Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“Wait, Wait! Do Tell!”

I thought I’d share Part I of my reflections on Advent which we will celebrate this coming weekend.  It is the New Year in the Church calendar.  I share these thoughts because I continue to hear about buy- buy – buy!  I’m already psychically exhausted!  – And we have just survived, Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday!  We also continue to hear about the “Fiscal Cliff” – which “is the popular shorthand term used to describe the conundrum that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect.” Doesn’t life already have enough conundrums and cliffs?  What if during these four weeks of Advent,  we consider a spiritual edge?  How about challenging ourselves to minimize shopping time and “go to the edge” by finding some time of quieting and allowing ourselves at least 15-20 minutes everyday to breathe, read something spiritually uplifting, and reflect on our lives and how God can find a “home” deep within us.  
  • Our consumer culture tells us that buying and having more things will make us happy. Spirituality says true contentment comes from within. 
  • Family, friends, and work colleagues tell us that we should be doing more, that being busy busy busy and pushing pushing pushing is what it takes to get ahead and get along in our world. Spirituality says we already have what we seek; we are endowed with an innate worthiness.
  • Popular culture tells us that loners are losers and being alone causes loneliness. Spirituality says that solitude brings us face-to-face with who we really are and leads to transformation. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

By Lucy Rose Johns
We are waiting for these aches and pains to be healed. 
We are waiting for the hunger within to be satisfied.
We are waiting for love to touch us. 
We are waiting to be understood and really listened to.
We are waiting for decisions to be easy. 
We are waiting to be inspired to love unlovable people.
We are waiting for financial cares to be resolved.
We are waiting for serenity to accept the things we cannot change.
We are waiting for courage to change the things we can.
We are waiting for wisdom to know the difference.
We are waiting to be appreciated.
We are waiting for justice. 
We are waiting for the answers.
We are waiting for the dawn of a new day. 
We are waiting for things to get easier.
We are waiting for a time of rest, peace, quiet.
We are waiting for patience. 
We are waiting and waiting. We are waiting  - 
In joyful hope for the coming of the Lord!

More Reflections
We are not restful people who occasionally become restless.  But we are restless people who occasionally become restful.”  Henry Nouwen:

Advent is the liturgical season when we pay special attention to the mystery of waiting.  In our culture we have a real problem here because most of us Americans don’t like waiting, and we certainly don’t see waiting as something to celebrate. We live in a culture that cooks its food in microwaves, or we can choose the “drive thru,” and we measure time in microseconds or even nano-seconds.  (And I’m sure that you could tell me more examples of waiting.)

It’s not that we do not wait.  We may spend hours waiting in lines at airports, at doctor’s offices, on the highway, at the grocery store – I invite you to just lean back into your memory of your everyday experiences and recall where you wait:  for your medicine, or for it to take effect, for your meals, for a phone call, a visit, or a letter.  Or you wait for the result of your tests, or for healing. Think of a time you waited and how you felt. Turn and tell someone where you have waited – share how you felt.
We wait because we have to – sometimes we have no choice but to wait.   And we may wait impatiently, looking at our watches, or cell phones – or maybe we even find ourselves complaining – if not verbally, then we may hold it in and do some  “internal global whining.” 
Our culture tends to view waiting as an inconvenient necessity or as an outright injustice that stems from a variety of factors, for example:
  • We see time as a resource to be controlled and allocated for our own personal gain and convenience.
  • We allow time to run our lives, hurrying to and from scheduled appointments and on to the next appointment.
  • We see waiting as a certain sign that something is wrong and that should have been fixed but was not.
  • Our entertainment, from television, to radio talk shows, to movies has created an illusion that all problems are resolvable in something less than two hours or even less than that.
  • Our culture tends to prize action more than meditation, speed rather than slow progress and arriving rather than the journey.
So in our culture, waiting bores and often irritates us and we may find that at every stage of our lives some new forms of waiting are involved.  However the Scriptures teach us that if we approach waiting in the right spirit, waiting is a creative moment when we grow spiritually.  When we wait, we are in touch with an essential aspect of our humanity which is that we are dependent on God and on one another.  It is also an act of love since, by waiting for others; we pay them the respect of letting them be free.

Waiting is a mystery – God waits and nature waits – so that when we as 
individuals wait we go beyond ourselves and enter into sacred life-giving 
process, experiencing that we are made in the image and likeness of God.   
This is why Advent is a time of celebration.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Season of Presently Waiting!

What is the present?  The present is the gift of being Now.
We can have glimpses of being present at random moments: when we feel awe for life; when we find ourselves quietly enjoying nature, when we are brought to stillness by beauty, art, music, dance or even at times of great loss. At times such as these, we find that our minds are “still” enough to allow our bodies to connect to the present, without interference, judgment or fear.  In the present – there is a simple joy of being.  Faithful waiting teaches us to dwell fully where we are. When we can’t control our circumstances and we can’t predict the future, we have the opportunity to live in the present.

1. Living in the present calls us to “Be here - Now.”
To be here now invites us to enjoy the moment.  This challenge asks us to live intentionally in the present, to focus on what is happening now. It invites us to pay attention to learn from our current circumstances.  It invites us to forget about our waiting, to willingly be distracted by the present.                                     

2.Living in the present invites us to relinquish worry.
The contrasts to being present are living in the past and living in the future.  We do the former when we hold on to regrets.  We constantly review things that have already happened, trying to explain them in terms of our own or some else’s actions.  This thinking can often lead to guilt or blaming. We live in the future when we make assumptions or fantasize about what could happen and then become attached to those expected outcomes.  This tendency usually results in disappointment.  We we are consumed with positive expectations or negative projections, we are not living in the moment.  When we find ourselves constantly reacting to our experiences in one of these way, when we want to be otherwise and elsewhere, it is time to be present. Faithful waiting presents us with a unique opportunity to shift gears from useless worry about the future to engagement in the present. What is good for us right now?  What can I be at peace with today? Living in the present invites us to make the spiritual leap of trusting in God, believing that God is always is near.        
3. Living in the present allows us to say, “It is enough.”
Sometimes life pulls us into the space of “too muching.” We are too much wanting to be in control or thinking that we can do something without the help of another.   Sometimes life gets in the way of our routines and schedules and we find that we have to wait.   And so we have to let go of wanting to achievement, or get something done, or trying to understand, - and find that the present moment . . . is just enough.   We then are invited to let go of anxiety, worry, stress, blame or judgment and just BE in that time – for it is enough.   

4. Living in the present teaches us to be faithful in small things.
--Eckhart Tolle:
“Are you a habitual ‘waiter’?  How much of your life do you spend waiting?  What I call ‘small-scale waiting” is waiting in line at the post office, in a traffic jam, at the airport, or waiting for someone to arrive, to finish work, and so on.  ‘Large-scale waiting’ is waiting for the next vacation, for a better job, for the children to grow up, for a truly meaningful relationship, for success, to make money, to be important, to become enlightened .  It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”

So if we would reflect on the large scale waitings in our lives. . . what would they be?    A vacation, a retreat, a chance to go to a special opportunity to be with a friend, for the world to be at peace.  And if we would reflect on the small scale waitings and how we are invited to be faithful in them, what would they look like? What would be small waitings that may happen within our homes? Maybe  to wait for faithfulness to be present to just today, because tomorrow is blurry clear.Maybe it is being faithful to living in acceptance, or joy or gratitude. Maybe it is living with forgiveness or compassion or trust.To be faithful in the small things is being faithful to the present moment, being patient with yourself and others, it is living with trusting God in the Now – in this small moment and we find it to be enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November Blessings

November Meditation
I do not know if the seasons remember their history or if the days and nights by which we count time remember their own passing.  I do not know if the oak tree remembers its planting or if the pine remembers its slow climb toward sun and stars. . . . I do not know if the air remembers November or if the night remembers the moon.  I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so. Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for creation. Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected.  Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer:  "What can you tell me about November?"  ~ Burton D. Carley ~

Memory is vital to human life.  The Scriptures make memory central to our faith.  We are continuously called to remember the story of our ancestors of faith and their journey of transformation.  This week, we remember the courageous initiatives of the people we call Pilgrims, and join with all in our past and present to give expressions of gratitude through ritual for all our blessings over the past year.  We gather “to be memory for creation” and join with the many others throughout our country this week to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks.  

Let us remember briefly the story of the Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America, and who were fleeing religious persecution in their country of England.  At first they sailed to Holland to seek religious freedom.  Not satisfied with what they experienced, they set sail on the Mayflower in September of 1620. There were 44 Pilgrims aboard who called themselves the “Saints,” and 66 others, whom they called the “Strangers.”  The trip took 65 days.  

When we hear the word Pilgrim, we may possibly think of grim-faced people wearing black and white clothing with pointed collars and large buckles.  In fact, the “Pilgrims” weren’t really pilgrims at all.  The word pilgrim refers to someone who travels a great distance to a special or sacred place for religious reasons. But the people who came on the Mayflower and settled on the site of modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts didn’t come just for religious reasons.  Mainly, they came for economic ones – to build a better life for themselves and their families.  

The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet were exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement.  The spring brought welcomed warmer weather, their health improved, but many had died during the long winter.  Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50 survived the first winter. The harvest in the fall was very successful and the Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter and they were at peace with their Indian neighbors.   In that year of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians.

This week, we are carrying on a tradition that goes back at least to the time of Abraham Lincoln, setting aside a Thursday late in November as a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.  During the Civil War, President Lincoln, looking for ways to unite the nation, proclaimed in 1863 that the last Thursday in November would be a day of thanksgiving.  And yet, in 1941, Franklin Roosevelt, seeking to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November.  However, controversy followed and Congress passed a resolution decreeing that the fourth Thursday shall be Thanksgiving.  

Let us remember that Thanksgiving is rooted in remembering.  The ancient monk Cassian has a wonderful descriptive phrase for our memory.  He calls it the “jar of the heart.”  We can open this jar anytime and take in the rich memory of the past.  As Christians, we are a people of memory; we are called to remember. Remembering is very important in our faith journey.  Our memory of God's grace and faithfulness in the past continues to provide spiritual nourishment long after the event itself is over. Remembering becomes the source of our strength which sustains us even in the midst of suffering; it "enables us to see our difficulty in a new context and thereby find the comfort and the courage to live it." (Kidd, 24) 

May the “jar of our hearts” never become empty of wonderful memories – for it is written “thanksgiving unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denials into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity . . . it turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Thanksgiving makes sense of our past; brings peace for today and creates vision for tomorrow.” (Melodie Beattie) 

What will you remember from this November?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gratitude in many shapes and flavors!

Litany of Gratitude
For being in our world. For making a difference. For your wisdom. Thank you.
For being so thoughtful. For being there. For caring. Thank you.
For sharing your thoughts. For listening. For your inspiration. Thank you.
For your faith. For your talent. For your wonderful work.  Thank you.
For your leadership. For your character. For your spirit.  Thank you.
For your principles. For showing the way. For your warmth.  Thank you.
For your kindness.  For your encouragement. For your honesty.  Thank you.
For your helping hand.  For reaching out. For your touch.  Thank you.
For your support. For hanging in there. For staying in touch. Thank you.
For giving. For your example. For spreading joy. For your big heart. 
Thank you.
For all you’ve done. For the memories. For being you.  Thank you.                                                       (Adapted from Gratitude compiled by Dan Zadra)

Prayer Practice:
The end of the day is always a good time to lean back in our memory and recall the experiences of the day and to pray with gratitude. The Examen prayer format is not for judging your day or yourself, but for reviewing the day and noticing and acknowledging the day and its gifts.

Step 1: Set aside a quit time at the end of your day and look back over it.  Ask yourself, “What was life-giving for me in this day?” and take some time to remember what brought you life this day.  Then ask yourself, “What was life-draining for me this day?” and recall what was draining for you this day.

Step 2: Another optional set of questions could be, “Where did I notice God’s love this day?” or “Where did I receive God’s love this day and give God’s love today?”

Or another set of questions could be, “When was I really awake this day?” and “when was I just drifting this day, not awake at all?”

Step 3: Spend time reflecting on each question.  Then, on your out-breath release anything you wish to let go of from this day.  – “I release ___ from this day. On your in-breath, affirm what you hold as a gift this day. – “I affirm ___ from this day - offering it all to our compassionate God.

A Gratitude Story:
A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" 
"I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say, " the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?" 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

God comes to us disguised as our lives!

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.  (Melodie Beattie)

1. Sometime ago, I was sharing with someone who at one time had been homeless.  He told me of how often he would long for a sandwich.  So he would hang out at fast food restaurants to collect the discarded ketchup packets.  Then (if he was lucky that day) he would find a slice of bread and squeeze out the remaining ketchup from the assorted packets to make a ketchup sandwich.  He went on to tell me of the day that a gentleman noticed him and offered to take him to a near-by restaurant and buy him a hamburger.  He told me that it was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make.  He said this is how it went down with his ordering: Did I want a white or whole wheat bun? Did I want a single burger or the deluxe double burger?  Did I want cheese on my burger?  Did I want my burger somewhat rare, medium, or well done?  Did I want onions on the burger?  Raw or fried?  Did I want lettuce, tomato, and mayo on the burger? Finally, did I want to have fries? Oops – what size order of fries?  Small, medium or large? Then it was the decision of what to drink.  As a result of all this burger decisioning, it took him at least 15 minutes to place his order.

2. Another experience I had was with that of a person who had survived the genocide of Rwanda. The Rwandan genocide was the 1994 mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people in the East African state of Rwanda. In my inquiry as to how she and her family escaped and survived she said: “We only had each other and that gave us courage.  We prayed at first to find a cup for drinking.  But eventually we turned our prayer into a request for a cooking pot.  Then all of us could eat, drink, and share.”

A Jewish folk tale:
A story tells of a man who went to the office every day in his expensive car, and made important decisions and signed big contracts.  Often, the important man would enjoy business lunches with his clients, and would try to distract the attention of his influential guests away from the unsavory spectacle of the beggars on the streets of his city.
One evening, after a hard day making money, he packed his briefcase to go home, where supper would be waiting for him.  As he was locking his desk for the night, he caught sight of a stale sandwich lying abandoned at the back of the drawer.  Without much thought he crammed it in his coat pocket.  No need for it to go moldy and mess up his desk.  And on the way out to the car park he saw a street beggar on the steps, huddled in an old blanket.  ‘Here, my friend’ he said to the beggar. ‘Here is something for your supper.’ And he gave him the stale sandwich.
That night, the man dreamed that he was away on a business trip.  After the day’s meeting, he was taken with his fellow directors to the town’s most luxurious restaurant.  Everyone gave their orders, and settled down with their drinks before the meal to look forward to a convivial evening.
The orders arrived. Pâté de foie gras.  Medallions of venison.  Lamb cutlets with rosemary and garlic.  The dishes being brought to the table brought gasps of delight from all the company. Then his own order appeared.  A waitress set in front of him one small plate, on which was served a stale sandwich.
‘What kind of service is this?’ the man demanded, enraged.  ‘This isn’t what I ordered! I thought this was the best restaurant in town!’
‘Oh sir,’ the waitress told him, ‘you’ve been misinformed.  This isn’t a restaurant at all.  This is heaven.  We are only able to serve you what you have sent on ahead while you were alive.  I’m very sorry, sir, but when we looked under your name, the best we could find to serve to you was this little sandwich.’ (Retelling of a Jewish folk story)

How would you describe gratitude? For what are you most grateful?
How do the stories make you feel?
What is disturbing for you in the stories?
What is true for you in the stories?
How have you been a person of generosity in your life?
Have you ever been a recipient of someone’s generosity?
Where in your life have you encountered trauma or tragedy and came through it with a few scars but with great wisdom?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Song of Praise to our Autumn God

O God of Autumn loveliness, 
                           We thank you for the many colors of our lives.                            
We thank you for the rich hues of red, 
                                     The promising hope of greens,                                         
The depth of the golds, and the well-worn browns.

We praise you for all of the life you have given us, 
                             The life we celebrate at this harvest                                
Time each year. Like the leaves of the trees, 
                              We ourselves have been blown around,                                        
Toasted in the sun, and whipped by rain and storms. 
Yet, we stand as a testament to life well lived.

Your trees, O God, remind us of our letting go, 
                                  Our need to trust transformation                                      
So that new life can come. 
Yet, like them, we resist the tearing, wrenching, pulling, and tugging.
We cling earnestly to our color and our home!

Release us, God of the Autumn, and free us 
so that the wind of your Spirit can fling us
To the places we most need to go.  
Bury us deep in places where we will find warmth.   
Help us to find ourselves grounded in You.

As we look around in this harvest time, 
We celebrate the bounty all around us 
And deep within us.   
May we be forever grateful for the plentitude!   
May we be forever generous with all that is ours.  
May we be forever willing to give of ourselves!

And as we journey towards this winter time
Help us to always carry the spirit of springtime 
Deep within us as a sign of hope!   
We believe, O God of Transformation, 
That all of life is your belief and hope in us!   
Ready our hearts, steady our hearts
 That we can respond fully in faith and love!
(Author Unknown)