Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wonder, beauty, and awe!

At every crossroad
be prepared
to bump into wonder.

~ James Broughton ~


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear!

I often ponder the message on the side mirror of the passenger side of my car. The safety warning at the bottom of the mirror reads: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. The science of this is: “Convex mirrors (ones that curve outward in the center) make objects appear smaller than they are, and by doing so show a larger field of view than the other types. They are often used in side view mirrors of cars to give the driver a better view of all the other cars in the vicinity.”

I think this is a great metaphor for encouraging the practice of the art of reflection in our lives. We often think that just because the past is history, and what may have touched us in a good or not so good way, emotionally, spiritually, physically, or psychologically is over and done.  Sometimes we even quip, Out of sight, out of mind!  However, we can still hold onto some of these past events in our memories, dreams, imagination, and even down deep in our cells. So then when we meet some person or event that triggers a memory or feeling, we find that things are truly closer than they appear.  I find that the practice of daily reflection will help to heal, bless, and move us on to “whole-ing” any and all of these life learnings.

The practice of reflection is basic to discernment.  Here is what Margaret Silf writes about living reflectively from her book, Wise Choices.

“Life is a bit like that beach. It is full of hidden hazards, quicksand that sucks us down into the depths of despair. But it also has areas of solid rock, where we know we are on firm ground and we can walk with confidence. The key to discovering the natrue of the terrain begins with our feelings.  It can be very helpful to cultivate the habit of reflecting back over the evenings of the passing days.  It helps us to begin to live reflectively."

Living reflectively helps us to grow into honoring our feelings and letting them be our teachers so that we too, will be able to gain a larger field of view and notice that the challenges in life can also be gifts. Although they are a part of our past journey, their power, energy, and wisdom  is closer than it appears.  “Reflection like this only needs to take a few minutes, but it can make a big difference to your ability to make wise choices.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Welcome, Spring! Season of Hope!

A Spring Blessing

Blessed are you, spring, bright season of life awakening. You gladden our hearts with opening buds and returning leaves as you put on your robes of splendor.

Blessed are you, spring. In you is a life no death can destroy. As you exchange places with winter you harbor no unforgiving spirit for broken tree limbs and frozen buds.

Blessed are you, spring. You open the closed buds of our despair as you journey with us to the flowering places.

Blessed are you, spring. You invite us to sing songs to the frozen regions within and to bless the lessons of winter as we become your partner in a new dance.

Blessed are you, spring. Like Jesus, standing before the tomb of Lazarus, you call to us: “Remove winter’s stone, come out, there is life here you have not yet tasted.”

Blessed are you, spring, free gift of the earth. Without cost we gaze upon your glory. You are a gospel of good news for the poor and rich alike.

Blessed are you, spring. Your renewing rain showers and cathartic storms nurture the potential that sleeps in Earth’s heart and in our own earthen hearts.

Blessed are you, spring, season of resurrection, sacrament of promise. Like Jesus you rise up out of the darkness, leaving around you a wake of new life.

Blessed are you, spring, miracle child of the four seasons. With your wand of many colors you work magic in the corners of our darkness.

Blessed are you, spring, season of hope and renewal. Wordless poem about all within us that can never die. Each year you amaze us with the miracle of returning life.

From The Circle of Life
By Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Earth Mother . . .

Photo by SJH, OSU
Native American Prayer

O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me. I come before you, one of your children. I am small and weak. I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made, my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise, so that I may know the things you have taught my people, the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be superior to my brothers (or sisters), but to be able to fight my greatest enemy: myself. Make me ever ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes, so that when life fades as a fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
 - Chief Yellow Hawk

Apache Blessing
May the sun bring you new energy by day,
may the moon softly restore you by night,
may the rain wash away your worries,
may the breeze blow new strength into your being,
may you walk gently through the world and
know its beauty all the days of your life.

 - Apache Blessing
A Native American Prayer for Peace

O Great Spirit of our Ancestors, I raise my pipe to you.
To your messengers the four winds,
and to Mother Earth who provides for your children.
Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, to respect,
and to be kind to each other so that they may grow with peace in mind.

 Let us learn to share all the good things you provide for us on this Earth.
 - U.N. Day of Prayer for World Peace 2

The Struggle of Earth . . .

“A prayer for our earth”
All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

— Pope Francis, Laudato Si'

~The vulture and the little girl, 1993~
The vulture is waiting for the girl to die and to eat her. The photograph was taken by South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, while on assignment to Sudan. He took his own life a couple of months later due to depression.

A Sunday with a Shepherd!

Shepherd Story #1:
There’s an old story about a priest was celebrating his 50th Anniversary of Ordination.  For this occasion he had invited his personal friend, Richard Burton, to come and recite his favorite Psalm 23.  Richard Burton agreed to do this on the condition that the priest would also recite it after him. 

At the appointed time, Richard Burton stood and proclaimed the popular psalm with such oratorical mastery the congregation immediately applauded.  And then this humble pastor stood up and began to recite, from heart, this beloved Psalm.  After he had finished his not nearly so professional recitation, the congregation was in awe, and some moved to tears.  Someone in the front pew with Richard Burton leaned over and asked him, "Why did people loudly applaud you and yet were silently moved by the pastor?"  Burton replied, "Because I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd."

Shepherd Story #2:
There was once a Shakespearean actor who was known everywhere for his one-man shows of readings and recitations from the classics. He would always end his performance with a dramatic reading of Psalm 23.

Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation - "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”. The crowd would listen attentively. And then, at the conclusion of the Psalm, they would rise in thunderous applause in appreciation of the actor's incredible ability to bring the verse to life.

But one night, just before the actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, a young man from the audience spoke up. "Sir, do you mind if tonight I recite Psalm 23?" The actor was quite taken back by this unusual request, but he allowed the young man to come forward and stand front and center on the stage to recite the Psalm, knowing that the ability of this unskilled youth would be no match for his own talent.

With a soft voice, the young man began to recite the words of the Psalm. When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the young man's recitation that every eye was full of tears. Amazed by what he had heard, the actor said to the youth, "I don't understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training - but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. Tell me, what is your secret?"

The young man quietly replied, "Well sir, you know the Psalm... I know the Shepherd."

Shepherd Story #3:
The banquet hall was filled. To speak for the occasion, a renowned orator had been brought in. After a wonderful meal, he mesmerized the crowd with his voice as he recited poetry and famous selections of speeches.

Near the end of the program, he asked if anyone had a favorite selection that they would like for him to recite. From the back of the room, an old man stood up and kindly asked if he would mind reciting the 23rd Psalm. The speaker said that he would be glad to do it if, when he was finished, the old man would recite it as well. The old gentleman nodded his head and sat back down.

In a beautifully trained voice that resonated throughout the great room, the speaker began, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” When he was finished, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

He then looked at the old man and said, “All right sir, it is your turn now.”
In a trembling voice that was cracked by time, the old man began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” It is said that when he was finished, there was no applause, but neither was there a dry eye in the building.

After the event, someone asked the famous speaker what he thought produced the different responses in the crowd. The speaker paused, thought for a moment and said, “I know the 23rd Psalm, but that man knows the shepherd. That makes all the difference.”

Do you know the shepherd?

Shepherd Story #4:
A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a dust cloud approached at high speed, out of which emerged a shiny silver BMW. The driver, a young man in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes, the latest Polarized sunglasses and a tightly knotted power tie, poked his head out the window and asked the shepherd, "Hey! If I can tell you how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?" The shepherd looked at the man, then glanced at his peacefully grazing flock and answered, "Sure."

The driver parked his car, plugged his microscopic cell phone into a laptop and briskly surfed to a GPS satellite navigation system on the Internet and initiated a remote body-heat scan of the area. While the computer was occupied, he sent some e-mail via his BlackBerry and, after a few minutes, nodded solemnly at the responses. Finally, he printed a 150 page report on the little laser printer in his glove compartment, turned to the shepherd, waving the sheaves of paper, and pronounced “You have exactly 1,586 sheep."  "Impressive. One of my sheep is yours." said the shepherd.

He watched the young man select an animal and bundle it into his car. Then the shepherd said: "If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?" Pleased to meet a fellow sportsman, the young man replied “You’re on.”  "You are a consultant." said the shepherd without hesitation. "That's correct," said the young man, impressed. "How ever did you guess?" "It wasn’t a guess," replied the shepherd. "You drive into my field uninvited. You ask me to pay you for information I already know, answer questions I haven’t asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Earth Day, the Garbage Man, and I love you!!!

The Zabbaleen. These are the people of Cairo who clean up all the garbage. They are a Coptic Christian minority. They are known to be able to recycle 80% of all trash and have pigs to eat the organic portion. No one can do better. The best industrialized countries can do is recycle 20%. These people are now under heavier prosecution, their pigs have been killed, and Cairo garbage is piling up in the streets.

Once upon a time, there was a little town not too far from here with people who were not too different from us called Sunny Forest. Sunny Forest was a very nice place to live, with very nice people. They even had a sign that said, “Welcome to Sunny Forest, a very nice place to be.”

All the people in Sunny Forest got along very well and life was very good there. However, there was this one growing problem—trash. You see everyone in Sunny Forest liked to keep a very neat and clean house, so at first, people started putting their garbage in boxes. They stored these boxes in their garages and attics. Then, when these places started getting full, the garbage began to pile up in their back yards. After a while, the very nice town of Sunny Forest began to have a very bad smell!

This simply would not do! Something must be done! Such a very nice place needed some way to fix the problem and very quickly! So all the townspeople of Sunny Forest got together and decided they needed to have a Mayor. They elected the smartest, bravest and wisest person in Sunny Forest and put him to the task. However, it seemed to be a very difficult problem to resolve.

Laws were passed forbidding people from creating more garbage, but that didn’t work. Burning/Burying Programs were instituted but they didn’t work either—the smell was even worse! All the citizens of Sunny Forest were getting very angry with the Mayor. Why oh why won’t he save us from drowning in all this garbage?

Then one day, the very nice Mrs Smith saw what looked like a homeless man PICKING UP TRASH. He was, of course, on the OTHER side of the train tracks, but it was quite amazing! Someone—one of those people—had left a bag of garbage on the side of the road and this man picked it up, put it in a cart and took it away. Hmmm, the very nice Mrs Smith thought to herself, I wonder what would happen if I put some of my garbage beside the road. So, early that next morning, she filled a big bag with lots of her very smelly garbage, put it beside the road and went back inside to watch and see what happened. Sure enough, the same man came by, picked up her bag and put it in his cart! Miracle of miracles!

He was a strange looking man. Very disheveled, very dirty and dark and covered in very strange tattoos. Mrs Smith thought that she could even smell him over the stinking garbage left in her back yard. Well, what would you expect, she thought, clearly he is from the OTHER side of the train tracks, probably homeless and he is messing around with garbage. Pew. Of course he’d be very smelly.

Soon, word began to spread and everyone would put their garbage in great big bags beside the road and the man would come by, put it in his cart and take it away. It was quite amazing. No one knew what happened with the garbage and, frankly, no one really cared. Sunny Forest was back to being a very nice place to be, plus there were more important things to worry about now. For a long time Sunny Forest had been in competition with Dillsboro for the title of Nicest Town in the County, and that certainly took precedence over worrying about anything else. The Mayor had things under control.  He was such a good Mayor and really took care of the very nice town of Sunny Forest.

Every day, the garbage man came by, picked up everyone else’s garbage, put it in his cart and rolled it away, down the road, across the tracks, out of town and up into the hills on an old country road. People pretty much stayed clear of the garbage man. After all, he did smell, he was dirty and, with all those tattoos, he was very strange. He would sometimes wave at people, and always seemed very friendly, but really, who wants to associate with a garbage man? After all, this was a very nice town with very nice people.

One day, after the people of Sunny Forest had put their garbage beside the road, the garbage man did not come by with his cart to pick it up. Well, people thought, perhaps he was sick. Then one day turned into two and three and four. Finally, some of the townspeople decided to go investigate and see when the garbage man would get back to work. So off they went, down the road, across the tracks, out of town and up into the hills on the old country road. After a while, they knew they were going the right direction because they began to see pieces of trash beside the road.  More and more as they went. When they finally turned a very sharp corner and headed down into a very shadowy valley, they were completely shocked by the site in front of them.

The valley was full of garbage! Bags and boxes. Smelly and dirty. Everywhere they looked there was garbage. In the very center of the very smelly valley was an old house and outside the house was a very large mountain of garbage. The townspeople braved the stench and headed down into the valley and as they got closer, they realized there was someone partially buried in that huge pile of garbage! Looking closely, they recognized the dirty, tattooed body of the garbage man. Oh my, the townspeople all said, he took all our garbage home with him! It was the first time some of them had ever been up close to the garbage man and one of them pointed to his tattooed hand and said Look!

On the palms of his very dirty, very calloused, very scarred hands were the words: I Love You.

Story from works of Fr. Ed Hays . . .

The River . . .an Earth Day story . . .

Once, a wandering mendicant monk made a pilgrimage to the Holy River where he had a religious experience. He decided to actually live and pray beside the Holy River and on its bank built a simple bamboo lean-two shelter. At first he supported himself by begging. Then he began selling bottles of Holy River Water to the hundreds of pious pilgrims coming to pray and even bathe in the Holy River - whose waters it was believed healed both body and soul.

When it came time for the pilgrims to return home they inwardly envied the monk who was able to daily live beside the Holy River, but their jobs and family duties made that an impossible dream. So they did the next best thing and took home with them a bottle of Holy River water they purchased from the monk busily dispensing them.

One departing pilgrim, as he was purchasing his bottle of Holy River Water, gave voice to his longing saying to the monk, “Isn’t the Holy River magnificent this morning? My soul takes flight like a bird just seeing the sun beautifully glistening like precious jewels off its rippling waters.” Handing him his bottle of river water the monk asked, “What river?”

Earth Day . . . To know what it is to be a seed . . .

To be of earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death
and the miracle of birth.
John Soos

Earth Day . . .a teaching prayer!


The Earth is always a good teacher — and especially in spring. End your days this season with this prayer from the Native American tradition.

Earth teach me stillness
       as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
       as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
       as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
       as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
       as the tree which stands all alone.
Earth teach me limitation
       as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
       as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
       as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
       as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
       as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
       as dry fields weep with rain.
— Ute prayer

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jesus' breakfast club of friendship and love. . .


At one time when I was completing a retreat with 5 others, we gathered together to share our retreat experience. The director/guide gave us a talking stick” as our aid in sharing. The process that was used was that we were to be guided by her three questions, and the stick was given to the person in the group who was to speak in response to the question, share his/her retreat while the others listened and prayed for the speaker as the stick was passed around the circle. So the guide asked her first question: “How did you experience God on this retreat?” We all took our turns holding the stick while we responded - as it moved quite quickly around the circle.

She then asked the second question: “How did you experience God on this retreat?” Surprised, we again responded with each one holding the “talking stick” while sharing the details of our retreat, but this time passing it a little slower than the first time around. Besides, our responses were different, deeper and more intimate.

Then the third question was asked: (yes, you’re right!!) The question was: “How did you experience God on this retreat?”  This time the “talking stick” barely moved as it was passed around the circle. Our responses were very deep – poignant – intimate – sacred secrets were shared – gentle tears were glistening on our cheeks – This was the most powerful of the sharings.  I remember this as if it happened yesterday!

Today, we have Jesus having a tailgate gathering for the guys who coped with his loss and the trauma of Jerusalem by heading off to do with what they felt comfortable, secure, and successful in doing – fishing!!! You see, over the months, they have felt like “fish out of water”!  Now Jesus invites them to come back – break bread – eat – and remember – celebrate – and believe!

Peter is all set up to be forgiven – he desires to be reconciled. However, it has already been done – he’s already forgiven. So Jesus offers him the talking stick – Do you love me? First time around. Do you really love me? Second time around. Will you let me love you? Third time around – deeper-intimate-sacred sharing with gentle tears glistening on their cheeks!! Now go to offer the “talking stick” of healing, truthing, and faithing beyond your boat! Beyond these shores!

Let us pray this week to be open to the graces of these powerful post-resurrection stories. What questions is God asking you as you are offered the “talking stick”?  What are you aware of in your responses?  Are you willing to share at the deep level of the sacred? 

“Jesus’ unusual questions can lead us closer to his transforming spirit and can transform us, free us, and heal us. The questions may seem strange, dated, or even irrelevant at first, but returning to them, they come alive, melt our hearts, open our spirits, and enlighten our minds. They do not harangue; rather they invite. They do not challenge; rather, they summon. They do not condemn; rather, they welcome us to the truth. If we sit with his questions, and don’t rush to assert our own answers, we will receive the gift of wisdom.” (From: The Questions of Jesus by John Dear, sj)

And God waited . . .

The Annunciation
By Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, “How can this be?”
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.
Henry Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898

Annunciation . . . and a murmured "yes."

Poem” Fiat by Bp. Robert Morneau on viewing Henry O. Tanner’s
The Annunciation - 1988

On her bed of doubt,
in wrinkled night garment,
she sat, glancing with fear
at a golden shaft of streaming light,
pondering perhaps, "Was this
but a sequel to a dream?"
The light too brief for disbelief,
yet its silence eased not her trembling.
Somehow she murmured a "yes"
and with that the light's love and life
pierced her heart
and lodged in her womb.
The room remained the same
- rug still need smoothing
- jug and paten awaiting using.
Now all was different
in a maiden's soft but firm fiat.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Disciple . . .

Mary Magdalene by Gheorghe Tattarescu

Poem: “Tell Them” By Edwina Gateley

Breaking through the powers of darkness
bursting from the stifling tomb
he slipped into the graveyard garden
to smell the blossomed air.

Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
that I have journeyed far
into the darkest deeps I’ve been
in nights without a star.

Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
that fear will flee my light
that though the ground will tremble
and despair will stalk the earth
I hold them firmly by the hand
through terror to new birth.

Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
the globe and all that’s made
is clasped to God’s great bosom
they must not be afraid
for though they fall and die, he said,
and the black earth wrap them tight
they will know the warmth
of God’s healing hands
in the early morning light.

Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
smelling the blossomed air,
tell my people to rise with me

to heal the Earth’s despair.