For so many people, February’s focus seems to be Valentine’s Day. Roses fill the stores and jewelry and perfume are advertised as signs of how much women are loved. The paradox is that Lent begins on February 10th with Christians all over the world focusing on sacrificial love.
Love needs expression! English attempts to convey so much in this one word. The Greeks use four words. Eros: a bodily experience of love; Phileo: affection between people; Agape, a sacrificial form of love unwilling to abandon that which is loved; and, Storge which is love of community and family.
Depending upon what’s happening in your life, the month of February can hold all of those qualities and experiences of love!
For people facing a terminal diagnosis, the waiting, the anxiety, the dizziness that comes from needing to make decisions means they stand exposed before the Mystery of Life and Love. “I am going to live until I die” proclaims a woman with stage 4 cancer and in this declaration she touches the hearts of all who know her. Living each day becomes the focus of Love for people with terminal illnesses. Their days are filled with trips for chemo or radiation treatment, doctor visits, and pain medications. And in the midst of all of this, they gather with family and friends because these connections are important touchstones of love and vitality. To be invited into the journey of people facing death is one of the greatest gifts of love we can be offered —embracing all the Greek words of love in one act of profound generosity.
“He knows me” came from a mother gazing into the eyes of her newborn child. And in that moment came a level of commitment that would transcend all the sleepless nights and worries as the child grew. Her love would be tested, but the bond of love could not be broken.
There are many moments in our lives that may not be as dramatic as both of these examples but the love we receive is profound. In those moments, we know that we are known. A touch, a gaze, a tender embrace or even a challenging word, open us to love and evoke within us a desire to love in return.
But there is even more love available to us: Divine Love! This quality of love contains all the Greek words for love and transcends them. It is a faithful love that says “even if your father and mother forsake you, I will never leave you”. It is a transforming love that says “come, follow me and I will love you into becoming what you can’t even imagine possible”. It is generative love that breathes life within each creation and invites us to continue choosing life.
The love of God is an opus sung to us in the daily rhythm of our lives. May you hear and experience this love this February. May you know how deeply and personally you are loved!
As I sit here on the threshold of a new year, I am reminded of all the people who have supported us. Our Board of Directors, our volunteers and all those who have participated in spiritual direction, contemplative programs, and our fundraising events.
We have felt so supported by all who read and comment about our e-newsletter and blog postings. Because of you Austin, San Antonio, Houston and the world is held in the tender mercy of the Beloved.
Moving into 2016 our prayer is that of St. Paul to the Ephesians:
Out of God’s infinite glory, may you receive power through the 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 length, the height and the depth until knowing the love of the Divine, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.
We look forward to 2016 and our journey together.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
A light has shone.” Isaiah 9:1
With these words, our liturgy of Christmas begins. It is a story told for over 2000 years and with each telling, new awareness arises from our life experiences.
This has been a year of darkness through violence in our streets, inequality in our housing, racial and religious fears, families in mourning, abuse of our land and children, and Governors proclaiming “there is no room in our inn for refugees”.
We have looked for a Messiah! So many voices cry out to politicians through the media: “Who can lead us into the light?” And politicians respond with, “I will save you.” “I will keep you safe!”
Has a Light shone upon us? I live a contemplative life and this gives me a sacred lens through which to gaze upon the world. We have ‘seen a great Light’ my soul cries. A Light is shining in the minds and hearts of so many people.
We see the Light through those who risk seeking refuge in the values of a country that says ‘come’ ‘we welcome you’ whether this is in Dallas or Canada. We see the Light in the racial and ethnic tensions that have been part of our country forever, but are now revealing the causes and necessary actions we need to take. We see the Light in a child who cleaned a Mosque that had been desecrated by feces. We see the Light in the men and women working toward a cleaner environment. We have seen The Light burning within many people.
As the Christmas story unfolds, it was the birth of a baby in simple poverty, amid the animals and angels that became the Light that would be the source of illumination for “those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
The invitation of Christmas this year seems to be: Behold the Light “who has brought us abundant joy and great rejoicing.” Isaiah 9:2
May your Christmas be a celebration of Love and Light. We will hold you in prayer over these days of joy and rejoicing.
May your Christmas truly be merry and bright!
So many questions fill our minds and hearts as we anticipate this celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
I have listened to radio hosts question the Republican Candidates for Presidency asking:
“How can Evangelical Christians respond to the current crisis of immigration from their belief system?”
The answers are as varied as the candidates themselves indicating a genuine struggle between their faith and their desire to protect the people they hope to serve.
I have watched the national news reporters question a father with his young son “how do you talk to your child about the violence he has seen and heard?’ I listened as he focused the child’s attention to the multitude of candles and flowers telling him these were the signs that he was protected.
I have met with a group of concerned women as we partner to look at racism from a theological lens as we ask: ‘how do we listen for a change?” Just having people gather to listen with each other is already recognizing a change in our perspectives.
And within a program we held today I heard questions of ‘how do I find a job?’ How do I decide where I need to go next’? How can I take the gift of this day into the days ahead’? And I heard one person say that it is within community that the questions, the issues we face can be faced.
How do we celebrate a Thanksgiving Day when we are so conscious of the pain and grief that fills our minds and hearts and lives? We celebrate because there is so much to be thankful for. A family will celebrate the life of a woman wracked with pain who passed through death this morning. We give thanks for the many French people who are sitting outside in the café again ‘because this is what French people do!” We give thanks for our young adults who are passionate about working for a better world because ‘it is the right thing to do’.
The list is endless. This holiday is an opportunity to see the beauty that fills our lives and be thank-filled. It is only a day, but if we can each look more often through the lens of gratitude, the essence of Thanksgiving can become a pattern for living.
In the beauty of silence and solitude this Thanksgiving Weekend, I will be embracing each of you with a heart filled with gratitude. May you truly have a
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Over these past few days, I have been inspired by the voices coming out of Washington!
Joe Biden in his statement to the American people proclaimed: This is what I believe
- We need to work together
- Children and child care is the one, biggest barrier for working families
- Lead more by power of example than example of power
- We need to end the divisive partisan politics that are ripping this country apart
- We need to keep moving forward in the arc of this nation toward justice
- The party is behind him
- The party will work as a team
- He cannot and will not give up family time
- He can be a unifying leader
And Paul Ryan has said he would run for Speaker of the House IF
For me, this is more than politics as usual. Two political leaders are asking for a country of justice, of balanced work and family life and are calling each of us to these high values as well.
We have been so focused on violence and division, on anger and frustration, on wars and extremism. We seem to have lost a reverence for life and the values that empower us to be human. We have needed our leaders to call themselves and each of us back to the basics of being human.
At our essence we are one! And because we are one, we need to care for one another and take care in how we treat one another. We need to find ways of balancing work and home life and of creating systems that respect this fundamental need. With leaders proclaiming it and each of us taking responsibility for creating it, we can mend the rifts in our families, our country and our world.
Mother Teresa once said: “Human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and it deserves always and everywhere to be treated with utmost dignity and respect.”
As we begin November honoring those who have died (Dia de los Muertos) and close out the month with a celebration of gratitude for all life has provided on Thanksgiving Day, may we truly see the hope we can celebrate this month.
For seven years I visited a man in a local nursing home. As my relationship with him grew in those seven years, so did my connections with the leadership and staff who took care of him.
On June 7th Frank died. Last week the nursing home held a memorial service for all of the residents who had died from June – September. It was a very simple ceremony held in the dining room. I was there as a friend in support of the family. But I received an amazing blessing by being present.
Quality of care for our parents, family members, and friends as they age is a concern we all have. How do we care for our loved ones as their ability to care for themselves diminishes? How do we deal with our own sense of limitation in facing their care needs? There are no easy answers, nor is there one answer for everyone.
Sitting at Frank’s memorial service helped me understand something about care. I watched as one of the nurses joined with a family member, embracing each other as they walked. Like a couple at a wedding ceremony, they lit a candle together honoring the person who had died. But they also honored the commitment made to each other, formed through the years of care. It literally took a village to provide the quality of care Frank needed in the last years of his life.
After the candle was lighted, they each returned to their own place – he to his fellow nurses and she to her family. That was the dance that had developed over the years. Frank was entrusted to the care of the nurses and staff who supported his family and friends as well. The family remained family all those years while acknowledging they could not provide the physical care he required.
As I pondered this, I realized that the essence of ‘care-giving’ is truly giving Care. There are so many intimate relationships created as we age. And for most of us, more and more people are invited into the conversation and dance about who will provide the care needed for a loved one.
The question What is the quality of care that is needed now? comes back to us like an echo over and over again each year. In answering this question, our circle of intimacy expands exponentially. More people are invited to enter our lives and the lives of those we love in deeply personal ways.
As the service drew to a close, one of the residents who had shared a meal table with Frank, came over with her walker holding two white roses. “I miss him” she said as she gave us the roses. As she had been part of his life, she too shared in our grief.
In his poem Fourth Quartet, T.S. Eliot writes:
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
As we age and care for others who age, Eliot’s message and the memorial service ring in my heart. Quality care-giving demands moving into more intense, intimate relationships.
May your life be filled with those who deeply care for you and may you share that caring with others.
The cry for peace has filled my thoughts lately as Eremos and many in the city of Austin prepare to focus of PEACE this month.
After two days of excruciating physical pain last week, a morning of calm and quiet gave me a chance to reflect on this intense experience. I began to consider fear as a contradiction to peace. Thinking about the inner turmoil that accompanied the physical pain, I asked myself if I was fearful because I didn’t know the source of the pain. Or, was I afraid of death? Perhaps I was afraid of debilitation. Could this turmoil have been because I felt my body was betraying me? Or, did I think I did something wrong and pain was the consequence? And so my thoughts and questions kept flowing…
None of these questions surfaced in the previous two days. It took calm to let them surface. In pain, there is only a consciousness of PAIN.
But pain can be a catalyst for drawing people together. I felt the love of others who reached out to touch me with their tenderness. “Go and rest, we can handle it” came from the people getting our mailing ready for the postal service. “Let me take you to the emergency clinic” came another response from a friend. Even my Chiropractor showed up at the door unsolicited—leaving only after uncovering a possible diagnosis and recommending that I get to a medical doctor for pain medication and further testing. And, imagine my relief and even delight in hearing the medical doctor say: “I don’t know what it is, but we can give you pain medication and see what happens!”
Here I am now four days beyond the pain reflecting on what the underlying fear really was. “I can’t be an instrument of Love” my soul responded. And quite frankly I believe this is the universal fear each of us holds. Pain turns us inward upon ourselves whether this is physical, mental, emotional, cultural or spiritual. We each experience how deeply personal our pain is and we cry out in fear. Peace shows up in the midst of pain when we are touched by Love!
Now, having been loved through pain, I understand in a new way the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. It is not as the world gives that I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid.” John 14:27 Peace is a gift of Love that is as personal as the pain through which we have been loved.
How I pray that each person has someone who loves them into peace.
“When we find our vocation we begin to live from this place inside us, deepening our personality, our unique way of being in God, and therefore incarnating our unity” wrote Rory McEntee and Adam Buck in their book The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living.
Pondering this thought generates excitement within me. As a spiritual director, people often ask how they can live a balanced, more integrated life in the midst of busy and often demanding schedules. One little word sums up my response: vocation! In other words, live who you are from your heart. If you have a gift for teaching – teach, for parenting – parent, for designing – design, for creativity – create, and so forth. Love who you are and do what you love!
In our younger years we are so busy being what others want us to be. Parents impose upon us unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Employers demand 60 – 80 hours a week to meet our work commitment to the corporation. And so we tend to live from the outside to achieve, please, and accommodate others in order to ‘make it’ in this world.
As we mature, we discover there is a ‘still small voice’ within that has a wisdom and attentiveness from which we can give our time and attention. That is our vocation! Deep within is the call to be true to our essential self – the Mystery of God indwelling us. Experience of this ‘place’ propels us to engage life differently. It is not ego driven but empowered by the Spirit, the Holy One who will touch the world through us in healing ways. This does not imply that life is easy, but rather that it is meaningful, it is compassionate, and it is generous.
McEntee and Buck offer the world a new invitation and a promise: if you find your true self (your vocation) you will begin to live from this place within you. Oh that we may each discover this and open to the possibility of living this out daily in our world.
What hope! What joy! What a different world this would be!
Flags are waving in the breeze as people begin preparing for 4th of July celebrations. Are they a reminder of the past struggles against limitations? Are they honoring our freedom?
This year I sense these flags are expressing the sorrow of our people. Like many Americans, my heart is heavy from the recent shootings and the seemingly never-ending stories of violence. Feelings of anger, frustration, uncertainty, and vulnerability have surfaced all across the country. People ask “Why?” They want someone to blame and someone to be punished. And, many want to do something.
Consider a contemplative response to these acts of violence. I believe the Divine is inviting each of us to be instruments of grace in the midst of such pain and suffering. There is pain in a 21 year old man who felt the only way to express the depth of his agony was through violence. There is pain in the Emmanuel Church community who lost their beloved Pastor. There is pain for the family and friends of all nine of the people who died from this violence. We need to be present to all of it, and behold the faces of those who cry out in pain.
There is a Spirit, a Breath, a Wind blowing over our land. It whispers to us to take care of ourselves and each other. The violence we hear or read about can be opportunities to be different rather than indifferent. This Spirit invites us to embrace—not hide from—the pain in our country and our world. We need to hear the cry of the poor, the abused, and the downtrodden, and cry out on their behalf.
As intellectual people, we often try to make sense of violent acts by labeling the perpetrators as mentally ill. Quite frankly, I suggest ‘heartbroken’ is a better description. Not knowing what to do with the pain, more people are ‘snapping’ and lashing out at others in extreme ways.
In 1776 we proclaimed our independence from the British. But we have been at war with ourselves ever since. We seem to need to fight against something or someone. We need to be right, so someone must be wrong. We feel a need to protect our property, our families and ourselves from the unknown because we don’t trust. In our independence we have lost our sense of inter-dependence.
Many of us have lost our sense of connection with one another. We have forgotten how to listen with a sense of the Sacred within the other. It’s time to awaken from the sleep of indifference or of disconnection and acknowledge the underlying racial, economic and cultural issues contributing to the tension.
What the world needs now more than anything is love. It needs a compassionate heart that beats with tenderness and mercy. It needs a forgiving heart that knows no one can throw stones of judgment or self-righteousness. It needs a mystical heart that beholds the Divine in our world and can be transformed by that vision.
Despite our brokenness, all of the shootings have awakened our sense of connection. We glimpse a community coming together for the sake of one another. We see different police departments in the cities across America beginning to review their policies. We see people beginning to look at one another, thank each other and hold and share hope for one another.
In whatever way you remember the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, it can be different because the events this year have awakened your compassionate heart. May it be so for everyone!
The month of April we spent contemplating Andrew Harvey’s book The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to touch the Sacred as the Source of engaging life meaningfully.
One of the questions I was left with after our engagement with The Hope was: “Can you imagine being a Sacred Activist”? What an amazing challenge this is to even contemplate. It is a call to ‘wake up’ to who we are – instruments of the Divine in our world today.
We are already Sacred because of the One who indwells us. We live and move and have meaning because we are part of the Divine Imagination. But we limit ourselves so much. As one woman said “we can move mountains if we have the faith and imagination to do that.” We can be so much more than we have dared to imagine. We can do more than we have dared to imagine is possible.
Harvey asks: “What breaks your heart open?” I pondered this question throughout our immersion in The Hope in April. At first I thought it was about what event, issue, or situation in our world calls me to action. But in the recent days of contemplation, what I have come to understand is what breaks my heart open is “The Sacred,” the “Divine,” or the 1000 other Names for the Beloved. The language is particular to our belief system, but whatever name we give the Divine, this is what breaks me open and floods me with Joy I can’t contain.
A woman who loves music was moved to talk with her church choir group to go to the homeless and sing! Someone else was deeply touched by her travels to Central America and founded an organization to be present to the poor. Another person was so overwhelmed by the grace of Love that she created support groups for our military men and women returning to civilian life after fighting in wars in the Middle East. And still another felt compassion for a man who had to euthanize his dog, bought a book that was recommended to her by someone else grieving, and gave it as a way to support him.
Love does that as we open to Love– it wells up within each of us so powerfully that we cannot resist being instruments of Love in our world. What an amazing grace to live into this calling and to share this grace with others whose lives we touch.