Thursday, December 31, 2009

Midnight Prayer for New Year's Eve


Midnight Prayer
by Richard Rohr

God of the seasons, Lover of the ages,
Master of every moment:
You who are beyond time yet within all time.
We return to you what you have given to us —
the moments, the minutes, the hours, the days,
the weeks, the months, and the year of  2009.


Time has been gracious to us again,
and we thank you for freely giving us these human bodies,
these events, and these relationships.
We have lived another year and we have died another year,
and now you are granting us the beginnings of another.


We now hand over to you the blessed year, 2009,
with all that it gave us and all that it took from us,
knowing that both are necessary, just like our breath.
We trust you in both the givings and the takings,
the inhalings and the exhalings.

May every breath of 2010 be a breath of the Holy Spirit,
joyfully received and joyfully returned,
beginning with this one right now.
Amen.

here is my suggestion for a new year's resolution:
subscribe to Richard Rohr's daily meditations for more great prayers.

(artwork is available from Inkslinger Art.)

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

6th Day of Christmas - Jesus & Women


"Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were
first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.
They had never known a man like this Man -
there never has been such another.
A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them,
never flattered or coaxed or patronised:
who never made arch jokes about them...;
who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension;
who took their questions and arguments seriously;
who never mapped out their sphere for them,
never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female;
who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend;
who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious.
There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel
that borrows its pungency from female perversity;
nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus
that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature."

(Dorothy Sayers, as quoted in the book "Freeing Theology")


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

4th Day of Christmas


Just when I'm starting to feel all warm and cuddly with the Baby Jesus in his manger, here comes the 4th day of Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Innocents to truly put a "harsh" on my Christmas "mellow."

If you recall this horrific tale, Herod slaughters all baby boys under 2 in his vile effort to kill this new king that the Wise Men were seeking. Jesus is born and blood is shed. Innocent blood....Baby blood. I don't like it and I doubt that I'm supposed to just turn the page to the next more "pleasant" bible story - so I'll act like Mary and ponder this one for a bit.

What were her thoughts when she heard about all those other mothers and fathers whose children were murdered because of her son? Was she overcome with fear? Or was she able to hold on to the "Fear Not" message of the angel Gabriel? Did she wonder if her own child would die at some point? I don't know....but this I do know:

1) Jesus changed everything but not in the cuddly cozy way that I like to picture. The light arrived and the darkness fought back. 2)Seeking Jesus proved to be very dangerous for the Magi and deadly for many who have sought him since then.  3) This world is filled with power-hungry Herods. They are countless. So long sweet baby Jesus. Hello the reality of the sin of the world. And 4) It is through his life and death that the darkness is overcome.  Alleluia!


As for the photo....There are so many disturbing artistic depictions of the slaughter of the innocents that I instead chose to share this picture I took of the Angel of Harmony. She sits in Thanksgiving Square on the Belfast waterfront, holding a ring of thanksgiving, with her feet on the globe.

While there I could not stop thinking of the many innocents killed in this small corner of the world.  Let us remember to pray for all children around this world today who are suffering at the hands of yet another Herod.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

3rd Day of Chrismas


I know this photo has been making the rounds since the beginning of the decorating season, but I wanted to acknowledge the cleverness involved. Bravo!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Not Over


Hmmm....looks like I missed Christmas posting and here it is the day after. I had to take down my tree this morning before it spontaneously combusted. It was so dry and it's only the second day of Christmas. We have 10 more days to go! Thanks to the poet Ann Weems, whom I have enjoyed quoting all this season, I do know that this birthing of Christ is decidedly not over.  This is a good thing, a very good thing.

Often this season I would hear someone say, "Jesus is the reason for the season" and/or "Let's put Christ back in CHRISTmas," as if we only pulled Christ out once a year to be carefully positioned within our ceramic creches. But we are continually giving birth to Christ in our daily lives.  Well, Ann says it better than I can....go ahead...read her words...

"It is not over,
this birthing.
There are always newer skies
into which
God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
that we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,
that's just the time
that God will be born
in a place we can't imagine and won't believe.
Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
listening
always listening
for angel words."
- Ann Weems

Are you curious as to where and when God will be born in the coming year for you?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Silent Night, Holy Night

I wonder what they were thinking that night
as they made their way to that dark and cold stable?


"Into this silent night
as we make our weary way
we know not where,
just when the night becomes its darkest
and we cannot see our path,
just then
is when the angels rush in,
their hands full of stars."
-Ann Weems

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coat of many layers


I'm in need of something humorous....and so on this night before Christmas Eve I give you Liberace's coat of 5 layers (if you include the collar)....wonder if it's mink? silly question?

Also, I've heard of all these songs except for "Gesu Bambino"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's that time again



I felt a draft coming from the guest bathroom this evening. This is what I saw when I looked into the darkness. Those wise men had pushed the window open and were staring up into the night sky.


Me: What are you doing?

#1: We are looking at the star!

Me: Is it that time?

#2: Yes, with tomorrow being Winter Solstice we feel the urge to travel.

Me: Anywhere in particular?

#3: Bethlehem of course. Have you forgotten the story?

Me: No, but I'm not sure why you have to leave every year.

#2: It's the cycle of the church calendar. We are beginning to tell the story yet again. The darkness of Advent is quickly coming to an end as the Light of Christ arrives. And we, as very wise men, are the witnesses to that light and we must find this King and bring gifts.

Me: I'm going to miss you. I'm struggling with the darkness. At times I feel as though it is taking over.

#1: The light is almost here dear friend. Light your Advent candles and focus on those flames. The one you are waiting for will be here before you know it, bringing with him more light than you can possibly imagine.

Me: Good thing. I'm so tired of waiting this year. You are coming back aren't you?

#3: Of course. We have become quite attached to our lodgings here. Though we were wondering if you could hook this bathroom up with Wi-Fi before our return?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Spy


Our best spiritual teacher
is always the life
that is right in front of us;
our most important spiritual lessons
always come in the form
of our life experience.
– Susan Thesenga

when I first looked at this photo I thought it was a heart that had been carved into the wood. of course it wasn't - but i wanted to see a heart. can i truly see what is right in front of me?  only if i really stop and look.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shouldn't someone know me?


While wandering through a Seattle area nursery which is famous for its Christmas displays, my daughter and I bumped into a group of senior citizens who were on a field trip of sorts. An  elderly women stopped right in front of me and asked in an almost accusing tone,  "Do you know me?" I said, "I'm sorry, no I don't" and we stepped aside to let the group pass us.

Several minutes later our paths crossed again and the same woman stepped towards me, searched my face, and said, "What's your name?"  When I told her she replied, "I had a name once but it was not the one I wanted" and then, "Are you my niece?" I said "No, I'm afraid I'm not your niece," while her caregiver took her arm and gently guided her back to the rest of the group who were continuing their trek through the Christmas displays. My daughter and I exchanged empathetic glances as we realized the level of this woman's distress.

A third encounter came to pass within another ten minutes. I had my back turned when I heard the questioning woman talking to my daughter. She said, "Do you know me?" My daughter tried to comfort her and as I walked towards them the anxious woman looked around and then toward the ceiling and said in a very loud voice, "Shouldn't someone know who I am?"

I wondered how many in the store were wondering the same thing but were not voicing it.  This woman was distraught because of an illness that was claiming her memories.  What about those of us who keep ourselves just busy enough to not have to think about our own fears?  of not being known?  of not being wanted?  of not being loved?  From the words of this stranger came the best gift.  The reminder that the one who knows who we are is of the now and the not yet.  So with eyes focused on the star in the East, may our footsteps remain headed toward that stable where we are all known and loved. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Halfway Mark...


Halfway through Advent - John the Baptist has wandered back into his desert with his ax...and frankly, I'm glad to see the back of him! What with his grousing about wrath & winnowing and his rough calls for repentance. I want to listen to upbeat Christmas music and head out to do some shopping and today holds both of those activities for me. But when I return I know I will not have found lasting comfort in them. Sure, it will be a fun diversion, but I will be aware once again of that deep longing within -and the realization that some family members are hurting, and I have friends struggling with depression, and that the world is in desperate need of love - the kind that covers the deepest of wounds. And then John the Baptist's words will ring in my ears, once again, advising me to share my coat and my food, to be honest, and to be content with what I have, but more importantly to remind me that the One who is yet to come is the love that I've been waiting for. Come quickly Lord, come quickly!
(and yes, that is Hagrid of Harry Potter fame, but to me he is the perfect John the Baptist!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Big Gulp Theory!


A digital picture frame sits on my daughter's kitchen counter which presents a continuous slide show. She has not changed the photos in it for quite some time so the rotation includes pics of her 3-year-old daughter Rita from not only her first two years of life, but also from a Hawaian vacation taken right before Rita's birth.
Last week, some family members came by to visit and as they watched the changing pictures they commented on how much Rita has changed since those pictures were taken. Rita, who loves to be the center of attention, began a running commentary on each picture...she pointed to herself and said 'that's me" and then to her parents and said "that's mommy" and "that's daddy"....and when the Hawaii pictures came onto the screen she said proudly, "and that's me in Mommy's tummy"....
But then, she just stopped talking, as a look of deep distress crossed her little face. She turned to her mother and whispered in the most serious of tones, "Mommy, did you swallow me?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

why one should use oven mitts


"The Buddha compared getting angry
with picking up hot coals with bare hands
and trying to throw them at one's enemy. Who gets burnt first?
The one who's picking up the coals, of course - the one who is angry.
We may not even hit the target we are aiming at,
because if that person is clever and practiced enough, he'll duck -
and we shall still have burnt hands." - Ayya Khema

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Angel Filled Advent




"Wouldn't it be wonderful
if Advent came filled with angels and alleluias?
Wouldn't it be perfect
if we were greeted on these December mornings
with a hovering of heavenly hosts
tuning their harps and brushing up on their fa-la-la's?
Wouldn't it be incredible
if their music filled our waking hours
with the promise of peace on earth

and if each Advent night we dreamed of nothing but goodwill?
Wouldn't we be ecstatic
if we could take those angels shopping,
or trim the tree, or have them hold our hands
and dance through our houses decorating?
And oh, how glorious it would be
to sit in church next to an angel
and sing our hark-the-heralds!
What an Advent that would be!
What Christmas spirit we could have!
An angel-filled Advent has so many possibilities!


But in lieu of that,
perhaps we can give thanks
for the good earthy joys we have been given
and for the earthly "angels" that we know
who do such a good job of filling
our Advent with alleluias!

Ann Weems from Kneeling in Bethlehem, p. 16

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Got "Umphant"?




"As the child who had never before been to
a Christmas service said when asked what it was like,
"I want some of that `umphant.'"
"What's that?" the child was asked.
"You know, it's what those people were singing about--
'O Come all ye faithful, joyful and try umphant'
I'd like to try some of that `umphant.'"

taken from a brilliant sermon by Rev. John C. Morris 
that you can read here.
let's spread some of that umphant around, shall we?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The "R" word


Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent - the one on which we read about John the Baptist crying out in the desert, calling upon all who will listen to "prepare the way" for the coming of the one whose sandals he says he is unfit to untie. There is so much baggage attached to that "r" word that John the Baptist uses today - you know the one -  "repent"....My friend Ellie posted this beautiful section from a sermon she found on repentance:

"Repentance is not the same as remorse or regret. It is not listing all the ways things could have gone differently. It is not wishing you were a better person, that some things had never happened, that bad things wouldn’t keep happening to you. It’s not feeling guilty or ashamed. It’s not feeling afraid. It’s not something that leaves us stuck, or standing still, or spinning in circles, going nowhere. Repentance is about movement, letting yourself be grasped by God, getting new bearings, and relying on God for directions. The new life that follows repentance, the new direction that comes with a fresh start is what John was proclaiming in the wilderness. John’s message is a call to action: repent, turn around, accept help. God is coming to meet you on a road in the wilderness."  The Rev. Amy E. Richter

So, about that photo. This young man is his own version of John the Baptist, isn't he? Wandering in what he considers to be the desert, a university campus, where he is met by bemused students who look like they might soon turn on him.   Is he bringing the good news of Christ or news of coming judgment based on his own version of the top 20 one way tickets to hell?

 According to his sign, I am doomed.  It would be very easy for me to ridicule this man because my beliefs are so different from his.  But I am called to love him.  He may have a completely different view of Christ than mine but this is what my Advent journey is about.  It's about moving away from my own prideful belief that I have more truth than this man.  It's about moving toward Bethlehem and the birth of the one who brings new life. 

May the cleansing of the fresh start that John's message proclaims this day continue to give us the gifts of new bearings and new directions. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rogue Wave

"Every human interaction offers you the chance to make things better or to make things worse.  To decide to make things better can cost you bundles of self-interest.  To decide to make things worse generally feels a lot more powerful.  The only problem is that the power rolls away from you like a rogue wave, as the person you slammed into finds someone else to slam into, and so on, and so on.  The good news is that you can set off the same sort of chain reaction with unwarranted kindness.  Kindness is not a bad religion, no matter what name you use for God."



from An Altar in the World
by Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 114-115.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent Prayer by Henri Nouwen


Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!"  Amen.

from the Catholic Family Prayer Book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, 2001.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

traveling a spiral of time

"A new liturgical year...Once more we walk the path of Christ's life. We don't walk beside him. Because we are children, he holds our hand and leads us. The journey is slow as we take short, uncertain steps. The journey is repeated over and over as we get lost many times through the years. We are learning our way home.

The liturgical year imprints the way on our soul - it's a map. But maps are flat, so instead of a circle a spiral may be a better description of the liturgical year. We travel up and down a spiral of time, knowing the ending even while we eagerly anticipate the beginning. Past and future are made present: The past happens again. The future has already happened. And the present happens now, minute by minute, straddling both. It's the smallest taste of infinity.

Where does the way ultimately lead? We have words for it, very inadequate words, but we don't, we can't, know. So we're taken by the hand to begin again."

Susan H. O'Keefe - Living the Days of Advent and the Christmas Season 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

God, we lift up all those suffering from HIV and AIDS; bring your healing and restoration to their bodies. Help us to do our part in ministering in loving care, support, and patience for your people who suffer with HIV and AIDS. Lead us to do whatever it will take to eradicate this illness from the lives of those who are touched by it, both directly and indirectly. Trusting in you and the strength of your Spirit, we pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Adapted from a prayer by National African American Catholic HIV/AIDS Task Force

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent


Today was the first Sunday of Advent which is the first day of the new year in the liturgical calendar. At St. Paul's we start this 4 week season with a great festival which took place today!

Over the next four weeks many of my posts will be focused on this amazing season of gestation - not just Mary's but our own.  What will be born in us as we prepare for the birth of Jesus?

May our journey be rich as God comes toward us yet again in this holy season.



Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Leaf to Let Go



Dear Last Leaf of Fall,

For several days I have watched you through my window as you are the only leaf left on the only tree in my backyard.  I've wondered what you were thinking as you watched your siblings fall to the ground.  Did you say to yourself,

"I am the winner?" or "I can fight death?"
Perhaps it was  "I am afraid to let go?"

What is it you fear last leaf? Do you not know that there is nothing you can do to stop this change? Winter is bearing down upon you. Everything must change - you will be safe in the arms of the one who created you.  Your family is waiting for you on the ground below. They will even cushion your fall.
 
So relax your grasp - all will be well. For you will return in the Spring, vibrant and full of life!
 
The next morning I noticed the leaf had fallen. 
We have now come to the close of another liturgical year. 
Tomorrow the story begins yet again!
 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Top 10 Thanksgiving Thoughts


American soldiers praying before feasting

These wonderful Thanksgiving Thoughts are from the more-than-wonderful Joan Chitister...Enjoy!!!

1. It’s important to dot our lives with unscheduled as well as scheduled feast days. That way we remember that we are able to make joy as well as to expect it. Or as Lin Yutang, the Chinese philosopher put it: “Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.”

2. Food and feasting are the things that remind us of the unending glory, the limitless love, of God. Voltaire said of it: “Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

3. A Jewish proverb teaches us that “Worries go down better with soup.” Treating food as a sacrament rather than a necessity reminds us that, in the end, there is always more good in life than bad. The trick is to notice it.

4. To love good food is a measure of our love of life. Food preparation teaches us to do everything we can to make life palatable, spicy, comforting, full of love.

5. Sitting down to a meal with the family—table set, food hot, salad fresh, water cold, dishes matched and food served rather than speared—may be the very foundation of family life in which we celebrate our need for one another. The loss of the family feast may do more to loosen the family bonds than any other single dimension of family life.

6. One purpose of feasting is to get back in touch with the earth that sustains us, to glorify the God that made it and to pledge ourselves to save the land that grows our food.

7. In this country, we are conditioned to think that taking time to eat together, to make a meal an event rather than an act, takes time from the important things of life. That may be exactly why we are confused now about what the important things of life really are. “Happiness,” Astrid Alauda writes, “is a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry under a shade tree.”

8. Good food is the hallmark of every season: fresh fruit in summer, roasted chestnuts in the fall, warm bread in winter, oyster stew in the spring. Leslie Newman says of it. “As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” Good food is the sacrament of life everlasting.

9. Food doesn’t have to be exotic to be wonderful. Peasant societies give us some of the best meals ever made. It is always simple, always the same—and always different due to the subtle changes of sauce and cooking style that accompany it. As the Polish say: “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times—in water, in butter and in wine.”

10. To be feasted is to be loved outrageously.

That last one is my favorite! Thank you Joan Chitister for the gift of words that you bestow on us.  May we all love outrageously in our thanksgivings!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

who belongs to the truth?


Today was Christ the King Sunday - the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar. Today's Gospel reading was John 18:33-37. This is the story of Jesus appearing before Pilate, the one in which Jesus is asked if he's the king of the Jews. The dialogue goes back and forth and then Jesus has the last word: "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." This verse undid me today. I kept repeating it and then flipped it to read, "Everyone who listens to my voice belongs to the truth."  That appeared to make more sense, but did it really? hmmm...

I love this artwork by Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1831-94). Here we see Pilate, with the light shining on him, asking Jesus, in the shadows,  about truth.  Who is really in the dark here?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here, let me show you how to do it!


"The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to do a thing and silently watch someone else do it wrong." - T.H. White


Well, maybe not "the" most difficult thing in the world but this is an excellent spiritual practice. There is the very impatient part of me that would want to interupt the process and either just do it myself (that's my enneagram 8 'I must be in control' side) or in the case of wanting to build up my ego, there is that insecure piece within that would want to show off my expertise to the one that I'm supposedly "helping".

Indeed, this is a great spiritual practice - to not jump in but to breathe and wait and think about why I need to hold on so tightly to my way as being the "right" way....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saint Leontia, Part II

Now...where were we in the story? Oh yes, we entered the dark room behind the chapel. Sister Tarcisius flipped on the light switch and Yikes! We were face to face with the holy relics of Saint Leontia, an obscure 6th century martyr. What are "relics"? According to Wikipedia the word "relic" comes from the Latin "reliquiae" which means "remains." Relics were common in many faith traditions but I'm going to concentrate on photos from the Christian tradition. 

Now, as I mentioned in Part I, we were not allowed to take any pictures so I can't show Saint Leontia to you. But I can give you an idea of what holy relics look like.

WARNING: THIS IS NOT FOR THE WEAK OF HEART OR STOMACH...

This type of ancient tomb looks very lifelike or actually, very deathlike?


while this type of relic is in the shape of a statue. 
Leontia looked like a sleeping saint statue.

This is what Sally usually looks like:


but this is what she looked like after seeing Saint Leontia's tomb:


oh my!  and then she turned to me and whispered:
"And you think Buddhists are weird?"

When Terry saw the single kneeler that was placed in front of the um...tomb...he asked Sr. Tarcisius if she and the other sisters prayed to this young martyr. Looking a bit put out she pointed above Leontia and replied, "Ach, Of course not Father! Sure we're prayin' to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" (a statue which is perched on the wall above the "coffin").

I asked how long Saint Leontia had been there and Sister answered "I think she came with the place."  Poor thing. Lying there all those years in the dark. I wonder if she had originally been in the main chapel and then was just put in the back room one day during a good chapel clean out and was never returned to her place of honor? I'm sure she was glad for our company that day. Still,  we were relieved when Sister Tarcisius turned the light off and we exited stage left!

From there we returned to the parlor where Sr. Tarcisius graced us with a fabulous afternoon tea.  It's amazing how much of an appetite you can acquire just by looking at relics!  We were probably at the convent for close to three hours.  A delightful time was had by all :)



When I returned home I started looking online for any and all info on Saint Leontia. There isn't much out there except for a truly awful poem that Terry discovered and directed my way. From it we learn that she was 20, from Rome, and that there is a vial of her martyr's blood in the tomb (which sounds like something from "Twilight".)  Here is the poem:

From The Irish Monthly, Vol. 9, by Matthew Russell

"LEONTIA was a Roman girl who felt life's early glow
Thrill through her gay and guileless heart, long centuries ago:
A Christian child, although she lived in gloomy pagan years—
Soon taken from a world whose smiles are sadder than its tears.
For, ere her twentieth summer shone, that gentle hero-maid
Endured a martyr's death for Christ, and at her tomb they laid
A phial of her pure young blood, to show for Christ she died;
And still it lieth near her bones—but not on Tiber's side.

Far from the sacred catacombs that stretch 'neath holy Rome,
The relics of our fair young Saint have found a northern home
Where high the convent of St. Clare from its green hill looks down
Upon the busy quays and streets of Newry's ancient town.
Beneath the altar they repose, and here the faithful come
To venerate the sainted maid whose dateless martyrdom
Was almost milder as it passed, and sped more swiftly o'er,

Than the martyr-life of these Poor Clares who pray her shrine before.
Thus has Leontia grown most dear to many an Irish breast,
And many a fervent prayer to her is, not in vain, addressed;
And Ulster mothers give their babes Leontia's classic name,
And novices as patroness the virgin-martyr claim.

Not ours, alas! to shed our blood for Christ the Saviour's sake,
Like thee, Leontia. But our Lord will deign from us to take
The lighter hardship, longer borne, of a true Christian life—-
Help us, sweet Saint, to fight that fight and conquer in the strife. "
(I told you it was awful!)

BUT... according to this blog, St. Leontia is buried in Trastevere, Rome. If that is the case, then who is residing in the glass case at the convent in Newry?  This picture of Saint Leontia is from that blog and the young saint in that glass tomb does not look anything like the young woman we saw.   Have I succeeded in completely creeping you out yet? 


                            





Monday, November 16, 2009

Saint Leontia, Part I

After the SDI conference, I drove with Sally and her friend Father Terry Moran, to Newry, Northern Ireland. Terry, who resides in New Jersey, had an appointment with a certain Sister Tarcisius of the Poor Clares Convent.

Terry is writing a book on Sister Margaret Anna Cusack (M.A.C.), known as The Nun of Kenmare. She spent the earlier part of her life in this particular convent and Terry wanted to see if the grave of Mother O'Hagan, who had received M.A.C. into the community and eventually traveled with her to found another convent in Kenmare, was perhaps buried there. She was not but we discovered another poor soul who has spent centuries in a glass coffin, tucked away in the recesses of the room behind the main chapel. More about her later!

Meeting Terry was great. He serves on the board of SDI as does Sally and they've known each other for a few years. Terry has made over 20 trips to Ireland and he has the gift of not just learning about the people and the places that he visits but he remembers what he has learned. This makes him a magnificent storyteller. It is this aspect of traveling alone that reaps the most rewards - the aspect of meeting fabulous people - and Father Terrence Moran is one of those.

If I was disappointed with the "new face" of Ireland, well, let's just say that after we entered the Poor Clares Convent we instantly traveled back in time about 60 years! It was a delightful place to visit - but I'm not sure I'd want to live in such an old, drafty antique.

We were ushered into a small and dimly lit vestibule which was furnished with several chairs and a decidedly crooked table that was covered with various reading materials from several decades past plus a few holy medals and a small crucifix. A small handwritten sign said " Please take one"....so I did - I pocketed the crucifix as I already knew that this was going to be a memorable place.

Moments later Sister Tarcisius arrived and graciously ushered us into the parlor - which was freezing cold. She flipped the switch on the fireplace and we settled in as close as we could to the only source of heat for a short chat about Father Terry's business. "And sure, Father, why would you want to be writin' a book about Sister Cusack?" asked Sr. Tarcisius. It became readily apparent to all of us that dear Sr. Tarcisius was probably not a big fan of M.A.C. :)

When Terry gave his articulate response regarding the amazing accomplishments of "The Nun of Kenmare", and about how ahead of her time she was in writing the first biography of St. Francis in English, our hostess responded with "Ah well, Father, I'm not that much of a reader." I doubt our new friend will be pre-ordering a copy of Terry's book :)

"If three of us travel together, I shall find two teachers."  - Confucius
these are my two teachers - Sally and Terry

From there we started a tour of the grounds and the convent.  The only word I can use to describe this is "otherworldly".  This picture that I took of Sally and Terry at  the front of the convent is deceiving. It's plain facade hides a myriad of hallways, courtyards, gardens and graveyards. We were not allowed to take photos and my index finger was twitching for most of our tour of the convent but Sally kept reminding me to "behave." So I searched the internet for photos of our hostess, Sister Tarcisius and the convent itself to give you the feel of the place. These photos do not do either the convent or Sr. Tarcisius justice, but they will have to do.


this is what lies behind that pale yellow wall you saw above -
i did not take this picture but found it online.



an unflattering picture of Sr. Tarcisius but it was
the only one i could find - she is the first nun
on the left.  They are breaking ground on their new convent.


This plaque was on the outside of the convent. So this was the site
 of the former "Pope's Head Inn" - hmmm.  probably not a Catholic pub?

After touring the beautiful grounds and examining the inner recesses of a crypt to look for the remains of Mother O'Hagan,  our guide took us into the chapel.  The nuns used gothic
bench seating similar to these (but with taller backs) for their private devotions & I felt like an intruder as I gently touched their prayer books placed on these chairs, waiting for their owner's return.

All was well until we left the chapel through a back door and Sr. Tarcisius turned the small overhead light on. We were not prepared for what we saw!

to be continued.... 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Grateful for the questions

Most of the time spent in a Spiritual Direction session involves my remaining silent and listening.  But sometimes when I'm listening to someone who is confused or who seems to be filled with more questions than answers, I start to think that I should be coming up with answers.  And once I start thinking of answers I know that I have stepped away from Spiritual Direction and moved towards fixing and advice-giving....and this is not my role...

This story from Anthony de Mello  speaks well to what my role truly is:

Two men were once walking through a field when they saw an angry bull. Instantly they made for the nearest fence with the bull in hot pursuit. It soon became evident to them that they were not going to make it, so one man shouted to the other, “We’ve had it! Nothing can save us. Say a prayer. Quick!”

The other shouted back, “I’ve never prayed in my life and I don’t have a prayer for this occasion.”
“Never mind. The bull is catching up with us. Any prayer will do.”
“Well, I’ll say the one I remember my father used to say before meals; For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly grateful."


If we are able to develop the spiritual practice of being grateful for all the impossible situations that we encounter on a daily basis then the questions may dissipate in the realization that they are all already answered.
I'm still at the beginning stages of this level of gratefulness.  How about you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opening the Heart

"The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to God who is already here." - Marcus Borg  (HT to Elly)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giant's Ring


Pictures can be so deceiving.  Here I am standing at the center of the Giant's Ring - a neolithic burial site outside of Belfast, that dates from perhaps 3000 B.C.  There is something about touching stones from so long ago that intrigues me no end.....And since I left my helicopter at home the next aerial photo shows you where I am in the ring...can you see the rocks in the middle?

Sometimes we view our problems as filling up the entire lens of our perceptions....but when we view the "bigger picture" we can hardly find them....is there something that is filling your lens today that might look better from a different perspective?

Monday, November 9, 2009

to choose happiness...

"Ultimately, happiness comes down
to choosing between the discomfort
of becoming aware of your mental afflictions
and the discomfort of being ruled by them."

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

this painting "The Road to Happiness'
is by Louise Bova.
See more of her work here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

blowing the dust away

There is an old African proverb that states that Antelope walk together in pairs in order to blow the dust from one another's eyes.  

I was listening to a CD from the SDI seminar in which a speaker mentioned that this was a perfect metaphor for what Spiritual Directors do. We don't direct anyone. Instead, we journey beside a person helping them remove the dust, in order to see more clearly what was already there. And we are all Spiritual Directors for one another.




Wednesday, November 4, 2009

God's Path is not Our Path




"God travels wonderful paths
with human beings;
God does not arrange matters
to suit our opinions and views,
does not follow the path
that humans would like to prescribe for God.
God's path is free and original
beyond our ability
to understand or to prove."
- D. Bonhoeffer
 
this photo is looking back towards the road
as we journeyed into Ballynoe.  That wee
speck of light in the distance is sometimes
all one can see of one's path in life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Struell Wells

Sally took Terry and I to visit some ancient Celtic sites in County Down.  One of them was Struell Wells, which dates from before the time of Saint Patrick. Claims have been made that dear Patrick not only came to bless the holy wells but also to  bathe in them & would spend a great deal of the night standing  in the water singing the psalms.  He must have been quite the hardy soul as I lost feeling in my fingers  just posing for this picture!

People came from far and wide but the most documented visists occurred from the 16th to the 19th century, as pilgrims would travel to the wells to bathe in hopes of finding a cure for their maladies. 

According to Terry, (who knows his Celtic history) some of the pilgrims became a bit "boisterous" and there was too much "fraternizing" happening between the men and the women in the bath houses so the pilgrimages were eventually shut down!  (The bath houses are quite close to each other and I think they were probably all  just trying to keep warm :) 

Did I mention how cold the water was?