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.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent Offers Opportunities to Explore New Prayer Forms

By Marilyn Kirvin

The Season of Lent calls us to clear out space to listen more deeply to the Spirit’s voice in our hearts and lives – thus we are encouraged to pray during this time. One of my favorite descriptions of prayer comes from Sr. Wendy Beckett, who wrote, “The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God.” She goes on to say that if we do that, God will take possession of us, which is the whole purpose of life.

Most of us, however, feel the need to do something while we’re standing unprotected before God – hence the development of prayer practices. Recently I facilitated several evenings of exploration of prayer for a small group titled, “Discover Your Style of Prayer.” During each class I explained several prayer practices. These included Lectio Divina (praying with scripture); the Ignatian practices of contemplation (imaginative prayer) and the Examen of Consciousness (looking back at the day to remember God’s presence and call); walking the labyrinth; conversational prayer, and others. Participants would then try each practice, followed by discussion about our experiences and insights.

In those sessions, and in spiritual direction sessions over a number of years, I have heard many of the same freeing insights when people open themselves to prayer. I share three here:

1. With prayer, pay attention to what you want to do rather than what you think you should do. Sr. Wendy, when asked what people should do during prayer, says, “stand before God unprotected and you will know what to do.” It is important to pay attention to how we feel drawn to pray. There are many different prayer forms, and none are “better” than others – but some are a better fit for a particular person’s temperament, life experience, or where they are at a given time of life. One Lenten suggestion is to try a new kind of prayer. A spiritual director, or book or workshop could introduce you to something you haven’t tried before. Or, go back to a practice from the past that you want to try again, and see if you still find life there.

2. Trust yourself. Often someone will say to me, “I don’t really pray,” but when we talk more we discover that he or she does, in fact pray, but may not have been calling it that. Or, we may think we don’t pray well enough, and assume others are praying better than we are. As a spiritual director, I can tell you this is a very widely-held belief. We all pray, we’re made to pray, and if we pay attention to what we desire, we’ll figure this out. In this regard, one fruitful way of praying can be to listen to our bodies to feel how our joy, pain, tiredness, stress, etc. are telling us what we need, and pray from there.

3. Be honest in your prayer. However we pray, God simply asks us to do our best to bring our whole selves there. Often people say they feel they can only bring certain feelings or thoughts to their prayer -- the “holy ones.” They believe their feelings or thoughts of anger, frustration, doubt, sexual feelings, and so on are not acceptable,. Our God is able to hold all our feelings, and nothing that we feel is going to anger God or turn God away from us. God wants to possess us – every part of us - to love us and accept us completely and help us to become our truest selves, the people we were created to be.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lent: a Season for Fasting and Feasting, Praying and Almsgiving

By Sr. Mary Jo Chaves, OSF

As this time of Lent brings us to quiet reflection, we are drawn to what it is that needs our attention in our spiritual lives. Do we need to slow down? What do we need to fast from and feast on? Do we need to allow the Divine to create a clean heart in us? Do we need to give the alms of our time, energy and resources to those less fortunate than ourselves? If the Lenten season is meant to match the spring season of new life and growth, then our questions revolve around letting Lent be the spring time of our souls, through our fasting, praying and almsgiving. In that way, perhaps the seeds of new life in the core of our beings will sprout forth with new Easter life.

Let’s consider fasting and feasting. I believe that fasting as an end in itself has little meaning. I would propose that our fasting might be coupled with our feasting. If we fast from less nutritious food, then we feast on more nutritious food. If we fast from criticizing others then we feast on reaching out to others to understand their actions or thoughts. If we fast from working too much, then we feast on gifting ourselves with “slow down” time for reflection and good self-care. Fasting and feasting go hand in hand.

In considering Lenten prayer, I find it to be a wonderful season to go within and “pray in secret” as the scriptures for Ash Wednesday suggest. There are rich Lenten resources that assist us in this daily prayer practice. The scriptures for each day lead us through the season and bring us to Easter Sunday. These readings are invitations to enter the stories and find meaning in our own lives. Authors like Edward Hays, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and others give us daily reflections. It is only for us to open our hearts and say “yes” to God at work in and through our prayer. Prayer is a relationship and that relationship grows as we invest our time and energy in it. I think our God is absolutely delighted when we stop to prayerfully listen to the still small voice within!

The third traditional Lenten practice is almsgiving. In these tight economic times many of us have no monetary resources to spare. Perhaps, the greatest “alms” we have to give is our time. It might be to gift those with whom we live with our presence and time to just be together. It might be to volunteer our services at an agency that serves those who are poor. It might be giving our best attention to our co-workers, our grocery clerks, our mail persons, those who serve us daily.

Paula D’Arcy, a noted speaker of our times, often says: “God comes to us disguised as our lives.” This is the message at the heart of Lent. It is in the fabric of our lives that we find the soil to plant the soul-springtime seeds that carry the potential to burst into new Easter life. Will we take up the Lenten invitation? It is our choice to fast, to feast, to prayer and to give alms. Let us do so generously and well.