Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holidays: The best and worst of times

By Mary Erickson

As we progress in the anticipation of one of the holiest seasons of the liturgical year, we are reminded daily of the joy and angst this time of year brings to all of us. The media constantly bombards us with the realities of broken relationships, depressed people led to violent acts against themselves or others and the knowledge of those people who don’t have enough food to eat or shelter from the winter cold. This year the economic woes throughout the world have brought the stark reality of having to do with less and, in many cases, having to do without completely.

All of this should be enough to deal with but too often we have the struggles that occur within families throughout the year, and the holidays seem to magnify troubled relationships in the context of our expectations. Don’t all of us look back fondly on a Christmas scene from our childhood and wish we could recreate the warmth, happiness and loving spirit that we felt as children? I can remember being four years old and peeking out and watching my father put together a rocking horse for me, wondering why my dad was doing that because Santa was coming that night! Alas, my reverie was soon broken when my older brother, nine years old, told me that Daddy was Santa. That revelation was probably my first and most memorable disappointment in the holiday season.

Five decades have passed and with each passing year it is more apparent that those good old days that seem so precious really were elusive and a projection of all my desires for tightly-knit and happy family. For me, the vision of a Norman Rockwell family scene didn’t exist and all my wishing for it simply didn’t produce the image. What I had was a family of people who loved each other but couldn’t always get along very well and for whom the holidays only seemed to exacerbate our dysfunctional relationships.

Advent is a season of hope that encourages each of us to trust in the goodness of each other and to see that through our humanity we have the potential to bring about positive change if only we try. The good news of the coming of the Christ child symbolizes the opportunity to begin again in spite of the challenges and hardships we face. If there is one thing that I have learned it is that my vision of a perfect and loving family is probably not very realistic. What I know for sure is that I have a family of strong-willed individuals who at this point are blessed with good jobs, good health and each other. For that I am immensely grateful and I pray that our time spent together will be loving and a reflection of caring and kindness towards each other. If it doesn’t pass the Norman Rockwell family scene test, I am fine with it. I will know that we tried and there is always hope for next year. Blessings for a happy and holy holiday season!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Flu Season Allows Time To Be, To Reflect

By Sister Guadalupe Medina
I used to think we had only four seasons: fall, winter, spring and summer. But I realize now that we have a new season called the Flu Season, and its exact date for starting has not been established or put on the calendar.

Recently I entered into the Flu season and had unexpected days off. During those days I did not find myself wanting to go shopping, or prepare anything special. I simply just wanted to get better.

Much to my surprise I found myself enjoying the days off more than when I get holiday days off. Perhaps it was because these days were not planned, they just happened. I found myself spending more time in silence and wondering hmmmm . . . did Jesus ever get the flu?

I don’t know how many of you ever wondered that, but I found myself asking over and over again “If we say Jesus was human in every way but sin, does that mean he never got ill? If he did get ill, how did Mary as mother deal with it. Did she make him a nice cup or bowl of soup? Did she take him to the doctor for a check up to make sure it wasn’t anything serious? Did she rely on her mother’s healing remedies? How did Jesus manage to give so many talks and not lose his voice, which is what happened to me?

I realize the questions might seems silly to some people, but seriously, have any of you ever wondered whether Jesus got sick and, if so, how it was dealt with? Let’s face it, in his time period they did not have the advanced medical technology and specialized doctors and medicine advertisements, etc. like we do today. So what do you suppose they did?

As I used the days to enter into the silence of my being, I found myself recalling the home remedies my parents used on us kids when we were growing up and how miraculously it seemed we were healed. My dad was a simple man of deep faith who, I recalled, said that the ideas he received came to him while in prayer. He trusted and followed what he heard, and mother trusted him, and together they administered the remedies to us and we got healed. Each time, I recalled, they said a prayer. A simple prayer which I must admit I say each time I take medication: “En el nombre de Dios” (In the name of God).

As I spent the days recovering, I began to see them in a positive way -- positive in the sense the days allowed me to “just be.” They reminded me of the need for taking care of one’s body and how precious and fragile life is. They reminded me of the need to trust and not lose hope, and how, despite all the medical advanced technology and medicine on the market, the flu season -- like the other seasons -- has a beauty and purpose that perhaps we may not fully ever understand.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Simplifly for a Better Life, Better World

by Joy Wallace

For the past six weeks, I have been meeting with a class on Voluntary Simplicity and want to share some thoughts based on that experience. We used an excellent publication with the same title from the Northwest Earth Institute, which is full of thought-provoking articles.

Each chapter in Voluntary Simplicity deals with something in our lives where deliberate thoughtfulness and consideration can reduce stress and complexity. The key to all voluntary simplicity is mindfulness . . . actually making a conscious choice to change some behavior. As we read and discussed over the six weeks, we also came up with action plans to implement in our lives.

One area of discussion was to develop more awareness of the effect on our lives of our consumer-oriented culture. We considered how material abundance relates to actual quality of life and happiness. We discussed how many commercials wash over us as we listen to the radio, use the Internet and watch television, and how they influence our lives. We all considered cutting back on our spending, reducing waste, focusing more on personal values and getting rid of “stuff."

Another topic was “making a living.” In this chapter our discussions revolved around the long-range effects of working for a living . . . use of time and energy, relationships, and finding our passions. Too many times “we aren’t making a living, we are making a dying” because we expend our energy doing things that do not renew and nurture ourselves and end up with little energy left for relationships and things we value. Because of this, “life outside the workplace has lost vitality and meaning” and leisure time often leads to loneliness and boredom. We agreed that “making money is such hard work that it changes you” and that we want to develop new attitudes about our work lives and find more joy in leisure time.

The third topic was time -– how we use time and how nurtured we feel about the choices we make to “spend” time. One article states, “Be sure you tithe your time to something that genuinely moves you, and say no without guilt to anything that doesn’t. This way it will be easy to remember that you’re giving a gift, not serving a sentence.” Everyone in the group decided to be more deliberate about how time is spent and to increase peace in our lives.

Finally we discussed how to live more lightly on the Earth. Basically, we agreed that each individual must do something to decrease our impact on the earth. That something might be conserving water daily, composting, growing more food, turning off electric switches, recycling more, considering where food comes from and how it’s produced, or to simplify ones needs. Each person doing one thing, as well as increasing the awareness of others so they too will do one thing, can create changes.

We concluded some sessions with the following reading:
From Singing in the Living Tradition by William Henry Channing
To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages with an open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry, never.
To let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

I look forward to future conversations with this group of people to see how we are all doing with our attempts to live more simply. I’m hoping to re-attend the same class at the next session.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

God's Extravagant Love

By Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

I have just recently returned from giving a retreat at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, California with Sr. Celeste Clavel, another member of our staff at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. It is a retreat that we have given many times across the country. The official title of the retreat is: God’s Extravagant Love: Reclaiming the Franciscan Theological Tradition.” It is indeed an experience of God’s extravagant love!

When we arrived on Friday October 2 we were greeted warmly by the Franciscan staff at the Center. We spent the afternoon preparing our room for our presentation. Franciscan hospitality surrounded us with abundance. One of our own sisters, Sr. Kathleen Moffatt, from Philadelphia was there to make the retreat and she immediately jumped in to help us set up.

It was quite an honor to have Kathleen with us since she is the general coordinator of this particular retreat. At the invitation of Sr. Kathleen eighteen Sisters from our own community as well as from our heritage communities gathered in Philadelphia in 2004 to create this experience. After three years of study and meetings we launched the program, expecting it to end after 12 presentations. Much to our delight it was enthusiastically received by Franciscan participants all around the world. Sr. Celeste and I found ourselves in Danville to share once more the treasure that this retreat is.

It is an introduction to three major themes from the Franciscan Theological Tradition:
• The Primacy of Christ and the Mystery of Love
• Creation
• Dignity of the Human Person

In Danville, 30 participants listened, reflected and shared their own experiences of what it means to be loved extravagantly by our God. Their faces were filled with light at the conclusion of the retreat. They packed their bags to return home with a “new lens” on their lives, one that enabled them to see with new eyes their own value and worth as well as the value and worth of all of creation.

Sr. Celeste and I intend to give this retreat at the Center here in Milwaukie in the spring. You might want to consider it for yourself. We can promise you that you will leave the retreat feeling very Franciscan and even more convinced that the Franciscan movement has a very significant role to play in redeeming and healing our 21st century world through living and sharing the abundance of God’s extravagant love.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Poets, Prophets and Mystics in an Era of Crisis

By Sr. Mary Lonergan

We live our lives between moonlight and sunlight, midnight and noon, darkness and light, ignorance and knowledge, loneliness and love, oppression and freedom. Christian mystics down through the centuries have used the term “bright darkness” to describe their inner experience with God in their hunger to meet him in quiet prayer.

The poet T.S. Eliot, looking down the dark tunnel of Europe’s postwar pessimism, prophesied that the mystic, the contemplative was “our only hope, or else despair.” In our equally critical era we need prophets to awaken us to the ills of our society, contemplatives to ground our actions for justice, and writers who can wean us away from war, letting us see again the power of the pen over the bomb and the bullet.

Thomas Merton, modern mystic and prophet, continually reminded us that proclamation of Gospel values and social activism has to be grounded in faith and contemplative prayer to be authentic and effective. That to appropriate and live the vision of Christ we must regularly leave behind “business as usual” and flee routinely to the “reality of the desert” -- to meet God and find grace, to be transformed for service.

Our lives are forever blest if we encounter someone who has been changed by this personal experience of God’s abiding grace. Recently, I have been grieving and celebrating one who would not have dreamed of calling himself a mystic. He was -- in its true and faithful meaning.

Some weeks ago, Ron Rolheiser headlined his column in the Catholic Sentinel: ON A ROAD IN GUATEMALA THIS SPRING, THE CHURCH LOST A PROPHET. Rolheiser tells the story of Larry (Lorenzo) Rosebaugh, an American priest, assassinated while driving with Oblate companions from Guatemala City to a meeting in Playa Grande where the missionary had worked with civil war survivors in the rain forests of the northern El Quiché. Lorenzo was no ordinary man and no ordinary priest. He was a special gift to the world. He was a special grace in my world.

A prophet, a mystic activist, he walked always in the muddy footsteps of Francis and the dusty desert footprints of Jesus. For some brief memorable years he was a companion and guide, inspiring and illuminating my own feeble footsteps, brightening the grim darkness of war-weary and downtrodden poorest of the poor. He lived daily in the hope of miracles for his people. In truth, he was the miracle.

Lorenzo’s life, rooted in faith, powered by prayer, was a kaleidoscope of loving service., an adventure in compassion culminating in the extreme sacrifice- martyrdom in the cause of justice, advocating and agitating for those on the margins. A gentle, unassuming, non-violent man, Lorenzo lived the paradoxical life of Priest, Peacemaker and Prophet. He went to prison as a Vietnam protestor, hitchhiked to Brazil and lived on the streets of Recife, homeless and celebrating Eucharist with those whose food generally came from garbage cans. He fasted at Fort Benning, volunteered at the Catholic Worker in New York and ministered to military and freedom fighters in El Salvador.

He was caregiver for his elderly mother and protector of children surviving in the garbage dumps of Guatemala’s capital city. He lived simply, loved mightily, walked humbly, disturbed corrupt politicians and annoyed more than a few prelates. He lived the title of his brief memoir: Journey of Compassion, Resistence and Hope.

Lorenzo made a vow of love, a vow that took him over some pretty rough roads, mostly alone, often on foot. For him the Gate of Heaven was everywhere. He lived in hope. He died with hope. Because of him I think I know better what a poet, prophet and mystic can do.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Classes Offer Opportunity to Explore Ignatian Spirituality

By Marilyn Kirvin

Over the course of my adult life I have been moved and “formed” by the experiences of two different Catholic spiritual paths: as a student at a Franciscan college, a volunteer at a Franciscan friary, and a member of two Franciscan parishes; and then a student at a Jesuit theology school, a campus minister at a Jesuit university, director of two Jesuit spirituality ministries and member of a Jesuit parish.

I think of these spiritualities as, in a sense, two different keys in which the music of the Gospel can be played . . . each has its own particular emphasis, and yet at the center of each is Christ, calling people to radical trust, to give all, to embrace the Cross, to obedience to the call of God as it comes to each person. Both of these spiritualities are very accessible for lay men and women in the midst of their everyday lives, both speak to, and at times critique, our culture. And both spiritualities appeal to people from a variety of faith traditions who have found their messages to be widely applicable.

Francis of Assisi, in the 12th century, fell ill in battle and was taken home for a long recuperation, which led him to notice a restlessness in his heart that became the opening for God’s presence and call. Ignatius of Loyola, in the 16th century, was injured in battle and spent many months recuperating, during which his reading of spiritual texts led him to realize that his own deepest desires could only be met by God. Each of their journeys started with great enthusiasm, both made some false turns as they became more knowledgeable about the way the Spirit’s voice was guiding them, and each found their ways to lives of service, poverty, and obedience. There are many similarities in their storie . . . as well as differences that remind us that God comes to each of us as the people we are, with great respect for our individual personalities, cultures, strengths and weaknesses . . . calling us each to our own particular way of service in the world.

On September 15 the Franciscan Spiritual Center will begin a four-week series designed to introduce participants to Ignatian spirituality – the spirituality that says that God may be found in all things, all places, all relationships, if we learn how to see. Each session explores different Ignatian prayer forms, and gives participants an opportunity to share their faith journeys with others.

Then, on the five Monday evenings in November, we will also offer a series entitled, Prayerful Discernment for Life Choices, in which participants will gather with a small group to learn and practice a prayerful process of listening for God’s presence in making life decisions, large and small. Using the guidelines for discernment from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, this will be an experiential process, with time for quiet and prayer, to learn by bringing this method to our real questions and decisions.

The life stories of both Francis and Ignatius remind us that we have a God who desires to be part of our lives and our daily choices, and who speaks to each one of us in our prayer and service. They offer all of us the opportunity to come to know more deeply some of the many facets of our loving God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Preserving Spirituality

By Michelle Dority Kroll

You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them. Genesis 6:21

Time for more of crafting as a spiritual practice. This time we will explore the craft of food preservation. Food preservation is another practice that has been passed down through the generations. I most definitely got the knack of it from my mother. She and I would often seek out the berries of the season and make them into jam. For most people, picking berries is worse than having to pick the seeds out of your teeth! For us, picking berries is meditative. (We had an opportunity to experience this together again recently.) We can and have picked berries for hours until our fingers were stained that bluey-purple-ish red that can only be achieved by berry picking. The most recent time it ended up with about 2.5 pounds of blueberries. Blueberries are small folks, that was a lot of picking! There is only one thing to do with that many berries…JAM! These in particular were made into a Spiced Blueberry Jam and Blue Blue Strawberry Jam (2 parts blueberry and one part strawberry). Both superbly delicious!

Since then, this wonderfully meditative preserving has turned into six batches of jam and a large batch of pickled goodies (beans, cukes and garlic). One of the best things about the items being preserved is that they are wonderful treasures to share with family and friends.

To me, each jar is like a handmade gem. I loved to mix and match flavors. To create something new and exciting, that you won’t find on the grocery store shelf. I love the process of stirring and seeing it transform into its own gem. Some “gems” are purple, some are pinkish-red, some are orangey-red. To me it is the equivalent to having jars of amethyst and rubies in my pantry. Better still because I made them. Each made them with the wonderful fruits of the season. And what a blessing that we can live in an area so abundant with this goodness!

Some years ago now, I signed up for the Master Food Preserving program. Should any of you have questions about canning, feel free to leave a comment, I’ll do my best to answer them. Happy canning!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Program Offers Creative Inspiration for Artists, Writers

Artists throughout the centuries have spoken of ‘inspiration,’ confiding that God spoke to them or angels did. In our age, such notions of art as a spiritual experience are seldom mentioned. And yet, the central experience of creativity is mystical. Opening our souls to what must be made, we meet our Maker. Julia Cameron, from The Artist’s Way

When I was growing up, I aspired to be an artist. I took classes in oil painting and drawing, tried pottery and sculpture… I even became quite a maker of macramé wall hangings (yes, this was the ‘70’s). I also took guitar and recorder classes, and spent three years playing (badly) a French horn in our high school band. I wrote poems and essays and dreamed of being a writer. But, by the time I got to college, none of these were a part of my life.

In the past ten years I have returned to writing in a sense, in the talks I’ve done for retreats and liturgies, yet I still feel that same desire to create that drew me to try all those different avenues when I was young. I know I’m not alone in this; over the years, in spiritual direction sessions, groups and retreats I’ve heard many others voice a similar yearning. All of us, I believe, have an inborn ability and desire for creativity. Creation is the activity of God, and each of us shares in that creative energy that is God’s energy.

In September one of the offerings here at the Center will be an Artist’s Way Cluster Group. The book The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, has been a tool of transformation for many, many people over the 17 years since it was first published. It offers a 12-week process designed to help people recover their creativity, and in doing so, to open themselves up to the Divine in a new and deeper way. The process is for artists, writers, musicians… but also for people who, like me, are struggling to find the time and the form for their creative desires. Each week there are exercises to complete, and free-form writing is to be done every day. The author has developed an explicitly spiritual process; among her basic principals are such things as, “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God,” and “Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.”

The Artist’s Way can certainly be done individually, but for some people, having a group gives them both support and a sense of accountability, which is why Julia Cameron developed some guidelines for what she calls “cluster groups.” Participants are asked to make a commitment to attend all 8 weeks and to doing the exercises, which will take 30 – 60 minutes per day. Conversation in the group meetings will be around those experiences.

I look forward to being a companion on this journey with others who are interested. The group will meet Wednesday mornings, beginning September 9. I invite you to consider registering by contacting the Center or through the web page: I don’t expect that my particular gift for macramé will reappear again, but I do believe Cameron’s words: As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Understanding Your Dreams Can Bring Healing, Connection to God

by Marilyn Kirvin

All dreams come in the service of health and wholeness.
Jeremy Taylor, Dream Work

“I never dream at night.” “My dreams are so strange… I would never talk about them to other people!” “Dreams are just the leftovers from all the things that happened today – why would anyone try to pay attention to them?”

All of these are common misconceptions, I believe, about night-time dreams and their meaning and importance. We know that everyone has probably five to seven dreams per night. Most of our dreams seem “strange,” because they are so creative -- they use a language of symbol and image with which we’re unfamiliar; but when we start to share our dreams with others, we find out everyone’s dreams are that way. And, while one of the purposes of dreaming is probably to sift through a day’s experiences, those who work with their own dreams find that they are also a rich source of guidance, healing, and connection with God.

A number of people throughout history, including authors, musicians, and scientists, have found inspiration or even answers to questions in their dreams. Even Albert Einstein told a journalist that his first inkling of the idea of the theory of relativity came from a dream he had of riding a sled that was approaching the speed of light. In the Jewish and Christian scriptures (as well as those of many faith traditions) there are many stories of divine wisdom coming to people in their dreams.

This summer I had the real pleasure of facilitating a dream work group of five women who met weekly for six weeks, two hours at a time. We each made a commitment to record our dreams, and during our gatherings each of us shared a dream, and then helped each other to explore the meaning of the dream for the dreamer. We also read articles and listened to cd’s to broaden our knowledge about dream work from various perspectives. There was a lot of laughter, and more than a few “a-ha” moments as we brought together our personal dreams with all that we were learning from those who have gone before us.

At the end of the six weeks, when we reflected back on the experience, we all agreed that we had received some major insights into issues in our lives, and into the way in which God seemed to be calling us to grow. We were amazed to reflect on the common threads in all our dreams, and we appreciated the way in which we had been able to share a bit of each of our lives, and make a supportive connection with each other.

This fall, the Franciscan Spiritual Center will be offering several opportunities for people interested in exploring their dreams. We will have two 8-week dream groups beginning, one on Wednesday nights starting September 16, and one on Friday afternoons. In addition, Jesuit Fr. Paul Fitterer will spend a morning with us on Monday, October 12, for a workshop entitled, “Praying With Our Dreams, Part II,” a follow-up to a workshop that he did last year about how to bring our dreams into our daytime prayer (information on all of these is on our website). Anyone interested in finding “health and wholeness” through paying attention to this rich source is welcome to attend.

For more information on these dream workshops, check out the following site:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

For the love of new life

by Mary Erickson

It has been twenty-five years since my youngest daughter, Emily, was born and nine years since my little Scottie, Lily, came to live with us. Needless to say, I have seriously gotten out of the habit of caring for, loving and dealing with the challenges of new life. We now have the great blessing of little Gracie in our midst, a nine week old Scottish terrier puppy.

Her presence in one short week has turned our home upside down with activity, tasks to complete, messes to clean and amazing energy that I had somehow forgotten about. It is almost comical how our lives have changed. Getting ready for work in the morning has taken on a whole new level of challenge not to mention the every two hour bathroom calls in the middle of the night. I have learned that nothing stops Gracie from what she wants and needs and the existence of two adult humans in her house only adds to the interest she has in everything she encounters.

Our decision to add Gracie to our family came after great thought and consideration since our Lily is fighting liver disease and we have hoped that having a new puppy would energize Lily into prolonged life. Naturally, we knew that there would be some relationship issues but weren’t prepared for Lily’s reluctance to have an interloper in her midst. Gracie won’t give up in her quest to become Lily’s new best friend so the coming months will continue to bring challenges for all of us as Lily fights loving her baby sister at every turn.

The gifts that Gracie bestows on us are many. New life is always an open invitation to observe the miracles that God provides. Her sweet face and charming puppy breath literally take my breath away when I hold her. I am constantly made aware of how little she is yet how daring and uninhibited she is as she explores her new environment. Taking tumbles, being snapped at by Lily, being underfoot with an occasional stepping on of her feet…nothing stops her inquisitiveness to challenge this new world she has been introduced to. At this point, the great sadness in Gracie’s life is when she is corralled in a fenced environment which inhibits her racing through our home unencumbered!!

We also experience levels of frustration with Gracie but know that nature will take its course and eventually we will see a puppy that can be housebroken, can stop screeching when put in her pen and will learn the dangers of an open stairway that could result in injury. We are so incredibly blessed with Gracie’s presence that once again it gives me cause to reflect on the goodness and mystery of God in our lives. Puppies don’t come along often because they represent great challenges to their owners, but when they do, they compel us to witness the presence of God in our midst and to be grateful for new life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Restoration of Beauty Begins at Home

by Sr. Guadalupe Medina

St. Bonaventure wrote once “Justice is the restoration of beauty to all that is broken.”
If that is true, then there is a lot of restoration that needs to be done. We are living in a society very much in need of restoration.

Every day we hear in the news about the violence taking place within our local neighborhoods. Our own places of worship -- which perhaps we felt safe in -- are also themselves becoming places of violence. Unfortunately the violence being done is not necessarily by strangers, but by people known by the victim for the most part.

When one person gets killed, or injured seriously etc., it affects us all. We are one with all humanity; whether we knew the victim personally or not, a part of us is taken.
We need not fear so much outside terrorists, because the biggest terrorist is within us. Neither borders nor security can keep it out, except perhaps ourselves if we have a change of heart.

Our values as a society are collapsing at a great rate. Therefore, if we truly love this world of ours which we call “HOME,” we need to not be afraid to speak for those who have no voice.

Families throughout our neighborhoods are hurting physically, mentality, spiritually and emotionally. The values which once held families together are constantly being torn down.

I believe it is important to take time to examine our own lives and ask ourselves: “how am I contributing to the restoration of beauty to all that is broken in society, starting with my family? Do I take time to be with my own family and be present to them, or am I so busy that I don’t even know what my children or spouse are doing or how they are feeling?”

You see, justice begins at home. When we treat our own family members with justice, justice will flow out into society. When we do not, that too, unfortunately, flows out into society.

The family reflects society. What reflection do you want society to see and experience? What reflection do you want your family to reflect back into society, one of destruction or of peace and authentic harmony?

It is never too late to start restoring beauty to all that is broken. Sometimes it is just a matter of stepping out of our comfort zone and doing it.

Take time this week and do something as a family. Enjoy the few weeks of summer that are still left to bring justice to your family.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gifts from Three Lives

By Joy Wallace

I went camping over the July 4th weekend, spending four days relaxing, reading, reflecting, hiking through the woods, playing in a creek to keep cool, exploring, and sitting by a campfire. Overall, the days were full of peace and quiet.

When I returned home and checked my e-mail, I learned that three friends had died while I was gone. They each added to my life and their gifts will remain with me.

Lou Boston: Lou was an active member of the St. Andrew Parish community. He was passionate about social justice, especially issues related to race! He was very influential at St. Andrew in keeping the dialog about race relations open, vibrant and meaningful. I remember having a conversation one day with him over coffee, about relationships between African-American and white people, and typical ways of communicating with one another. His words had a profound effect on me, and I’ve never been the same. Lou’s wisdom encouraged me to be more vigilant about my interactions with people of color, and opened the door to many unusual, unlikely encounters because he inspired me with courage and openness. Lou died of cancer.

Sr. Mary Medved, SNJM: I met Sr. Mary at a National meeting of Jesuit Volunteer Corps staff members, when she was the director of JVC International, and I was the Development Coordinator for the Northwest. Mary was so grounded that her groundedness spilled out onto others. She too was passionate about making a difference in the world for the underserved, and was very deliberate about her work. Sr. Mary was also an example of compassion. She too was a victim of cancer … a very painful experience for her. However, even at her most painful times, she always wanted to hear about you; how were you; what was happening for you. She inspired me with how she could be so present, grounded and focus on whomever she was communicating with.

Bonnie Tinker: Bonnie was an extraordinary activist. When she saw something that needed to be done, she got it organized in order to fix it. She worked for years to increase equality and respect for the gay community. She founded “Love Makes a Family” as a vehicle for her extraordinary activism to support gay families, children and relationships. Bonnie died in a bicycle accident when a truck ran into her while she was attending a faith-based conference in Virginia. Her unexpected death at 61 was a shock and the community lost one of its strongest advocates. Bonnie inspired me with her commitment and constant willingness to work ceaselessly for her causes.

Lou, Sr. Mary and Bonnie … I miss them. Portland will miss them. They added so much to our world. From each I received the gift of friendship, the gift of attention, and the gift of listening. They each modeled a commitment to increasing social justice through active service. My life is enriched by having known them and I will forever carry the gifts they left with me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creation Is in Your Own Hands

by Michelle Dority Kroll

“It is our very nature to create.” –Matthew Fox

It is definitely in my very nature to create. When I see an object, I wonder, “how was that made?”

That is how our society has matured. It is the nature of humans to create. As a society we are constantly looking for ways to make things faster, better, stronger. While there are those who are looking to expedite life, there are those of us who work in reverse -- the crafters and creators of the world.

When I am in that creative state, I want life to slow down. I want to start from scratch. If I want instant gratification, I can go buy a basket or a sweater. But, isn’t it much more gratifying to use your own hands? Making it yourself you can produce it to your own specifications. What material will you use? A basket, made of reed? Wood? Pine needles? What yarn do you favor? Are you allergic to wool, but like the pattern? Create the item to your liking. The key is simply to create.

I hear some of you saying that you aren’t artistic or creative. Hafiz tells us that “all the talents of God are within you.” Maybe you can’t knit in a straight line, or weave with reed or wool. But maybe you are the best baker on the block. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. says “If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.”

So what I say to you is find your street sweeper. Find your art, your craft, find that passion that keeps you going. For me, it is creating all things. I always have to have my hands in the pot of creation. Currently it is still knitting. But, my loom has been calling to me for some time now. So, perhaps it is time for more cloth. Whatever it will be, I know it will be made by me!

“Only creating can make us happy. For in creating we tap into the deepest powers of self and universe and the Divine Self.” –Matthew Fox

Friday, July 3, 2009

Coax the Pilgrim Soul Out of You

By Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

As many of you are aware, Joy Wallace and I will be leading a Pilgrimage March 4 – 15, 2010 to Rome and Assisi. You are most welcome to join us! It promises to be an experience that leads you to the center of your soul and spiritual journey.

You may be wondering what it means to go on a pilgrimage rather than a tour. There is quite a difference according to Doris Donnelly in her article: “Pilgrims and Tourists: Conflicting Metaphors for the Christian Journey to God” (Spirituality Today 44 (1992):22). Pilgrims perceive an internal dimension to pilgrimage while tourists are concerned with the external journey only. Pilgrims invest themselves; tourists avoid personal commitment. Both the journey and the arrival are important to the pilgrim. Only the arrival matters to the tourist. The focus for the pilgrim will be affected by the pilgrimage. Tourists seek to remain untouched on a deep level by their experience.

The difference between a pilgrimage and tour might be best illustrated through this Zen story. A river boat captain often took people across a large river to visit a holy shrine. The people on the boat could not wait to get to the shrine. After visiting the shrine, they would board the boat again and tell the captain how beautiful the shrine was. One day one of the visitors asked the captain if he had ever visited the shrine. He replied: “No, I am not finished seeing what the river have to offer yet.”

What is it that we might miss seeing as we go about the pilgrimage of our daily life? In these beautiful summer days that we are enjoying here in Portland, have we stopped to notice the beauty of creation all around us both during the day and during the night? I love to watch children in the summer. They run through sprinklers with absolute delight; they attempt to catch butterflies; they giggle as they notice the antics of a puppy or kitten playing in the sunshine or rolling in the grass and they sleep soundly after a day spent in the beauty of creation.

I invite you to become like a child and just notice. Be a pilgrim. Coax the pilgrim soul out of you!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Spirituality, Imagination and the Healing Power of Art

By Sr. Mary Lonergan

“Yours to drive a new furrow

Nor sow any longer among the briars.” -- Jer. 4:3

We can define spirituality in many ways: in terms of integration, of self-transcendence, of growth in our relationship with God, of the activity of the Spirit within us.

Brian O’Leary, Spirituality Professor and an outstanding spiritual director at National University of Ireland’s Milltown Institute, says that no matter which definition is preferred, we are always dealing with a process – a process facilitated by our capacity to understand, to feel, to act, but mostly by our capacity to imagine. It is through imagination that we reach understanding, have our feelings engaged and are energized into action.

Imagination, Brian says, mediates reality to us and allows us to discover meaning, to weave together the strands of our reality that we name as past, present, future. It affects the way we experience these strands, interpret them and find meaning in them. More importantly, it can give us the power to change them.

Imagination allows us to re-imagine and heal old hurts and wounds. It allows us to be creative with our future, to play with multiple possibilities, to dream great dreams, release our creative energies and, ultimately, give focus to our hopes. It helps us see clearly that present is not separate from past and future. Healthy imagination enhances our lives and helps make us well integrated and whole.

And what does all this have to do with suffering and healing? M. Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with the stark sentence: “Life is difficult.” We know that suffering, universal suffering, is an enormous challenge to the faith and belief in a loving, capable God. Extreme suffering diminishes the self, destroys the ability to communicate, paralyzes the deepest and innermost strivings and hinders the achievement of human wholeness. Unrelieved suffering brings Winter to the soul. It becomes hard to believe in a God who cares. In fact, it is hard to believe in God.

There is no easy answer to suffering, no easy path to wellness, mental, physical or spiritual. Ultimately, we want to believe that healing comes from God in and through the recuperative power of body, mind and spirit. (Our faith-filled grandmothers might say, “God heals those who try to heal themselves.”)

Not having my grandmother’s wisdom, and, like Julian of Norwich, being somewhat “unskilled” in art and medicine, I nevertheless truly believe that art, in all its forms -- music and movement, painting and poetry, dream and dance, sculpture and song and story -- can aid us in discovering the meaning and the mystery of God in our lived experience. I believe art can arrest life and make it available for contemplation, capturing the eternal in the everyday. Artistic images, whether we are creating or contemplating, can embody feelings, thoughts, desires, hopes, despairs. Art can unlock the doors of sorrow never opened, never expressed; can unearth hope turned to stone; can conquer grief never owned.

Carl Jung would have us believe that each person has a vast soulscape waiting to be explored, and that the creative arts can become the channels into the imaginative world, confirming the presence of a healing power within us, ready to be set free. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we read, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.”

I believe that when artist and mystic unite, art becomes prayer made visible, and we can expect nothing less than a radical transformation of how we view and relate to our world. We can transcend suffering and plough a new furrow toward a better horizon – no longer lost “among the briars.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Introduction to Spring Forest Qigong

By Sr. Emma Holdener, OSF LMT

Dear Friends, Namaste’ Peace, Joy and Hope to fill your Being

During my last blog, I promised to share all about Spring Forest Qigong with you. It was in April of 2007 that I first learned about Spring Forest Qigong and Master Chunyi Lin’s gift to us and to the whole world: this easy-to-follow program for Health and Healing.
What is Spring Forest Qigong (pronounced chee gong)? It is a simple, efficient, and effective method for
  • helping you experience your optimal health, wellness, and happiness;
  • helping you heal physical and emotional pain; and
  • enhancing the quality of your life and the lives of others.
SFQ is comprised of four parts that work together:
  • Breathing
  • Gentle movements
  • Mental focus
  • Sound
At this point I’d like to introduce you to the SFQ web site:

On the HOME page you will meet Chunyi Lin and see his book, Born A Healer. He also shares two active exercises that you can experience: the Breathing of the Universe and Moving of Yin and Yang.

Check the side bar and there you will find a 15 minute meditation called Open Your Heart, Change Your World — a gift from Chunyi to you. Also at the side bar you can go to Master Lin’s FACEBOOK to see his messages and those of his friends.
You may find the most helpful information in the drop-down section of YOUR HEALING POWER:

Understanding SFQ
How SFQ Works
Getting Started (check all the states where SFQ Level One is taught)

Learning to Heal

Transforming Your Energy

and much more……

Do check on the four shaded words: balance energy movement empowerment to get a short explanation of each as they relate to Spring Forest Qigong.
The FAQ drop down under ABOUT US answers the questions most folks have about SFQ. I especially appreciated Chunyi’s answer to the question, ”Is there religion involved?”

Here at our Center we just enjoyed our final Active Exercises and Meditation session for the summer. We will meet again on the first and third Thursdays of each month beginning with Sept. 17 through December.

It is my prayer that you will come to love SFQ and find much benefit for your own health and healing as well as those of your loved ones and even of your pets! Until next time, NAMASTE’ Peace, Joy, Love -- Sr. Emma

Friday, June 5, 2009

What, In This Moment, Is Lacking?

By Marilyn Kirvin

Insecurity and fear are all part of the human condition -- perhaps heightened by the current economic downturn, but in truth they have always been with us. Though we are created with a basic core of Goodness, our True Selves, which are not separate from God, in our day to day experience we often don’t feel an ongoing sense of being in union with the Divine. Rather, we feel separate and alone, and we struggle to trust that God is with us.

I recently read something that has helped me to understand this phenomenon better from the perspective of brain science. Life Coach Martha Beck, in her book Steering By Starlight, writes that research shows that there is a neural structure that is wrapped around the cortex of our brains that evolved from the earliest vertebrates -- she calls it “Lizard Brain.” The purpose of this structure is to send signals to us about our survival fears. Martha writes, “The entire purpose of your reptile brain is to continually broadcast survival fears -- alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two different categories: lack, and attack. On one hand, our reptile brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: we don’t have enough time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen.”

She goes on to say that while this mechanism is very helpful out in the wild, it is not so great for we humans who can lie in bed at night and conjure up fears of things that may never happen that can feel far worse than the actual crisis itself. That lizard voice is the one that can shake our foundations by telling us, “No one will ever love me,” or “I’m going to die homeless on the streets,” or “Can I really believe God cares about me?”

Once, after I had recited a litany of my own favorite lizard fears, my spiritual director said to me, “You are living out in the future, and God is not in the future. God is only here, right now, with you in this moment . . . so reel it back in.” His encouragement to me to live in the present was like the message of the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, who would ask his students, “What, in this moment, is lacking?” It is what Jesus meant when he said, in Matthew 6, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?” And we see it in the commitment St. Francis made to a life of evangelical poverty – of not storing up riches, but trusting that what was needed for each day would be given.

We can cultivate our “present moment awareness” with spiritual practices that will help us to still our anxiety, and tap into the deep interior wisdom that shows us the next step to take, the next loving thing to do. These include Centering Prayer; meditation; breathwork; Bioenergetic Focusing; as well as The Presence Process, by Michael Brown. And, we can go to the many places in the Scriptures that remind us of God’s presence and care for us, such as Psalm 23: O God, you are my shepherd, there is nothing I lack…. Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Finding hope during tough economic times

By Mary Erickson

The last year or so has been very challenging for virtually all of us as we have seen the very foundation of our collective financial well-being deeply shaken. In many cases, we have learned too late that the experts we had relied on with our life savings, retirements and comfortable expectations for the future weren’t working for us but, in many cases, working against us to satisfy their own personal greed for increased wealth. What had appeared to be tangible is no longer so.

The obvious questions are how could this have happened to us and what can we do about it. I think the second question is much more important to seek answers to because what has happened is in the past but we need to search for ways to cope with the uncertainty of the future. For those of us nearing retirement the uncertainty looms large with questions about whether retirement is even an option anymore. In spite of my own personal disappointment and tangible loss, the reality for me is that I always should have at least suspected that this was a possibility. Well, I didn’t think that way and was greatly shocked and the sense of betrayal that I have felt has been palpable.

I have no solution but do find hope in the prospect of being challenged to look at my life with less certitude and with more of a sense of not knowing what the future will bring. This reality requires that I trust in the idea that things will work out for the best in spite of truly no longer knowing how or when my retirement may occur. “Taking one day at a time” makes a lot of sense now and a stronger reliance that I am not alone in this. I am not alone because there are millions of others in the same situation but more importantly, I am not alone because I know that the Divine is accompanying me on this journey. My dictionary tells me that faith is defined by not demanding proof…..I have faith that I am not alone on this journey into the future.

There are ways that I feel we can cope with a new reality that has shaken our perception of future stability. Usually when I begin to feel anxious it is clearly a physical response to fear of the unknown. I feel the fear in my body, so it my body that I focus on to diminish the fear. I find that a good, long walk will begin to alleviate some of the anxiety and helps put me back into the presence of God and nature. This and regular breathing practice has done a great deal to help me calm myself and to remember what is really important in my life: my family and friends.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

May Brings Time to Remember Those Who Have Kept Us One Free Nation Under God

By Sr. Guadalupe Medina

Hi! Here we are almost at the end of the fifth month of the year 2009, and what a month it is.

We start out the month of May honoring Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, queen of heaven and earth, by crowning her statue at a special Mass with a crown of flowers, praying the rosary, and honoring her throughout the month. Remember those days?

Then there is May Day -- those celebrations in school when we elected a May Day Queen, and practiced doing the dance around the Maypole, and made baskets of flowers to distribute to our neighbors. Ah yes, what memories!

But, there is more, there is Mothers day. Oh, how can we not stop and honor the woman who gave us birth. We are bombarded with advertisements from a variety of angles. From the florist reminding us to send flowers, to department stores telling us all the things our mother would love. Have you ever wondered just what exactly mothers really want? Is it the jewelry, the dresses, the flowers, or could it be what they want is simply to be told they are loved, treasured, valued, and respected?

Ah, and as the month comes to a close we are provided with a day not only to celebrate, but to stop and reflect on the lives of all men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. Yes, “Memorial Day.” A day established back in 1868, to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during our Civil War. But thanks to our Congress in 1971 they passed a law which now ensures us all of a three day weekend. Yippee!!

However, there is a song by Joyce Johnson Rouse called “Standing on the Shoulders” which to me speaks about the importance of remembering that what we have today is due to those who have gone before us. Here is a bit of this song’s lyrics.

“I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me, I am stronger for their courage…I am grateful for their vision...I am honored by their passion for our liberty…I imagine our world if they hadn’t tried.”

These phrases, though not written about our fallen men and women, speak to me of the fact that if these soldiers had not responded to the call, where would we be as a nation? Would we be free? Free to enjoy all the freedom that unfortunately gets taken for granted. I believe this Memorial Day is a good time to stop, go visit a cemetery, say a little prayer of thanks to all those men and women who today lie there, because they believed in the importance of maintaining our freedom. We need not wait until November 11th when we honor our Veterans both alive and deceased. Take time this Memorial Day and as a family go visit a cemetery, say a prayer of thanks, then celebrate the gift they gave us: “freedom.”

May we never forget the reason for Memorial Day or the upcoming Veterans Day in November.

Photos from Gettysburg National Military Park.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Spirituality of Dirt

By Joy Wallace

Dirt . . .I love it. I can’t think of a better way to spend a warm, sunny afternoon than sitting in my garden pulling weeds. I call these precious moments, “dirt therapy”.

Sitting on the grass before flowers, or on dirt preparing it for vegetable seeds, is a spiritual experience. I hear the birds. I laugh at the neighborhood crow that comes to see what I’m doing, and to look for tidbits to eat. I hear the wind drifting through the trees, and feel the warm air on my face. I hear the little children who live on my block, playing outside with one another. Somewhere down the block, I hear a lawnmower and am surrounded by the delicious smell of fresh cut grass. Along with grass, I smell the mixed fragrance of multiple kinds of spring flowers. (Spring in Oregon smells SO good. When I lived in Vermont, the smell of Oregon spring was one thing I really missed.)

Dirt therapy reminds me to slow down and to be present in the moment. Without this pause, I can miss so many of the little blessings that surround me.

Dirt therapy reminds me to be patient. From the very early moments of spring when the first green plants push through the soil to autumn when all the leaves die, there is a constant progression of change. New plants appear and grow. New flowers bloom to fullness. Trees fill with blossoms, and then become laden with fruit. Berry bushes add growth, bloom and burst forth with berries that are offered to humans and birds. This call to patience reminds me that the cycle of resurrection is never-ending. We are constantly offered a cycle of endings and new beginnings … in my garden and in my life.

Dirt therapy keeps me connected to the earth. Gardening affords me the opportunity to care for a tiny piece of the earth. Together, the earth and I work to bring food to the table, the beauty of flowers for the enjoyment of all and an environment for animals and insects.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gaze, Consider, Contemplate, Imitate

These are the words that St. Clare of Assisi writes in one of her letters to Agnes of Prague who was opening a monastery in the thirteenth century.

St. Clare is referring to the San Damiano crucifix (pictured above). This is the crucifix that Franciscans all over the world use today in their contemplation of the crucified Christ. It is the one that spoke to St. Francis of Assisi, inviting him to rebuild the church of his day.

St. Clare contemplated this crucifix for 42 years of her life, finding therein the source of her strength in her relationship with the crucified Christ. She urges us to do the same.

In gazing upon the cross we are invited to use our senses to experience the love of the crucified Christ, for it is out of love that Christ endures the cross for us.

Clare urges us to consider the cross by using our minds to contemplate the life of Christ and all the ways that we might experience his life in relationship to our own life.

In contemplating the crucifix, our hearts are engaged as we listen with our inner senses to the meaning of this event in Christ’s life.

Finally, we are urged by St. Clare to imitate the Christ. Our lives are meant to be imitations of the life of Christ. Are we willing to walk in the footprints of Jesus through the Gospel as did St. Clare and St. Francis? That is a tall order but one that each of us who calls ourselves Christian must take into consideration.

G. K. Chesterton tells us: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” A challenging question for sure and one that St. Francis and St. Clare could enthusiastically respond with a yes!

How about you and I? Are we willing to gaze, consider, contemplate and imitate the Christ? In your moments of contemplation, I urge you to sit with Clare and Francis in front of the crucifix and ask for the grace to live the Gospel in all the events of your life for, as Paula D’Arcy tells us, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”

by Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A New Spin on Creation Spirituality

by Michelle Kroll

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col 2:1-3

These Hands

These hands are the hands of those before me
The hands of generations past
Ones who taught me about needles, yarn and thread
Skills of old that are built to last.

What do they make for me?
What do they make for you?
Is this my spirituality?
Will it help me to find You?

How can it be that You are my thread?
Weaving together the times of my life?
How will You help me,
Through happiness, sadness, strife?

Embroider, knit or even crochet,
These crafts get me through my day.
They bring about a sort of calm,
Soothing to me, like a psalm.

Something inspires these hands to work,
They always need something to do.
Ever searching on their quest,
To find the everlasting You.
-- by Michelle Kroll

As long as I can remember, someone in my family has been doing needlework. It has changed from generation to generation. My great-grandmother (aka Granny) was an accomplished embroiderer. Many of her works are still floating around the family. But, she was a woman-of-all-trades. She also did latch-hook rugs and crocheting too! My grandma has done mostly crochet work over the years. My mom taught me to cross-stitch, crochet and knit. While it took a few attempts -- I was learning this as a teenager -- the love for it remains! Over the course of my life so far I have dabbled in all of the aforementioned crafts. I think I am like my Granny in that way. I always need to be crafting, creating works with my own hands. I feel that being a creative spirit and crafter is what defines me and therefore defines my spirituality.

For most projects there is a rhythm. It is that rhythm that creates the comfort and calmness that for some is provided by prayer. I believe that each project could be considered a prayer for the person receiving it. That is definitely the case when the object is created with specific intention for that person, making the exchange all that more delightful!

I invite you to consider what your form of prayer is. Prayer can be found in many non-traditional activities. As we learned from Mary Erickson’s entry it could be walking, mine is crafting and needlework. What is yours?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Francis, Our World and You

By Joy Wallace

If St. Francis were alive today, he would be an active leader of the environmental movement and he would be celebrating Earth Day … maybe every day. He is a wonderful example of someone who loved all of creation and mindfully cared for his environment. He chose to live simply and to use only the resources necessary for his austere lifestyle.
The Franciscan Spiritual Center is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who believe that Jesus Christ came as brother to all created reality and acknowledge the oneness of the universe. They call themselves to proclaim in a viable and tangible manner their belief in the Cosmic Christ. Therefore, they commit themselves:
• To reverence all that exists
• To preserve the integrity of the land entrusted to our care
• To dialogue and explore with others the implications of eco-spirituality
• To promote positive environmental behaviors
• To celebrate our oneness with the universe

On April 25, the Franciscan Spiritual Center co-sponsored “Cool Congregations: Climate Change and the Common Good” at St. Anthony’s Parish Hall. This event afforded teams from parishes the opportunity to gather to learn strategies to address the issue of climate change. The goal of the event was to encourage individuals and parishes to change behaviors in order to better care for the environment.

It is important that we all look at ways to increase simplicity in our lives … to live more sustainable lives. It is only by analyzing how we live and how we can change behaviors to preserve our environment that we can become one with the universe. I challenge you to consider:
• Ways to reduce solid waste, both garbage and recycling;
• Ways to reduce the use of water;
• Ways to reduce the use of hot water;
• Ways to reduce furnace and air conditioning use;
• Ways to decrease car driving; and
• Ways to reduce the use of electricity.

As a first step, select one of the items above and come up with a plan to change a behavior for one week or one month. For instance, in order to reduce solid waste, one might only buy food items that can be purchased in bulk, or that have packaging that can be recycled. Or, one might decrease the number of showers taken in a week or decrease the time one takes in the shower in order to reduce the use of water.

Each small step you take is important. Each small step taken by a faith community is important. The earth is counting on us. God is counting on us. Please do your part.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Celtic Spirituality -- God’s Presence and Protection

by Sr. Mary Lonergan

We meet today in the Presence of the Trinity. I greet you in the words of an ancient Celtic rune:

“In the name of the Father, Chief of Chieftans, who loved us into being. In the name of Mary’s son, the Christ, who longs to bring us peace and the fullness of life. In the name of the Spirit, the Holy One, the Breath of wind that enfolds us and fills us with life. Reveal to us, O God, the truth of your PRESENCE, Father, Son and Spirit, Unity in Trinity.”

Celtic Christians truly believed in an all pervading PRESENCE of a benign and merciful Creator God -- a God immediate, accessible, loving, tangible, approachable and visible in the work of creation. Their vision was not perfect but their faith and desire to see God in all things was profound and inspiring.

During the last four years I have been privileged to meet many good Celts (and not a few great non-Celts!) through our Celtic Spirituality programs and outreach activities. And indeed, quite a few of us -- whether Scots, Irish, Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Bretons or Cape Bretons, with roots anyplace from Gallicia in Spain to Galatia in Turkey -- carry Gaelic or Brythonic DNA in our genes. Even President Obama’s great-great-great (ever so many greats!) grandmother is reputed to hail from a townsland in my native county!

Different Christian communities throughout history have each made their distinctive and enduring contributions to the ongoing life of the universal church. From its Judeo-Christian beginnings, the early church has given us a rich treasury of scripture, doctrine and ritual. Desert fathers and mothers enriched us with an abiding aescetical and mystical tradition. Medieval Catholicism embedded principles of Canon Law and philosophical theology. The reformation churches re-ignited scriptural emphasis along with accentuating faith experience. Methodist hymns of enthusiasm and a gospel of interconnectedness, social awareness and service outreach speak especially to our time.

But the legacy of our Celtic forebears is much simpler and more direct and very, very personal. Celtic Spirituality, the Celtic Way of being Christian, asks us today, as it asked our Celtic ancestors, to look into our hearts, and the hearts of all created beings, to find God’s abiding and enduring presence. For the Celtic Christian, the awareness of God’s PRESENCE, PROTECTION and PROMISE was like breathing in and breathing out -- filling and receiving, emptying and giving. It reminds us that to get to Heaven we have to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. Our God, while transcendent, must also be an “Everyday God.”

The Celts saw God through everything and turned to God for everything. God accompanied them through the shadow times of sickness, the thin times of death and mourning, the moon times of love and romance. The whole self was inserted into the rhythm of prayer, the cycles of days, years, seasons, tides. Prayer was inseparable from work, song, music, dance, hymn, blessing, story -- even curses! There was no separation of work and worship. They walked with God. They were, in the words of an early writer “intoxicated with the Spirit.”

Perhaps for a world that has sometimes (often?) forgotten the Presence of Francis Thompson’s “many splendored” God, and created a God to fit our narrow spiritual vision, Celtic Prayer and sense of God’s awesome presence in a world full of sacredness, can help us hear again “the echo of God’s longing in our souls.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Solidarity With Those Suffering Brings Good Friday Grace

by Marilyn Kirvin

Good Friday arrived a week early for me this year – through no effort on my part, which is usually the way grace works. Last Friday, three of my colleagues and I attended the “Personal Poverty Retreat” at The Downtown Chapel in Portland. This was a day to work with the marginalized in Old Town Portland, to learn more about the agencies that serve the poor there, and to reflect on the experiences of that day and of our own inner poverty.

On Good Friday, we are asked to be with Jesus at the cross… to simply be with, pray with, stand in solidarity with the One who suffered not only severe physical pain, but all of the other pains -- misunderstanding, humiliation, betrayal, and abandonment -- that were heaped upon him that day. Good Friday is a day when we can’t do anything; we can’t undo or make up for what was done. All we can do is be: be faithful, be compassionate, be powerless, be trusting in the God who went all the way to be love for us.

At the retreat last Friday, my “work with the marginalized” (handing out toiletries, socks and blankets to people who were homeless) was so meager. In truth, it was simply an opportunity for me to be with people who also suffer physical pain, misunderstanding, humiliation, abandonment every day of their lives. I sat with a young man who told me that although he’s grateful for the new apartment to which he’d just moved, he preferred to live in prison because he was safe there from the evil on the streets. I laughed with an older Hispanic man as he finally resorted to showing me the elastic band of his boxer shorts because I was just not getting the Spanish word for “underwear.” That morning I felt sad, and powerless, and silly (where did my seven years of studying Spanish disappear to?), and yet also connected to other people at the level of our shared humanity.

Feeling the need to “do something,” to alleviate the suffering of others (as if I could), has always been a temptation for me – in my work as a spiritual director, as a mother, as a friend. Sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the world’s problems that I can’t fix has kept me away from opportunities to be with or work on behalf of those suffering in the wider world. And yet, last Friday I was given the grace to simply be there and be with -- as a witness, as a companion, as a human being who shares the same loving God, the same Spirit within us.

That was Good Friday grace: the grace not only to be at the cross with Jesus in his suffering, but also to be with those who are the Crucified Christ to us today; to be at the places of human suffering in our world. And it is Easter grace as well, for we already know that God’s love is more powerful than any force of death in our world, and that, ultimately, this is all God’s work. We are simply called to stay awake, to stand with, and to give the gifts that we are prompted to give by the Spirit at work in us.

And so, on behalf of our staff, we wish you every blessing of this Holy Season.

(For information on the Downtown Chapel, and the Personal Poverty Retreat, go to )

Friday, April 3, 2009

Integrating Body and Soul is Valuable

by Sr. Emma Holdener

I greet you, dear friends, with Namaste’ -- I honor the Divine within you and honor the Divine within me -- and we are One. Alternatively, I could say, as we greeted one another in my early convent days: Laudetur Jesus Christus, Praised be Jesus Christ. For today, it is Namaste’ to keep reminding myself and all whom I meet of the wonder of our being: Eternal Sparks of the Divine in human form.

I’m writing this blog to share with you my ministry of Bodywork here at FSC. You may ask, “What and why is a nun doing Bodywork?” Well, what do you think is the most prevalent cause of disease in all aspects of life? Did I hear you say, “STRESS!” Yes, and how does one get rid of it? Again, you could probably give me hundreds of ways of reducing or even eliminating stress. Would any of these be on your list?

• being conscious of the breath
• calming one’s mind
• centering in the heart
• becoming aware of body tensions
• receiving bodywork: Massage, Reflexology, Reiki
• practicing Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong
• going to the gym---calmly!
• getting sufficient rest
• eating healthily
• taking TIME for activities that nurture your soul
• enjoying and being grateful for the simple events of the day

To assist folks with relaxation, help them become more aware of their bodies and the connection with their spirits, and because of my deep interest in healing, I do bodywork. My ministry consists of offering full body massage, chair massage, Reflexology, and sharing Spring Forest Qigong which consists of eight simple movements followed by a guided meditation. I view bodywork as the gift of compassionate, caring, sacred touch offered with deep respect and reverence for the body, the home of the Spirit. Truly, massage can be a blessing. When was the last time you gifted yourself with such a blessing?

Next time I’ll share more about Spring Forest Qigong with you. Peace and Joy!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Consider Taking a Walk with God

by Mary Erickson

Daily walking became a spiritual practice for me 24 years ago as I began dealing with the realities of a broken marriage and two very small daughters to care for while working more than a full-time job. My walking habit started with an early morning escape into the dark and has continued to sustain me throughout the ups and downs of my life.

Doctors and the media tout the physical benefits of walking but seldom talk about what it does for your mind and your soul. I have found that I can literally walk wherever I am and almost immediately immerse myself in a more contemplative state. Often I find myself feeling like I am meditating in the midst of an urban setting all the while enjoying the fresh air and sounds of life all around me. The simple cadence of solitary walking allows one to transcend the moment and become one with the natural environment.

Being outside throughout the year (yes, even in the rain and snow) gives one a unique perspective on the seasons and the cycle of life. Without my morning walk, I wouldn’t have the chance to really notice the flight of the geese overhead or the rustle of an opossum as I startle it during one of its forages in a wooded area near my home. The four seasons encourage daily recognition of our oneness with all forms of nature while bombarding our senses with the wonderful feel of rain on our cheeks or the warmth of sun on our backs.

If I didn’t walk, I would miss all the subtle shades of green that are presented in grass, leaves and flower stems. The crocus and daffodils remind me that, in spite of a very cold and snowy winter, there is always hope for a warmer, sunnier spring; and that it is just around the corner! As fall marches on I delight in the rustling of leaves and enjoy the gift of watching my beloved Scottish terrier, Lily, jump and romp as though she has discovered a new, magical toy.

Walking is much more than mere exercise; it is an experience that encourages clarity of mind, body and spirit. As a dear friend who walks about ten miles daily likes to remind me, “Walking is good for your head!” I find that I can leave the house feeling stressed, rushed and worried and, within about ten minutes, those worries and tensions have drifted away and a sense of deeper relaxation has come over me. I find the shift in my mental attitude helps me recognize that I am a better person because of my daily walk.

So why not give it a try? It takes about three weeks of daily walking to get hooked in spite of initially some sore feet and shin splints. It is well worth the investment of time and a good pair of walking shoes.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Simple Beauty of the Seasons

by Sister Guadalupe Medina, OSF

Simple beauty and contemplation is the name of our blog and how appropriate for the seasons of the year we encounter. St. Francis was very much aware of the simple beauty that surrounded him in creation, and he took time to contemplate and praise the creator. Sister Ilia Delio, OSF, writes in her book “Franciscan Prayer” “Contemplation for Francis and Clare is a penetrating gaze that gets to the heart of reality. It is looking into the depths of things and seeing them in their true relation to God.”

Each season brings its own simple beauty which invites us to enter into contemplation. This year March 20 is the beginning of spring. Ah yes, spring is actually upon us. Take some time this weekend to stop, look and enjoy the surprises of this beautiful season of spring. Notice the buds on the trees, the birds, the flowers that are starting to bloom, the clouds, and the people around you. It’s as though the world is waking up from a nice little snooze. The days are getting brighter and a sense of new energy seems to be flowing thoughout all of humanity and creation. It is a wonderful time to just stop, look and contemplate on the simple yet majestic beauty that surrounds us daily.

Contemplation does not require you to have a deep theological background in order to do it. It requires only that you take time to BE.

Remember when you were a child how the simple things in life captured your attention and how much time you would spend just observing and enjoying them. Perhaps it was noticing a bee going from flower to flower, a spider spinning a web, the clouds as you lay in the grass, or the waves at the beach. Perhaps you have just stood observing your mother, father or that special person in your life. That’s contemplation at its best, because you stopped, looked, and were able to see with the eyes of your heart and experience God’s overflowing love and presence in a way you never imaged.

I invite you to spend some time this weekend and just contemplate the simple beauty that surrounds you.