Saturday, September 6, 2014

Solitude


SOLITUDE 

I just turned the page of my 2014 calendar and drank in the new word that is to be the theme for this month.  My word to live for the month of September is   WONDER and I am in dire need of sitting in its shade.   But then I remembered that I hadn't written about my August word yet so I turned the calendar back to August and gazed at the word SOLITUDE.  

The picture for the month depicts my friend and sister in community sitting in a lovely outdoor dwelling with a cup in her hand, presumably coffee, and I ask myself, "does this really depict deep solitude?"  What would need to go to truly depict solitude?  Probably the cup and the caffeine!   But let's not get hung up on semantics.  This is just my take one it.

Recently I saw a lovely outdoor scene with a woman lying on a diving board reading a book.  The caption was:  SOLITUDE!   I found myself saying, “wrong!”    Throw the book in the lake.  Get off the diving board.  

So truly, what is solitude?  Are you afraid of it?  Do you find it healing?  When you are in solitude, do you look for distractions?  Or, do you slowly begin to taste the sweetness of solitude?  I believe that can happen only after we learn to be comfortable with the gift of stillness and silence.    When I truly learn how to be alone by choice—how to embrace solitude as friend, I slowly cease looking for distractions.  I learn to melt into being.  I begin to be comfortable in being with the self that is me.

In looking at the word solitude I see a relation to the word latitude.   The sol of solitude suggests aloneness which also points to space, the space around us and even within us.  The word, latitude, points to space: geographical space, universal space:  the breadth, width, size of something.   Why not personal space?  Although I have not taken the time to look this up entomologically I can see a kinship.   And so when I use St. Paul’s beautiful words from Ephesians 3: 16-19  I find myself being moved into solitude.  The space around me seems to grow larger and I find myself move into a greater stillness.

The more I practice this kind of solitude alone, the more I will discover that when I am with a group of people some of that  space around me lingers and it is easier for me to remain calm in troubling situations.

Out of his infinite glory, 
may you be given the power,
through his Spirit, 
for your hidden self to grow strong,
so that Christ may live in your hearts 
through faith, and then,
 planted in love and built on love, 
you will with all the saints
have strength to grasp the 
breadth and the length, 
the height and the depth; 
until knowing the love of Christ, 
which is beyond all knowledge,
you are filled with the utter fullness of God.

Ephesians 3: 16-19—Jerusalem Translation


Find a space alone and ask yourself,  What is the latitude of my heart!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tracking the Mystery



OOPS--July is gone 

...and I never got around to writing about my word for that month. 
 The word was MYSTERY!    
My neglect in writing did not prevent me 
from attempting to dwell in the heart of mystery.  

July is my birth month.  
Truly it was a mixture of birth/death, wounds/healing, doubt/faith,
hope/discouragement and more.

  I've always loved mystery stories.  
The greatest of all mysteries is the story of one’s life. 
In this month of my birth I prayed with the mystery of my life. 


The symbol I used for my prayer was a path, call it what you will: a road, a trail, a track or footpath.  The path I chose at the beginning of July was one that led into a forest.  It reminded me of the path I used to take through the forest of our old  homestead in Arkansas to my Aunt Annie’s house.

On a pathway there is mystery.  You can’t always see what’s behind the next tree.  Nor can you detect the animal sounds in the forest.  Is it friendly?  Is it harmful?  For some reason, in those young years of my life, I was seldom afraid of the path through the woods.  It was mysterious yet strangely known, kind of like God.

As I moved into the month of July it occurred to me that it might be fun to take a different path every few days and re-experience some of the mystery stories of my life.  There was
  •  the hillside trail leading from the valley where I lived, up the hill and through the woods that led to St. Mary’s Church and School
  • the path around Lake Fort Smith that I miss now that the new lake has been created
  • a path from the Quiet House at Laity Lodge (Kerrville TX) to the upper rim of the canyon where I  could watch sunrises and sunsets 
  • an unforgettable green moss trail in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina (Maggie Valley)
  • the winding labyrinth path on the grounds of St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas
  • the path through the vineyards of Altus, Arkansas that I traveled with my brother, praying the rosary, when my little sister was dying
  • the deer trail through the forest surrounding San Damiano Retreat in Danville, CA
  • the little country roads where I could walk through farmlands in Canterbury, NZ viewing the amazing pastures of sheep
  • the walking trail around St.Mary's Lake (Notre Dame campus) July of 1997 when I feared I might have cancer.  I'll always recall those morning walks filled with both angst and therapeutic beauty
  • the forest trails at Jamberoo Abbey (New South Wales) quietly trekking through the woods at dusk looking for wombats. (never saw one)
  • and then there are those inner trails that run through the path of my heart and soul nudging me into creativity, exploration, continual growth.   I am always tracking the mystery.
  • In between all the trails of my life I have never forgotten that Christ is my way!
      Many paths of memory!  Each path holds a mystery story of my life!  I could pray a trail for the rest of my life and never be finished reading the pages of my life.   I want to allow the holy-healing mystery of life to continue its journey flowing through me like a stream or bubbling brook.  The quiet trails are like gentle streams.  The rushing brook is full of obstacles and yet as the poet, Wendell Berry, explains, It's the obstacles that help make the music.  I want my life to remain a song.  

O Beautiful Mystery 
Where is the life that once held me
 in its sometimes gentle, sometimes terrible grasp?
That life lives on; I am every age I've ever been!
How easy it is to forget as I walk through the day
that I carry within me layers of life, layers of ages.
My life is a mystery story still unfolding
It is a good life full of joys and sorrows,
promises kept, promises broken
memories and forgetfulness.
O God of so much mystery
Continue to dwell in the layers of my life.
Be my way when I lose the way.

May it come to pass!







Friday, June 13, 2014

Get Well



I am in the infirmary, an effort to take better care of my broken foot so it can heal.  This infirmary room is slowly becoming a monk cell for me.  I am a bit more confined and so I am less tempted to pace.  It has become a sacred space for healing  I keep staring at the helium balloon that hangs from my ceiling, “Get Well,” it says.  It sounds like a very simple request, a kind wish from a good friend.  Little did she realize what metaphysical ponderings this get-well-wish would work in me!

What does it mean to get well?  There are times when I am not actually sick yet need to get well.  At the moment, yes, my foot needs to heal.  However I can think of numerous ways I need to get well.

·        When my attitude limps and I start feeling sorry for myself I need to get well
·        When I find myself complaining about every little thing,  I need to get well
·        When I get so busy I forget to take time for solitude and prayer, I need to get well
·        When I let  grudges reign in my heart,  I need to get well
·        When I find myself critical and impatient with others, I need to get well
·        When I bring only half a heart to my daily living, I need to get well
·        When I find myself disgustingly self-righteous, I need to get well
·        When what I own becomes more important than the people I live with, I need to get well
·        When I spend more time judging others than affirming them I need to get well...

The list could go on and on.  I could write until tomorrow.  I write these things not to be overly critical of myself but rather as a gentle reminder that there are ways I am not living up to my full potential.  Since I would like to be the best version of myself that I can be, these words are a way of prayer.  

The mystical poet Rumi affirms our goodness when he says:   “If you knew yourself for even one moment!  If you could glimpse your beautiful soul!  Maybe you wouldn't slumber so deeply in that house of clay.  Why not move into your house of joy and shine into every crevice?  You are a treasure; and always have been.”  

DIDN'T YOU KNOW?

It’s the same message St. Paul gives us in 1 Cor 3:16:

 Do you not know that you are a temple of God
 and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

And so, all of you beautiful (though sometimes weary) temples, I invite you to












Saturday, June 7, 2014

Compassion for What is Broken

"Moved with compassion, 
Jesus touched their eyes 
and immediately they could see." 
 Mt 20: 34

...if eyes can be healed, why not a foot?...

The month of June comes upon us  with the  word compassion trailing along in its wake.   The theme I've chosen for this month is compassion.  Everywhere I turn, everywhere I look, I see opportunities for compassion.  Right now I’m looking very close—as close as my own foot.  It’s this big black boot I have to tote around with me.  It’s the foot inside that I am showering with compassion.  Poor innocent foot that suffered trauma in an unfortunate car accident!



So here I am unexpectedly slowed down with the same amount of work to do.  I, who, teach the way of contemplation to others, find myself being invited to listen to my own words. The turtle that sits beside my foot in the picture wasn't staged.  It really is there--my night light inviting me to stop and rest.  It has even greater meaning now.

Life will go on even if I have to cancel a few retreats.  Life will go on even if I have change part of my plans for vacation. (no hiking)  Life will go on if I can’t be at all community functions.  At this moment I am called to care for my right foot…this foot that I haven taken for granted, this foot that I have forgotten to be (consciously) grateful for.  Now I totally understand St. Paul’s lovely analogy of the physical body and the Body of Christ… (1Cor12:12-26)  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, “would it not then belong to the body?  “…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.”  HOW TRUE IT IS!   When I take my boot off at night I am drawn to pray with it, to thank it for the healing that is happening, to ask its pardon for taking it for granted, to massage it gently and put lotion on it.  It is quite sacramental. I am being drawn into compassionate presence.  Although it is unfortunate that something violent had to happen in order for compassionate presence to come on stage, that is often the case in our lives.  Sometimes we are jarred into reflection.  I've been spending many moments in contemplation and gratitude recently.  Everything can become a teacher if we open our hearts to what is in front of us.

As a child June was one of my favorite months, freed from school I spent many hours with my feet in the waters of the creek that ran through our forest, catching crawdads, watching the minnows, listening to life.  And this banged up foot:  it was young then but it was there---feeling the waters rush over it.




O Christ of the Healing Waters, 
restore and heal 
all things in the world that are broken.

Friday, May 16, 2014

E is for...


E is for ENTHUSIASM!  That is the word I chose as my theme for the month of May.  E is also for EARTH and that is the hermitage I stayed in for four days after leading a retreat near Philadelphia.  Settling into my hermitage and into the solitude I had so longed for I was pleased to discover that I was in Hermitage E. E is also for eager, energy, ear, eye, ecstasy, express, elusive, enfold, enter, ethereal, and evening: all words I decided I would include, in some way, in my prayer.


E is for ENTHUSIASM.  In my first prayer period I focused on the fact that enthusiasm means literally to be possessed by God.  God-possession!  To be zealous and inspired!  To have passion for life!  To be exuberant!   Animated!   Alive and Breathing! Moving with the life inside me!  In the gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 2 Jesus proclaims: "I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance."   Abundant Life, another lovely definition of enthusiasm.

Of course we don't always experience that flowing energy within.  We don't necessarily wake up feeling enthusiastic and passionate about the new day.   I wonder if our days might be different if upon rising we would sit down for a few moments, lay a hand on the heart, honoring the God who lives within. Spend a little time owning the Abundant Life given to us by the Source of all life.  Each of us is able to decide who we are going to be in any given day.

E is for ENTHUSIASM!  Somewhere inside you is a joy that is wanting to get out.  Introduce it to the world. Let it show!

      O Source of All Life,  Is my abundant life that has come from you truly showing?  Is it obvious to those with whom I live and work?  Am I allowing it to be the radiant song of joy that you want to sing through me?  Am I able to remember that every time I breathe, it is you I am breathing into our world?  Does anyone suspect, when they see my enthusiasm for life, that it is because of You I exude this life?  And if my answer to these questions is, "probably not," help me remember, there is always tomorrow.  My life goes on into the eternal flow of You.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Are we called to be SURPRISES?

Surprises are endless so always be ready for your day to be interrupted with a surprise.  When you open the door there is no telling what might greet you.  It may be a piece of beauty that takes your breath away.  It could, however, be a surprise of another kind.  It could be the surprise of someone who needs help, or someone bearing a message of sorrow.   This might require your presence, thus you could have the good fortune (that might not feel like good fortunate at the moment)  of being a surprise for the the person at your door.

It could be the surprise of an unexpected car accident as I somehow celebrated this week.  Having my  foot elevated and surrounded by ice-packs was not on my agenda but finding myself still alive was an awesome surprise.

One of the best pieces of advice I have for us is a quote that I am trying to piece together from a Brazilian Archbishop whom some of you may remember from days gone by.

"Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams,  and give a completely different twist to your day, and ~~who knows?~~ to your life.  It is not chance.  Leave God free to weave the pattern of your days." -Dom Helder Camara

These words certainly echo an amazing piece of advice from our beloved Heni Nouwen,

 "Turn your interruptions into opportunities."

Maybe Jesus didn't just call us to be  DISCIPLES.  Perhaps he also calls us to be SURPRISES.

Can you allow yourself to find a surprise 
behind every door?


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Are you open to surprise?


Your word for April is  SURPRISE
Go on and pull open the curtain. I know you've seen hundreds of sunrises (or sunsets) but you never know what the next one will be like.  It is always a surprise for the one who wears an open heart and can let go of the assumption that you know what is behind the curtain.  I once called out to someone with a fair amount of excitement in my voice saying,  "Quick, come look at the rising moon!" She answered, "I saw it last night."  So did she really see it last night?   I doubt it.  She saw something in the sky, perhaps, but I doubt that it took hold of her in a healthy, healing kind of way if she wasn't willing to look again, to behold it anew.

The word, SURPRISE, has many meanings and my favorite meaning is, "TAKEN FROM ABOVE."  You are so  filled with amazement and delight that something above you, outside of you, beyond your power, takes hold of you.  Something outside of yourself grasps you and invites you to be a seer. You are taken from above and given a new vision of one particular slice of life.  A presence that you can't explain pulls back the curtain and some kind of revelation takes place.

By choice, and practice, we can live as though we are standing before what the Christian Celts call the thin places--those places that are so sacred, could you but draw the veil aside you would see the face of God. Perhaps every surprise is like that.  Although it may happen quite naturally yet unexpectedly, you are invited with each surprise to be a seer.

It is not easy to be a seer.  You have to surrender the lie that you don't have time.  'Looking' is not the same as 'seeing'.  One early morning a few years ago I almost walked past a surprise.  It was a moon flower just opening its face to the dawn.  I looked at it and almost passed by.  But suddenly I was taken from above.  I paused and took it in.  I became its tenant (though it paid no rent).  I beheld it and offered it hospitality.

How easy it is to pass by a surprise because we think we've already seen it!

Most of all we ought to be careful lest we miss the surprise of one another.  Every person is a jewel, a beauty never to be repeated.  We think we know the person we are having coffee with but do we really?  How do we open ourselves to the surprise of another person?  April is almost over and I'm sure you had many surprises.  Why not sit down and ponder a few of your surprises!  Or, maybe even just the surprises of this day.