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