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.


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" 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 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?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Praying Flowers

"All creation teaches us
some way of prayer."
-Thomas Merton

This photo was taken from inside the Shrine Room
at Jampa Ling.  The flowers were pressing against the
window in such a way as to say, "Let us in!"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Jampa Ling

The Aims of the Retreat Centre include:
1) To preserve the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and culture through teaching meditation and Dharma practice.
2) To assist in the re-establishment of monasteries in Tibet.
3) To work for the re-establishment of Buddhism in Mongolia and relieve the difficulties of the Mongolian people.
4) To promote inter-faith dialogue at a deep spiritual level in the context of the work for peace in this island.
5) To support Tibetan refugees and their monasteries in India.
6) To work for peaceful co-existence between all living beings.
7) To encourage conservation of earth’s natural resources and to develop an awareness of the interdependence of existence.

Through the establishment of Asral NGO in 2001("asral"  means "compassion" in Mongolian) Ven. Panchen Otrul Rinpoche aims to prevent the disintegration of families through establishing means of educating children who live in dire poverty.  Click here to learn more about the work being done in Mongolia.

This is a photo of the mantle taken in the Shrine Room

Another view of the Shrine Room.

One can't feel anything but "happy" in this room.  The vivid colors create an atmosphere of vitality and growth.  I was delighted to see the basket of peat sitting next to the stove. This is the only peat fire that I experienced on this trip.

Here we all are! Sally, Me, Ven. Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, Ven. Margery Cross, and Father Terrence Moran, C.SS.R. (This is the first time I've been able to say that I've had the most hair of anyone in a group photo:)