Lighting a candle is a sacred ritual in many religions. It is a prayerful intention to remember a loved one or to pray for those who have died. We can pray using words or in silence, but the act of lighting a candle can be itself prayer. It is expression, longing, remembering, hoping. A candle is a symbol of Christ-light entering into our darkness.
I am drawn to the display of candles in churches, chapels, basilicas and other places of prayer. When alone in prayer or in meditation with friends, a candle is lit. When away from my family on trips, I light a candle for them. When 500,000 people in my country die in less than a year, I am moved to pray with candles.
Join me in prayer, a visio divina, for the 500,000 who have lost their lives to Covid in the United States, for those who have died throughout the world and for all their loved ones. May their lives and memories be a blessing.
“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
Ana, The Book of Longings
In The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Ana writes this prayer of longing on the incantation bowl her aunt Yaltha has gifted her. “Do you know what an incantation bowl is?” Yaltha asked. “In Alexandria we women pray with them. We write our most secret prayer inside them…Every day we sign the prayer. As we do, we turn the bowl in slow circles and the words wriggle to life and spin off toward heaven.”
Choosing a word of the year can be a prayerful intention as well as creative expression. There is nothing magical about one word over another, but I find the process insightful and revealing—both spiritually comforting and challenging. I worked with the idea of doorways and thresholds for several weeks after realizing how many cards in my SoulCollage® collection had images of doors on them.
“Doors are places for pausing, of finding your key, of knocking, of asking for entry. Thresholds carry us from one place to another – usually from outside to inside or the other way around. They are symbols of our inner movements…. I believe that our lives are about crossing one threshold after another. Thresholds are challenging places to be because there is no map. There is no ten-step plan for how to move through this space. We feel disoriented there and impatient in having to wait.”
Christine Valters Paintner
I thought about selecting a word like welcome or becoming, or simply doorway or threshold. The images resonated, but the words were not quite right. I considered what it feels like to stand on the threshold of the unknown, to step through the doorway of uncertainty. The moment of crossing over can require courage, honesty, a surrendering, a willingness to be transformed.
“Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.” -Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder
Extending hospitality to guests, as St. Benedict instructed in The Rule, can be practiced towards the uncertainty that life brings, the times when we can no longer control our circumstances and we must surrender our expectations. We can extend hospitality towards all that is mystery and trust that we will be transformed in the process. We may not know what we are walking into, but we can grow into acceptance of whatever comes.
“We need to honor what is on both sides of the doorway: to celebrate the whole of our lives, the self we are leaving behind as well as the self toward which we are going.”
The threshold moment requires an acceptance of what has been, what is, and what possibilities may come. The threshold moment, if we wish to honor each moment as life-giving and transformational, forces us to see our truth, the truth of our desires, and the truth of our circumstances.
“If you are interested in transformation, no element is more important than developing a love of truth. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us… When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is –we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.” –The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
And this brings me to my 2021 word of the year: TRUTH.
During Advent, we wait in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. We circle around the Advent wreath, igniting another candle each week.
Advent is about longing for the God that breaks into time and space as a baby in a manger. Advent is about cultivating patience and not rushing to the Incarnation. Advent is the ultimate “vorfreude”, anticipating the joy of God becoming one of us, that God in his humanity has shared with us his divinity.
“God became human so that his divine life might flow into us and free us from our mortality and impermanence…to fulfill the deepest longings for transformation and the healing of lives.”
Anselm Grün, A Time of Fulfillment
The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness.
So it is with us. We circle around the same issues, questions, and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail.
“When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption.”
Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge
The beauty of the Advent season is recognizing and honoring this darkness in ourselves, in others and in the world. This darkness that we prefer to deny, flee from or quickly fix is actually the beginning of something new and hopeful happening in ourselves. The darkness can bring a great light. “We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God.” (Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing)
The expectant and hopeful waiting in Advent when Jesus is in the womb, where possibility of new birth is upon us in the waiting and tender honing of our patience, is where we must begin. We begin in the womb.
Consider creating a SoulCollage® card or journaling with the following questions:
So what is it that needs to be birthed within us? In our world?
How do we accept and forgive the darkness in our selves and others while nurturing and encouraging the positive?
What can we bring out of darkness and into the light?
What gives us the strength to wait in patience, to trust that our circling around will bring us into the light?
“I am one who” is a prompt to begin to speak from and about the images that intuitively come together. Using all three of the collage creations on this post, I write:
I am one who walks through rough and rocky terrain. I am one who dances gracefully in the light. I am one who casts shadows. I am one who gets stuck. I am one who circles around and around, sometimes feeling a little lost.
I trudge reluctantly… or tread carefully… or move forward faithfully. I am one who, with open arms, embraces both dark and light: in myself, in others, in my world. I see the light and the darkness, the gold and the shadows, the smooth and the rough. I go through all…the white sand, the gold dust, the smooth and rocky, the hard and broken, the shadowy or the illuminated, the gray, the light, the dark.
I am one who is filled with hope. I pray. I am one who feels hopeless too. Eyes open, door ajar, I glimpse the light. I am one who closes my eyes, sometimes trusting and at times in denial. I dance the dance of light and darkness.
I stretch out my arms in surrender to the moments, layers, phases, experiences that are light and darkness intermingled; Darkness that seems like it will never pass and pure, unadulterated light that never ends. I am one who believes that the Christ-child covers both light and dark, in me and in the world.
I hope, I pray that I hold the two in balance; honoring both, recognizing both, knowing I am both, knowing others are both. I surrender to rebirth, to a new way of being and seeing and accepting. I am one who holds together the dark and the light.
“…the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1-1:5
May the darkness of Advent, the light of Christmas, and the new insights of Epiphany be with you. By holding the sufferings and joys of our life together, may we come to see Christ in new ways.
Mother Mary finds her way into many of my collage creations, but it is the story and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I am especially drawn to. On December 12, the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated.
“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego on Mount Tepayac, 1531
On the site of an ancient shrine to the Aztec mother goddess, near Mexico City on Tepeyac Hill, a young Christian Indian named Juan Diego had a vision of a young Indian woman. Speaking in his native tongue, she directed him to tell the bishop to construct a church on the hill. The bishop dismissed the story, but the young maiden appeared yet again to Diego identifying herself as the Mother of God. She instructed him to gather roses that grew at her feet, during the winter no less, and take them to the bishop. When Diego opened his coat, a colorful impression of Our Lady, with dark skin, was imprinted on the fabric.
This story has been told for five hundred years, standing as an “image of divine compassion for a demoralized people. Speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, she presented herself in terms of compassion and solidarity, not power and domination.” (Blessed Among Us, December 12, 2020) The image of Our Lady attracts millions of pilgrims each year at the basilica in Mexico City, one of the world’s most visited sacred sights.
Recently I gathered with some friends for a much-needed retreat, a “pause between labor contractions”—a metaphor that resonated with us. In such troubling times, we came together to be creative, soulful, compassionate listeners—to take, literally and prayerfully, a breath from the labor of a divisive political environment and necessary pandemic adjustments. Jana, Deb, Patsy, Sara, Julie, and I brought open hearts to celebrate a weekend filled with blessings—a full moon, the beauty of the woods, the insightful practice of SoulCollage® and the celebration of All Saints Day.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately–both old and new, those friends who are near and far, and those who have passed away.
Five years ago, our Circle lost a dear sister. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting. In this time of pandemic, just as we did with Judy, we can stay connected with our loved ones.
Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.
I was drawn to images that represented the strong, hard-working, loving women that had met together monthly for several years. I hoped the card would make Judy smile, bring her a little joy and remind her of the bond we all shared. It also gave me the chance to put images and words to how I feel about our Circle.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.
A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.
A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face. The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.
Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.
After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.
School starts this week. It has been five months since I have been in a real-life classroom with my students. After spring break, we immediately went to online learning for the remainder of the school year.
I have been so encouraged by those who have asked me how things are going, promising their prayers. I was encouraged by my friend, Sara, to create a SoulCollage® card that I could keep at school as a reminder to pray when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious. My prayer is that I can find some peace despite the fear of the unknown. My prayer is to remember to seek peace and pursue it, as St. Benedict instructs (RB Prologue 17), and to include time in my day for silence and meditation. Continue reading “Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It”→
My cup was running empty. Six surreal months of the pandemic, political turmoil, and feelings of anxiety facing an uncertain and challenging school year has taken its toll on my mind, body, and spirit. Finally, the timing was right this weekend, and it felt safe to return to my spiritual home, St. Benedict Center. It takes just moments for a deep peace to settle in as I take my overnight bag to my room and head outside to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.
Wandering the path around the lake, I see Ellen, a fellow pilgrim from last summer—which feels like a warm bath of blessings. I had been looking forward all week to reconnecting, knowing she would be there.
Suddenly I hear a shout, “Surprise!” Sara, a special friend, Oblate and SoulCollage® companion, is running towards me with open arms despite all COVID caution. I exclaim, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Sara repeats “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” There may have been more exclamations of “I can’t believe this!”, “Oh, my God!” and finally, “Did you bring some of your SoulCollage® cards?” We decide to meet later to share some of our cards and seek them for guidance—what we call “a reading.”Continue reading “A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey”→