OPENING THE DOOR TO A NEW YEAR—2020…

During the Advent season, our family has a longtime tradition of reading something called the Advent Book. It is a lovely, large black book that resides on our living room coffee table during the month of December. Each day we open a new door to a beautiful picture and Scripture passage which tell a part of the Christmas story. This year I sensed that I was opening a door to a new day. As this new year begins, I also feel like I’m opening a door to a new year and a new decade.  I ponder what this newness will have in store for me, for others, and for our world.

My husband and I started the new year at mass with good friends. The entrance song was an old familiar hymn.  I was struck by the line, Ponder anew what the Almighty can do as with His love He befriends us.” I thanked God for giving me this thought as we begin the new year.

On New Year’s Day, our family normally spends a relaxing day at home. We take time together to review highlights of the past year and share some of our hopes and dreams for the new year.  This year even though we had no children with us, my husband and I spent time in front of the fireplace reflecting on God’s goodness to us this past year and pondering what the coming year may hold.

“If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts.” Psalm 95:8

A personal tradition of mine is to pray that God give me a word for the new year—something to give me focus. God has been faithful to do that for many years now. This year I sense His word for me is savorto appreciate fully; to enjoy or relish. In order to savor, I need to “BE” in the moment and “PAY ATTENTION” —lessons God has been teaching me in 2019. I am learning that God is constantly forming me, others, and the world—we are all an ongoing creation. That thought gives me so much peace and hope.  To cooperate in this ongoing formation, I need to believe that God is always with me, always at work in the world, and that God has something to say to me in every situation. My part is to be aware, pay attention, listen. The Rule of Benedict describes it as being “disposed to the will of God, attuned to the presence of God, committed to the search for God, and just beginning to understand the power of God in our lives.”

“Your love is round about me; in you I find my life. You are the center of all that is; teach us to listen to our life within us.” Divine Office

Just like the church’s liturgical year, most of our life is ordinary time.  As we learn to fully BE in our daily life and pay attention, the humdrum can become holy. “We must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane, and always uncertain lives.” (Rule of Benedict) There can be much wonder in the ordinary.

“Prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.” —Benedict

As I live this way, I find that I am gentler of heart and better able to truly be with others, especially those who are wearied by suffering. To walk alongside, to comfort, and to be a faithful presence in our unpredictable world. I want to do more of that this year. At this season of life, I want a “simpler life, a deeper life, and a more authentic life in which the inner experience of God is primary and energizing and centering.” (Divine Office) When I bring this “me” into the world, I believe that God can use me to make a difference.

Never forget that Christ is in you.  You can make a difference.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and I encourage you to ask God to give you a word this year, in whatever season you find yourself. You also may want to ask yourself, “Who is God for me now as I enter this new year?”  I’ll close by sharing a few of my thoughts on this question. As I continue to ask myself the question, I feel God answering me through His word in Holy Scripture and through my own words when I ponder or write in my journal. Peace be with you.

Who is God for me now?

Mystery with a capital M, Nourishment with a capital N, Beauty with a capital B, and

Goodness with a capital G.

God is the Beyond beyond myself.

In one of my prayer groups, a member always begins her prayer with “Beloved”, another apt description.

The One who is always with me and never changes.

The One who quiets my mind and kindles my heart.

The One who makes me secure and constantly sustains me and mine.

The One who makes me brave and sets me free.

Source of all Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit.

Divine Mystery

My greatest Treasure.

 

Gentle God, you remind us that you are our faithful friend, and that you will deliver us from bondage. Look upon us, your people, and deliver us from the chains that keep us from the fullness of life. We pray this in love and confidence in Jesus’ name.  (Divine Office)

 

*Divine Office quotes are from People’s Companion to the Breviary.

More Advent ponderings…

Jesus and the lost sheep

Jesus goes to the suffering. We are called to do the same.

In keeping with the Advent theme of simplicity, waiting, and reflecting, I want to share an Advent reflection which touched our family many years ago when first read and continues to challenge us today. Here’s the reflection—

Locating our lives in the abandoned places of the empire

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us.  But the the gospel calls us to something altogether different.  We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger.  Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.  God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.

Movements throughout church history have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places on earth to follow Jesus.  For some of us that means remaining in difficult neighborhoods that we were born into even though folks may think we are crazy for not moving out.  For others it means returning to a difficult neighborhood after heading off to college or job training to acquire skills—choosing to bring those skills back to where we came from to help restore the broken streets.  And for others it may mean relocating our lives from places of so-called privilege to an abandoned place to offer our gifts for God’s kingdom.

Wherever we come from, Jesus teaches us that good can happen where we are, even if real-estate agents and politicians aren’t interested in our neighborhoods.  Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which folks said nothing good could come.  He knew suffering from the moment he entered the world as a baby refugee born in the middle of a genocide.  Jesus knew poverty and pain until he was tortured and executed on a Roman cross.  This is the Jesus we are called to follow.  With his coming we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the suffering of others.  Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly.              Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne

We can ask the Divine Mystery to show us to what “abandoned place” (in ourselves or in others) we are called to go this season. We can go remembering Immanuel–God is with us in that journey.

First Sunday in Advent

Advent wreath-2019

I love to begin the Advent season by lighting the first candle on the family Advent wreath, holding hands, and praying together.  For years, this has been a favorite Advent prayer.

Lord Jesus, 

Master of both the light and the darkness,

Send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. 

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. 

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. 

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. 

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. 

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. 

To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” 

Amen. 

By Henri Nouwen

Tonight I plan to take some time and talk to God about these two questions:

  1. As I ponder the young Mary surrendering to God’s plan, is there an area in my life where I need to accept God’s will?
  2. How will I choose prayer, being with God, and being there for others over busyness in the upcoming weeks?

Advent brings an opportunity for silence, simplicity, and joyful anticipation as we wait for Christmas–new life, new beginnings, and a fresh filling of God’s love for our world.

Let’s pray for each other that we bravely say “yes” to God’s loving, life-giving invitation.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)

 

 

 

AUTUMN PRAYER OF ACCEPTANCE

fall tree-2

My spiritual director, Sr Betty Jean, shared the following prayer with me at our last meeting.  We prayed it together, alternating stanzas.  I share it with you. Take a few moments of quiet. With a cup of coffee or tea. Maybe light a candle.  Then slowly savor the words. Or ask someone to join you and pray the prayer together. May you be filled with God’s presence, nourished by the Spirit, and inspired by our Creator’s example.

Eternal One who circles the seasons with ease, teach me about Earth’s natural cycle of turning from one season to another. Remind me often of how she opens herself to the dying and rising rotations, the coming and the going of each of the four seasons. Open me today to the teaching of the season of autumn.

When I accept only the beautiful and reject the tattered, torn parts of who I am, when I treat things that are falling apart as my enemies,

walk me among the dying leaves, let them tell me about their power to energize Earth’s soil by their decomposition and their formation of enriching humus.

When I fear the loss of my youthfulness and refuse to accept the reality of aging,

turn my face to the brilliant colors of autumn trees, open my spirit to the mellow resonance of autumn sunsets and the beauty of the changing land.

When I refuse to wait with the mystery of the unknown, when I struggle to keep control rather than to let life evolve,

wrap me in the darkening days of autumn and encourage me to wait patiently for clarity and vision as I live with uncertainty and insecurity.

When I grow tired of using my own harvest of gifts to benefit others,

take me to the autumn fields where Earth shares the bounty of summer and allows her lands to surrender their abundance.

When I resist efforts to warm a relationship that has been damaged by my coldness,

let me feel the first hard freeze of autumn’s breath and see the death it brings to greening, growing things.

When I neglect to care for myself and become totally absorbed in life’s hurried pace,

give me courage to slow down as I see how Earth slows down and allows her soil to rest in silent, fallow space.

When I fight the changes of unwanted, unsought events and struggle to keep things just as they are instead of letting go,

place me on the wings of traveling birds flying south, willing to leave their nests of comfort as they journey to another destination.

When I fail to say “thank you” and see only what is not, instead of what is,

Lead me to gather all the big and little aspects of my life that have blessed me with comfort, hope, love, inner healing, strength, and courage.

Maker of the seasons, thank you for all that autumn teaches me. Change my focus so that I see not only what I am leaving behind, but also the harvest and the plenitude that my life holds. May my heart grow freer and my life more peaceful as I resonate with, and respond to, the many teachings this season offers to me.

fall tree-1

TELL ME, WHO IS GOD FOR YOU? (CONT.)

IMG_0286This is a continuation of my last post by this title so if you haven’t read it yet, it would be helpful to take a moment and read it before you continue on here.

As I’ve been reflecting on this question, here are some thoughts that have come to mind—either while walking or reading scripture.

WHO IS GOD FOR ME TODAY?

  • Yahweh, the Holy One, full of power and grace.
  • The one who regards me as precious and fights on my behalf.
  • My treasure that will not fail me.
  • The One who feeds me.
  • The One who soothes me and pursues me.
  • My all-encompassing guide through life. Who knows me well and loves me without end.
  • My protector and liberator.
  • A Beyond beyond myself.
  • The One who overshadows me with love.
  • The One who makes me come alive. Who constantly breaths new life into me.

SCRIPTURES THAT SPOKE TO ME THIS MONTH…I especially enjoy reading these in the New Jerusalem Bible translation.

Isaiah 43: 1-7

Luke 12: 22-34

Psalm 23

Psalm 131

Genesis 1:26-2:7

May we all continue to ponder this question and pay attention to how God is answering us.

sunset on farm-2

Photo credit: My sister, Lori King, our family farm

TELL ME…WHO IS GOD FOR YOU?

Beka-lake view

It’s been over a year since I made the decision to start sharing my writing again.  I sensed God leading me to write as part of my “what’s next” for the moment. Since that time and by God’s grace, I have published a blog post each month which was a personal goal.  I’ve discovered that I enjoy the writing experience—sitting down with my laptop and an iced coffee either at home at my desk or at a favorite coffeehouse. I’ve also been surprised and encouraged by all the connections I’ve made.  I love that I have people in different parts of the world reading my blog—a sweet little community.  This feeds my soul and my affinity for international connections.   My writing has been a sweet surprise from God—a gift of His grace and goodness to me during this new season of my life.

Since returning to the States from the Dominican Republic, I’ve also been drawn to consider getting more training to become certified as a spiritual director.  I had personally experienced the value of spiritual direction before moving out of the country, and I was able to find a new spiritual director when we returned. We meet monthly at a Franciscan monastery.  She helps me discern God’s movement in my life and the reality of God’s grace at work. Our times together are always an oasis in my day-to-day.

There are many definitions of spiritual direction. I especially like this one.

“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a [person’s] life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul.”
—Thomas Merton

So, after much prayer, guidance, and research, this month I begin the first phase of a Spiritual Direction training program. For the next six months, I will be participating in a Retreat in Daily Living, which will follow the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. For my recovery friends, my experience with the personal inventory taken in steps 4 and 10 should be good preparation for what Ignatius requires in this retreat. Simply put, it will be a guided time of reflection through personal prayer and journaling along with weekly meetings with other participants and the program director.

One of the books we will be using describes the exercises as “an adventure, not simply of the geographic kind but one leading to the most important destination of all: to the heart of God, which fills the hearts of all people. 1 When I first read this, I had one of those dear moments when I feel a God touch. God’s love for me incarnated in my here and now. God knows that I have always loved an adventure. In fact, since returning to the States, I have frequently asked my husband, “What do you think will be our next adventure?” As I was reading my new material, I felt God gently and lovingly speak to me, “This is it.”

I’m told that we will begin this adventure with the question, “Tell me, who is God for you?”  I think that is a great place to start and quite a lot to ponder.

During the upcoming months, I plan to continue to write this monthly blog, but it may take on a different appearance as I go on this adventure. Time will tell.

For this month, I will leave you to reflect on the question, and I will do the same. Maybe we can simply and gently ask ourselves the question each day, and set aside some time to listen to what our hearts say to us. I believe that God will be faithful to answer the question for each of us. On my morning walk today, I asked the question and I heard, “I am always by your side, your constant companion helping you to see sparks of the Divine in all people and all things.”

“Tell me, who is God for you?”  I would love to hear some of your responses.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

I recently came across this bookmark which we used in our first women’s event in the Dominican Republic. It was meant to spark conversation about who God was for each woman.  I think it will make the perfect bookmark for my new textbook.  And it may help us answer the question.

Names of God bookmark

1 The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

I SERVE AT THE PLEASURE…

front porch

Our front porch

We are saying farewell to the last month of summer.  Everything is in full bloom.  I marvel at the flower baskets on my front porch. In May, I saw them only as small plants with potential. Now they are overflowing with blooms. So full of life.  Our back patio is the same scenario, bursting with color.  It makes me think of a wall hanging in our guest bathroom that reads, Live Life in Full Bloom. A worthy goal.  When we were moving back to the States three years ago, I told a friend that we would be living in Bloomington. She replied, “Well, you can bloom in Bloomington.” I liked the sound of that.

For the first time in my motherhood career, I don’t have a child going back to school. Thankfully, all four of our children have graduated and are employed.  So, instead of the usual back to school preparations, I have been given the gift of time to myself. Time to experience the awe and wonder of today. To linger over these last days of summer. To enjoy being in my home. Sitting on my front porch. Meeting with friends there. Going on neighborhood walks. I do some of my best thinking and praying while walking. It helps me discipline myself to pay attention, to be here in the moment, open to the surprises that an unplanned day may hold.

I confess that my husband and I spend some of our evenings watching a Netflix series.  This summer we finished a series about the New York City police department.  An often-used phrase was I serve at the pleasure (of the police commissioner). The phrase is also used by a subordinate when speaking to a government official such as the mayor or the president.  It means that I will do as you wish.  I defer to your plans. In one of my recent morning walks, the phrase popped into my mind and I thought, “Well, I serve at the pleasure of the Lord.” At least, that is my desire.  To start each day with, Lord God, it is YOU that I serve. To return to that phrase as life unfolds throughout my day.

So, what does it mean to serve at the pleasure? Maybe it starts with being content with who God has designed me to be. Accepting where I am in the transformative process of life.   To say and believe:  I am enough. This is enough. God is enough. Holding on to the hope that I will continue to bloom and so will those whom I love. Contentment opens us to surrender.

Surrendering comes easier when I can trust who I am serving. I am at a season of life where I can reflect back on many years of walking this journey of faith.  I can recall numerous experiences of God’s loving care, protection, and faithfulness.  I see how God’s way has always been best for me.  And I see God’s mercy and grace when I have chosen to go my own way. I can trust my God. Trust is a key ingredient to surrender.

I’ve always been captivated by the Biblical account of young Mary’s words to the angel Gabriel when she was given God’s plan for her life and for the world:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  Mary’s heart was profoundly humble. She was not full of herself, not self-protective, not cynical. She did not let fear of the unknown stop her from an action that would lead to love. She was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love. She would serve at the pleasure. Humility is also a key ingredient to surrender.

So, as we turn the page and enter a new season, may we do so with contentment, trust, and humility. Let’s think about what serving at the pleasure looks like in each of our lives. And encourage one another to do so. This will look different in each life but I believe there will be a common thread among us. I believe that when we serve at the pleasure, we can truly live our life in full bloom.

Back patio

Our back patio

THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Beka's sunrise in our neighborhood

Many of us fondly remember the image of a young farm girl, clicking the heels of her dazzling, ruby red slippers and longingly chanting, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” Her tale is one of youth’s innocence and ignorance transported to a faraway magical place.  While protected and guided by a loving force for good, she journeys into unknown territory. Through facing many obstacles and hardships, she gains wisdom and truth about herself and the world. In the end, discovering that the answer lies within herself, she is able to follow her heart and find her way back home.

At different seasons of life, we may ask ourselves, “What now? Where is my home? What is home to me now?” I have asked myself these questions often since returning from living abroad. I also find myself an empty-nester and, at 65 receiving Medicare, you could say I’m retired. I am finding my way home.  I see my husband asking the same questions. So is our youngest daughter, who recently graduated from college. I cross paths with many people who are in transition and looking for the way home.

I’ve thought a lot about what home means to me at this season of life.  I think of a place to belong, a welcoming place, a place where I am truly known and accepted.  I noted in my journal a line I heard on a favorite PBS series: “A woman of substance can make her home anywhere.”  So, what is that substance that allows her to be home?

There are times in life where we can feel stripped and emptied. Naked, if you will. A loss comes upon us—loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or loss of a dream of how we thought things would be.  I think of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there…Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). I am coming to believe that God is as present in the taking away as He is in the giving. When all is stripped away and I feel most naked, God stands ready to welcome me home.

In the Biblical account of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:17), we are told that the son “came to himself.”  He is given a moment of clarity when he sees the truth about himself and his troubling situation—his pigpen. Just as God called him home, God wants me to come home to my true, genuine, God-created self. I have heard it said that the spiritual journey is coming back home to the present moment and to one’s true self.  So, what if a way I discover God is through really being me?  What if at the core of me is God? As Catherine of Genoa wrote: “My me is God.” I want that substance.

I see this homecoming theme in my recovery community. When someone comes to their first meeting, they are greeted with “Welcome home.” This greeting implies that the person has accepted that they are an alcoholic and need help. They have come home to where they belong.  They have made the first step in allowing the Creator to show them what He has in mind for them, His Creation, rather than what they have fashioned for themselves. Meister Eckhart tells us that God is at home; it is we who have gone out for a walk.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena

It takes courage to come home. To exercise our particular gifts and be all we can be. To listen to the voice of God rather than the taunts of fear. I am also finding that there is something God-honoring about living within one’s limits. My own limits and the limits of the communities in which I live and work.  It can be beautiful. I can ask myself: “Is it right for me? Is it right at this time? Is it right at this place?” It can be very life-giving to learn to be me in community.  To mean what I say and say what I mean.

At this new season of my life, I find myself more and more longing to be authentic. To be who God is fashioning me to be. I want to embrace my unique giftedness and my limitations in the moment.  Both are part of the genuine me.   A couple we know recently wrote: “We both have entered this season of our sixties and relish the full flowering of our lives.” I like to think that I, too, am coming into the full flowering of my life. I believe God desires this for all of us, to be fully and authentically alive in each season of life.

Another friend recently pointed out that the root word of authentic is author.  I like to think of the Divine Author, my Creator, writing my life. I recently heard a story about a wood carver who was carving a statue of Jesus. When asked how he did it so well, he responded: “That’s easy. I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.”  Even though I know it is uncomfortable and sometimes very painful, I want God to carve away in me anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.  As Augustine said to God, “You were within me and I was outside.” Surrendering the image of myself that I have fashioned can be painful, but necessary to bring forth Christ in me, my true heart’s desire.

Each of us has an inner voice that calls us to be who we are. I want to be a woman who forgives easily and loves unconditionally. I want to bring joy and peace to my world, to my communities. That joy and peace starts with me being at home with myself and the life God has given me right now.

I can see how I already have what I desperately want: The Divine Presence in the present moment.  That’s home. It is available to us all.  There really is no place like home—the present moment where I can be the true, authentic me experiencing what is and let God be God and decide what will be.

 

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Our youngest daughter, Beka, and I enjoying a homecoming moment.