…and, quite honestly, I was a little afraid of the image. I never asked about it and she never said anything either. Same with the rosary on her nightstand (pictured below). Or the prayer cards on her dresser. But I remember them. Those images communicated a deep faith in Catholicism and belief in and devotion to Jesus that I intuitively knew she had.

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We didn’t talk about faith much, but she always encouraged her sons, their wives, and grandchildren to go to Church and she was so proud when I received my First Communion and Holy Confirmation. Her faith in God was important to her but she didn’t have to use many words to communicate that.Communion Confirmation Continue reading “Images of Faith: My Grandma and the Sacred Heart of Jesus”

O Holy Spirit, You are the Mighty Way

O Holy Spirit, you are the mighty way in which everything that is in the heavens, on the Earth, and under the Earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness. -St. Hildegard of Bingen

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“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.”—Acts 2:1

They came from many different places and, yet, they understood each other. They were connected as one in Spirit, united in understanding by the One and Holy Life-Giving Breath of God. Despite their diversity, each person had a uniquely mystical experience. Their different languages were not erased, yet unity was accomplished.

It’s as if for this one day, in this one place, God blessed our diversity and showed that our differences need not divide.  It’s as if for this one day, in this one place, it was “on earth as it is in heaven.” All people understood what the other said. They saw themselves as a part of the whole, that their God—the Giver of Life, the Great Communicator and Unifier—resides in them and the other. Continue reading “O Holy Spirit, You are the Mighty Way”

A Story Behind Everything

“However well satisfied you are with your own skill or intelligence,
never forget how much there is that remains unknown to you.”
-Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis

There’s so much we don’t know, so much we don’t see, so much we can’t understand. There is a story behind everything.

On a recent country drive, I stumbled upon a cemetery I had never seen before. It was an old cemetery surrounded by, likely, the original iron fence and arched gate.

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I find the old gate breathtaking: the rust over the exquisite spirals and twists on the finials and posts; the contrast of brown and green grasses; the juxtaposition of birth and death, new and old, all at once. I wonder: How many people have passed through that gate? How many tears shed at the graves of loved ones?  I wonder when flowers were last placed on a grave.

The gate remains locked now, and instead, a simpler entrance and a few graveled paths intersect to help visitors find their beloved. Only symbolic now, the fence and gate remain part of this sacred site and its story.

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I continue my journey for miles down a country road, passing no houses, or people, or other cars–truly, a solitary journey. In a wooded area, I notice several old vehicles behind the limbs and brush, so easily missed that I turned around at the next intersection to drive by again. Taking a closer look from many angles and directions, I photographed the old truck. I wondered when it’s dying day had come and it was left to become part of the landscape. When had it last been driven to town? How many children had ridden in the back of the truck, wind blowing in their hair, or perhaps more recently, used it as a jungle gym? Continue reading “A Story Behind Everything”

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”

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