Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 7


Sometimes life feels like one struggle after another. "Why can't I get a break?" people often ask me. "Why can't I just have some peace?"

As we've journeyed through this Week of Peace together, we have found no answers to these questions. The yawning abyss of "why" still lies before us, no matter how many poems or beautiful photos I post. (I pray that these have offered some hope and comfort but I know that alone, they cannot displace the fears and sorrows and angers that life often deals.)

As I've mentioned before, I follow some other spiritual blogs. Just the other day, at one such site, I came across a wonderful quote that made me smile:

 "Stand at the edge of the abyss until you can bear it no longer. Then have a cup of tea." (Elder Sophrony).

Although I am not familiar enough with this Orthodox holy man to know with certainty what he intended, to me this simple line speaks volumes. When we are made to confront some of the most perplexing mysteries of our human existence, we may feel we can bear it no longer.

Rather than forcing ourselves to keep struggling and struggling to find answers, sometimes it is good just to step back and ground ourselves in some normal, calming human experience. Have a cup of tea. Listen to some music. Sit in the sun. Rest.

Peace does not come to us when, by great effort, we discover the answers. Rather, it comes when we accept the questions, the mysteries, with a deep and abiding assurance that all will be well in the end.

It is not ourselves, but the One who lovingly holds us in being who provides this peace, a peace that "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians, 4:7).

As we wrap up our Week of Peace, I thought we might end on a somewhat lighter note, having the "cup of tea", so to speak, that grounds and calms us in the face of so much that we do not understand.

Rodger, my spiritual brother, has shared with us an image of an elephant seal (as well as some inspiration for this post). These very large mammals, with fins and tail to propel them, migrate twice every year from Alaska to California, breeding and molting during their California stays, while eating and building up fat in their northern habitat.

As with my friends the monarch butterflies, something (Someone?) always guides the elephant seals back to the exact same spots, at the exact same times, year after year. No one knows how these creatures know what to do or where to go.

The seal, however, doesn't question the mystery of the Way laid out for him. Living in communion with his Creator, he rests from his journey in utter peace, with complete assurance that, indeed, all will be well...



photo by Rodger, reprinted with permission; editing and text by me.


(This concludes our 7 day Week of Peace. Once again, I will be taking a short break before I move on to the next "holy pause", Grace. Comments and contributions are welcome and may be e-mailed to me at findhope@roadrunner.com.)


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 6



Friday, August 23, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 5



Thursday, August 22, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 4


How I can I give up control? It is a frightening thought to consider doing this - yet it is, I believe, the path to peace.

Often when people are highly anxious (myself included), our minds move in the direction of wanting to gain control. If I could just get this feeling (or situation) under control, everything would be all right.

A first step to being able to forfeit control, is to realize that I never had it in the first place. We humans are very vulnerable creatures. We can be wiped out in an instant by a known or unknown medical problem. Weather can rage, with winds and floods and extreme temperatures that our bodies cannot survive. A bomb may be dropped or an attacker may accost us and we will not be able to stop it.

In some ways, we are less vulnerable than the other creatures of the earth, with all of our knowledge and technology to predict, prevent and heal. But, in other ways, we are more vulnerable because we are so capable of succumbing to evils that bring on even more destruction than nature alone offers. What really sets us apart from the other creatures, however, is that we know our vulnerability.

One of the mechanisms that helps us survive this knowledge is denial. Without denial, we would live in a state of constant, debilitating anxiety, considering all of the things that might happen. Under normal circumstances, however, we have the gift of being able to automatically label these possibilities as improbable, enabling us to go about our business assuming these things won't happen to us. Even under abnormal circumstances, such as trauma, our minds have an incredible ability to block things out so that we can live as though they didn't happen.

Thus are born our illusions of control.

With these illusions operative, we come to expect control of ourselves. I should be able to keep myself healthy if I just live the right lifestyle or follow the doctor's instructions. I should be able to remain safe if I am just careful enough. Hence, when this image of ourselves is disrupted by one of the many things that can cause harm, we feel anxious and - strangely - full of self-reproach. I should have been able to stop this...

Accepting that I do not have control and never did, may seem like a recipe for great anxiety. Yet if we remove all of the "shoulds" from the statements above, there is almost a sort of peace in being left with a simple reality, however difficult.

However, there is a second step in surrendering my (perceived) control and that is allowing Someone else to be in control. This is often not so easy even in good times - and certainly very difficult in the bad. Our limited human vision is often fearful about trusting the unseen Other. How do I even know that He is truly good?

Of course, we cannot know this. We cannot know with complete certainty that God exists or even that God is good. However, neither can we be so certain that we ourselves know what "good" is. Often we define "good" in relation to what we want - a most limited and untrustworthy measure to apply to the origin and ground of all being, should there be such a One.

For thousands of years, people have talked, written and sung of One who not only knows what good is but actually is Goodness itself. They say that this Good One has revealed Himself and has even come to live among us - to guide us, like a shepherd guides his sheep. Like a good shepherd, the Good One does not want to lose a single one of His sheep. He wants to bring them all safely home to Him - and will even carry on His shoulders the ones too injured or weak to make it on their own.

We have all likely heard the words that so famously sung of this One, hundreds of years before He lived among us. But I invite you now to listen to them with a new and open heart and to gaze upon the little image given to me in His honor. (Allow yourself to be the one carried on His shoulders...)





(Don't be shy! Join me in this Week of Peace. I welcome your comments and contributions on peace or any of the other 7 holy pauses. E-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. If you would like your words or images shared here, please let me know if you would like me to use your name or a pseudonym.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 3


As a young child attending Catholic school, one of the memories that stands out most was my initiation into the sacraments of the church. Most fearsome of all was the "First Confession".

I was living in Minneapolis then and had the good fortune to live just three blocks from my school and church. Our class was herded from the school to the church next door for religious services on a regular basis. But even before and beyond that, the church was a familiar home to me.

My family attended church every Sunday and holy day, certainly not unusual for Catholics of that era. But my family did more. Every week we attended "Sunday night devotions". Every morning, my father was up for 6:30 am Mass before work and sometimes I went with him. (My mother, not being a morning person, started attending daily once the church offered a Mass at 5:30 pm.)

Those were special times. There was something about the stillness of the church building itself that brought a sense of peace. We were also encouraged, in those days before churches were locked, to "make a visit", to slip into the cool empty church and talk to God. I actually sort of liked this but I was a bit afraid too. If the priest came in unexpectedly, I would feel shy and embarrassed, though I know now, of course, he was not paying attention to me.

In those days, children seldom had conversations with priests. A priest might visit our classroom and we were taught how to greet him ("Good morning, Father", "Good afternoon, Father") but a child in those days would not consider a spontaneous conversation with such an imposing adult, even if he was a kindly sort.

Second grade was the year in which good Catholic children were prepared for first communion. And a major part of the preparation was first confession - that very first time when we were to ponder all of the sins committed in our young lives and tell them to the priest so that we could be absolved. We were considered old enough to know right from wrong and now we were given the chance to experience forgiveness for the wrong things we had done.

(For those unfamiliar with Catholic practices...confession, in those days, took place in "confessionals", very small dark rooms with a wall and screen separating the priest from the penitent. The penitent would whisper - so that those outside couldn't hear - their most private of private sins to the priest with the assurance of anonymity and a confidentiality that could never be broken. The priest would assign a "penance", typically some prayers to say, and then would say the prayer of absolution. It was understood, of course, that forgiveness came from God, not the priest, but the priest was acting as a representative of Christ.)

Anyway, when I was in second grade, our pastor was Fr. Daly, a devout but rather stern older priest who struck fear and awe in the hearts of little children. I can still remember how nervous I was that first time. We had been given the words to learn by heart - the prayers, the format, everything but the sins themselves. Those we had to fill in and list on our own, estimating how many times we had done each.

This was a particularly daunting task for a 7 year old - how many times might I have disobeyed my parents in my life? (After the first confession it was a bit easier because one only had to remember since the last confession, the earlier sins having been wiped away.) Somehow I came up with my list and stood in line, waiting my turn...

Finally, my turn came and I did it without incident. Afterwards, as I said the assigned prayers, a wave of relief washed over me. Of course there was the relief that the ordeal was over. But, even at my young age, there was a relief that I had been forgiven. I did know that I had done some wrong things in my life and it was such a beautiful, clean sensation to have the sins taken away, to be given a fresh clean slate to work with.

There were many things I didn't understand then, being so young, but I knew how peaceful it felt to be given the gift of freedom from guilt and shame. Quite naturally, I would mess up again, sometimes within hours of my last confession, but there still was a peace in knowing that I would not have to carry that burden around forever.

Guilt can come from a variety of sources. Most properly, it emerges when we have done something our conscience tells us is wrong. This is a healthy guilt since it can teach us to control and improve our actions. However, unhealthy guilts can develop out of such things childhood abuse, feelings of over-responsibility for others and harsh, perfectionistic inner standards - to name just a few.

Shame grows as guilt festers in us - when we try to control the "flow" of life -  to avoid and keep secret within ourselves the feelings of "bad" or "wrong" that we have, whether those feelings are based on true misdeeds or not.

As I force more and more guilt into my hidden closet of shame, it begins to feel more and more like what is in there is just too much to ever be forgiven. It begins to change from "I did something bad" (or "something bad was done to me") to, simply, "I am bad". "Bad" thus becomes my identity, making the notion of a "clean slate" something not possible for people like me.

In the flowing river of Life, a dam has been built. That which was meant to be washed away doesn't get washed away. It clings to us like a permanent stain or dirt that make us want to keep hiding, in hopes that no one sees it but always fearing that they do.

When I look back on my 7 year old self, so afraid of my first confession, I can smile. While it seemed an awful ordeal at the time, the little dark room, the stern priest...it was, in reality, a great gift. I was fortunate not to be burdened with any terrible guilts at that age which, sadly, is not true for all 7 year olds. But the process pushed me into the flow of Life, when I would much rather have kept things hidden. I was pushed to say out loud that which caused me shame - so that I could see that it could indeed be washed away. And I learned that I could feel the deep, deep peace of that washing, over and over again in my life.

I did not (and have not) learned that lesson completely, even after all of these years. In fact, I often have to rediscover it when I find myself wanting to avoid or keep hidden my faults and weakness. But then the loving hand of God beckons.

At first, I may not recognize it as a loving hand. After all, I don't want anyone knocking on the door of my closet of shame. But if only I can bring myself to open that door...if only I can...waiting on the other side is a boundless Love longing to wash it all away and embrace me with an eternal peace...

(Please join me in this Week of Peace. I welcome your comments and contributions - e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. If you would like your words or images shared here, please let me know if you would like me to use your name or a pseudonym.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 2














Here is the little painting that emerged yesterday as I was learning (again) to "go with the flow".

One step in learning to allow my life to unfold is, I believe, to listen to my body. How often I try to push it to or beyond its limits! Tonight, I listen. My body is tired and my mine a-fog.

I shall allow myself the gift of rest (a precursor to peace?). Blessings to all as we allow Life to flow through us and direct us...

(Please join me in this Week of Peace. I welcome your comments and contributions - e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. If you would like your words or images shared here, please let me know if you would like me to use your name or a pseudonym.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 1



















In my mind, I had arbitrarily decided that tonight I would begin the Week of Peace. (This follows the Week of Hope and, God willing, will continue for six more days and later be followed by a week for each of the other holy pauses: grace, mercy, love, joy and light.)

When I made this plan, as usual, I had little idea what I would write about - in fact, I didn't even feel much like doing it. Not out of any dislike for the topic but just not feeling real drawn to it either. What could I write about peace for this one day, much less seven straight days?

As I was considering this, the phone rang. Half-expecting a robo-call about my gas bill, I was surprised to hear the voice of good friend who has stayed in touch with me since our college years (despite my rather poor track record in this regard). If ever I want to complain about my life, I need only remember what she has been through in recent years and I shut my mouth.

I sat down at my desk as she updated me and, simultaneously, I began dropping different colors of alcohol ink onto a nearby scrap of paper. I played with the ink while I listened.

As she related to me the many things that have been challenging her, she stated the simple truth: "Sometimes you just have to go with the flow."

One of the things that is fascinating about working with alcohol inks is just that - learning to go with the ink's flow and watch it blend into a painting in unexpected ways. I am a beginner and it is not unusual for me to ruin a promising painting, trying to "make" the ink do what I want it to do.

As my friend and I talked, I found myself feeling peaceful, without the inner tensions that often emerge if I perceive someone to have interrupted my "plans". (I use the term "plans" loosely because often they are arbitrary and unimportant thoughts of what I will do next, mapped out in such a way that I become attached to them for no good reason.)

How much more beautiful - and peaceful - life feels when I simple allow my life to flow...when I allow the unexpected to be experienced as a surprise - which then becomes an opportunity, blending into or around what had been anticipated. So much more peaceful is my existence when I allow myself to be open to whatever comes.

How hard this is for us to do. To be open to whatever comes. More often, we would rather try to control the flow of our lives, fighting or avoiding what we deem "bad" (experiences, emotions, memories). Ironically, often what we are fighting off is the loving hand of God trying to heal us - but, in our fear, we are unable see this.

More on this later...I have begun.

(Please join me in this Week of Peace. I welcome your comments and contributions - e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. If you would like your words or images shared here, please let me know if you would like me to use your name or a pseudonym.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 7


(A year ago, I wrote a story called "The Broken Wing". Tonight, I have written a sequel to that story. If you have not read the original story - or have not read it recently - I suggested reading it here before moving on to the story below.)

The Broken Wing, Part 2

After the little one gave up his wings, he rested in the hand of the Holy One. He had never known that he could feel so safe, so completely at peace. 

Ever since his wing had been broken, he had been afraid, though he never admitted it to any of the others. How could he? He was not just a butterfly, he was a Monarch after all. His was the only butterfly species known to migrate hundreds, even thousands of miles every year in an awe-inspiring journey.

"All of that is behind me now", he told himself. For the first time in his life, he felt himself flying through the heavens, winglessly, effortlessly, as the Holy One drew him on. Before long, they were Home. It was strange. The little one had no memory of this wondrous place but he never stopped to question where he was. He simply knew that it was Home and that he had always felt a longing for it deep inside.

At Home, there were no worries, no predators, no lack of flowers for food. And something rather like wings (and yet not like them) had grown out from the place behind his heart. There were many of his kind, even generations of his family here - and many not of his kind as well. And they all lived in harmony in this beautiful place. The little one felt blissfully content - almost. There was one thing that bothered him still. Should he ask?

Just then, as though sensing the question, the Holy One appeared by his side. "What is it, little one?" the Holy One asked. "Why is your joy not complete?"

"O most Holy One," the little one began. "I don't want You to think that I am not grateful. But there is one thing I do not understand. It is about my broken wing."

"Yes," the Holy One replied, waiting patiently.

"When the bird swooped down and nipped me," the little one began, almost afraid to go on, "where were You? Why did You not protect me?"

"I was there," said the Holy One. "I was with you."

"I didn't see you!" the little one cried out, forgetting his earlier fear as the anger swept over him again. "I was alone. Where were you?"

"My dear little one..." the Holy One murmured. "I was there. I felt the pinch of the beak and all of your pain and fear were mine as well."

"I don't understand," the little one said doubtfully, "I don't see how that could possibly be. I was alone."

"I made you," stated the Holy One. "I formed you in the egg and again in the cocoon. My life was in you and with you always. Without Me there, you could not have drawn nectar from a flower or flown the heavens. Did you think that you lived apart from Me?"

The little one was silent for a moment. For that was what he had thought. 

"But then why didn't you stop it?" he cried out. "Why didn't you stop that awful bird? Didn't you care that he was hurting me?" By this time, the little one was sobbing.

The Holy One paused. There was a time for answers - but this was a time for healing.

 "Yes," He said gently. "Yes, I did care. I cared deeply enough to suffer the pain with you."

"But that didn't help me!" the little one retorted. "Why didn't you stop it?"

"Tell me, dear one," the Holy One began gingerly. "Did you learn anything after your wing was broken?"

The little one stepped back from his anger and pondered this question, for he knew that he had to be honest, not just with the Holy One but with himself.

"Yes - yes, I did," he stammered. "I learned to think less about my injury and more about You. I began to want to please You."

"Good," affirmed the Holy One. "And you did please Me. Did you learn anything else?"

"Well, I learned that the damage that the bird did to my wing...well, it didn't make me...worthless. That was what I thought at first, you know. I just wanted to die. I was so ashamed. I called out to You but You didn't answer." The little one's tone still held some anger. "When You didn't answer, it occurred to me that I could still do something for the world. Sister bee taught me to pollinate."

"And was that not your answer?" the Holy One replied. "I live in sister bee just as I live in you."

For a moment the little one was silent. This began to make some sense...but...

"If You live in me and in sister bee, does that mean that You live in the bird that nipped me too?" The little one's moment of peace dissolved in a shame and  fury worse than any of the anger he had felt before. "Did You nip me, did You hurt me to punish me and make me learn?"

The moment after he said this was one of the longest and most awful moments of his existence. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"Dear little one," the Holy One began. "That is not My Way. Yes, I did live in the bird - for a time - for I live in all of My creatures when I make them." He paused. "If the bird - I can no longer call him My bird - had taken you for food, it would have been an entirely different matter. All of my creatures must eat. Had he simply eaten you, you would have come Home here to Me and we would be in joy as all here are."

"How did this happen then? I still don't understand," the little one asked breathlessly, afraid to hope that it could be true - that the broken wing was not his fault.

"This bird that I made left My Way," said the Holy One, with deep sadness. "He nipped you, not for food, but out of meanness and pride. Among the birds, it is well known that you monarchs carry a poison in your bodies that is fatal to most birds. Some other birds - I can no longer call them Mine - dared him to hurt a monarch and he wanted to look brave and important in front of the others."

"Oh," the little one whispered thoughtfully. "But why did he choose me?" Again, he felt a stab of fear that perhaps it was something he had done wrong.

"Simply because you were there, my little one. That is all. Because you were there."

The little one pondered some more. "O most Holy One, I understand much more now. But I still do not understand why You didn't stop him. Was he too strong for you?"

For a moment it seemed as though the Holy One was frowning - but then suddenly He was laughing.

"That little one? Too strong for Me?!" For a moment, the heavens shook with His laughter... but then He became sad again. 

"I could have taken the life out of him," granted the Holy One gravely. "Indeed, I could have. But I did not."

Now the little one was truly puzzled. The Holy One could have stopped his injury but hadn't. He waited, sensing that there was more. But then he could wait no longer. "Why then," he cried. "Why didn't you take the life out of him before he hurt me?"

Again, the Holy One paused. "Do you remember, before your injury, when you thought you lived apart from me?"

The little one gulped. He didn't know that the Holy One knew about those thoughts.

"I did not take the life out of the bird for the same reason I did not take the life out of you," concluded the Holy One gently. "I wanted him to choose Me, just as I wanted you to choose Me. In the end, you did choose Me and you returned to My Way."

"And the bird?" the little one asked. "Can he still choose and return too?" He had started feeling a little sorry for the bird, though he didn't know why.

"That, my dear one, is his story. Enough. You are Home now and I give you My joy."


This concludes my special Week of Hope - though hope itself is eternal :-). I will take a brief break from posting daily to catch up on my life and then will begin a Week of Peace. Comments and contributions on any of the holy pauses are still welcome and may be e-mailed to: findhope@roadrunner.com.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 6



















It has not been a good year for the butterflies. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have a great love of butterflies and see them as a sign of hope. Last year, with the unusually early spring in Cleveland, butterflies were out early and in abundance. This year, however, has been an entirely different story.

Although the common white cabbage butterfly is still plentiful, other species have all but disappeared. Therefore, you can imagine my excitement when, a couple of weeks ago, my camera and I saw a black fluttering amidst the lake brush that most likely was some variety of swallowtail. Slowly moving in, I received its image a number of times, with deep delight.

It was not until later, when I had the images on the larger screen of my computer that I saw it. Its broken wing. I have written of broken-winged butterflies before (see The broken wing) and have a tender spot for them in my heart.

I wrote the poem that appears with this butterfly's image many, many years ago and it has stayed with me. In fact, when I went to college I submitted it for publication in a small literary magazine we were starting. Tonight, as I contemplated re-printing it here, I found myself wondering what was happening in my life when I wrote that poem. I could no longer remember but suspected that I might find the answer in one of my old journals. I dug them out and began looking...

I had just turned 17 and was a senior in high school. My previous entry in the journal had reported that President Nixon had just initiated a massive bombing campaign in Vietnam. I ended the entry with, "Oh God...how can I live?" War and violence and suffering have always affected me deeply. I was young then and dreamed of a world where people could live in peace. I was also too young to vote then and an election was looming.

And so I wrote the poem.

my heart has become
like a butterfly
whose wings are broken -
unable to fly,
and yet, knowing no purpose
but that of flying.

A few years later, when this poem appeared in the college literary magazine, a fellow student commented positively about it. I remember making an apologetic remark of some sort, trying to explain that while it sounded depressing, I wasn't really depressed. The other girl surprised me by saying, "I don't think it is depressing. At least you know your purpose."

Wow.  

Could I really, at the age of 17, have "known my purpose"? Do I even know it now, 40+ years later?

As I have related before, adolescence and young adulthood had some stormy moments for me, emotionally and spiritually. During that time, I tried to sort out the meaning of life and I wondered about the existence of God. I knew that, if I were to go on living, I had to have a purpose. Did I find one - or was it given to me? I am still not sure.

Fairly early in life, however, I knew there was one thing I could live for, if nothing else: to try to relieve suffering. If I could relieve or lessen the suffering of at least one person, it would have been worth putting up with all of the seeming pointlessness of life. I did not need to change the world, as my 17 year old self had longed to do. But perhaps I could make someone else's life hurt less.

That purpose has sustained me for most of my adult life - but it has also undergone much growth and transformation. I now know that relieving suffering is no easy task. I have lived through times where I could not relieve my own suffering, much less anyone else's. 

And now, as I grow older, I know that someday I will not be able to rely on my work to give me purpose. What seemed like a good, sturdy purpose when I was young has had to grow and change with me or it would not hold up. I would not hold up.

It is hard to put into words what my purpose has become. It has not stopped being what it was before - but it has become so much more. It is less about me and more about what I carry in my heart. Or perhaps I should say, Who I carry in my heart. 

With Him in my heart, all is possible, even when my body and mind lose health or strength. Even in death, all will be possible...as everything becomes His and He becomes mine. Yes, even then...

And so there is hope. It is all right if you are not sure of your purpose. Listen and allow it to come forth in you. Let it grow and spread its wings. Then embrace it and, come what may, remember it always.



















(Only one more day in our Week of Hope! Of course, hope will live on while we move to reflect on the other holy pauses. If you would like to share comments, words, or images on any of the holy pauses, please e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. Please let me know if you would like your contribution accompanied by your name or a pseudonym.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 5


A little story of hope...

It was Christmas of 2011. My next door neighbor and good friend told me that she had some exciting news. She had received a Christmas greeting from a friend of ours, Rodger, from whom we had not heard anything in nearly 30 years! 

While this was astonishing enough, there was something else that amazed me even more. Of course, I was pleased that he had asked about me. But I was completely unprepared for what came next. He had written her that he had been thinking about his days in Cleveland (he had been in the same volunteer corps that I had) and, some months before, had Googled some of his old friends. In the process, he had found this blog. He had been reading my ramblings and viewing my images and I had never known. 

Since that initial contact, Rodger and I have corresponded and shared some of our lives and spiritual journeys. We have exchanged links to spiritual resources that have enriched or challenged us. After so many years, I had given up hope that I would ever find out what happened to Rodger. And now he has become a spiritual brother to me, despite the 2000+ miles between us.

I could have just as easily posted this story under "grace", for certainly One greater than either of us was at work, enabling this to unfold as it did. (Remember how I wrote in yesterday's post how afraid I had been to hit the "publish" button that first time but did it anyway? Sheer grace.) However, I have chosen to tell this story during this Week of Hope because I am reminded how easy it is to "give up hope" when so much time passes that we assume something we wish for will never happen. 

Now losing touch with Rodger was not a devastating event in my life - no offense, Rodger :-) - but it was sad. What I had no way of knowing, however, was that there was a gift waiting for me decades later, a gift far better than I would have asked for. A spiritual brother...

To live the way of Hope is to live with openness, expectancy and even confidence, that there are gifts awaiting us - even when that doesn't seem at all likely. Consider any problem or dilemma that is now troubling. Perhaps it looks like the problem will never be resolved. Perhaps it appears that the suffering can only get worse. Perhaps it seems like God is ignoring my prayers because I have prayed and prayed and the help I have asked for has not come.

To live the way of Hope is to trust that there is One who knows my afflictions, my needs and my wants, and who loves me unconditionally. It is to trust that the Holy One is already giving all to me, though I may not see it in this moment - and that He may even be giving me something far grander than what I wished for. 

Why, one might ask, this insistence on hope? If I don't have to persuade God with my prayers to help me, why then all the praying and waiting? If God loves me and is going to give me all I need, why doesn't He just do it now?

Perhaps the best response to this question I have come across is from Herbert McCabe, OSB: "The prayer is not to make God ready to give, but to make us ready to receive. Have you ever said 'thank you' for a gift by saying, 'It's just what I've always wanted'? Well, God wants his gifts to be, and to be seen to be, what we have wanted. After all, every good thing that comes to us is the gift of God; but when it comes to us as an answer to prayer we see it for what it really is, as a gift of God, an expression of his love." (from Christ, God and Us, by Herbert McCabe.)

God wants us to know that He loves us and then to love Him in return. Not to meet any need of His, for He has no need, but because it is so very good for us...

Now, back to Rodger. Rodger, I'm afraid, is one of those people who protests that he doesn't have any artistic talent. However, because he is a good spiritual brother to me (and because I nagged), he has shared some photos he recently took of the west coast where he resides with his wife and two sons. Here is the first one, designated for our Week of Hope: 

















(Photo by Rodger. reprinted with permission.)

(If you would like to share comments, writings or images for this Week of Hope, please e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com. Please indicate if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with them. Only two more days to be included in this special week! You may also forward items related to the other 6 holy pauses as we will be spending more time with them in the near future.)


Friday, August 9, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 4


To create something is a hopeful act.

I find that people often shy away from this hopeful act with the protest that, "I'm not very creative".

I understand the protest. To create something and offer it to others is a risk. It is taking some of my deepest self and laying it before others who then may criticize or find fault. Or they might like what I have offered and then begin expecting something of me that I won't be able to live up to.

...I remember how afraid I was the first time I hit the "publish" button on this blog.

Often when we are afraid, we avoid. If we have experienced much criticism or rejection in life, it may be automatic for us to avoid self-expression to protect ourselves. If we have been harshly abused or given little nurturing, we may not even know that we have a self to express. How can I even know what words or colors to start with if I don't know who I am?

Yet I believe that our Creator has given each of us the capacity to create. In fact, I believe we are called to be "co-creators". It is part of our invitation to join the fullness of His life. Each of us may find ourselves co-creating in different ways, depending on our interests and opportunities, but the possibilities are endless.

Our world is so consumer-oriented that too often the product is viewed as most important and the act of creating is viewed as a chore to be endured. Our culture's food habits are a perfect example. Most of us are separated from the creative acts of planting and harvesting. Many of us have given up the regular practice of creating meals from fresh, natural ingredients. We go out to eat, pick up fast food at the drive-through or buy packaged meals because the act of creating a meal has become burdensome.

This is but one example and there are many reasons why our culture has evolved (or devolved?) in this way. But the gift of co-creativity is still implanted in each of us and our culture cannot rob us of the Creator's gift. We can begin anew to value the process over the product - to explore and express without judging ourselves.
 
And so I invite you to create - to engage in a hopeful act. Roll around in words and sounds. Splash in colors and invent new shapes. Prepare a meal or sing a song. Make whatever you do a prayer of the heart - to express whatever longings, fears or loves you may have deep within - and don't worry about how it's going to come out. Just let it come out...

Tonight I offer you a little acrostic poem that came forth from my heart (using the letters H-O-P-E to get me started). Together let us move our way through our fears and sorrows and pains with tiny acts of hope, renewed each day.


















(Would you like to share something you've created during this Week of Hope? If so, please e-mail your creations to me at findhope@roadrunner.com, indicating if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with them. You may also forward items related to the other 6 holy pauses as we will be spending more time with them in future weeks.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 3


Images received during yesterday's walk...

That which I resisted at the start of day...




                                     +++












...became the hope that strengthened me by day's end.

May you too be strengthened by the sacred possibilities, still hidden from view, but very much alive and waiting to bloom within you.


(Do you have words or images you would like to share during this Week of Hope? If so, please e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com, indicating if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with them. You may also forward items related to the other 6 holy pauses as we will be spending more time with them in future weeks.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week of Hope: Day 2


I was thinking about hope today while taking an early afternoon drive to the e-check station (where the car's anti-pollution compliance is tested). I was noticing that it was one of those days where I didn't feel naturally hopeful.

It had been cloudy and rainy all morning and the rain was still pelting down, giving the appearance of an all day affair. No contemplative walks with the camera today, I thought. I was feeling a bit tired and nauseated also, most likely a remnant from yesterday's migraine. Nothing much planned today except perhaps catching up on some paperwork.

It occurred to me that feeling hopeful wasn't such an essential part of being hopeful. I could remain a hopeful person and conduct myself accordingly while feeling rather...well, yucky. It wouldn't be as easy as it would be if things were lined up the way I wanted them, but it could be done.

On my way back home, I decided to stop at the post office to buy some stamps. I want to try to be positive, I thought to myself, even though I'm not in a positive sort of mood. An older lady was walking out as I was going in so I held the door for her. She thanked me as though I had just done her a tremendous favor. I addressed the postal clerk in a pleasant manner and she smiled back at me with such genuine kindness that I couldn't help but feel a bit better.

Back on the road, I saw a little patch of blue sky peaking through the heavy mass of clouds. Hmm...

I made a wrong turn or two and ended up taking the "scenic route" home, through the Central neighborhood, long known as poorer part of town and a food desert. Then, I saw a van with fruits and vegetables painted on it, a "mobile market", pulling out of the parking lot of one of the housing projects. Hmm...

Much to my surprise, by the time I reached home, the sun was shining and the wet world I had left when I departed was now sparkling. Paperwork can wait, I thought, picking up my camera.

As I took my usual walking route past a few neighborhood gardens, I noticed a velvety softness in the air that I don't remember ever feeling before. The air felt so alive. The bees and butterflies had come out from hiding and had resumed their work, harvesting and pollinating at every blossom. The rain that had earlier dulled my mood now formed glistening droplets on leaves and flowers. I could almost feel how they were energizing the living things around me. How had I not seen this before?  

It now seemed hard not to feel hopeful.

Of course, seldom do the more complex problems of life fall into place so quickly and easily. Financial problems, serious illness, family troubles, depression, anxiety - they don't all get whisked away in a single afternoon.

Yet I write of my experience for a reason.

When my day was still young, the look of the sky and the sensations in my body teamed up to send my brain a message: "it's going to be one of those days". Assumptions about the future started forming in my mind and, quite automatically, my emotional systems fell in behind them. I had to make a very conscious effort to remind myself that, in reality, I didn't know how the day was going to unfold and that I had choices about how I responded to the moment I was in.

Possibility and change seemed like mere mental constructs at that point, ideas that I told myself but not feelings that I could feel. I had to keep marching even though there was no music.

Today, that was not so hard to do. The storms blew over in a matter of hours. However, when the "march" seems to go on and on relentlessly, we often find it hard to stay committed to the idea of a hope that we cannot feel. We may feel that we do not have the strength to keep trying. Our own strength simply is not enough.

Later this evening, as I sat down to say Evening Prayer, these words from Psalm 62 were there to greet me: 

"In God alone be at rest, my soul;
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock, my stronghold,
my fortress: I stand firm."

And so there is rest for our embattled souls. There is a stronghold for us when our own strength is depleted. We have a Source of hope when life demands that we march on without any music...

As I wish you rest this evening, I would like to share with you an image and some words that came together for me just a  few days ago. How was I to know then that you (and I) might need them tonight?




(If you would like to submit anything related to hope, e.g. comments, art, poetry, etc. this week, please e-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com, indicating if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with it. You may also forward items related to the other 6 holy pauses as we will be spending more time with them in future weeks.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A week of Hope


About two weeks ago, I posted a 7 day series of images and reflections centering around hope, peace, grace, mercy, love, joy and light. I then invited readers, old and new, to submit and words or images that further reflect on these 7 "holy pauses". Submissions have been sparse - but numbers are not so important as we often treat them. We need not have lots of new images or reflections to go deeper. So we shall savor what has been offered, slowly, reverently. (I also continue to welcome submissions - see below.)

An online friend, Joy Wiederkehr, offered two, one of which I am posting here today (the other I shall save for a bit later). This image illustrates her reflection on the verse of scripture below it and she associated it, quite appropriately, with "hope".


(reflection about Luke 21,25a.28)
"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. WHEN THESE THINGS BEGIN TO TAKE PLACE, STAND UP AND LIFT UP YOUR HEADS, BECAUSE YOUR REDEMPTION IS DRAWING NEAR!"

(To properly savor our topic, I have decided that the next 7 days will be dedicated to hope. If you would like to submit anything related to hope (comments, art, poetry, etc.) this week, please e-mail it to me at findhope@roadrunner.com, indicating if you want your name or a pseudonym to be used with it. Please do not feel that you have to be a great artist or wordsmith to share something - few of us have Joy's talent, but all of us may be vessels of hope for each other, even though we may not know it. You may continue to submit words or images related to the other 6 words as well, since we will spend some more time with them. Many blessings as we enter more deeply into hope...)