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.