Each of us at one time or another has wondered what happens when we die. Listening to people who engage that question, most say they are not afraid of death but rather the dying process. Their lack of fear seems to stem from their faith: in God, in Christ, in the possibility of reincarnation, in the naturalness of life, in the ‘Emptiness’ that they have lived into. Whatever individuals believe about death, this transition from October to November is a time when many cultures remember and honor those who have died.
For many of us it is a moment when we remember people who have been significant in our lives. It is a time to symbolize their significance and express our love and gratitude for what whey were for us, and continue to be, part of whom we are and what we do.
The other evening the men in our Men’s Contemplative Support Group were invited to be present to people who have been personally significant for them. Parents and relatives were the first they recalled, but it went on to others who had made a difference in their lives. We could feel the ‘communion of saints’ fill the room with a love that does not die. This was so palpable that it was difficult for me to speak. Sometimes silence is the only response appropriate to such overwhelming Love.
In the days since that experience, I have found myself allowing different people who have loved me and who have died, pass through my awareness. It has been a visit from so many, and with each visit, their energy is always that of love touching my soul. How could I not respond with a smile from deep within?
Especially at this time of year I feel the focus on those who have died helps me remember that they are free. Free to love with a love that is truly unconditional. They are free to be present in ways they were not able to be present. For me, they are in the Heart of God and become channels of God’s loving grace for us. Our focus on them collectively creates a synergy that truly melts the veil and we are consciously one with them again.
May your journey through this sacred season be a blessing through those who have loved you in and through their death.
Years ago when we chose the name ‘Shifting Sands’ for our newsletter, someone asked me why we called it ‘Shifting Sands’. It evoked in her a sense of instability and fear. She felt something more comforting would be a better fit for us.
While I could understand her feelings, I know too that the experience of change brings with it a sense of instability and impermeability. It feels like the sands under our feet are literally shifting. Shifting Sands symbolizes a felt experience of life as it comes to us, and that is not usually a comfortable experience.
There is a passage from the Prophet Isaiah which speaks of shifing sands and the One who keeps us grounded in the shifting:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes with vindication; with divine recompense; who comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools and the thirsty ground, springs of water. 35:4-7
As I sit with people in spiritual direction, I listen to the unsettling that they experience as the winds of change shift their structures. Part of the gift of spiritual direction is holding a space while people re-evaluate their lives, their values, their histories, their theories, their practices in relationship to the stirrings of change they have felt.
The shifting sands are truly holy ground and like Moses, we need to take off our shoes and rebalance our lives in relationship with all that is changing. ‘Be strong, fear not, your God is here’. There is an opening of eyes and we begin to see differently. There is a clearing of the ears so that we hear a different vibration. There is a new way of walking on this earth. There is new energy, a new flow to our lives and a different sense of being reconciled. With shifting sands, we lose our sense of direction and purpose. With being open to letting go of control and trusting the process of Love transforming us, we discover new direction and meaning.
Eremos too is always in transition. We continue to keep our eyes on the signs of our times to behold the presence of God in our midst. We invite you to join us in our shifting sands by participating in one of our groups or workshops. Together we can remind one another of the true essence of change – God is at work in our midst.
One of the purpose statements is that we offer people an opportunity to step back from the busyness of life and contemplate the Source of life. ‘Out of the blue’ came an invitation to facilitate a retreat for Marie Angele and Ann Francis at a condo in Port Aransas. I accepted the invitation truly wanting to be present to them as they step into a new decade of living. There were no other thoughts than this.
As you may well imagine, the retreat was a total gift to me. Early morning Tai Chi on the sandy beach, walks in the water as it rushed to caress my tired limbs, meals generously prepared and night swims in the pool ebbed and flowed like the waves of the Gulf punctuated by retreat input and reflection.
God is a God of surprises and this one has filled my heart to overflowing.
In one walk along the beach, I was horrified by the trash left from late-night gatherings. I began picking up bottles, cans, and paper. Just as I was feeling depressed by the overwhelming task, I looked up at the sun beaming through gentle clouds and felt Beauty calling me to attention. We live in a world that is impacted by sin and evil, but it is also a world blessed by Beauty. I continued my trash collecting and was joined by Marie Angele who was also attempting to restore the beach to its natural beauty. Suddenly trucks arrived to clean up the beach for the day. One man said: ‘We’ll be back again tomorrow, for it is always like this’. My heart was sad for a moment at the dishonoring of the earth when my ears were filled with the roar of the Gulf waves and I saw the cloud-filled sky and knew it is not just one dimension of life that returns each day, but Life itself returns and regenerates all that is.
I hope you also get an invitation ‘out of the blue’ to step back from the busyness of your life and behold the Source of life in ways that speak to your heart and soul.
There is a mystical line from William Blake that Thomas Merton quotes ‘we are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love’.
That line has captivated me for years. So often I hear people asking what their purpose in life is and Blake speaks of it so clearly: we are to bear the beams of love. No one with any serious life experiences would take that definition lightly. Today a man came into Eremos saying he knew something was changing or shifting within him. It wasn’t just a physical or emotional or even financial shift going on (although all of those were going on in him). He knew it was something more and that more was impacting his life but he didn’t know how to deal with it. Ah yes, bearing the beams of love.
Our culture doesn’t have a language at its fingertips to talk about bearing the beams of love. Yet I hear it over and over each day as people are invited to be changed by Love within their lives. Another woman cried saying she didn’t believe in a Savior or Power greater than she is. Her life was in turmoil and there was no rudder to help hold her in place. What an awesome experience of the beam of Love calling her into a faith she did not know how to bear. And still another person faces a journey through death and cries out ‘teach me to pray’ and my heart says ‘yes, we learn to bear Love’s beams’.
It may sound like Love punishes, but it is the total opposite. It is Love that sustains us in and through all that life presents.
As you encounter your beams of Love this summer, please know you are being transformed into the image and likeness of God. It is a journey through faith and hope into Love.
One of the phrases I keep hearing from people (myself included) is: I am so busy!
I am not sure what this actually means. Is it that we have too much going on in our lives not life-giving? Are there so many wonderful possibilities that it is impossible to do them all, even though we may actually try? Is it that my responsibilities in life ask me to choose them, rather than what I would like to do for myself? Is it that I am trying to escape some level of pain through a myriad of distractions? Is busyness simply an illusion?
I feel certain you could come up with a dozen other possible sources of our ‘busyness’. But no matter what the source is, many of us are feeling the pinch of life these days.
Pondering my busyness pushed me to an old book by Jean-Pierre De Caussade: Self Abandonment to Divine Providence. His basic premise is that all of life is permeated with the presence of God. It is such a simple belief and one which invites us to stand back and examine our lives to see if what we are so busy doing, is truly filled with God.
When I have followed this advice for myself, I have discovered there is a softer, gentler me. I am not so rushed in getting things done and yet they still seem to get done! I have the freedom to say to someone ‘I am sorry, but I cant be with you today” and know that they will get on remarkably without me. I take time to go and find a gift for a friend and know that is more important to me than other things calling for my attention.
De Caussade has a truth Truly the universe and my life within the universe is permeated with God. I also know that I need to check my values when I discern what calls for my response in the moment.
If I can live conscious of my life in God, somehow I forget how ‘busy’ I am. I seem to let life flow and I jump in at any point within that flow.
Summer is a time of relaxing our pace. It is a time to connect with the meaning within life and surrender to God who is Life. I pray this will be your experience this summer.
In his Blessing called Presence, John O’Donohue prayed these words:
“May you awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.”
These words occupied my mind and heart during a weekend retreat with our Sisters of Diversity. So often we want to know the meaning and purpose of our lives. We want clarity and certainty in our decisions. While none of these is beyond the realm of possibility, they ultimately bring us to the mystery of who we are in God and in this time and space.
When we move through our analytical minds and hearts into the soul, we truly do awaken to the wonder of mystery. Life takes on new vitality and we experience it as a sense of being drawn out of ourselves in communion with all that is. O’Donohue expresses it by “entering the quiet immensity of your own presence.”
Have you ever thought of the quiet immensity of your presence? I would never have come up with those words but they express so wonderfully the experience of contemplation when we are drawn into the immensity of Love and are expanded through Love in a way that can be expressed as “immensity of presence.” And this experience truly opens us up to the wonder of our own mystery.
This experience creates in us an urgent need to serve others. We see life differently. We participate in life more gratefully–perhaps more prophetically and surely more compassionately. We need to make a difference in our world, not from an ego-driven place but rather a place of unitive connection. We are all one or, as Thomas Merton wrote, “there is in all things a hidden wholeness.” Touching the immensity of God I am in touch with everything.
So I join with O’Donohue and pray that in this month of May you, too, will awaken to the mystery of your being here and enter the quiet immensity of your presence.
Today the Christian church proclaims to the world
“He is Risen Alleluia!”
What joy floods our minds and hearts as we celebrate the Life who offers us life abundantly.
In this time of struggle in our world when people are feeling the darkness of economics, job loss, illness or relationships, we take hope in this day. “He is not here”, the women were told when they went to the tomb. “He has been raised.”
This is the promise to each of us also. We shall be raised up. There is no pain or sorrow that can destroy us. We are led through the darkness by the Light we proclaim as Christ Our Light.
May this season of Easter bring you hope and new life in Christ. This is our prayer for you and with you.
Life has a way of serving us curve balls – things come at us in unexpected ways. For many of us these events or circumstances seem to leave us breathless for a moment. We may feel unable to think clearly and doubts rise up with such energy that we are thrown off balance.
So many have shared their stories of being thrown ‘off balance’. I listen to the logical progression of their lives and the unexpected erruptions they are experiencing. ‘Did I do something wrong?’ ‘Just when I am ready to retire, the bottom falls out of my nest.’ ‘After 14 years with my company, I am let go, what do I do now?’ People feel they have been reduced to struggling for survival.
What hold us when life seems to have betrayed us? I think one answer is ‘we hold each other’. We need to be with each other as we process the meaning of the moment. We need to hold each other in faith when we or they feel alone and uncertain. We need to find new insights and possibilities. And we need to listen deeply for the movement of the Spirit in our lives.
God is in each moment because we are always in God. We may find it easy to recognize the presence of God when things are seemingly going well. We don’t always see God when we are ‘thrown a curve ball’.
The promise of Jesus to his disciples was “I am with you always’. It was true 2000 years ago. And it is still true today. The challenging times seem to evoke God’s question to us: ‘will you let me be with you always?’
As we continue to journey through the uncertain times we are living, may we open to God’s loving presence enfolding us and sustaining us in and through each moment.
“I am so frightened!” kept coming from the woman across the hall from me. She was confused, alone, and confined to her hospital bed—not knowing why or even where she was. Whenever she saw someone passing her room, she would call out, “Will you help me? Please help me!” Each time I heard her cry my heart ached for her and for myself, knowing I was unable to go near her.
How sad it is to be alone in the world with no family or friends to care. I heard one of the night nurses say to her, “Don’t be afraid. You are in the hospital and we will take care of you.” In the dark of night one voice said all she needed to hear and for a moment all was quiet.
Over these days and now weeks, I have had the time and space to reflect on how people are crucial to healing. In Sacred Scripture Jesus touched people and that touch brought forth the power of healing in people who needed that touch.
“I’ll pray for you” is that profound touch that holds us when we don’t have the strength to hold ourselves and engenders within us the power to be healed.
“I’ll pray for you” is a gift so deep and personal that the individual is enfolded in the love of the one praying and in that love knows him/herself as beloved. What a gift it is to hold another in prayer and what a blessing it is to know oneself as held in prayer!
Of all the gifts I have received during these weeks of recovery, this one refrain has sustained me at a level beyond words. The healing is not mine to do but is done within me through the people who hold me in prayer.
As we begin our Lenten journey this year, I invite us to do as the prophet Joel proclaims, “Come back to me with all your heart.” Touch others with your love and invite others to touch you. Come back to practices that have had meaning for you but perhaps have slipped away over these months.
There are so many people who, like the woman across the hall, cry out “I am so frightened. Please help me.” Maybe you are one of them, maybe you know someone who is. Can you respond? Can you hold or be held in prayer until life is restored to you?
There is such hope and joy in the air these days. Washington DC is filled with people who want to be ‘there’ for this historic moment for the people of America and for the world. They want to be part of this historic moment not just a by-stander. I have heard news media people speak so emotionally about being caught up into the hope and joy of the crowds. There is a connection among people that the country and world has not known before.
And on this day, I find myself asking if I will be there with and for others as we experience the demands this new time and administration are going to ask of me. Am I willing to put myself truly with this leadership in ways I may find uncomfortable. Am I truly willing to be for the people and with the people in a way that I have never been asked. My mind and heart today say ‘yes’! But I know all too well that when the going gets rough, I can want to run away. Obama and our administration will only be as strong as we are willing to participate. He has vision and grace but it will take all of us working to make this country what we have dreamed it could be.
Obama has said he is going to work from the moment of his inauguration and I know this will be true of him and all who will be working with him. That includes me! I see this as truly a spiritual discipline. It is one thing to say yes, it is another thing to put myself in the yes through my actions. I know I don’t have to rely on myself. We live in a time when everyone has the capacity to reach out to each other. And so today, I ask that all who read this reflect on their personal calling as an American of the 21st century. What does THIS time ask of you?