Yielding

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ayiledsignIn looking ahead to possibilities for the autumn “semester” at the Sophia Center, I began re-reading Finding the On-Ramp to Your Spiritual Life, a little book by Jan Phillips. The impetus came from two different conversations – one with Jan and another with a member of my Spiritual Practices Circle who is considering reading the book with a group in her Church. It’s a catchy title and the idea of using traffic signs as chapter titles was, it seems to me, quite an inspired idea. It’s part of Jan’s genius, I think, to see deep meaning in the connections that exist everywhere and use everyday experiences to mine deep truth. Think about all you could say about “STOP” or “DIVIDED HIGHWAY” or even “FALLING ROCKS AHEAD.” (Actually, that’s not a bad idea. What would you say about each of those things vis-à-vis your life?)

Last night I read the chapter entitled YIELD, which is a familiar concept to someone who learns the daily letting go in the practice of centering prayer. Here’s how Jan began that reflection.

The word yield has a variety of meanings. On the road, it means to surrender, to give way. In nature, it means to engender, to bear fruit. On the spiritual path, one leads to the other. Once we give up our notion of how life “should be,” we free ourselves to experience the lives that we do have.

Simple, right? But not easy, of course. Give it some time today as you drive or shop or interact with others…See how yielding is a better choice than resistance and bow to the opportunities that so often just show up to help us along on our journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Margin of Greatness

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ajeterThe verse before the gospel today was encouraging. From Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it urges us to shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life. (2:15D, 16A) Thinking about my day yesterday with a group of parish faith formation leaders, some of whom who are wrapping up a challenging year in their churches, I was happy to reflect on their willingness to live in the reality of their experiences while still fanning the flame of hope in their hearts. The day was not an intensive, content-heavy experience but rather offered them some simple practices for everyday life that also included a brief nature walk and some poetry. The important element, as I saw it, was simply their presence together in community with no expectations except the support of one another. It was clear to me that they are, indeed, “lights in the world.”

I found the same spirit in Alan Cohen’s thought for June 16th in his book, A Deep Breath of Life. He was talking about baseball and how a batting average of .250 was a good predictor of a solid career if the player was also a decent fielder. In contrast, a player with a .300 batting average is a star. He pointed out that the difference between these two was one hit out of 20 times at bat. His reflection on that “margin of greatness” was the following.

Sometimes just a little effort is all we need to put us over the edge to huge success. In your career, family, or spiritual path try to stretch beyond your perceived limits. A little extra patience with a customer could make her a lifetime client and bring you her friends’ business. A seminar participant told me that she signed up for an intensive workshop simply because I had responded to a letter she had written me. An extra kind touch, one more deep breath, or a willingness to listen could make the difference between a modest salary and a million-dollar contract, or a life of mere survival and a glorious adventure.

I doubt that any of the people sitting in front of me yesterday will ever be a multi-millionaire, but I have a hunch that, in the end, they all have a good chance of looking back on their lives as a blessing – and maybe even a great and glorious adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juxtaposition

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aolivebranchChapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel is so full of teaching that it provides a lifetime of material for reflection. The Beatitudes alone are enough! In today’s lectionary selection, however, there is a very important section on how we ought to treat those persons closest to us. (Jesus calls them our brothers, but we know he meant our sisters too.) It’s about the fact that we must be in right relationship with our neighbors before we approach God in our worship services. The very familiar text (vs. 20-26) tells us that if there is something separating us from another person we need to leave our gift at the altar to go and be reconciled. It’s that important. The interesting thing about this passage for me, however, is a simple twist in the way the recognition of our duty is expressed by Jesus. He doesn’t say, “If you recall that you have anything against your brother, go first and reconcile…” Instead, Jesus makes the job of reconciliation ours even though it is “if your brother has anything against you…”

It would seem unfair to say it is our responsibility to take the first step in such a case. It’s much easier to blame others for their misunderstanding of us or their unwillingness to come to us when we have nothing (maybe) against them. I think that Jesus is looking for two things from us here: 1. a willingness to look in a mirror to be sure that there is no obfuscation going on from our part and 2. a willingness to practice unconditional love in any situation – whether or not we share responsibility for the breach in relationship. Letting go of justice for mercy is a large-hearted step. Taking it goes a long way in moving toward the heart of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead

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ajesusduskThis morning I found a quote in Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours that I hope to remember as the day progresses. It is in his Wednesday reflections at dusk, so I thought that if I kept it in my heart and consciousness all day, maybe I could say the same as life unfolds and I arrive at evening.  It’s a new way to pay attention to the events of the day, a “holy expectation” perhaps – at least worth a try. Here is what he says:

Today, in a moment of trial, I rediscovered Jesus, or perhaps discovered him for the first time. I came closer than ever to fully realizing how true it is that our relations with Jesus are something utterly beyond the level of imagination and emotion. His eyes, which are the eyes of Truth, are fixed upon my heart. Where his glance falls, there is peace; for the light of His Face, which is the Truth, produces truth wherever it is found. There too is joy: and he says to those he loves, I will fix my eyes upon you. His eyes are always on us everywhere and in all times. No grace comes to us from heaven except He looks upon our hearts. (Entering the Silence) 

May our travels through this day be suffused with the joy of seeking Truth and recognizing it when it is found. Safe travels, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Shock Treatment

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aboltoflightningThere are several references to light in today’s lectionary readings. Psalm 119 is both indirect and direct, calling on God to “let your face shine upon me,” while also saying to God that “the revelation of your words sheds light.” Jesus speaks very directly, telling his hearers (MT 6) “You are the light of the world” and then commanding them to “let your light shine before others” – not for personal gain, however, but to glorify God, the source of light.

I am occasionally not so fond of light shining on me – like this morning after less than 6 hours of sleep when the sun was already up over the mountain and calling me to open my eyes at 5:20AM. There was no way to hide from that light; covering my face under even a sheet in the sudden summery heat would have been suffocating. Facing the day seemed the more sane option.

One line in the Psalm response (119:131) was like a bolt of lightning ten minutes later and made my grudging start to the day worthwhile. I was not reading from any alternate, poetic or modern translation – just the USCCB* version – but the light of that line was clearly shocking me awake.  Just after the verse about God’s words shedding light, the psalm said this: I gasp with open mouth in my yearning for your commands. That’s a far cry from “Teach me, O Lord, your statutes…”

Yearning is defined as “a feeling of intense longing for something” with synonyms such as longing, craving, hankering, urge, ache…To yearn, the dictionary says, stresses the depth and passion of a desire, sometimes accompanied by sadness. The psalmist was obviously craving the light of God, love being the motivating force but the weight of the world perhaps dimming the path toward that light. It seems to me that a sense of distance from God crashed into the psalmist’s desire like a punch in the stomach that caused such a gasp of yearning. I can just hear the follow-on to that cry to God: Tell me what you want! or Where are You? I’m overcome with longing and searching. Just give me a sign! I’m guessing that just the experience of that gasping in the yearning would have awakened a new depth in relationship with God. And who would not be willing to experience that?

*United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abundant Blessings

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unity,love and harmony by Jerrika ShiThe weekend just past was for me a time of great blessings. On Friday we welcomed a group of people – mostly new to us – who came for a workshop offered by our friend, Brigitte, here at our home. I met one of our guests, Patty, at the bus station. Patty lives in Manhattan and as we fell into easy conversation, I began to see our small town through her big city eyes. She was very interested in everything. From all reports, everyone at the workshop came and/or left very happy at all they found here. I was on the road, however, by 9:00 Saturday morning.

Saturday was full of joy in Syracuse (80 miles north) at the golden jubilee celebration of one of my companions in community for the past 50 years. By mid-afternoon I was back in the car for a glorious 2 1/2 hour ride to our Motherhouse near Albany where the energy was high. I arrived mid-stream of the annual Commitment Weekend for our lay Associates. I was happy to participate for the first commitment of four women, one of whom is a treasured member of our growing “Wisdom network.” I would think that anyone driving along the New York State Thruway during the weekend would have felt the intensity of loving, spiritual communion reaching from West to East!

Today’s lectionary readings include the gospel from Matthew, chapter 5 where Jesus preaches what we call the Beatitudes, often seen as the rule of life for Christians. Sister Mary Ellen chose this gospel reading for her jubilee celebration on Saturday as a text that has guided her living, but then she spoke of a new set of blessings given by Pope Francis as he celebrated the feast of All Saints last November in Sweden. He said on that occasion that the Beatitudes of Jesus given during the Sermon on the Mount are “the identity card” for the saints but then added that “new situations require new energy and new commitment,” and offered a new set of Beatitudes for modern Christians. Perhaps one or another or all of these will touch your heart and become a way of life and blessing for you.

– Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.

– Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.

– Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.

– Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.

– Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.

– Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.

“All these are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness,” Pope Francis said. I would suggest just one change to his writing. I would suggest that we not stop at praying for Christian unity but rather pray and work for the unity of all people on earth, living in harmony in this, our common home.

Have a blessed day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise!

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apigOne of the best outcomes of my practice of centering prayer is the certainty that I have become less judgmental of persons and situations than I was 11 years ago when I began the practice in earnest. There are definitely times when I still jump to conclusions but that happens less often than in my earlier life. This morning I was reminded of this gift – and of the fact that I still have a long way to go before claiming “perfection” in this area. It came from a humorous story in Alan Cohen’s book, A Deep Breath of Life, and was entitled “The Pig of God.” I hope you enjoy it and find the message as important as I do. You may have heard it before but it’s worth a second look (or a third or fourth…) so pay close attention.

As a man was driving around a dangerous hairpin mountain curve, a woman in a little red sports car tore around the bend from the opposite direction, cutting him off and forcing him to veer off the road. To add insult to injury, as the woman sped by, she yelled, “Pig!” Furious, the man shook his fist at her and shouted, “Sow!” He kept going around the curve, where he ran into a pig sitting on his side of the road.

Sometimes when it appears that life is attacking us, it is trying to help us. Those who challenge us bring us valuable life lessons that we might miss if we are caught up in feeling insulted or unappreciated. Imagine that everyone you meet is here to assist you to go deeper in your wisdom, healing and joy. Do not be fooled by appearances; use your higher vision until you find the gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing With God

I thought that perhaps we could all use a little Hafiz this morning. Or maybe it’s just my own desire for inspiration that comes down to us from the inspired Sufi poet of the 14th century who has a way of wrapping truth up in images that grab us in places deeper than our everyday parlance. Here’s a snippet from a poem called Out of God’s Hat. (I’m writing it in prose form here.) See if you can let go of an intellectual assessment of his words and be led along the imaginal path of inner seeing.

The Friend has turned my verse into sacred pollen. When a breeze comes by falcons and butterflies and playful gangs of young angels mounted on emerald spears take flight from me like a great sandstorm that can blind you to all but the Truth! Dear one, even if you have no net to catch Venus my music will circle this earth for hundreds of years and fall like resplendent debris, holy seed, onto a fertile woman. For Hafiz wants to help you laugh at your every desire. Hafiz wants you to know your life within God’s arms, your dance within God’s arms is already perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Extraordinary in Life

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ablessingsPsalm 128 is rather short, only eight verses but rich in wisdom. After reading three translations, I felt it important to pay attention to two of the lines especially. The entire psalm is about the blessings that come to those who walk upon God’s path, following God’s ways – a rather common theme throughout the book. What first got my attention was the second line of verse one which said that for those who are living that way life is filled with hidden blessings. Later, verse five proclaims that it is God, the center of the heart, who prospers life unto its end. It was upon reading the commentary that I recognized the possible richness of reflection on what was contained in these phrases. See what you think of this call to wake up to the ordinary events of life.

Sources of blessing flow hidden beneath the external surfaces of the world. These we tap as we live out our lives in right-relationship to God and to the world. Often these appear to be mundane and ordinary, but extraordinary is hidden in them. Look at your circumstances. What in the ordinary hides the extraordinary goodness of God? We are asked to see this, to penetrate past the surfaces to the heart.

Notice in verse 5 that it is at the center, the heart, where these realities become clear to us. Can you see from the level of your heart?  (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 331)

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Rain

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araindropIt’s been raining – torrents and thunder-filled sometimes – for the past three days. Yesterday it was if the divine weatherman was playing with us. Drenching downpours were followed by moments of sun peeking out of big gray clouds – then rain again…Even this morning the deck behind our house is puddle-strewn. I look out at the trees, rain soaked as well, but shining now in full sun. What a relief! I never mind the rain but when we begin to hear of flooding streams I know it’s all too much for the farmers and I pray for the balance to be restored. So today it feels as if God is saying, “Wake up! All your sluggishness is washed away! New possibilities await you!” and I sing a response with the psalmist in a translation by Nan Merrill.

To You, O Love, I lift up my soul; O Heart within my heart, in You I place my trust. Let me not feel unworthy; let not fear rule over me. Yes! let all who open their hearts savor You and bless the earth!…Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for through You will I know wholeness; I shall reflect your light both day and night. I know of your mercy, Compassionate One, and of your steadfast love. You have been with me from the beginning. Forgive the many times I have walked away from You choosing to walk alone. With your steadfast love, once again, companion me along your way. (Psalms for Praying, PS. 25)