Keep Going

Having been shocked into awareness of the impending season of winter with ten inches of snow last Thursday and waking up to frigid temperatures since that tell me it was no fluke, I am slowly acquiescing to what will most certainly remain for the next four or five…maybe even six months: cold and probably gray weather. I do not usually mind winter. In fact I sometimes glory in the crisp cold and the beauty of the winter wonderland provided by  snow-covered hills. I wonder if this year will be different or if this difficult start is a sign of change in my outlook as well as in an aging body. Fearing the worst, I turn for encouragement to Meg Wheatley’s book, Perseverance, and am once again called to a new way of seeing. The title is Clarity.

It can take many years of being battered and bruised by events and people to discover clarity on the other side of struggle. This clarity is not about how to win, but about  how to be, how to withstand life’s challenges, how to stay in the river. 

We never learn to triumph over life, but we can learn that every defeat, every problem, every terror is a teacher that prepares us for the next hardship. And we learn to expect that there are more difficulties ahead.

When this clarity emerges from our experience, what also emerges is trust in ourselves. We realize that we can cope and learn and grow from hardship and trials. We learn to accept difficulty and setback as part of life’s normal processes. We cease feeling threatened by most things…

The encouragement continues but, for now, that’s enough to get me ready for the day when I will get out the winter tires for my car, take them to the dealer to be installed and balanced and hope that I will proceed – balanced as well – back on the road that leads me forward.

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Friends of God

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ahikemountainThe book Ancient Songs Sung Anew by Lynn Bauman names Psalm 15 as “Friends of God.” You may recognize it as the one that asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?” and then proceeds to talk about a clean heart, etc. It’s what we might call an examination of conscience but I prefer, these days, to tweak the vocabulary a bit and call it an examination of consciousness. Bauman’s translation seems to me today to be  helpful as applied to our present-day world. See if you don’t agree.

O God, who of us may approach the summit of your mountain strong? Who may come invited to your presence there? Only those who live their lives devoid of blame, who do what’s right, and from whose hearts truth is the only word; whose mouths are free from hateful words and hands from wrong, who treat their neighbors as their own, their kind; who do not give a place of honor to the evil one, but only to the friends of God. Whose promise is as good as any word they ever give, even in the face of loss or gain. They give and give, and ever give again, without hope of getting in return, and never take a bribe or speak against the innocent. All these shall come at last to you, all these, secure and overcomers, all! All these are ever yours; they’re proven true as your own friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration

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astagnesThis morning I find myself considering the concept of inspiration, a word that, in itself, has a complex history and many different – if related – meanings. It comes from the Latin inspiratus, the past participle of a verb that means to breathe into. In a concrete way, it tells us how we get air into our lungs which is, of course, the basic necessity for living. I found what I was looking for, however, in the answer to an internet question that asked, “What does it mean when someone says, You are my inspiration?” Here is what it said.

The definition of inspiration is “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; a person, place, experience, etc. that makes someone want to do or create something.” (Merriam-Webster)

My religious congregation, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, like many others around the world, have seen significant change over the years, the inspiration for which has been a mix of necessity and response to needs. The most significant impetus for the change in my lifetime was the dictum of the inspired Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which called us to go back to the spirit of our founders and bring that vision to expressions appropriate to the modern world. This effort has initiated monumental changes over the past 50 years and continues to enlighten us about the mission that we have been given. We are often reminded of the six women who sat in a kitchen in Lepuy, France in 1648 discussing the needs of their immediate world and then went out to divide their city in response to those needs. Now we are everywhere in the world, doing our best through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to do the same.

Today we celebrate Agnes of Assisi, the younger sister of Clare, who followed St. Francis in 1221 and gathered around herself women of like mind. I was amazed as I read the list of places to which Clare sent her sister Agnes (beginning at the age of 24!), cities throughout Italy and then Spain. And that was just the beginning. By the turn of the century (1300) the foundations had spread to France and then jumped the Channel to England and beyond.

We often characterize the Holy Spirit as a fire – a great passion of love that moves people to great things – or small things in a great way, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta characterized possibility for most of us. I wonder at the greatness of heart of young women like Clare and Agnes and those who caught the call of God beaming out from their lives and followed. Where does that fire exist today and how can we fan the flames? How can any group of us make it our task to create together and to inspire others in the name of love?

 

 

 

 

 

Once More With Feeling

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ahomeless.jpgI feel as if I’m getting boring in this daily task, as everything seems to move toward the same message, no matter where I am or what the day portends. It’s as if everything is conspiring to have me see that in everything every day love is truly the answer. No matter how it is expressed, underneath every message is that truth. I found it this morning in a message from a website that shows up in my mail every day. On this day, when I will be in a day-long meeting with about a hundred Sisters of St. Joseph, I am happy to have it with me, just in case…

Humility: The discovery of the grace of humility is a movement toward a spirit of identification. It’s to presume, in some deep way, “I am this other person.” And rather than to use our judgment to reject or condemn, to use that perception of this other as an insightful invitation for mercy. Someone who has a way of getting under our skin in some significant way probably belongs there. (Brother Curtis Almquist)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Antidote

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alove.jpgSpeaking of antonyms (as I was doing yesterday), I have no choice but to choose love as the theme for today. Psalm 119 announces it when it declares: Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” (vs.1-2), waking up those who have slept through the first reading from the second letter of John. In a clarion call that John sees as only a reminder of what God’s law proclaims, he says: “I ask you, not as if I were writing a new commandment but the one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another.” 

Grateful to have that reminder that speeds us 180 degrees away from the circle of toxicity, I rest my case!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spread of Toxicity

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anopoisonIn a rare move this morning, I chose to explore the NY Times briefing instead of queuing up the readings of the day from the Roman Catholic lectionary. The stimulus for my choice was a headline that read “Oxford Dictionary International Word for the Year.” I had to read through several headlines to find that entry but that in itself was instructive of the culture we live in and what seems to be – or is – important to know of the world today. Much of it was still political as we wait for election results, some of which may be delayed due to unreadable ballot signatures – part of the fallout from the fact that children are not always taught good writing skills in this electronic age. Then there was the potential impending downfall of Theresa May because of her unsatisfactory planning for “Brexit,” and so on around the world.

I was not happy to find that the chosen word for the year was “toxic.” I do find it appropriate as a theoretical explanation for much of the malaise that seems to be infecting our nation and the world these days but I was taken aback a bit by the breadth of definition in what I read. The traditional definition of “poisonous, virulent, deadly, dangerous, noxious, pernicious” (that always leads me to think of chemicals) is just, as we say, “the tip of the iceberg” today. What I read related to chemicals, of course, but so much more!

There are now toxic games, and even an award winning video game development studio called Toxic Games, a song by Britney Spears (which I will not quote here), toxic foods, toxic relationships, a toxic thriller movie (entitled Toxic), toxic people (jealous and judgmental people who “have so much internal self-hate that they can’t be happy for anyone around them”) and – in an urban dictionary – “people who are trolls and a 6 year old trying to be cool.”

In desperation I needed to google “antonyms for toxic” and heaved a sigh of relief to find 60 of these in the Power Thesaurus. Here are some: harmless, healthy, nonpoisonous, helpful, safe, good, beneficial, curative, wholesome, life-giving, mild, hygienic, therapeutic, benign, agreeable, restorative…etc. Even just writing those words calms me a bit and reminds me of the power of words.

So what is the point of all this? As usual, what I derive from such exercises is a desire for deeper consciousness. I need to be aware of how I speak, what I say and whether or not my conversation is positive or negative in tone and/or content. This does not mean I will simply avoid difficult conversations but rather try to handle difficult topics in ways that avoid blaming, emotional reactivity or negativity. As always, mindfulness is key. Perhaps, in time, if we are diligent, we will succeed in righting the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Give Up

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acabriniNote: This post was created for November 13, 2018.

Today is the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, a woman born in Italy who became the first United States citizen to be canonized in the Catholic Church. Her life sounds to me today like that of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” whose motto was “I ain’t down yet!” Here are a few of the reasons that I found at www.franciscanmedia.org why such a designation seems to fit her for sainthood.

1. When she was refused entrance to the religious community that had educated her to be a teacher, she began charitable work at an orphanage in Cadogno, Italy and subsequently made religious vows there.

2. When the bishop closed the orphanage, she became prioress of The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, joined by seven young women who became her community.

3. When her childhood dream of being a missionary to China was put aside at the urging of Pope Leo XIII, she obediently went to the United States to care for the Italian immigrants in New York City, having been promised an orphanage in which to serve.

4. Upon her arrival, she found the house was not available and the archbishop advising her to return to Italy. Undeterred, she spent the next 35 years founding 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick as well as establishing schools and adult education classes for Italian immigrants.

5. Since childhood, she was frightened of water and feared drowning, yet she traveled by ship from New York to Italy over 30 times in her life to do God’s work.

Thanks be to God for the vision, the stamina and the perseverance of this woman we honor today as Mother Cabrini.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Happenings

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aresistanceThis past week has turned my scheduled plans upside down. Happily, much of what I thought was going to happen was easily postponed or taken care of in another way. I was recounting that circumstance to someone yesterday who actually was living the same reality and I said something that struck me as appropriate and perhaps even helpful to remember in times like these. Maybe it can serve you today or in the future.

I said: “Life has to be lived as it presents itself these days, I think. There’s no value in resistance.” Not rocket science and probably self-evident but sounds good to me today. What about you?

Just One Question

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atemplewithinSt. Paul is generally very direct in his preaching and never more than in his words to the people of Corinth. If I were in his audience today I can’t imagine sleeping through what must have been a shocking question (likely delivered with vehemence) that would make anyone sit up straight and take notice. Think about it.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1COR 3:16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

See For Yourself

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arejectionI just read a paragraph for this date in Alan Cohen’s book A Deep Breath of Life. It was altogether astounding to me considering the people he was talking about. But, of course, that was his point. If you’re feeling inept or less than creative today (or any day) you might want to have these words on a small paper folded in your wallet that you can pull out and read to give you confidence in yourself.

Many great people were rejected before they became celebrities. Einstein failed mathematics; Beethoven’s violin teacher called him hopeless as a composer; the sculptor Rodin failed three times to gain admission to art school; eighteen publishers turned down Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull before it became a sensation; Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas; several record companies rejected the Beatles before they made their first album…Remember that your destiny is determined not by chance but by choice.

An even better practice would be to spend some time in reflection on your life in conversation with God, open to the good things that God is just waiting for you to recognize about yourself. Maybe it’s the way you smile at people or the little things you notice that others might ignore – things that would make someone’s day or give them confidence and a reason to go on. Maybe it’s your willingness to do the tasks that nobody else has signed up for. Perhaps it is the loving way you treat people who need a friend. Any of those characteristics – or others that you name – would look excellent on that small piece of paper. Go on…give yourself some credit and a reason to smile.