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Musing in September 2018

Prayer

One of the most frequent topics talked about during Spiritual Direction is Prayer. It is because of this, the focus for the next few months will be on prayer types. Not just praying, but different types of prayer, prayer practices and how prayer impacts our life.

Prayer, is a practice of speaking to God. Then there is, Intercessory Prayer, which is a prayer for someone. Jesus demonstrated this when he raises Lazarus, look at John 11:35-37. Similarly, intercessory prayer, can also be a prayer to a Canonized Saint or a Holy Person, for ourself. Just as much as an intercessory prayer could be a prayer for someone or a situation in need of prayer. Then finally there is rote prayer, which is a repeated prayer. Some that might be recognized are the Serenity Prayer, Rosary and the Our Father.

To begin with, prayer is a practice. It may begin as something that is needed to be scheduled into a day, but it can become a part of everyday life. If it is possible to look at practice as many athletes use practice, it is something done to prepare for whatever sporting event. They may mention, practicing (while some may reference it as training) during off times from game time. The action of practice, is what helps when we are called to pray with or for someone else, to help remind us of our spiritual faith, in addition to help us focus our minds.

With that, I will leave a prayer that is the first retrained by memory as an adult. This could be used as a form of rote prayer. Start a practice by reading the prayer below, as time provides and is comfortable to commit to. Sit in a quite place and think on what the prayer said. Then different parts of life it can relate to and connect with spirituality.

Healing prayer

Disease is so limited; It cannot cripple love.

It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith.

It cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence.

It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories.

It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul.

It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the Spirit.

It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.

In God’s love we rest. Amen.

September Saint of the Month 2018, Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

(August 26, 1910 – September 5, 1997)

Founded of the Order of Missionaries of Charity 1950.

Canonized: September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis

Patron Saint: outcasts, World Youth Day and Archdiocese of Calcutta

On August 26, 1910, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, what is now Macedonia. In 1931, Agnes took her first vows, also taking the name Teresa, after the patron saint of missionaries Theresa of Lisieux. Saint Teresa of Calcutta is one of the modern canonized saints that many today have met or seen in news coverage.

The taking of a name when entering in a religious order is a practice designed to let go of who they were before taking holy vows, then formally entering into a religious community. It might be seen as unusual for anyone who is unfamiliar with such a community or process, but the letting go of who we are is one of the things Jesus asks of us (Luke 9:23) and Buddha suggests to let go of self to find nirvana. We we let go of Earthly things, we are able to see situations differently.

Later Saint Teresa of Calcutta, she let go of herself and her own needs to enter what was called the slums of Calcutta, India. In order to meet the needs of the community she saw in need, she also had to let go of the religious community she had become a part of. Saint Teresa of Calcutta found another community and did for her neighbor, by providing in for her neighbor by being one among the outcasts of that community. That is also something that Saint Damian of Molokai did, when he joined a colony of people removed from their communities in Hawaii, because they have Hanson’s Disease. The act for Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Damian of Molokai to let go of their identity in service for someone else, came from a place of love and devotion.

The day of September 5, in addition to being Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s feast day, is also the International Day of Charity. Which is probably no coincidence given Saint Teresa of Calcutta founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity. The idea of feast days honoring canonized saints and holy people who walked before us, is so we can learn how to be like them and through their services and lived the word of God. In learning about them, we might find a piece of ourselves in their actions, a glimpse of similarity in the people they reach to someone in our community and while we see grace in action. If we look into our communities, we might see an outcast, in need of grace. The act of charity is not just in money, it is also action and being present for someone who feels separated from their community.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta also most known as Mother Teresa said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty”. If an act of charity is love and Jesus asked us to love our neighbor; where can that love be expanded? Where can we focus whatever attention we have to offer someone who a benefit with a connection into community?

August 2018 Musings

Movement and Pauses

In the rushes of day to day, it is easy to forget where we are and who we are with. Not in the way of literally forgetting, more so in the way that we forget to be fully present. Just as much that we forget to pay attention to the moment we are living, especially if it holds some discomfort.

Life holds perpetual movement forward, however to live without pausing, can make life seem as though there is a sampling of life. Think of it as only watching a few minutes of a movie and then saying, we got all we needed from the storyline, character development and plot twists. This does not offer the opportunity to experience all that unfolds.

Not unlike a movie, life holds several movies happening at the same time, creating our life. It is said that depression is living in the past, while anxiety is living too far into the future. (Though, depression and anxiety can hold multiple factors being the cause.) In both instances, the present moment is what is lost. The past has already past. Life happens now, then moves into the future. All three cannot exist at the same time.

This has become apparent to me, in recent weeks while we are preparing to move. We have not moved in close to seventeen years. In many ways it is a new experience, because in seventeen years a lot has changed. Things have changed in society and in us. It reminds me of the saying,”we cannot return home”, because after we leave our filters change and how we see, feel, hear the world is different. The home we once lived in, will appear different, because we do not live in a vacuum.

In everyday life, it is easy for us to live in our past. In our present lives, we also have our past surrounding us with the things we have in our homes, our clothes and the people in or not in our lives. All of this holds a reminder of where we have been. While not fully knowing where we will be in the future.

Even though this move is our choice, it has created a feeling of an upheaval within our lives. All bringing to the awareness that moving is one of the top five most stressful life events, behind death of a loved one and divorce. The process of moving has made me keenly aware of the importance of regular meditation and self care, to help maintain a sense of balance. That balance helps ease the tension of upheavals and unexpected life events. Although they may still feel jarring, balance enables us to navigate the turbulence with a bit more ease.

This is why, it can be a beneficial practice to become aware of the present moment. While sitting in that moment to notice the sights, sounds and inner reactions. To begin the process of knowing how we respond to different experiences, can make it possible to more easily identify if a reaction is happening right now, in our past or if we have projected into the future. This form of processing can take these moments that seem overwhelming or impossible to traverse, to see how they can still hold an affirmation of our own inner strength. This gives within us the power, to decide how we proceed into the next moment.

If we can notice that moment with gratitude of still seeing that we remain standing, while recognizing the moment will eclipse, we can offer gratitude. The same thing with a “feel good” moment, hold gratitude of that experience, but to not be afraid to let that go. It is gratitude that we move in the present moment. It is in each moment that holds the opportunity to release fear, in recognizing this moment can change if we allow ourselves to let go of how we initially perceive it. This is mindfulness in action. The time that life happens is, now.

Saint of the Month of August 2018, Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe

Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe

(1894-1941)

Canonized October 10, 1982

Patron saint: amateur radio operators, drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, the pro-life movement and “Our a Difficult Century”(assigned by Pope John Paul II).

In 1907, Saint Maximillian Kolbe and his older brother joined the Franciscans. When he took his final vows in 1914, he added the name Mary. He changed his name from Raymond to Maximillian Kolbe to Maximillian Mary Kolbe. Although many on cloistered communities will take on another name, this second change of his name signifies his full surrender to God through devotion Mary.

This devotion began when he was a child, after a dream where Mother Mary came to him holding two crowns. One crown was for purity and the other was for martyr. After she asked him which crown he wanted, he said he wanted them both.

As a monk, he started a publication made up of lay brothers and not priests, that was found in Poland, Japan, China and India called the Knight of the Immaculate. They focused on what they felt was the heresy of the Freemasons. Then in 1927, he created a monastery near Warsaw called the city of Niepokalanow which means “A city that belongs to the Immaculate” and continues to exist today.

After six years in Asia as a missionary, his ongoing health issues from tuberculosis caused him to return he to Poland. His return was during the time of Nazi occupation of Poland. During his return, he helped run the monastery as a hospital that is said to have housed exiles from Poland and thousands of Jewish people. This continued until February 1941, when the friary was shut down and everyone arrested, including Saint Maximillian Kolbe who was sent to Pawiak prison.

In May of that year he was sent to Auschwitz. On August 14, 1941, Reverend Maximillian Mary Kolbe died after two weeks in the starvation bunker, with 9 other individuals. Having lives past everyone else, he was given an injection of carbolic acid, to end his life, which happened to be on the day of the Vigil of the Assumption of Mary.

He had volunteered himself in place of another prisoner. The man whose life he took the place of, was Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek. For this man, pleaded his life not for himself, but because he had children and a wife. He wanted to remain, living in the horrible conditions of a concentration camp, because of the hope he had of being reunited with his wife and children. He said that, he was not a popular man, after the death of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, because they took the life of a friend and a confessor to many in the camp.

Block 11 cell, which is the block where Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe lived, from Wikipedia.
Block 11 cell, which is the block where Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe lived

It seems Saint Kolbe recognized Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek was pleading his own life to remain in devotion for his family. He also lived to see the canonization of Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe, by Saint Pope John Paul II. This is not the same pleading as a fear of death, this is the same devotion that Saint Maximilian Kolbe gave to Mary the Immaculate, as he was quoted to have said, “Oh Immaculate, how sweet will be the death of those who belong to you”! Since he truly felt he was connected to Mary from his childhood, he may have seen his death differently, than someone without such devotion. Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe was not leaving behind anyone, he had already spread the seeds of faith to others, that will carry his message.

In the end he lived as Mary did throughout her life, living a life of devotion and compassion. Saint Maximillian Kolbe said, “Never forget to love!”, which he lived out in his actions until the end of his life.

July 2018 Musings

CommunityI once read a blog that shared the life, through a personal journal, of the great-grandfather of the person who was producing the material online. In it the man walked all over where he lived, worked, shopped and went to church in Roanoke City (where I currently live), 100 years earlier. It was a walk back in time and a delight to read of places that have since changed, of old businesses and of a different way of life. It was exciting to read about places I had been and even in places where I worked.There was a lot that was different, between my time and his. Once he wrote of a time, everyone gathered when a local church burned. People were not there to watch it burn, but to gather to see one another in a time of loss. The were there to console one another and get to know who was impacted by the loss. This was not his church, but knew people who went there. He knew how it would feel to lose his home church. The thing that stood out to me, was they were not sitting at home watching it alone on the TV or streaming on a mobile device. They were there together.The other thing Bonnie, the man in the diary, did was attend different churches. He went to one in the morning and usually another one in the afternoon on Sunday. Then might go to a different one during the week. This was not just to attend another service, because he referenced going to visit with people or he went to hear different people speak. Recently I thought of this, as I spoke of a gathering we had once a month with a small group of Parrish members at a church we use to belong to. During these gatherings the host family shared their homes and lives. Each time offered an opportunity to learn. To learn how they lived prayed and an opportunity to share about our lives. It became more than about coffee and snacks after service, it was about becoming a part of one another’s lives. It felt different than meeting in a public place, because of the personal hospitality offered to us. In a time where there is immediate access to world events and community news, it is easy to lose the impact it makes on the communities we are a part of. Not just the community that is directly impacted, but of the loss of understanding how to empathetically connect to others. To share compassion and/or hospitality someone may offer or has offered us. This separation also makes it easier to feel one way is better than another way to believe in God, which only further isolates us.A spiritual home is more than a place to worship, it is a place to build community and a place to learn to be with one another. As we live with such diversity inside communion, we are able to learn more about the differences and similarities we hold. Then we learn how we can be present with one another. To learn how to accept things we cannot change and how to change things inside of ourselves when we can, as we become more fully present in our life and in the lives of others. The idea of community looks different for each of us. The feeling of community holds different types of connection. To be present in community also offers us an opportunity to to learn to be vulnerable in the unknown, as we learn to meet one another in that vulnerable space. This can help us deepen the faith we have in ourselves, which is also faith in God’s grace. Just as the colors of a rainbow blend into one another to make it whole, we can blend together to be whole.

July Saints of the Month

July 20 is the day of celebration in the Episcopal Church for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman.

This was released in the U.S. on July, 4th. In the U.S., it is the day of celebration of the Independence of the country. However, for the Saints this month, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman, they felt that independence excluded people. This is not a political post, but to look at how four women stood up for those deemed outcasts. Much like Saint Damien of Molokai (the Saint in May), these women were themselves outcasts. As outcasts, there were also speaking the truth of equality of all, through lifting up the underserved.

The date chosen to honor the lives of these four women comes from the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. This convention ran on July 19 & 20, in Seneca Falls. These four women were pioneers for black emancipation and for equal rights for women. They are not canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, but are recognized as holy people by The Episcopal Church , that does not have the same criteria to recognize people improving the lives of their neighbors.

Each had their focus of raising awareness, but each made a difference. For Elizabeth Cady Stanton it was for women’s rights, Amelia Bloomer was also women’s rights as well as an advocate for the temperance movement. Then Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist and Harriett Tubman Ross was an abolitionist and political activist. (See the blogs Facebook page for more on each of the women throughout the month)

These women, each had their own focus to speak out against the oppression they lived through. They understood, that each person has a voice and a value. While also knowing that oppression is like putting a light under a bushel basket. (Matthew 5:14-16) That as Episcopalians and many other Christian denominations, we are asked to be disciples of Jesus, in Baptism. As spiritual people, it is to demonstrate to others how to experience light. The actions we are asked to take are ones to bring others to know “the way”. This most readily is done, by showing our own light, while helping others to find theirs. All while we walk together.

These women, in their actions although civic minded, were moving in faith to lift people who were living in oppression. They helped find ways to bring the awareness of the injustice some were experiencing, even after establishing the country. They brought forth the awareness, that if anyone is suffering, then we are all suffering. If anyone is experiencing injustice, everyone is experiencing injustice. Having polar opposites of anything, does not create balance, it creates a vacuum where the worth of life is lost on one side.

In lifting someone out of oppression, it is light. There is not a value of light. The value of light is established by the need of light. Furthermore, light is dispersed throughout automatically, it is only stopped by actions to stop light. Although, it is not possible to stock pile light, it is possible to hold the energy of the light to help disbursing the light. That light and energy sustaining us in challenges is grace. That grace arrives with our faith in God and in our fellow spiritually active disciples. This is action is more than in a spiritual life, but in the lives of helping others.

There is action in light and being of light, because light projects upward and outward. In darkness, it narrow and brings down. These four women, as Saint Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:28-29, did not see a difference in people other than the mistreatment. They are holy people, reminding how struggles and oppression do not define who we are as children of God. God has already stated that we are good. Those moments when we are most open to the grace of God, allow the light shine.

June Musing 2018

Community

Community is one of those things that was taught to me from an early age. However, for many of us as children we may begin to notice differences in people and our community begins to divide. This might first be seen with the separation of boys from girls. The first time, was in day care, that I experienced the us and them or you and I, with the separation from one another. We were either girls or boys and we were either good or bad.

That day care separation was only the beginning. Not long there after, began the struggle of peer pressure, with the paradox of finding our unique identity. While being a part of a culture that wants an homogenized existence, with either in or out. It is from there that I noticed we are also separated by neighborhoods, fences between homes, churches and so on. In a way, we are trained to be separate from one another, even though as humans we are in need of one another to survive.

This separation can cause us to lose a connection with who we are and become caught in our mind as we differentiate between right and wrong. Which feeds the false connections of achieving and acquiring. This leads to self censorship as we begin to try to blend in with everyone else. This can lead to becoming trapped in our mind and losing touch with our community and with our hearts. As many are taught in a Lutheran church, it is turning in on oneself to only see one way to be. Losing touch with our heart is losing touch with who we are. This is losing touch with who we are outside of the expectations that have been established for us. Until one day there is an awakening. These “ah-ha” moments can come when we may find ourselves questioning who we are as an individual and what we are doing with our life.

The act of discovering that how the majority may live does not fit us, can be jarring. For this reason it can be beneficial to find a trusted friend and/or counselor and/or a spiritual director. An awakening can wake up all sorts of awareness within us, that can be just as scary as it is exciting. To also remember to be patient when looking forward. To also remain in the present moment. Some things that may help are centering prayer, some form of meditation, whether sitting focusing on breathes, chanting or moving meditation such as Yoga or Tai Chi.

Those present moment exercises help connect through breathing in a gentle reminder of a larger connection into the universe. The in breath brings in different elements, as our breath exhales different elements, connecting into the ebb and flow of the air around us. No words or thoughts need to be extended in the action of breathing, to bring connection outside of ourselves. Our breathe can also be a humble reminder there is something larger than we are and that we are already a part of something without expectation or judgement. That connection will soon lead to a human community who support and are present in the flow of giving and receiving.

Inhale… Exhale…

June Saint of the Month Saint Kevin of Glendalough

Saint Kevin

Or Saint Kevin of Glendalough

Canonized by Pope Pius X, on the 9th of December, 1903.

Feast day: June 3

Patron saint of: blackbirds, Glendalough, the Archdiocese of Dublin, and he is one of the patron saints of Ireland.

There is not a lot known about Saint Kevin, but it is estimated he lived between 498 to 618, making him 120 at his death. He was born in Ireland, given the Irish name of Coemgen, which means “attractive” or “beautiful shining birth”. However, after his baptism he was given the name Kevin and today is more widely known as Saint Kevin.

Saint Kevin is known to be the first Abbot of Glendalough in Wicklow County, Ireland. He obtained the land from King O’Toole, after Saint Kevin was called to heal the King’s pet Goose. The King thinking the aged pet goose would not get far, told Kevin that he could build his monastery on the land the goose could fly over. As legend has its, Saint Kevin laid his hand on the goose and the goose became young again, before it flew across what is now the Glendalough Valley. Where now sits the remains of the monastery by two lakes. It is believed the relics of Saint Keven rest in a manmade cave by the upper lake.

Even after the dissolution of the monetary in the 1500s Glendalough, has been and remains the location of many pilgrimages. It is said that the holiness of the space is so sacred, that seven visits to Glendalough is equal to one to Rome. I can say that there is a unique stillness and quiet present. As we walked along the grounds, I personally felt a closeness to God, that was presented nature. We were there just after one of the biggest snows the area had seen in thirty or so years. There were springs pouring out of the mountain side, light gliding off the snow shimmering like glitter across both of the lakes.

There are several legends and miracles attributed to Saint Kevin, most of them involving animals. One of the legends Saint Kevin is known for involves blackbirds, who still hold sacred space of the land. Saint Kevin, while in prayer had a black bird build a nest in his hand and laid eggs. To us now, we would recognize prayer as being on our knees, but then prayer was most often said standing with arms outstretched. Saint Kevin was so moved in recognizing the mortality in the circle of life did not disturb the nest or the bird until the eggs hatched. Although he lived before that of Saint Francis of Assisi, his dedication to nature is why he is know as the Saint Francis of Ireland. His stories and his life has been handed down by pilgrims who travel to and from Glendalough, carrying his story with them.

The monastery which was closed in the 1539, as many Roman Catholic communities were, still remains a place for pilgrimage. As I stood there looking across the land white with snow, the black birds flew around moving as though carrying prayers of all who have made a pilgrimage to this site and beyond. I thought watching them flying about, of how these very birds have descended from the very birds that were present with Saint Kevin, of how they hold the story of Saint Kevin within their beings, just as we do as disciples of The Way.

Saint Kevin who spent much of his time as a hermit, was also a pilgrim, sharing the sacredness of prayer and the monastic life. In both cases he was dedicated to the presence of God in prayer, removing himself from the everyday comforts. As it is offered to us in our faith traditions, that we become differently aware of our sacredness during trials or changes in our life. Those are the times, when we fully surrender to God, because it is beyond our human thinking. Through prayers, chants and delving deep inside our subconscious.

It is when we experience events that move us outside of our comfort zone, that can become most aware of the sacredness, it can also be done in prayer and occasional living removed from everyday distractions. The message to practice devoted prayer, enables us to recognize the sacred even in what may seem a common happening or everyday life. As Saint Kevin and many canonized saints remind, that when we slow down long enough to be present with the Holy Spirit, we can as disciples carry the message with our breath to others. Just as I may not make it to sacred places, some may not make it to a Glendalough, but I can share the message given to me while there as I receive messages from others. This is again one of the ways we participate in the Communion of Saints.

May Musing

New Springing Forward

It is the middle of May and May first is known as the half way point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. This all to say, we are still in the season of awakening. However, when speaking of a spiritual awakening most often it involves rebirth or being reborn, but not as much about being new. There are similarities, but are different.

In looking first at new; we might get a new TV, a new phone or a new sofa. Though seldom has it been heard of a TV being reborn or the sofa experiencing a rebirth. Although some fresh upholstery the sofa may feel a rebirth and a repaired TV May feel reborn, there is still a difference than new. The similarity is in the change.

The desire for spiritual change, is the most common reason people go for Spiritual Direction. This process takes a look at spiritual experiences and knowledge, to identify where there may be an opening toward awakening. It might be a gradual process of letting go of old habits or thoughts, while also being open to new habits and thoughts.

Although we read about dramatic transformative moments from saints and laypeople, most transformative moments are not like a bolt of lightening. The transformation that most people experience is gradual and happens while awareness becomes new. This does not make the newness within an awakening any less important or any less valid, than an awakening that happens like a bolt of lightening.

The ability we have to see newness in our life begins with the willingness to be open to new. The obstacle most often experienced is thinking there is control in opening to newness. This is where the letting go of the fear of not being able to handle something new, opens us to the meaning of having faith. To have faith that whatever is experienced, can be handled or there will be assistance in some way. This is where we are surrendering to God and being open to that grace. To remember that spiritual awakening does not occur with the intent to do us harm. This even if initially it might feel uncomfortable, to remember there are often adjustments moving toward new.

It might seem more dramatic to say reborn or rebirth, because those words almost command attention as a way to say starting over. Although, a spiritual awakening can feel dramatic, words often fall short to describe spiritual shifts. The danger with dramatic language, is the opportunity to miss all the subtle spiritual shifts. In this way, Spiritual Direction can be like baking a cake. While baking a cake requires a little something added here and there, slow transformation of blended ingredients, taking form, releasing of the old form and a more newness added and evolving with each step. The cake is not reborn, it is new.

Just like in spiritual direction learning what to add, identifying possible distractions and noticing those gradual shifts of awareness, opens up the opportunity to newness. As a Buddhist teacher once said to me, “each moment lets go and becomes a new moment, continually evolving into newness. We may remember the old moment, but with a new way of seeing in each new moment”.

As the season continues to shift into summer, see where newness may appear. See how what may evolve into something new or what may be needed to continually evolve and grow as we spring forward in life.

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