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.

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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Are You Saying Yes.. When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Moving Forward

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If you are reading this you might be thinking to yourself… Well where else would my foot be?

Let’s start with the fact that I am by nature a problem anticipator. Typically, my feet are moving forward and mentally I seek to be two or three steps ahead to better assess where I need to go. This works well in project management, and parish planning where long range goals and timelines are essential. And yet spiritually, God is simultaneously reminding me that, as with Martha and Mary, sometimes the best place to be is right where I am at the moment. Sound familiar?

On the commute into work this past week, I found myself with a lead foot and an unusually impatient spirit. Did they not understand that leaving a gap a mile wide just encouraged people to cut in? Were they not aware that those they shared the road with were indeed trying to get TO their destination sooner than later? Such was my conversation with God and myself and the more I nodded in agreement, the less concerned I became with my other highway companions. So much so, that my arm actually ached from throwing it up in indignant frustration.

That was when the truth hit me. I had become so focused on where I thought I needed to be, that I neglected to meet God in the present. The more I pushed him aside to consider all that was to be accomplished, the more I also failed to choose what is better. My time could have been spent differently..I had a choice.

Father, patiently train me to value these precious moments with you. Instead of time squandered in useless irritation and in anticipation of something greater- let me appreciate the gift of the present. I need not be the first or the fastest of those around me but in truth will reach my destination eventually. For Your invitation – to gaze upon the horizon, prayerfully offering the day and petitions, and to listen for Your guidance awaits. You have a better plan in mind for my day than all of the schedules that I have made.  

Just how do we practically do this?

  1. Try starting your day with a reflection and coffee. Though I may read a reflection over coffee, often I do not really unpack or unearth its richness right away. As you travel or wait, just hold the questions or scripture in your heart. God is there ready to inspire you and your day.
  2. Get accustomed to the silence: Breathe and take a few quiet moments to allow God to speak to your heart. Notice the details of the landscape, the color of the sky and the rhythm of the world around you.
  3. Music: They say that music soothes the savage beast…well, for me this is true. My IPod is replete with almost 1,000 Christian songs from every music style imaginable. If one song doesn’t fit that day, there is always another one right behind it.
  4. If your mind and heart are busy, use this energy to pray the rosary. There have been days where I have had so many thoughts that I offered each bead/prayer for a different person or intention. With each name and concern spoken I ease into a more peaceful way of being. Why? Because I recognize that God has it covered!

Peace,

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Crave Peace

 : “Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ, just as travelers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey. They must have the Passion of Christ deeply embedded in their minds and hearts, because only from it, can they derive peace, grace, and truth.” St. Anthony of Padua

With every passing year, in every byline and relationship encountered,the awareness of the world and our place in it reveals one constant- humanity’s profound desire for happiness and need for love.  The difference in each life is just how we seek happiness and where we believe that we have found it. In my youth I relished in the art of winning a good debate, evidenced in the ground of gaining one more in support of a cause and perceiving each incidence as a battle won. What has become more clear is that the goal of our Christian life cannot consist only in these small victories, or simply out of  prideful motivation or righteous indignation but from a true desire for peace.

Not an easy path

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
–Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Take a glimpse even at our daily interactions with our family or colleagues, to work for peace may at times place us at the front lines of  contentiousness and disagreement. Make no mistake, not everyone is readily interested in the real work of peace. Why on earth not? For a variety of reasons, there are many who either cannot see how their happiness is connected to a greater plan or to a community beyond themselves. And yet, this path isn’t about solely convincing the other the error of their ways, but walking with and slowly discerning how to lead and witness to a greater truth. It is often imperfect and messy, as we are imperfect in understanding and discerning how best to move ourselves. Yet, if we invite God to be the principal mover and seek to take the back seat to the Holy Spirit then we begin to see the hope in the way ahead.

“With firm purpose you maintain peace; in peace, because of our trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Not quickly achieved

Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.
–Pope John Paul II

For me, this is perhaps the most difficult realization of the day-to-day endeavor towards peace. Steps taken to find common ground, sincere overtures at reconciliation albeit concessions and acceptance of one another fall back into familiar patterns. There are honestly times we might wonder why we try at all. Yet, this isn’t anything new to humanity or even to the early Christian communities. Inclinations to division, personality preference and disagreements over direction has beset us since the beginning of time. Truth is we may not ever witness the efforts of our labors in our lifetime. And still,  each day presents a gifted opportunity to offer a smile, a touch of mercy, a word of kindness – an imparting of a moment of grace to someone who has a great need for peace.

“Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.”
–Diary of St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul

May this moment be an invitation to discover peace and place within you a desire to cultivate and extend this peace to all that you encounter in your day.

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Worth Revisiting: Joy Stealer or Faith Grower?

Perspective they say is everything, and when we choose to look at situations with new eyes, better yet God’s eyes, we are given a real invitation to grow in faith..

Currently, in our society where individualism and our own happiness has been regarded as utmost priority there is great emphasis placed on that which makes us momentarily feel good.  We are quick  to avoid the situations that disturb our inner peace, upset out schedule and call us out of our comfort zone. Even in our relationships we grumble, resist and distance ourselves from those that are most difficult to deal with.

I pause here for an honest confession… I have chosen the path of feeling annoyed and complaining lately. Faced with a seemingly unchanging resistance from others to my own desire to be joyful,  I had decided it best to create some distance. A mini retreat of sorts, I recognized that I needed a break in order to get a bit of perspective. In taking this opportunity to go out into the “wilderness”  to spend some alone time in prayer, to reflect on what  is being asked of me I now have a better understanding of what Christ desires.

First, I realize that I cannot remain on permanent retreat from all that I feel attempts to steal my joy. Obvious exemptions would be situations that are physically or mentally abusive. Yet, what I am talking about are difficult people, or particularly trying situations that continually test my patience and call for regular forgiveness.

Case in point:

1.The “one way or no way” attitude: The phone rings and I notice the caller id. As the conversation ensues I am struck by the familiarity of the questions and topics of discussion.  Can we ever go deeper? No, not if it remains a one sided barrage of questions where there is only one answer desired. No, not if there isn’t active listening, appreciation of the other person, and a desire to have true dialogue. So, I listen and leave the discussion wondering why I spent my time in this way.

2. The “blinking red light”: Here is the person that is constantly in hot water. If the issue doesn’t involve them directly they feel it necessary to stir the waters that potentially create a tempest situation. Oh, did you have plans today? Well, this is far more important and if you weren’t concerned before..you should be by now.  So, I listen, offer advice, help where I can, and spend the day praying that they find peace.

Selfishly at times I have asked God, “Why have you placed these rocks in my path, why am I being asked to deal with stubbornness and anxiety?”

His answer, “Elizabeth because you have yet to learn the incredible lessons of love and forgiveness that I have been so desperately seeking to instill in you! Do you honestly think that you are without fault, malleable, secure in my loving plan and accepting of all that I am calling you to be?”

“No, Father… I have much to learn. Yet, I am desperately trying to understand though. Isn’t that good?”

Yes, but you cannot get comfortable with where you are- because I am asking so much more of you. Each of my children has a purpose and a journey. Sometimes this journey leads others to learn from you and other times their purpose is to challenge you to grow.

I have choices in how I encounter others. If my life isn’t rooted in love, patience, and forgiveness, how are others to truly  know Christ through me?  Moreover, our lives are meant to be proof of God’s deep call to a new life, faith that though times get difficult there is hope that our loving Father is working all for good.  This inbreaking of the Kingdom of God isn’t merely an inner journey or a futuristic promise of heaven…but it begins with me today.

Peace,

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Around the Table

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With the approach of Thanksgiving, my thoughts return to the table which I so customarily gathered around in my childhood. There in the small kitchen of my grandmother’s home was a simple maple table with 6 chairs around. To the eye there was nothing unusual about it, but the love and memories that always surrounded it fill me with warmth to this very day. Endless games of dominoes played, many great discussions weighed, numerous pies and casseroles made- family life had encircled its relatively small frame.

On most occasions there was plenty of room, as family would come and go at various times. Sundays after church no one dared miss her homemade fried chicken and mashed potatoes or the dessert cooling on the back porch. And though it was a small home, surprisingly it rarely felt small. Yet for Thanksgiving and Christmas every square inch of space in my Grandmother’s home seemed in use, especially her table.

As one of the youngest generation, I was always at the kid’s table. A fact that for many years I optimistically looked to change. Why you may ask? First of all, we were the last to be seated and fed. More than that, however, was that all of the interesting conversations seemed to happen at the adult table. Here, they shared their joys, sorrows, while supporting and challenging one another to stay the course. They told stories, jokes, laughed and cried.Through it all love, faith and hope remained.

Before you knew it, all my wishing to be included at the adult table became a reality. My cousins and I were home from college and were even entreated to sit for a spell. This was it, I thought, now I am finally regarded as a grown up. What I did not pause to consider, though, was the graced responsibility that being present in these conversations entailed. These were not easy problems with a ready answer, but quite often required more listening than speaking and a great deal of prayer.

Over the years, I have become a solid member at the adult table, now in the upper tier of my family. Looking back, I finally realize what all those years around the kid’s table had been for. Preparation. It was in that time spent with my cousins where we too had laughed, shared, and formed community that we would return to when we would later need to rely on one another.Thus thankfulness is for me found around the table. For more than the delicious food consumed there is the presence and gift of fellowship.

Please take time this season to offer up praise for your place around the table, whether it be at your home or at another’s. Be willing to be vulnerable in your sharing , be generous in your listening, and merciful in your response. And always let prayer and love be your guide.

In Thanksgiving for each of you,

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Worth Revisiting: Open Windows

Beyond the treasures of abundant color, pumpkin lattes and cool crisp days, fall carries the promise to unwind, unplug and connect in a distinct way. With open windows, the tall sheer curtains stirring amidst the early morning breeze lays the invitation to allow the outside in. Beckoned to welcome the sunrise, to encounter the stillness, what a sweeping bequest upon my heart to throw wide the sash and to be open too.  To feel the Holy Spirit’s rousing presence to awaken, both to God at work within but also without in the world around me.

Oh, the temptation we face to sit on the other side of the pane of glass looking out. How easy it is to remain in the comfort of our own convictions, walled in by certainty and secure in customary routine. Surrounded by the air of self-assurance, we may not even fully realize the difference in what we are experiencing to what God is calling us to be and do.

Is this why vulnerability is so essential in our journey with God? Is our surrender and openness to God a window for us to begin to understand Christ’s gift on the cross?

With arms outstretched from East to West, we visibly see Christ as the profound sacrifice and witness of the unconditional love of God faithful from the very beginning of time. It is a love that draws us nearer into relationship, out of our selfishness and pride, to become vulnerable ourselves for others.  As the life of St. Ignatius exemplifies, a life of excess and self-importance are not satisfying alternatives to what a life lived in Christ can offer.

Yet, this invitation of Christ is not without risk, for this openness to love entails:

  1. Considering the armor that we have used to protect ourselves in the past. What is my go to defense, that shields me from the experience of pain and keeps my distance from the love that God has for me? Rather than in the security found in the things of this world, be it in wealth, power, pride, or vengeance we are called to find our strength in the counsel, generosity, righteousness and compassion of God.
  2. Acceptance that our hearts may be broken by others. For any of us that lay our hearts and lives bare in our discipleship, we understand all too well this reality. Still, one look at the cross and life of Christ and we recognize that vulnerability means a willingness to give without counting the cost. Are we willing, like St. Ignatius to lay down our sword to become men and women for others?
  3.  Radical forgiveness. Yet in these moments grace and healing await too. If we hold on to our pains, it can be quite difficult to open up fully to anyone else, or to share in the intimacy of Christ. Is there anyone in my life that I am being asked to forgive today? Am I being asked to forgive myself?
  4. Gratitude. When we are truly open to God’s love, it is difficult to remain unchanged, or unappreciative of the gift we have received. The open window which conveys that pleasant breeze of God’s presence, stirs our hearts to love, and challenges us to do the same also transforms our vision. Looking out upon the world, we can glimpse the One who is greater at work and respond in praise and surrender.

“Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours. Do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

The invitation is there for you, to open the window of your soul and discover God who is ever present and actively at work in all things. 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Grandfather’s Legacy

Today I share a granddaughter’s revisiting of the legacy of a poet, not by trade but by heart. A teacher, farmer, surveyor, and cotton gin manager, Carl Wyatt Ferrell wore many hats in order to best provide for his family.  And still always the student he looked at life each day anew, finding God not in grand gestures but in the small everyday details of life. His love of poetry captures this awareness and is the treasure left to me by my grandfather a lifetime ago.


Dawn on the River

I stand at dawn above the stream
As skies begin to glow,
Like stirrings from a drowsy dream
I sense the river’s flow.


My face is fanned by morning breeze,
That stirs the trees so tall.
The squirrels chatter in the trees
While nuts begin to fall.

Now birds begin their morning song;
The dewdrops from the leaves;
The fog-bound river flows along
between the Cypress trees.

First signs of sunrise now appear-
the east is bright with gold.
The veiling fog begins to clear-
Earth’s beauties now unfold.

Below I see the shining stream,
this clear swift path of light.
The sunlight’s golden gleam
has took the place of night.

By Carl Wyatt Ferrell

Worth Revisiting: Getting Down to Earth

What is it about having hands in the warm earth that speaks so sincerely to my soul? For as long as I can remember, I have cherished this invitation to connect with the Creator and his creation. To till the soil, plant, and cultivate from its humble beginnings to harvest, that is the essence of a season in time.   Watching the grass grow, enamored by the sudden appearance of each bud, blossom and fruit I wonder the delight that God must have too in each of these small miracles. Yet not only an observer, we are participators and co-creators in caring for this life that has been entrusted to us.  What a blessed and wondrous responsibility!

Fond memories, carried in the pretty straw baskets overflowing with strawberries, tomatoes, and tall stalks of rhubarb, are childhood treasures. With dirt covered knees and hands leaning over rows of neatly sowed seeds, I would take great care to follow Grandma’s instructions.

 “Pull the weeds, as they seek to steal the nutrients from the plants. But be careful- those that have grown too close to the roots can cause great damage if pulled without caution.”

I am reminded of her words of wisdom each time in hearing the parable of the sower. What of those weeds in our own life, those things that we too have allowed close, which consume our every thought, time and energy? Can we even readily identify them as weeds? They are innocuous looking enough at first, blending in with the other sprouts in our lives. Until that is they can no longer be overlooked, and we struggle for a way to remove the weed without further damage to our own lives.

Yet, is the tender plant without help, left alone without the loving care of its steward? No, not at all. Though our troubles, fears and passions might seek to entrap and tear us down, they are no match for the strength that is offered through prayer. Helping to loosen the grip of what we have become entangled with, conversation with our Father nourishes us from the inside. It is then that the opinions of others, the lifestyles we have become accustomed to and the attractiveness of our sinful companion begins to matter less and less. Like a humble obliging earthworm, aerating the soil of our lives, our time spent with God creates much needed space in the compacted hardened ground around us.  We find the air to breathe again, and companionship with our true friend in Christ.

As I kneel, looking up towards the sky with eyes closed I cannot help but pause to offer up my modest and imperfect praise for the one who created it all. He who knows the weeds in our hearts, that we have allowed to grow, loves us nonetheless. More than our faults, our potential lies in wait for our response to God’s love. The question lies in just what our response to God will be.

Do you have a problem or a passion that is controlling your life today? Take a moment or two or three to talk to God..you might just find the fresh air you need in your life to let go of the weed.

Peace,

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31 Days of St. Ignatius: Feast of the Senses

This month Loyola Press is inviting each of us to “explore ways of encountering God through using the five senses, inspired by the new book, Taste and See by Ginny Kubitz Moyer”. 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 of the senses!

Today’s challenge:

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?

The First Principle and Foundation
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, as paraphrased by David L. Fleming, S.J.)

“All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.”

Peace,

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