Worth Revisiting: Being Astonished

What is it that astonishes us these days? Is it the headlines that flash across the written page, or in gossip carried to our all to willing listening ears? Olympic feats, milestones reached or previous limitations met and surpassed? Perhaps, however, it is something closer to home. Sparked by an awareness of God at work around us, even in the seemliest detail often overlooked and missed- astonishment abounds.

In the poem entitled Messenger, by Mary Oliver she speaks of the beauty of discovery in our natural world. Creation giving and responding to its Creator, and each of us partaking in the holy within our everyday.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Yet, can astonishment also be found in the imperfect, broken or worn parts of our lives too? Absolutely. For, we cannot deny the many ways we fall short of the often self-imposed standard of perfection we hold.  But are we really willing and ready for change?

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,

Here, with all due reverence to Mary Oliver, I find astonishment and beauty also in the reworking and remaking of my very being into who I was meant to be. Even the letting go and surrender of that within ourselves which is “still not perfect” can very well be a daily source of astonishment. To the point that I believe she strives to make, however, we mustn’t get wedded to the imperfections themselves. Rather, to attend to the work of responding- to the graced invitations around and within us.

which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.               Messenger, by Mary Oliver

So what do we do with these astonishing gifts- these simple moments of revelation and acknowledgement? Do we live a life inspired, willing to experience surprise, wonder and transformation?

Reflect:

Spend a few moments outside today. Be still, and invite the Holy Spirit to accompany you in revealing these “hidden” gifts of the moment. What is to be learned for you in being astonished?

Peace,

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In Deep Water

Never a strong swimmer by any means, the mere idea of treading water is completely unappealing to me. As well is the comfort of being within reach of the shore, and the proximity of my toes on the safety of the bottom. Every inch of distance apart requires surrender, faith and trust. Yet, while there is risk in venturing out there is also promise of new discoveries never to be found in the shallow.

The treasures of the day-  the perfect sand dollar tucked away under a shiny blue mussel, and the brightly colored conch shell alongside the finger like coral just out of arms length. Seems like an easy choice right? Well, not if we consistently cling to the safety of the familiar and certain. For, then even though we might glimpse the possibility of a fortune that awaits we cannot let go to claim it. God asks each one of us to be open to the disclosure of his will, to embrace the beauty that lies in surrender and the joy that springs forth from change.

Recently, our family finally made the decision to move closer to where my husband and I now both work. Having tried for the last 3 years to find a new home in the area, we have most certainly been down this road before. So what makes this time different?  Abandonment of the safety net that we had so insisted on before. After prayerful discernment, we are decidedly moving without the contingency that our home sells first.  Trusting that God will work out the rest, we are taking a leap of faith.

Sometimes, the right decision is not the easiest one.

Though this is the right decision for the family our youngest is perhaps the most impacted by the consequences of change. Heading into the 8th grade, he is leaving behind his friends, school and home that he has known his entire life. All to move into a community where he knows no kids his own age, at a time where acceptance is paramount.

“Mom, I understand that this move is good for everyone else but I can’t see how I am benefiting at all.”
“Thomas, do you trust me?”
“Yes, of course mom.”
“Have your dad and I ever made a decision without considering every member of our family?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Good. Because, your dad and I are looking at the big picture and God is revealing wonderful things to come for our family, especially more time with one another, in this move. Just like my earlier question to you, He is asking us to trust him.”
“It’s important that you know how hard this is for me. I am thankful, though, that you are listening.”
“I will always listen, and your dad and I are always here for you. Thomas, you see the gifts that you are clutching in one hand- your friends and home and their value. But sometimes God wants to give us more, that can only be taken with both hands. That doesn’t mean that we loose completely what we had but that are open to the greater that He promises.”

Pray:

Father, you are the Giver of all good gifts. Help me today, in this moment, to surrender my will to Yours. Help me not to be so content in the life that I have that I refuse to embrace the life you have meant for me. Though not always the easiest path, let me trust you always. Knowing that there are so many opportunities that await in the offering.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: 31 Days of St. Ignatius

31 Days with Saint IgnatiusThis month Loyola Press is inviting each of us to “discover the riches of Ignation Spirituality”  This celebration culminates on July 31st on the feast day of St. Ignatius. So please  join me along with other Catholic bloggers and authors these 31 days of St. Ignatius, for a month long Ignatian feast !

Today’s challenge:

What is it to truly fall in love? If not with the Author of love itself? Read the excerpt below and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and inner movements of gratitude for the gifts God has given. Afterwards ask yourself, Were there people or things that I had previously overlooked or even taken for granted in my day?

Fall in Love

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

 Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991)

Peace,

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Of Messy Beds and Coffee Mugs

Of messy beds..

The first day and a half of silent retreat was spent unpacking the finer details of life, work and family that had been occupying time and space in my heart and mind lately. Even knowing that the goal of an Ignatian retreat was to leave my bags and enter into intimacy with God..I was seemingly unable to let go of the handle. I had told myself that this was my time to pray on these things and yet was I truly lifting this up in prayer? Or, was I simply filling the space that God wished to be with the thoughts that came my way?

My bed a safe haven- I crawled into every chance that I had. It’s clean soft embrace welcomed my exhaustion and reminded me of the need to pray. Why bother making it when I would just be a return visitor? I realized that despite my initial reluctance, my body needed the rest and I was more than happy to comply. Would this I wondered be the new norm for my entire stay here? For, I had always relished the sunrise Mass, long carefree walks on the grounds and still moments in chapel before the tabernacle. How was it then that I found myself here in a state of apparent inactivity? Once stopped I began to wonder if I would ever move again.

Of course I would, but it wasn’t to be accomplished by my own doing. Given a choice of desired outcomes for my retreat,  I felt challenged in my operating mode for the past day and a half. Either I would leave with a myriad of pastoral planning directives or I would leave refreshed and reconnected with God. To my surprise I realized that I had come to the crossroads. It was time to let go of what was not needed and finally go away to be with God.

Putting my “bags” down, I slipped on a set of gym clothes and set off on an unknown course. As I began the walk, I found myself with no inclination to stop and the tiredness of before was to be no more. Walking, then running, I experienced at last the spiritual freedom and peace I had so craved. In fact, when I finally returned it felt as if it was the start of my day rather than the end of it. Finding a pew inside the chapel I sat. Now I could receive the consolation that I had so desperately needed. My heart, no longer busied with the concerns of the day, was ready at last for God to walk through.

Of coffee mugs…

In a Jesuit house there is no shortage of food, smiles, or hospitality. To be honest, the only essential that I was missing was a REAL coffee mug. Not a dainty little quarter cup that needed to be refilled numerous times, but a large rounded hugable work of art. There were just a couple of these set aside and I resolutely mustered up the courage to motion my intent. “Yes, you can use one..they aren’t just for the resident Jesuits.” Thanks be to God!, I inwardly prayed. Finally I could enjoy a serious cup of coffee and drink in my gratitude for the moment.

Of the present moment..

I am one who is known to consider the past, present and future together instantly in reflecting and discernment. So, to just rest in the present moment is a bit less familiar ground. Yet, here I am- listening to the birds sing, and watching the light dance in the water droplets from the fountain. Even the sound of my feet on the path and the occasional crunch of a fallen leaf do not escape my ear. The beautiful white headstones of our Jesuit saints stand as reminders of the gift of their very lives in heartfelt service. Today I noticed four new souls, in fact, made way to their rest in just a year’s time. A brotherhood of love, a commitment of service- a life spent well.

So, though I do not know what each day ahead may bring, I give God my day to do with it what he will. In retrospect, which is key to the examen, I see the journey that I have undertaken and the steps that have led me here- some expected,  innumerable surprises, and still almost always prayerfully directed.

In His Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: In Our Weakness

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

In seeking to be present and attentive to friends, family, and all those placed in our care we can at times mistakenly think that we are in control. That is, until we realize that we never were. For, under our own steam, even our own daily needs would seem insurmountable not to mention the needs of others. The reality truly is that we dislike admitting our weakness. We think, we plan, and we organize. Meanwhile, all of our striving though recognized by our heavenly Father was never meant to be ours alone.

The challenge faced in prayer might be how to pray for a specific intention or perhaps, when completely overwhelmed, how to pray at all. Yet, in these times, merely the desire to pray is enough. For while our relationship with God might in truth be a bit strained on our part, we have been given an amazing advocate! The Holy Spirit not only was with the apostles, and the helper of saints past but is there to guide and intercede for each one of us today.

In these moments of weakness, we are finally open to experience the grace that only our loving Father can give. Here we glimpse both how loving and mighty God is. And even in our perceivable strengths, we come to realize that  it is God who gifted them all. The peace that we long for can only come from our living Hope. Nothing that we do can ever create this peace in ourselves or within our community. But with God, all of our striving and yearning, in his will, may be fruitful. And better still, God uses our faults and failings too. Why? To show how great He is , and how unfathomable His love is for each of us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace to see your work in me! In my weakness, you have enabled me to do things that I never imagined possible. You have magnificently created the world and still meet the smallest concerns of those I love as if they were your only care. When I come next, Holy Spirit, feeling at a loss for words- I ask only for you meet me in my weakness.

Reflect:

Where do I feel the weakest in my life? How do I face crisis, despair, and loss? What strength and consolation have we found in the past? What hope do we have of God’s faithfulness and love in tomorrow?

Peace,

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That Beautiful Well

 Both figuratively and literally, the notion of a well figures prominently in scripture, literature and indeed in life. The “water” it holds has the potential to be all cleansing, life giving, and life affirming for the one who seeks and believes.  Experienced as endless or empty, pure or tainted, cherished or wasted it holds the capacity to sooth the soul and reinvigorate one for the steps ahead. Without it, we cannot last long in this world or the next.

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Today, many of us have become so accustomed to the modern convenience of running water we are unfamiliar with the experience of drawing from a well at all. The tall deep stone outer walls and inner hollowness invoke a both a mystery and a knowing that within something special is waiting to be unearthed. Yet, in order to plunge into this discovery, we must first make the journey to the well and then in faith lower our bucket.

The beautiful story in John of the Samaritan woman at the well enables us to glimpse a bit of this faith journey. Here, what would have been a very social fellowship of women gathered, was not so for her. Now having been married six times and a Samaritan at that, she was considered an outcast, and unwelcome guest. With full awareness of this, she had chosen the hottest part of the day to acquire water when she expected no one else to be around. However, to her surprise not only was Jesus there but he, with little regard for societal rules, was speaking directly to her.

What did Christ see in her that would prompt such amazement in her return home? First he recognized that this woman had lived her life simply seeking the satisfaction of her everyday physical needs.  While her intention was to satisfy a temporary physical thirst, Jesus revealed her deeper continual spiritual thirst. For, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”  Christ calls her to a different intimacy, one which was not dependent on her value in the world but bespoke of her inherent worth to God. His desire was to fulfill her deepest need and invite her to move from a mere existence to a life everlasting.

What then was required of her?

Well, in order to be healed she needed to be aware of her thirst, confess her transgressions and then… lower her bucket.

Reflect:

Do I recognize my own incomparable value to God? Am I seeking only temporary satisfaction of my daily needs? If not, what can I do to lead others to the well? 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Sound of Silence

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Couldn’t help but revisit this post this week as Friday, I go on a 5 day silent Ignation retreat at Campion Jesuit House. Truly looking forward to the sound of silence and and some much needed father-daughter time.

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.

Yesterday, 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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CatholicMom: Daily Gospel Reflections

Today, I share both my reflection and the wonderful community of CatholicMom.com with each of you! Tune in daily for wonderful insights, reflections, recipes, book reviews and more!

Matthew 5:43-48

By the mere age of 10, I already had a nemesis. Both equally determined to be the leader of every group, we were natural competitors. Yet, though a certain degree of competition can be good, over the years our rivalry painfully intensified. Now while each of us could be amply caring and forgiving to others, neither could extend that same love to the other. And, it wasn’t until we had families of our own did we choose to reconcile. We had discovered that what we desired for our children in their relationships, had been missing in our own. So, to teach them, reconciliation first had to begin with us. Since then, we have seen the fruits and feel blessed by the graced invitation to listen, pray and be a part of one another’s lives.

In this Gospel reading, Jesus is challenging each one of us to go deeper in considering the commandment to love. As God’s love and care is inclusive, it therefore cannot be constrained or limited to those who already love us or can be of assistance. Rather, it asks us to strive to see one another as God sees us. Then, to take the love and forgiveness we have experienced from God and offer it equally. Especially, when it is the most difficult. Here, the value of reconciliation is not only in overcoming personal injury but repairing the relationships that have suffered with God and our enemy. For both are indelibly linked in the fullness of God’s love.

Ponder:

Who am I withholding forgiveness to in my life today, and how could that be detrimental in my relationship with God?

Pray:

Loving Father, your love is so complete and your mercy so generous. Help me not to place conditions on your love in my everyday walk with others.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: In Plain Sight

 : Every Spring my mom, though teaching full time, would find an extra reserve of energy to become attentive to the details of housekeeping that winter and life had placed on the back burner. Make no mistake, however, it wasn’t just her responsibility but mine as well. Cobwebs and dust bunnies had no  recourse but to succumb to her broom, keen eye and swift hand.  What always surprised me in the course of these weeks was not the visible dirt but that which lay hidden in plain sight.

With pails of soapy water, a sponge for each of us, and a strong determination of mission we washed each wall from top to bottom. Not just once, but several times over, removing the unsightly grime that somehow had made its home on ours. And while I longed to stop at the first attempt,  to do so would simply make the dirt remaining all the more obvious. Yet, when the proper time and care was taken the work taken would reveal a well cared for home and the splendid true color of the original paint chosen.

I thought of this today in contemplating the housekeeping, as it were, of our souls. While we might easily recognize the walls that are broken or seemingly damaged beyond repair, do we see the layers of dirt and daily sin that fade the color of love that we are to reflect? Are we attentive only in confessing the obvious cracks or plaster in need of repair, or do we return time and time again to unearth the less visible sin we have accumulated?

For, much like the first pass of the soap on the wall, our awareness of the multitude of sin in our lives becomes apparent only when we begin to scratch the surface of the grime of time and habit. Too much work we say for such a small reward. Yet, this is the convincing deception of the venial sins in our lives. These small innocuous ways that we even unknowingly hide the beauty of God within, and become content to be less than what we were meant to be. If it has been some time since you have attended to this deeper spiritual housekeeping, God is ready and eager to provide the soap and water!

Reflect:

In what ways and areas do I need to attend to most in my spiritual life? What areas do I neglect? What might be revealed in tidying here that will let God’s love shine brighter in my life?

Peace,

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