Worth Revisiting: This is Community

This week, as my friends and colleagues can attest, I have been battling a rather persistent cold which has chosen to seize my vocal cords and keep me up at night. Lack of a solid night’s sleep and my stubborn refusal to call it a day or throw in the towel has not been helpful either. Yet, in waking this morning I had to smile. For in my stubborn courage, or selfless foolishness as some might see it, I realized that I had become the epitome of my own mother.  

My mom, I know, had to have been sick at times, but as the sole provider I cannot ever really remember her taking off work. As a farm girl, she was conditioned to rise before dawn and work until sunset, giving her all to each and every day. Though later an adult, her modis operendi had not changed and if I slept past six, I could look forward to a discussion of  how I had chosen to sleep the better part of the day away. There was, in her mind, much to do, to be done, and discover in the day that could not be done whilst lying in bed.

One time, however, when I was about eleven I can clearly recall my mom getting very sick and my own confusion as to how to proceed next. Since it was just the two of us and our family lived at least an hour away, I knew that my mom was now suddenly depending on me. This particular stomach virus that had beset our community had resulted in the hospitalization of the elderly and the young alike. The first two days, I had cared for my mom and myself cooking and cleaning up, while making sure my mom had enough liquids and cool washcloths.

By the third day, though, I was tired and looking into the fridge and cabinets, I knew I was going to have to ask for help soon. Not to mention, I was getting concerned that my mom might need to see a doctor, as she didn’t seem to be looking or feeling any better. Given that it was summer, and I was not seeing my friends at school, essentially no one else knew of the predicament. My mom, a true introvert by nature, had several close friends but was not one whose sudden disappearance from society would readily be questioned. I knew that the time had come when I would have to break the silence, and my mother’s privacy.

In a well placed phone call to my friend Cathy, who belonged to my church, I found solace.

“Cathy, I’m a bit worried about my mom..

Elizabeth, are you taking care of her by yourself?”, suddenly came her aunt’s voice on the other line.

Yes, ma’am. I’m just not sure what more I can do..

Don’t worry.. have you had dinner yet?

No, I was going to see what I could make”, I replied knowing that it would be a Spartan meal at best.

We were just about to sit down ourselves..I will be by in a few minutes with dinner.”

And, just like that I breathed a sigh of relief,  and knew that God had it all covered.

The very next morning, my pastor would bring my mom to the doctor for tests and anti nausea medications. Over the days to follow, the women from the church had prepared each meal that we would need, even bringing fresh well water to eliminate the chance that our water might be a contributing factor. It would be a week before my mom was up on her feet fully, and another two weeks before she could eat normally. As I look back on this moment I cannot help but wonder what I would have done for this length of time without my community, my brothers and sisters in Christ?

This is what it means to truly be a community, to be the body of Christ. We were not ever meant to be alone in our faith, but in care of others. The reading this Sunday spoke of giving generously, like Christ himself, who gave up his very life so that we could have life eternal.  We are asked to give of our excess, to be content with enough, and to share with those in need. There is, of course, a flip side to this. We have to be able to take help too when we are in need. Maybe you are the one that everyone goes to for assistance, the first on the scene. Allowing others to be of help is an invitation for them to give generously of themselves. It is also an exercise of humility on our part, a suppression of pride, and an opportunity in this moment to experience grace and mercy. How can we give what we do not fully recognize a need for in our own lives?

This week’s challenge..How have I experienced mercy in my own life? Where can I give more fully of myself to my community? Where can I show mercy as a member of the body of Christ?

Peace,

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Through the Lens: Theology & Sprituality

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Sandra Schneiders, defines spirituality as the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”  “Religion and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals, or Partners?” Santa Clara Lectures v.6. no. 2, Feb 6, 2000.

In Schneiders discussion of spirituality, she begins with a very narrow understanding and use of the term in regards to the intensification of an interior prayer life, and communally within a guided retreat setting. As described, it seems limited in its effect where its participants seek to leave the everyday world to experience the Holy Spirit in a contained setting. This level is then expanded somewhat in a second approach to be a transformative experience intended to affect not just one’s prayer life but a lived increase of an everyday life of faith and service. The third approach encompasses both of these but redefines our prior catholic understanding of the body and emotions as something outside the realm of spirituality to include these in lived spirituality. Lastly, we have the broadest approach which also considers how one’s spirituality and life experience can and has impacted the world both politically and socially. Even to reflect that one’s own worldview, and life experience itself is a product of and affected by the historical social contexts of the world around us. In moving concentrically outward in depth of experience of spirituality, we also move from a narrow understanding given to a chosen pious group of believers to that which can be shared by all, and essential in a holistic life in the world.

For the majority of my life, I would say that I have understood spirituality primarily within the second approach. Growing up I had been given a wonderful role model of spirituality in my grandmother, whose prayer and faith life radiated not just within her own life but in all those who journeyed with her. Like her, I have desired and seek to live my faith both in prayer and within the entirety of my everyday experience. Therefore, when I attended the Cursillo retreat several years ago, it wasn’t novel- but first of all a re-commitment to give all aspects of my life to God and seek greater discernment in my path of discipleship.

It is in this discernment journey that I have begun to understand the tie of spirituality to that of the body and emotions. How can I better impart the gift of being a woman, wife, mother, and friend in the realities of life and share fruitfully the gift of love wholly? In my studies at Loyola, I recognize this approach to a lived spirituality calling me to broaden my horizons again from the microcosm of my immediate community to that of the world at large. As a hopeful “awakener” of the faith, I understand that the questions of those I encounter are ones that have the potential to allow each to find meaning and purpose in their lives and in the world.

Yet what is the dialogical relationship between spirituality and theology, and how do they impact one another? 

Very broadly, spirituality and theology appear as seekers in trying to understand the mystery of and our relationship with the Other, and in a perfect dialogical relationship can add support, understanding and indeed life to the journey. Visually, I see this as one’s left hand and right hand, which are both needed together in prayer, supporting the other in receiving communion (i.e. the Eucharist), and in reaching out and serving as communion to others. While one can perform these actions one-handed, or allowing one hand to dominate, it is in the partnership that one can embrace the fullness of the opportunity set before us. Thus, we look to the unique contributions that both spirituality and theology can provide to understand the breadth of the human experience and relationship with God.

According to Schneiders, Christian spirituality is both a lived awareness and experience of seeking God, which involves our whole self but goes beyond our finite selves, and which is enabled by the Holy Spirit. [1] This is compatible with how I also understand spirituality as a conscious commitment to seek God in all things that is dependent on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Likewise, I would agree that although Christian spirituality is a personal experience, it also involves a community of believers.[2] This is clearly visible in the experience of the disciples and early church but is also true in the contemporary experience of spirituality.

Yet, today we can benefit from centuries of faith understandings to fully appreciate our own experience of spirituality. This is where theology can inform, inspire, “criticize”, and “challenge”[3] this lifetime journey by providing a degree of structure, points of reflection, and others’ experiences for the believer to consider. Without a backdrop or context in which to place one’s experience, how could one interpret the similarity or uniqueness of it at all?  Conversely, theology without adequate spirituality provides theoretical truths and boundaries, but lacks the witness to the Spirit continually at work in the unique experience of the individual. The role of theology should therefore be to guide and not “control” the field or “subordinate” experience of spirituality.[4] Rather, in partnering with spirituality, theology is enlivened, dynamic and transformative reflecting also the contemporary lived experience of its believers.

Peace,

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[1] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[2] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[3] Schneiders, pgs. 270-271. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[4] Schneiders, p. 273. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”

Worth Revisiting: Drop by Drop


Loyola Press in Partnership with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Department of Justice, Peace and Development

In this beautifully illustrated book, we follow a young girl named Sylvie from the small country of Burkina Faso in Western Africa and the experience of Mike, a Catholic Relief Services worker working in the region.  Having been invited to speak to the classroom of Sr. Mary Jerome, Mike shares with the students the day-to-day challenges of living in an area of immense poverty. Without ready access to clean accessible water, Sylvie has the job to travel nearly 3 miles to and from the water source to provide water for the family. Because of this, she cannot attend school to learn to read or write, something she so desperately wants to do. While the addition of a water cart is helpful, it isn’t until a well is dug that Sylvie’s dream becomes a reality.

drop-by-drop (41x52)Children will not only connect with Sylvie’s story, but also with the students who listened to her story and were compelled to put their feet in action to work towards lasting solutions to situations of poverty. Included in this book are facts on the importance and accessibility of clean water and the work of the Catholic Church in these areas most in need. Yet, the journey in love through prayer, sacrifice and service does not end there. Additional reflection guides, worksheets and pray with me books are available for parents, catechists and teachers to go deeper in faith.  A must read for adults and children alike, this book is a compelling invitation to connect our faith life with the immense needs of children and families throughout the world.

As a follower of Christ, how do you “put two feet in action” through charitable works and social justice?

To see Catholic Relief Services in action and ways you too can help their work..go to Every Day is Water Day  and current emergency campaigns.

Peace,

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Living a Life of Privilege

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privilege
noun priv·i·lege \ˈpriv-lij, ˈpri-və-\

  • : a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others

  • : a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud      (Merriam-Webster)

I grew up in a single parent home, the daughter and granddaughter of educators, not affluent but replete with love and the basic necessities of life. While I didn’t always like the food or the clothes I had, I never spent a day hungry or lacking shelter. Instilled in me was the understanding that despite the meager and lean times, there were always others who had so much less. I was indeed privileged.

One day when I was about 6, a young woman with three young children in tow approached the door of my house. I had recognized the two little toddlers clinging on her dress from the neighborhood, and had curiously wondered where they actually lived. Entering, they were unusually quiet and withdrawn not even wanting to make eye contact. Immediately  inviting them to take a seat, my mom got quickly to work. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, she had produced a fine meal from our dinner the night before. And using our best tableware she welcomed these new visitors as honored guests. The once shy faces lit up as they saw all of the food before them and boisterously became themselves once again.

Asking  me then to go and play with them for a bit, my mom sat down with their mother as she fed the infant in her arms. In hushed tones they spoke, their conversation forever remaining just between them. Packing up more food and clothing for them to carry with them, my mom reminded them that they could always return. This they did, though not staying for any great length of time. I asked my mom once why she gave, when that merely meant that we had less that week, or had given up that shirt she had just purchased with the tags still on it.

“This is what it means to love unconditionally”, she told me, “to care for others more than yourself. You may not understand this today but you and I have been blessed with the opportunity to share”.

This is the very definition of privilege and with it comes a tremendous responsibility to do all this with great love. Perhaps you do not feel that you have much to give or that others more able will step up to help. Yet, you have what only you can give…yourself. God knows your struggles, your needs and desires but he also knows your gifts. After all, he gave them to you. You see the world and ask why it all seems so troubling and unchanging- it begins with each of us to be the change in the world around us. One life at a time, every day anew. I promise that one life that will most certainly be changed is our own.

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them” – St. Teresa of Lisieux

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Spirituality Glimpsed

Every now and then, we are given those moments where we glimpse an aspect of ourselves embodied distinctively in the rather small bodies of our children. We are reckoned with the fact that for better or worse, they have assumed a bit of our personality, abilities, perspective or approach to life. Today, I stood in wonder and amazement, as I held the pages of my ten year old Thomas’ personal poetry anthology in my own hands. Amidst the collection of poems centered on the theme of buildings was this one which caught me completely by surprise and left me speechless.

              “Church”         by Thomas Reardon (age 10)

Today the outside is my church
As I watch the falcons perch.

I look at all of God’s creation
I remember the world’s revelation.

The sun shone bright,
It’s such a wonderful sight.

As I watch the morning sun,
I remember what God has done.

How did he, the boy fearful of writing finally find his voice in the rhythm and rhyme of poetic stanzas?

How did he articulate that deep resonance that I feel when I look out upon creation and see God’s beauty, suddenly aware that God is ever present and close to me?

My grandfather, a poet himself, had published in small circulation a collection of his poems, each speaking too of this experience of God in nature. And since I was quite young, I had followed in these steps finding that poetry combined my love of words with music, expressing my deepest longings. Now, to see my son discover this within himself…was one of the best gifts this mom could have ever received.

What is it that moves or nudges you closer to God, to recognize Him in your day? How do you express this best? Do you notice these gifts in your own children?

Peace,

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The Sound of Silence

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At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

(1 KGS 19:9A; 11-12)

This reading is certainly one of my favorites from the Old Testament, not because of the thundering noise, or the overwhelming displays of nature but because of a whisper. A small nondescript sound, undetectable on one’s own, but always there over, under and amidst a world of noise and chaos. It’s presence reminds us of small everyday ways that God moves and speaks in our lives. So too is the reminder that if we do not stop to listen, get distracted by the things that vie for our attention , or fail to seek the Lord we very well miss the Almighty altogether.

Image may contain: 1 person, tree, grass, plant, outdoor and natureYesterday, I opted to bring my lunch outside to simply sit and share a few uninterrupted moments with the Lord. Like Elijah, I felt the cool breeze, and the sun on my face. I heard the birds and the children at play in the schoolyard. And, while all of this was quite beautiful and pleasing, it wasn’t where I had discovered God.Responding to an inner prompting, I closed my eyes..I quieted the sounds around me till all I could hear was silence.

Yet, this wasn’t the first time I had done so. Many years ago I had been given my 1st penance as a new convert, to go and spend some quiet time alone with God for one week. An unusual penance you say? True, I had been all ready to say a Hail Mary or an Our Father and move on along with my walk as a disciple. However, my very spiritually astute confessor recognized that surrounded by midterms, the law school exam and wedding planning what I was missing. That behind my words and sins of impatience and pride..was a need for silence.

Seemingly nothing, silence is not an absence of anything but a overwhelming abundance of a peaceful state of being. A stillness of body and soul, at rest with one’s self and the world. Unable to be at peace with one’s self or others, then an appreciation of silence will forever evade. For, silence demands a responsiveness and reciprocity to shed restlessness and concerns to simply receive what is there. This is why so many contemplative saints speak of an intimacy with God,because they had been ready to hear and respond to the whisper in their hearts.

If I may encourage,albeit challenge you- take time today to spend alone with God. It need not be a lengthy unbearable stay but a time set aside just to be open and present. What you may receive in doing so is beyond measure.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Writing and Spirituality

With so much going on around us these days, have you ever found yourself in what seems to be the consistent cycle of playing catch up without the necessary time for all the things you love?
Do you feel that you lack the time to reflect on the essential elements of your day or shed those things that should be omitted altogether?
 Who has time for this, much less to write?

Yes, even those in those in the “faith” endeavor, are reminded that they have, at times, neglected to reflect prayerfully on the many things they are called to do and reassess. While I have been attending to these things in prayer, there is something concrete about putting pen to paper. There is an incredible release of all that our hearts and minds have been occupied with to now leave open for God to fill.

Writing, be it journaling, blogging, or correspondence with others can be an indispensable way to assess where you are, how you got there, and where you feel God is leading you today. It need not be lengthy, in fact it could be as short as a sentence. “I really enjoyed my walk today”. Which then might lead to an awareness to make time in your life for that more walks, and lead to the deeper question as to why you enjoy this time so much. Do I need this solitude as a break for the otherwise busyness of life? Is it that I feel close to God out in nature? Do His works remind me of the newness and recreation of the world around me and my place in it?

1.Let it be an honest dialogue with yourself and God. Invite the Spirit to open your heart to ponder and the strength to make even the smallest of changes. In the midst of God’s presence, wait. Let this pause then be your invitation say thank you for the very gift of this moment.

2.Where was God in my day? Was I greeted with the morning sunrise, or in the smile of a friend? Was he with me at the bedside of a friend, or in the consoling words of another?

3. Review your day, attentive to the times you were happiest, and the times that did not go as expected, both your successes and failures.

 

4.What was thought, said or done? Was there a missed opportunity to grow closer to God? If so, talk to God and ask for forgiveness, the courage to be aware, step forward and accept his offer the next time.

5.Tomorrow is a new day, and God is already there waiting for YOU. There is profound hope and grace in knowing each day is made anew and we too are recreated in this love. Commit to using this gift by striving to be attentive and open to direction.

Peace,

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What Truly Matters

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Can you recall a landmark moment in your life? A  time when it became suddenly visible what truly mattered, and where God was in it all? The following is one of my very own- all but a blink of God’s eyes yet a graced moment when I will forever felt held.

It was a late Spring morning in the South, ominous skies grey and overcast coupled with warm and humid conditions were the makings for the perfect storm. Locals knew the weather system well, and it wasn’t long before the tornado warnings ensued. I had never worried about these storms, not because there was nothing to worry about or because of my youth, but quite simply my mother worried enough for the both of us. Yet, that day would be different.

As students were sitting at the long adjoining tables in the school cafeteria, the alarms resounded through the halls, school, and town. Beckoned to get down beneath the little protection that we had, warnings were issued to tuck in and resist looking out the windows. That is when I saw it, just outside the huge glass window that encompassed the side wall.. An unbelievable enormous swirling combination of wind, dirt, branches, and other objects it had accumulated in its wake hovering just above the ground. There it was right before my eyes, not more than 8 feet from me, and I could not help but be both in amazement and fear.Unable to close my eyes I prayed for protection, “Lord please protect us and keep us safe from harm. Lift this tornado and carry it up and far away”.

After what seemed like an eternity, the greenish grey funnel lifted taking with it its new found treasures but leaving the middle school cafeteria building untouched. Though we breathed a quick sigh of relief, we were not out of the woods yet as there were a total of 9 funnel clouds that had formed and remained over this small town that day. Quickly, the school staff  ushered us all into the main building and into the hallway by the lockers. Deemed the safest place, we all huddled there and waited till we could leave to join our families. Beside me was a boy that I knew well, for we shared a strong Christian faith- a fact that did not go unnoticed to me that day.

Marvin, was a bright, joyful thirteen year old boy who just lit up a room whenever he entered. This was because he always carried the love of Christ with him. As we sat there, there was a brief pause and then I asked, “Marvin, I am concerned about my mother, and our families and friends..can we pray together?” “Yes..me too. Let’s pray.” And there we were- two kids praying in the hallway of a public school, oblivious that others would take notice. I still remember our prayer so clearly.

“Father, please protect us all in your loving care. Watch over our families and loved ones, and let these tornadoes pass us by. Though we would miss the things we have become attached to, it is the safety of the people we pray for today. Please take away our fear and concern and leave us with your peace. In this we pray-Amen.”

As I parted from him that day to be picked up by a neighbor of mine, I knew that God had been present in our midst. Arriving at my apartment building, I saw the devastation. No longer was there a roof but open sky in its place. Part of the roof had been hurled into the apartment of another neighbor and the rest wrapped around a lamp post. Yet where was my mother? Finally my eyes spied her,  standing solemnly inside the doorway of our apartment. To everyone’s amazement none had been injured.

Virtually everything I owned was damaged or destroyed by the winds, rain and debris. Yet, as I stood there hand in hand alongside my mother, in a pool of dirty water surrounded by the stuff in life, I realized that everything else was meaningless. I had my mother and nothing else-not the toys, the pictures, the clothes or the furniture truly mattered. Here was a recognition that God had not only answered my prayer, but of the small list of essential things in life.

With an internal prayer of gratitude I then watched as men from my community approached with tarps, tools, and provisions to cover the apartment and remove the debris. Here God was once again caring for us, this time in the shape of benevolent strangers who had stepped forward to volunteer their time and gifts for others. And while I would never see these men again, they will be forever etched in my heart.

It would be some time before I could move back into my house, but I had gained a better sense of where home truly was. It was for the moment beside my mother but always in the presence of my God. It needed no accouterments, but could be found in prayer. This was the meaning of joy in simplicity, grace through destruction and peace in crisis.  It remains for me a spiritual guidepost when I get preoccupied with the accumulation of comfort and the material things in life.

Peace,

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