Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Contemplative Action

A paradox that I live daily, actually one we all live daily, is holding the tension between our individual, personal spirituality--and our lived faith on a communal level. How do we maintain a sense of the contemplative, while also navigating how to appropriately discern when we are standing toe to toe with injustice and must speak up?

 I've learned much from the life and work of Father Greg Shaffer in this regard. A man of deep prayer, whose actions were never short-sighted or rooted in emotional outbursts or anger at injustice, but rather were rooted in faith, prayer, and the conviction that each and every human being is an expression of God's presence on earth. The incredible work that he did for the people of San Lucas Tolimon Guatemala was accomplished by living what he called "The Four Pillars of Christian Social Teaching." I know for myself, that when I seek to balance these four things, my life is far more peaceful and I am able to navigate and discern my life with greater thoughtfulness. I offer them to you to think about in light of the concept of living a life of "Contemplative Action."

1. Dignity of the Individual
2. Solidarity
3. Common Good
4. Subsidiarity

Dignity of the Individual If a culture does not in some way value the special nature of human life-then we are in trouble. This is because as Christians we believe that “all humans are made in the image and likeness of God." We are essentially extending the belief in individual human dignity into the realm of our social existence. So we are expected to speak out against inequality when we encounter it in our lives. BUT this goes beyond our acts! It has its roots in our very attitudes toward life and others in the world. It calls us to live, but also to believe that there really is no slave/free, Jew/Gentile, Man/Woman. I think we read that scripture today, and it doesn’t quite have the effect on us today that it would have then. No slave or free? No Jew or Gentile? This was a radical notion when Paul was saying it! So I should probably say to you today that there is no gay/straight, republican/democrat, conservatives/liberals. There are only humans and we are ALL equal in the eyes of God. And thus we are called to treat one another that way. But this can’t boil down to semantics or bickering or interpretation. It has to take root in our hearts, that just in being a human, every person, even the ones we don’t like who really make our skin crawl: reflect back to us the sanctity of creation. And the image and likeness of God.

Solidarity Fr Greg used to explain the concept of solidarity as walking ALONGSIDE the people: not in behind them pushing them forward, and not in front of them pulling them along, but standing in solidarity with them. Solidarity is the Yin to the Yang of the prior concept of "Dignity of the Individual." Because with the rights that we have as individuals…come responsibilities! In America we struggle with a sense of rugged individualism, whereby any of us can have anything we want if we just work hard enough…and even to go a step further; we think we have a RIGHT to it! The principal of solidarity says that all the rights we enjoy as Individuals, are matched with, or balanced appropriately, with what we are responsible to give back to our communities and world IN RESPONE TO these rights that we enjoy.
And here’s the thing, whether we like it or not, we live in interdependent communities. In America it sometimes seems like we can just take care of ourselves, and keep our nose clean and we don’t really affect the people or the world around us. But the reality is that we live in interdependent communities. All of our biological and social needs are met in the complex fabric of social life. “Solidarity” means we recognize the reality of human interdependence not only as necessary-but as positive! We aren’t able to recognize our full potential as human beings and the full meaning of human life ALL alone. This is where the language of “the body of Christ” comes from. None of the individual parts is the whole.

Common Good The people of San Lucas Tolimon would come to Fr Greg with their expressed-felt needs, and his answer would consistently be “let’s try.” But in the next breath, he would remind us American volunteers that “our job is “make it possible” NOT “do it for you!” At the Second Vatican Council, which was a one of a kind meeting, Bishops from all over the world, were together in one place. And they were hearing stories of each other’s struggles in their parts of the world, and in hearing the drastic differences between the theology coming out of first and third world, were inspired to come together as a church. This is where the concept of “missions” in our church came from, where a diocese in a developed nation will reach out in partnership to a bishop in the developing world. And in doing so they are working for “The Common Good.” Working for the Common Good means trying to keep a balance of ensuring that our social conditions enable humans to live in solidarity with one another. And also that we are free and readily able to live to our fullest potential as individuals.
But to do this, we need equal participation by all members of society. This means we have both the equal right to participate in the ways we see fit- but also the duty/responsibility to contribute to the life of society. There are two kinds of sin: personal and social. In America we tend to focus on the idea of personal sins that we seek forgiveness for. But rarely do we talk about communal or social sin, and the ways in which we live our lives and contribute to unjust social systems by participating in them in our day to day lives. completely unconsciously. Because that’s complicated, there are no easy answers, and worst of all, it might require changes in our daily habits of living that we aren’t very comfortable with.

Subsidiarity literally means “assistance” This is the sum total of the last three. It’s about how the Dignity of the Individual, Solidarity, and the Common Good, play out working together, and how the various levels of society should relate to and assist one another, to bring about the best outcomes for all people.
Christian Social Teacing lays this out by saying that we should rely AS MUCH as possible on the solutions that are closest to the people (think Community Supported Agriculture), and should respect the natural grouping of people and avoid involving larger bodies unless there is some felt need (immense/complex tasks not possible without assistance).  Essentially “you should have ONLY the government you need, but ALL the government you need.”
Nothing about living this way is clean-cut or easy to explain. In fact, each of us as individuals might live and balance these four pillars differently. But I do think that it's interesting to consider life in San Lucas Tolimon, and the way that society and programs there work within this framework. What would happen if our social framework and lives were lived this way? How do we navigate these pillars in a contemplative way?

Mucho Amor,


Monday, November 12, 2012

A great tool for prayer!

So often we talk ABOUT prayer, or we study methods of prayer. But rarely do we find someone who can teach us the HOW TO'S of prayer. I have found guided meditations to be a very helpful starting place to get me out of the habit of simply reading lots and lots of books about prayer, and instead, into the actual PRACTICE OF prayer. Here is a great website I found that has free guided meditations through scripture that you can listen to and use as a tool for practicing a life of prayer!

Peace and Blessings,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Violinist in the Metro

I love this story, and just had to share. What a great example of the importance of the work of cultivating mindfulness in our lives.
What daily things of beauty are you missing out on? Not sure where to start or how to slow down? For starters: find a good spiritual director!

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Some dreams are just MEANT to be shared

I haven’t blogged in almost a year, but had the most beautiful dream last night that I absolutely cannot forget, so I drug myself out of bed to force myself to type it all out before I forgot the details of it with each passing second of consciousness. I hope it speaks to you the way it spoke to me.

It started off very dark and scary. The main character in my dream is the man I believe to be my shadow. He is tall, dark and handsome. Always dressed nicely, and usually a very powerful figure. In this first part of the dream I think I am some sort of apprentice to him, he is on some sort of journey to prove himself and in the end he dies. I myself am the one to bury him. While I am telling the crowds of his death, what I believe to be the failure of his mission (I am cursing him I think), he appears before us just as he looked before. Everyone begins to link arms and sway, singing “ Let It Rain” and worshipping him. I am aghast and in total fear because I just buried this man…this Christ figure that I am the Peter to.

Then begins the second part of this dream. I have died…I think my Shadow might have killed me actually for my lack of belief and cursing him…but I’m not for sure. But I get the sense that I'm in trouble. We are at my Grandparents house in Bemidji and when I come “back to life” I emerge out of their bathroom and find him there to greet me. He is there to teach me a lesson, but I can’t understand what he is saying to me. He is barking like a dog! All that I hear is barking and we are playing almost some kind of game of charades: me trying to understand the message and him trying to communicate it-VERY frustrated with me. And so I follow him on this sort of list of tasks. One of them is diving off my grandparents deck into the ocean and swimming. It is a very physical, Olympic sort of journey and each day we reach the end of it and I still haven’t grasped the message. So then the next day comes and I again emerge out of the bathroom and we begin again the same Olympic course, him trying to communicate something and me not understanding. Every day that goes by I grow older, quite rapidly, and his bark gets higher and higher pitched (this is annoying), with a sense of urgency. It felt like I must’ve dreamed this dream for hours because of how many days I went through, simply dreaming the same thing over and over again. Finally, I reach my 50’s and am growing weary of this daily regimen. I say to my Shadow, “I am aging and I am tired. Is there really any point to me living every day of my life trying to discover some profound point to my existence? Trying to ascertain the deep meaning behind why I have come back from the dead if all this task is going to do is utterly exhaust me? Just tell me already, what’s the meaning of this!?” And he finally speaks words I understand and replies: “I don’t know.” And so I ask permission: “would it be OK if I just lived out my remaining days and simply enjoyed the little life I have left.” And suddenly it becomes clear! We both look at each other eyes wide, as if a light bulb has gone off and finally know what the point of this assignment was. I have learned the most profound life lesson at all…to stop approaching the everyday tasks of life as if they are some militaristic mission of things to be accomplished and ENJOY life! slow down enough to know that each moment of existence…that the “now” is all that matters. Life isn’t a checklist…it’s a blessing! There is this great sense of release and this dream of epic, cinema drama proportions (with orchestral accompaniment by the way…my dreams always have musical accompaniment) suddenly becomes less scary and sinister and takes on a light, and a lesson that is so beautiful I want to jump up and down and squeal with my shadow that I FINALLY GET IT! (though he’s not really the type…so we don’t…but I wanted to ;)

I love my Shadow!

Much Love,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

San Lucas, Guatemala

I know it's been awhile since I last's mostly because I've been busy preparing for THIS trip:
Check out the awesome insights from the kids experiencing Guatemala this Holy Week! Couldn't be more proud!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent, TEC, and Julian

"God, in your goodness, give me yourself. For you are enough for me, and may I not ask anything that is less, that may be fully worthy of you. For if I ask any thing that is less, I am left always wanting. Because only in you, have I all."
-Julian of Norwich
I had the wonderful privilege of being on a TEC retreat this weekend with 100+ beautiful kids and adults who were NOT left wanting. Experiencing the strong sense of community that happens when we are united in our experience of God's goodness set me up nicely for the start of Lent this week. Lent is so often understood as a time of sackloth and ashes, the purpose of which seems to be to punish ourselves for our perceived unworthiness of God's unconditional love.  I can't help but see it differently after all that I experienced this weekend, and the strong connection I still feel to the community we formed. 
Lent, as I reflect on Julian's quote above, I think is more about reflecting on the times we "ask for the things that are less...and leave us always wanting." When we come to a more mindful awareness of the time we waste on these things, we quite naturally begin to seek out God and ask only: "give me yourself, for you are enough for me." To take it even a step further, when we seek this in the common bond of a community, and unite ourselves in offering up the same things (ex. giving up fish on Fridays) I think our experience of God's goodness is accelerated, and we are more deeply connected to one another on a spiritual level as well.
There is truly nothing I appreciate more in life than sharing with others the reality that in God, we truly have all :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Dog's Purpose

I've gotten this forward a couple times before and ignored it. For some reason it hit me today though. Some forwards are definitely worth a share (and a couple tears)...this one, I number amongst them.
Animals have so much to show us about how to live. But first, we must slow down long enough to take notes (:

A Dog's Purpose
(from a 6-year-old)

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker 's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ''I know why.''

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said,''People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?'' The Six-year-old continued,

''Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.''

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"When I pray, I hold a silly, naïve, or deadly serious dialogue with what is deepest inside me, which for the sake of convenience I call God.” -Etty Hillesum

            After a few years of studying theology, I learned that whenever we were reading Holocaust literature for class, it would be necessary for me to warn my husband ahead of time. I was absolutely miserable to live with when reading Holocaust literature, and he deserved fair warning. I became so entrenched in the accounts of the horrors possible by humanity that my attitude toward existence was utterly tragic. That was until I read the Diary of Etty Hillesum, who taught me a different way of facing human suffering and tragedy.

            At the beginning of Etty’s diary she describes herself as being in a state of “spiritual constipation.”  In fact she is like many today who come to spiritual direction: she longs for something and doesn’t know what it is. For a long time she does not name that which she seeks, but still resolves to dive into a relationship with it saying: “I think I’ll turn inward for a half an hour each morning and listen to my inner voice. Lose myself. You could also call it meditation. I am still a bit wary of that word. But anyway, why not?”  Yet, already she has a profound connectedness to the spirit of God through her connectedness to humanity. Throughout her diaries she often speaks of her love for all mankind, even to the extent of loving those who hate her. At a time when Germans were systematically exterminating people Etty is able to say “if there were only once decent German, then he should be cherished despite that whole barbaric gang, and because of that one decent German it is wrong to pour hatred over an entire people.”       

As time passes Etty’s work brings her steadily into an open relationship with God. She acknowledges that there are people who seek God with their eyes turned heavenward outside themselves, and there are those who bow their head and bury it in their hands. “These,” she says, “seek God inside.” She equates her image of God to a deep well inside herself where God dwells. But often stones and grit cover the well and God is buried. Only when she digs God out is she able to also dwell there. As the process of “digging God out” unfolds, Etty’s diary begins to be weaved with short, spontaneous prayers like, “Lord, grant me a little humility,” and eventually they lengthen and her journaling takes on a more concerted effort at conversations with, or letters to God. She writes, “when I pray, I hold a silly, naïve, or deadly serious dialogue with what is deepest inside me, which for the sake of convenience I call God.”  
What is most beautiful for me about this process for Etty is that though she experiences God within herself, as her journey continues she gradually begins to recognize God outside herself and knows that though she often desires seclusion in her spiritual journey she must seek God among people, out in the world. She recognizes that she cannot change anything in her world unless she changes herself, and lets her love for humankind take over rather than her hatred for what is in human beings that makes us want to destroy one another. This desire to take the God she experienced inside and spread it in her sick and twisted world, I believe, is what made it possible for her to work so hard at Westerbork without regressing into despair. In fact it would almost seem that as Etty’s life became worse and worse, her experiences of God became more and more mystical. When her surroundings were virtually void of any manifestation of God, she is able to step outside her environment and her sickly body and let her spirit rest in happier places and times. Over and over, despite the evil she is surrounded by, she writes, “I still find life beautiful and meaningful.” It is hard to imagine how someone could regard themselves as being “rich” at Westerbork, but Etty does. Even when she questions God’s seeming lack of interest in doing anything about their suffering, she is still able to proclaim “My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue”…when I lie in my bed and rest in you, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.” Like any of us Etty’s experiences of God has its peaks and valleys, its presences and its absences, but in the end her faith is rooted deeply and securely in God

When I read an author’s journal and get a glimpse into their deepest thoughts and also their everyday life occurrences, they really almost become like a friend to me. Though I knew the tragic end that would occur as I finished this book, and even though I purposefully read the last pages every so often just to prepare myself, I couldn’t help but weep in despair for my friend Etty at the end. Even though she was able to find beauty and meaning in her life, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with anger and resentment on her behalf.
In my own life, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of the tangible and beautiful experiences of God that Etty describes in her journal. Mine differ however, in the fact that those experiences have never arisen out of tragedy and suffering as heinous as the Holocaust. So though I felt a connectedness to Etty, it was one in which I pitied her and mourned her life. My husband, saw such an obvious irony in my misery, that he couldn’t help but step in. He said to me “Lori, here you’ve had incredible experiences of God, and simultaneously read a book where the author describes experiencing the same thing, yet you cannot empathize with her’s. Prayer is powerful, what makes you think you can’t pray through time, pray for Etty?” And it suddenly became apparent to me that I could, that my God is big enough to exist outside time and space as I perceive it.

 I am quite able to pray for Etty, to pray with Etty, and to feel a communion with her spirit the way that I feel a communion with the spirit’s of those closest to me in this life. Once I was able to let go of the anger I felt Etty should’ve had in her world for her life situation, I could instead rejoice in her life. There is a time when anger is right and just, otherwise we would sink into indifference over evil. But eventually there always comes a time when we must take refuge in hope.

 So that we, like Etty, can “leave the camp singing.”