Always we Hope


There is hope for a tree
if it is cut down that it will sprout again;
It’s tender roots shall not cease.
Even though its roots grow old in the earth
and its stump die in the dust,
Yet at the first whiff of water it sprouts
and puts forth branches like a young plant.

Job 14: 7-9

At the beginning of the week we call holy (Holy Week) I sat beside an old stump and saw new life wending its way out of the wood. I remembered a song we used to sing when I was a young Sister here at St. Scholastica Monastery. (Fort Smith, Arkansas) It was a song by the Jesuits entitled, WOOD HATH HOPE… I am almost sure the song grew out of meditating on the quote above from the book of Job.

Today I am thinking about my own seemingly dead wood and how often it resurrects before my eyes and sometimes because of someone else’s hope and faith, not even my own. All that seems bleak and forlorn in my life suddenly blossoms. I look all around me. Death is still present; it’s happening every day. There is sadness, unbelievable sorrow, violence that often leads to death. I go out into the world of nature and see the battle of death and life unfolding before my eyes. Everywhere new life is climbing out of the ground. There are times when, because of lack of water, lack of rain, the unfolding life doesn’t survive. It folds in the middle of its unfolding. I, too, at times feel as though I am folding in the middle of my unfolding. But then something happens–someone comes along and gives me hope in the midst of my hopelessness.

One such person in history stands out as someone who teaches us to live as though we are threatened with resurrection. Guatemalan poet, Julia Esquivel, lived in exile for nearly a decade because of her work on behalf of justice for the indigenous Mayan people. How beautifully she writes of hope in her two poems, The Certainty of Spring and Threatened with Resurrection. Listen to the hope that can be found in these words from a few pieces of her poem:

“What keeps us from sleeping,
Is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
Because at each nightfall,
Though exhausted from the endless inventory
Of killings since 1954,
Yet we continue to love life,
And do not accept their death!

Because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary
to arrive at the goal which lies beyond death…

Accompany us then on this vigil
And you will know what it is to dream!
You will then know how marvelous it is
To live threatened with resurrection!
To dream awake,
To keep watch asleep
To live while dying
And to already know oneself resurrected!”

(by Julia Esquivel, Guatemalan poet and theologian, from her book, Threatened With Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan, Brethren Press.

Yes, even dead wood has hope! All within you that seems to be withering and losing ground has been threatened with resurrection. Faith, Hope and Love will have the last word.

Let’s join the wondrous throng of Christians who know for certain that they have been threatened with resurrection. Happy Easter!

Difficult Blessings

Blessed are you…

The place where Jesus gave his famous teaching about the Beatitudes is called The Mount of the Beatitudes. In biblical times a mountain often refers to a place of transformation. As we come to the end of the Lenten Season and enter into the week we call HOLY, it seems appropriate to climb the mountain once again and listen to this difficult advice that Jesus calls BLESSINGS. If you are serious about this spiritual exercise you might want to sit down with your bible and read the Beatitudes. ( Mt 5:1-12)

The Beatitudes are for people who have their hearts set on the Reign of God. They are a way of life designed for those who want their life to be a blessing. Beatitude people are those who are willing to embrace these difficult blessings. There is something that will not let them rest until all the world is striving to be just, compassionate, and loving. They call us forth from the cozy ruts of daily living and urge us to be Christ in the world. They tell us that the Reign of God is already in our midst if we can bless the world with beatitude living. The beatitudes are values that come straight from the mind and heart of Christ. –These thoughts are slightly adapted from my book, Seasons of Your Heart.

The Prayer of the Beatitudes

  1. O Christ of the Poor in Spirit, they have no light of their own, no wealth of their own, yet because of your glory shining within them they will be known in the kingdom of God. O Christ of the Poor in Spirit, create in my crowded heart a space for God.
  2. O Christ of those who Mourn, a holy sorrow washes my soul as the ache of others’ pain threads its way through my being. Sharing their sorrow without trying to take it away brings healing and comfort. O Christ of those who mourn, Create in me a new courage to sit beside the sorrowing.
  3. O Christ of the Lowly Ones, Possessing no power save a truth deep within, God’s ‘little ones’ linger long over the truth. They receive rather than take. O Christ of the Lowly Ones create in me a gentle, open spirit.
  4. O Christ of those who hunger for justice, What is this gnawing in the center of their being? Hunger-pains, refusing to be satisfied with anything less than God. In the deep caverns of their souls lives a blazing zeal that burns for truth. O Christ, Sun of Justice, burn your way into my soul with the terrible gift of this same burning zeal.
  5. O Christ of the Merciful, Who are these people wearing the robes of your mercy? Have you returned again in the person of their flesh? Your love shines out in them like a full moon. O Christ of the Merciful, dress me in the bright robes of your mercy.
  6. O Christ of the Pure of Heart, Who are these fearless ones who have opened the doors of their hearts? In the center of my being dwells a heart that is a stranger to division. Forever it whispers, I am the soul of you. Believe in Me! O Christ of the Pure of Heart, Create in me deep faith in my undivided heart.
  7. O Christ of the Peacemakers, Who are these dreaming dreams, carrying torches, building bridges? They walk in peace out where the wild things are. They pitch their tents in fields of violence–and all because they are at peace within themselves. O Christ of the Peacemakers, create in me a peaceful heart that cannot stay at home.
  8. O Christ of the Persecuted, twisted, broken, bent upon a cross–they proclaimed all the truth they knew. They died of truth and the Kingdom of Heaven became theirs. O Christ of the Persecuted, create in me a willingness to die for truth.

–taken from Seasons of Your Heart

Dead Blog Cemetery again

Dead Blog Cemetery

People keep following me and I don’t know exactly what they are following since I have been away from this blog for a long, long time.

JUST SAYING

I often come across abandoned blogs as I surf the web.  Some of these blogs are full of wisdom and insights.  I find myself wishing the author had not deserted it.   On the other hand I totally get it!  Time and again I begin a blog with passion and enthusiasm.  It can be an enjoyable and even spiritual discipline to publish my musings and reflections, but then the dailiness of  life gets in the way.  Sometimes I set my goals too high and try to post more often than necessary.  (–one needs to live a little in between postings–)   Or perhaps I try to be too profound in my journaling.  I may struggle with how to say what I really want to say.   There are times when other projects: work, illness, personal difficulties must take precedence, thus eventually the unattended blog gets lost in the whirlwind of life and finally experiences a temporary or even permanent desertion.

After being away from my blog for many moons and many months I have decided to give my future blog a new name.  It will be called AN OCCASIONAL BLESSING.  Seems to fit since I only blog occasionally though I am hoping to be a little more occasional than I have been in the past.  

Awakening to a New Day

 

 WHAT BEAUTIFUL TASK ARE YOU BEING CALLED TO THIS DAY?

Getting up in the morning and waking up are not necessarily the same event.  When we rise in the morning we do not automatically rise ‘AWAKE’.  When we open the curtain to morning, is it  just the sun getting in our eyes or is it light streaming through our being?  I am offering you a practice for waking up using a poem by Denise Levetov.  Recall that in the olden days a person was often knighted for a special task of honor and sent forth to accomplish some significant mission.  Surely each day is calling us to a beautiful task, a mission designed particularly  for us.  The art of moving through the day waking up to our call is a sacramental journey….a pilgrimage through the hours.

On your next rising from sleep, try this:  Imagine that the Spirit  hovering over you lays upon your shoulder a sword of emerging love, calling you to go into the day awake.  The tasks awaiting you sense the Spirit’s affirming invitation,  “You can do it!”  Whatever it is–you can do it!  Are you being called to compassion?  Or, perhaps, to joy?  Are you called to be a sacramental presence to those you encounter this day?   Are you being called to trust, or to forgiveness?  To a new work?  To a piece of justice that needs your voice?  Or, are you being called simply, to wake up?

READ THE POEM BELOW VERY SLOWLY AS YOU EXPERIENCE THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT PIERCING ANY RESISTANCE IN YOU.

  

                                                                       

Variation on a Theme by Rilke

by Denise Levertov

                                                                                                                                  

A certain day became a presence to me;   

there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light;

a being.  And before it started to descend

from the height of noon, it leaned over

and struck my shoulder as if with

the flat of a sword, granting me

honor and a task.  The day’s blow

rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,

and what I heard was my whole self 

saying and singing what it knew:  I can.

The poet Rilke, from whom, Denise Levertov received her inspiration for this poem, also alludes to the experience of his senses being so caught up in the day’s revelation that he is like a bell being rung convincing him that he has power to shape his world.  If the poets see this so clearly,  perhaps it is also true of us.

Are you, perhaps,  a bell being rung–awakening people to their mission of love?

                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Read more about Denise Levertov at https://lithub.com/denise-levertov

   

 

My WORD for 2018

I don’t exactly do resolutions for the New Year but for quite a while now I’ve been choosing ONE WORD to guide me and in that one word I find what I need for the year. My word came quickly this year. When I looked at the month of January on my new calendar for 2018 a Mary Oliver quote greeted me:

“TELL ME,  WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PLAN TO DO

WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?”

The moment I welcomed that question and listened to it with my whole heart my word for the year moved in—and the word is EXPLORE.  The kind of exploring I feel called to does not require a plane ticket.  It has nothing to do with exploring far off places.  The only ticket required is the ticket of attention.  The ticket of mindfulness!    This is an invitation to explore what is nearby.  I want to meet the things I step over each day.  I would like to study the wings of the dragonfly and sit so still at the pond’s edge that the frogs will come out and let me see their eyes.

I want to explore our monastery grounds— just a little each week—to find the life that waits for me unnoticed.

I want to embrace the healing oil of nature and be obedient to its prophetic voice.

I want to walk through our cemetery and allow myself to feel the prayerful presence of our Sister Ancestors.                                                        

Perhaps I will visit a few of our beautiful State Parks of Arkansas or go to my childhood church, just 45 minutes away, and revel in the rich history of that sacred place.

 Exploring the living stones of my monastery family is also on my list.  Perhaps I can gently search the faces of my sisters and detect which one might need a good word this day, or maybe even a sit-down visit and a cup of tea.

 

The word, EXPLORE, means to go out, to investigate, search out and examine more closely.  It may include crying out in wonder or uttering a voice of delight and sometimes even weeping for joy.

As I hear myself considering all the ways I might explore I am reminded of the Rule of St. Benedict that I am trying to be faithful to each day.  Certainly this would be a marvelous means of exploration.  Reading the rule again as if reading it for the first time I might be amazed at what I notice as I meander through these sacred pages again and again.  Even before re-reading it I am reminded of some of the ways the rule encourages me to live.  I ponder the call to simplicity and know immediately that I will be invited to explore my tendency to hoard certain things.  Why?  Why?  Why?

I listen again to Mary Oliver’s poetic question, and I am comforted with a sense of adventure in my exploration.

“TELL ME,  WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PLAN TO DO

WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?”

What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life?  I want to live life more consciously, seeing everything as though seeing it for the first time.  I want to come out of my self-made prison, open the cage of myself and fly out unencumbered.  I want to explore something (new or old) every day.  Each morning during my personal time of prayer I will ask myself:  So what do we explore today?  I will listen to my soul’s desire before going into the new day.  At the end of the day I will write a brief statement about my day’s exploration in my journal.

I am certain that some inner exploration will be necessary also–meaning that at some point I will be invited to explore my attitudes and opinions, my grudges, my tendency to procrastinate, my obedience to times of Lectio Divina,  my faithfulness to times of monastic silence and so much more.  2018 will be a year of exploration.

Just yesterday I explored the reason why, so often, my handwriting in my journal is illegible.  The answer came quickly: HASTE.  Now I am exploring  (and this may take me several days) the reasons for my HASTE.  Why do I hurry so much?  Why do I move so fast?  Somehow I believe that part of my discovery will include a basic lack of trust in myself and in the Holy One who guides my life.  Time  has become one of my little ‘gods’ (another thing to explore) and I don’t quite believe that I have enough time to do what I want to do WELL.   But I do have the time and when I move reflectively, trusting myself to be faithful to the moments I am better able to forgive myself when I fail.  Forgiveness of others and of self is huge and must be visited each day.

WE SHALL NOT CEASE FROM EXPLORATION

AND THE END OF ALL OUR EXPLORING WILL BE TO ARRIVE WHERE WE STARTED…

AND KNOW THE PLACE FRO THE FIRST TIME.  -T.S.Eliot

 

 

 

Other Views Wanted

 

Mark Nepo is becoming my poet for the year.  I read him somewhat as I read scripture:  with a tender reverence that opens me to expectation of some simple transformation.  Thus when I rise from the reading I am not quite the same person as when I sat down to read.  On many a morning one of his poems becomes my choice for prayer.  I use his work for my hour of Lectio Divina and am almost always blessed.  His poems have soul.   The poem I prayed with this morning in particular was a kind of salve for my weariness.  It is entitled AN OPEN HAND and talks about how the mind isn’t a store house but rather a living room with windows and chairs…a place where friends can come and look out the window and discuss what they see and  it isn’t a fortress where we take away what others believe so that we can enshrine our own beliefs.

And to quote him directly, he says that the mind is:

More of a porch with bird feeders

             and coffee or tea/  where before

hello, you have to share a story.

Pull open the curtains! Open the

 windows! Brew the coffee!

                                                            Put  out a sign:

                                                                   Other views Wanted!

Mark Nepo from THE WAY UNDER THE WAY

 

 

I don’t know about you but it sounds right to me.  In listening to others, you know, you don’t necessarily have to surrender your own views.  But listening makes all the difference in the world.  And sometimes when we listen, with our hearts, we do find ourselves surrendering, just a little, some of our iron clad ideas that we thought would never budge.  What is important is that we see one another and that we look out of the windows of our minds with an openness that allows us to be friends even if we don’t think exactly alike.

I’m not much into tattoos but if I were to get one I think I would have it on my back where no one could see it but I would know that it was there and it would serve as a reminder for me in those moments when I act as though I am the only one with a correct idea.  And of course it would say: OTHER VIEWS WANTED!  It would hurt I suppose, but it wouldn’t hurt as much as seeing ourselves so painfully divided.

 

Table Settings

Although I cannot recall the occasion, a scene from my past comes vividly to mind.  I am sitting around a table with two other people.  In our conversation, we discovered that we were all  forty five years old.  I said, “some day I am going to write a book entitled, “Forty-Five ways to celebrate without eating..”  That book has never been written yet the idea still intrigues me.  Don’t misunderstand me; I love food.  Cooking and preparing food is an art.  Creativity abounds in the kitchen; I love a good meal with friends or family and I am one who enjoys a nice table setting whether it be a flower arrangement or some other creative display.

The point I want to make here is that not all feasts supply the kind of food you put into your mouth.  Some feasts offer us the nourishment of beauty and inspiration. To enjoy this kind of feast it is essential that you live awake, nurture awareness, move slowly through the day with eyes and heart wide open.  Drink in what is set before you.  All the gifts that you behold table settings pointing you to food for the soul.

The image above, the bright colored leaf, was one of my table settings from this summer.   Climbing a wooden stairs while bemoaning my arthritis I paused when I saw the leaf.  It was a way of replenishing both body and soul.  Isn’t that what we do when we eat and drink?  The leaf became food.  That moment turned into a feast.  I was also reminded of how many feasts I miss when I sleepwalk through my days.  Living awake is a practice.  Feasting on life is a practice.

The Indian poet, Tagore, surely understood this kind of food when he wrote:

 “I HAVE HAD MY INVITATION TO THIS WORLD’S FESTIVAL

AND THUS MY LIFE HAS BEEN BLESSED!

The invitation does not come by mail.  It is innate!  Within!  What you truly see that opens wide your heart is like your alarm clock.   It is your table setting for the moment and so of course it is an invitation to pause, to take and eat, to drink in, to imbibe.

Here are a few of the table settings that summer has offered me.  Or, perhaps I should say:  these are some of my invitations to this world’s festival.  Whether I am blessed is of my own choosing.  There are times when I do not notice the invitation and so of course, miss the blessing.

Table Setting One is the little Crepe Myrtle flower growing out of the sweet wood that is also its womb.

Table Setting Two is a nest of white and blue in the sky inviting me to to look up in wonder.

Table Setting Three was finding a friend and sister in the sunflowers.

 

Table Setting Four was being awakened by a sunset! YES!  There is also a need to wake up in the evening, not just in the morning.

Table Setting Five; pausing to reflect on tree stories

        Throughout the coming week, watch for TABLE SETTINGS.  Be attentive to those moments when you experience a stirring within the soul.  Pause when something turns over in your heart like a plow opening the soil of your life,  All these moments are invitations to the festival of life and like the poet, Tagore, you too can be blessed.

To Mute or not to Mute

How strange it is that the mute button has recently  become a guardian angel in my life, a protector and shield.   I have begun to look with ‘slight’ disdain on all those things that beep at me.  All that chirps, clangs,dings, hoots and even sings–all those little noises that tell me someone is trying to get my attention.   It may, of course, be a very nice SOMEONE.  All I’m saying is that I find it overwhelming to be always available.  And that’s why I sometimes close the door to my daily life and move into a cave of sorts, a place apart, a monk cell, a forest solitude.  I go to a place where there is no one around but me; and that too can be problematic.  The phone, the radio, the television, all social media may be muted but the mind keeps sending me a thousand voices.

When those thousand voices attack me I sometimes like to close my eyes and bring back a memory of a moment in time when I was able to abide in the shelter of God’s Presence.  e.g. I close my eyes and see the beautiful sculptor of St. Walburga at St. Walburga Abbey in Virginia Dale, Colorado.  The memory is of a place where I once spent a short season trying to mute the noises in my life.  There she stands in the gloaming with her abbess staff and her flask of oil, heralding the possibility of being quiet and most of all, being still.                                                                                                     

In our efforts to learn how to be silent we sometimes forget how important it is that we also honor the need to be still, motionless, not moving at all.  How difficult it is to stand silent and unmoving with our flask of oil which is our very being and let God anoint our restless hearts.

Recently I had another attack of daily life and felt a need to push the mute button.  This time I found myself in our community House of Prayer, Hesychia.  Hesychia is a Greek word meaning inner stillness.  I  couldn’t wait to get into my hermitage yet after I settled in, inner stillness did not arrive to welcome me.  Instead, the thousand voices showed up.

What to do!  First of all,  I made the effort to sit very still and just breathe.  I believe that my breath is the breath of God, thus the simple practice of honoring the breath of God, on loan to me, became a very helpful practice.  Secondly, I am a believer in BURNING BUSHES.  I see all of creation as a burning bush.  On my second day in the hermitage I attempted to calm my thousand voices by intentionally focusing on one burning bush at a time, again simply gazing at it from my window.

I am sharing a few of my burning bushes with you because I believe that you, too, might be someone who needs, on occasion, to press the mute button and find a little hut to just be still.  To just BEHOLD this gift of God and not try to send your burning bush to a friend via a text!   To mute or not to mute; that is the question!

 

While at the hermitage I was reading the book, HEAVEN BEGINS WITHIN YOU by Anselm Gruen,  A quote from the book rang true in my heart and invited me to pray with my struggles.  Here are the words that saved me from boredom during my retreat.

“WHEREVER MY GREATEST PROBLEM LIES   IS ALSO THE SITE OF MY GREATEST OPPORTUNITIES; THAT IS WHERE MY TREASURE IS.”  -Anselm Gruen