A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Listening

A FRIDAY MEDITATION
June 1, 2018

“But I trust in you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.”—Psalm 31:14-15

I woke up yesterday morning and decided I was going to feel sorry for myself for the day. I didn’t feel particularly well. I was achy and shaky and didn’t have any energy. I whined inside myself for a while about the things I can’t manage to do, now. Things that brought me life, like singing, especially in choir, serving at receptions, teaching – I had a couple of classes that I wanted to do. I have a hard time keeping to a schedule. I feel useless, weak and uninspired. Etc. Whine.

I was reminded of something one of my granddaughters said once: “She needs her some Jesus.” I do. I need me some Jesus. I need lots of Jesus. I need to get myself to church for the healing service and spend time in community with other Christians – Jesus with skin on. Now to get dressed and see if I can get my shaky self down there. (I did. Thanks for the boost, Jesus.)

Feeling sorry for myself is a choice I can make any time, but it takes me out of the moment. I deliberately chose it for a few minutes – Okay, maybe an hour – I try hard not to let that happen. As I have said before, practicing gratitude to God for the gift of himself and for his gifts in my life helps me stay focused on where I need to be.

My Facebook page reminded me that, in the past week, I had the 28th anniversary of my graduating from St. Thomas Seminary having received a Certificate of Pastoral Ministry with concentration in Spiritual Direction. With that two years of training, 2 years at Aims studying Psychology and Counseling, a year in between that and the program, in addition to the years that I had been listening to people tell their stories before I even knew that there was such a thing as Spiritual Direction, I have been providing spiritual direction for over 35 years. Wow! That’s a long time. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed and how much I have enjoyed it. I don’t intend to stop until I have to.

Mostly, spiritual direction is a ministry of listening. Listening to a person’s God stories. Listening, myself, for God in their stories. Helping them see God there and helping them find blocks in themselves that prevents their seeing, hearing and transformation. Strangely, or maybe not so much so, this helps me find my own blocks. I am so grateful for this most joyous gift. I believe it to be a gift of the Holy Spirit that was built into me from the beginning though I didn’t know it until the fullness of time. Some of our spiritual gifts are like that. Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner. We just need to find that intersection.

How did I know that this was what God had called me to do? I didn’t know. As I said, I grew into it. I had planned to become a nurse. Healing was important to me. Then, I believed that maybe it was being a family counselor and began that track. During all these times, I listened to stories. Finally, 31 years ago, a friend who was attending St. Thomas seminary, discovered that the seminary had a program for spiritual directors. She called me and told me that she believed I should take it. When she wrote my recommendation letter, she wrote that “Donna is always asking, ‘I wonder what God is doing in this’ or ‘where is God in this’” Guilty. So, the rest is history. I almost didn’t go because of some family situations where I needed to be more available at home. I called my advisor and told her that I wasn’t going to take the program. A year later life stabilized, and I felt the tug. I called and told her that I wanted to reapply. She said that she would take my application out of my file. She had kept it because she knew I would be back.

So, why this story, today? Well, basically, its what happened this week. My life as a sick person can become very dull and boring if I let it. But also, this is how God often works in our lives. If we are listening, we can hear the call. We can find our Holy Spirit gifts. They stir something in us and usually won’t turn us loose. I am grateful for this.

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness? Whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder? And leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

[Chorus:]
This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me

 

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – What’s Up?

Many are the plans of a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

I have been thinking about discernment. Particularly mine. I want to discern if the things that I have been doing are still what God wants me to continue, or if he has something else in mind for me now that I am older and my energy is less. I have a wee tiny niggling in the back of my mind that he has a little something, but maybe not. He may still be just fine with what I am doing.

As a spiritual director, I often get the questions: How do I get still? How can I listen and Pay Attention to God? How can I see Jesus? How do I discern God’s will? All are great questions.

Discernment of God’s will, or any discernment for that matter, is a process. Finding God’s will requires a real desire to know it and a commitment to follow God’s direction when we find it. If we put stipulations on what we will do or not do, we will not get discernment. Unless, of course, like St. Paul, we get knocked off our ride and blinded for a few days. That’s a new way of seeing. We can’t limit God to certain ways of communication.

Discernment isn’t a decision-making process and what God has in mind for us isn’t always easy to discern. He doesn’t often write his desires for us on a wall or on auto-correct, although he has been known to do so. He has as many communication skills as he wants to use, so prayer is essential. However, there are other helps. Part of my job as a spiritual director is to accompany people during their discernment process – help them ask the questions they need to ask and discover the blocks they may have to hearing God’s will and carrying it out.

Thomas Green in “Weeds among the Wheat” has a suggestion I find most useful, which is to give God what Tom calls a “blank check.” We need to be willing for God to write on that check what he desires to give us. This helps us become willing to find God’s way rather than being willful and wanting our own way. And did I mention prayer?

Frederick Buechner writes – “Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, “to call,” which means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.…. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet.” ~ “Wishful Thinking”

“Gladness” or “Passion” is very important in discernment. What is it that gives you life? Passion for God’s call gives energy so if it is lost in what we’re doing perhaps God is calling us to something new. Although, there are other reasons that passion or gladness might be lost, burnout and/or depression, for example, so this needs discernment, also.

If, in our process we hear from God, as a friend of mine often does, “Keep doing what you’re doing”, we are most likely already doing what God has in mind for us now. In which case, we continue on continuing on.

As usual, I have a story. Many years ago, I was reading the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus directions to his friends, “Unbind him and set him free” (John 11:44b) jumped off the page for me. I believed God was speaking and after some prayer, I enrolled at Aims and started taking psychology and counselling classes. I planned to become a family counselor. I had no idea that God had a slightly different calling than I thought, though the classes I took are very useful. They give me another eye through which to see as I offer spiritual direction, even though spiritual direction is not counselling. A friend who was attending St. Thomas Seminary called me and said there was a program for spiritual directors there and that I should take it because I was always asking what God was doing in any situation. So, what was the process.

First –Prayer was the most important part of my process. I had a niggling sense that I needed to be doing something to “unbind and set free”. And I wanted more than anything else to want what God wanted. Then I took a step of faith and began. I had a sense of where I was heading, but it wasn’t complete – only the first step. And then, more prayer.

Occasionally, God’s call comes in a blazing bush. I have had a few. There is hardly any room for doubt, but the call still needs some discerning. Thomas Green says that discernment isn’t possible if you already know what you are to do, but I don’t always trust my hearing. Most often, there is peace when the discernment is finished. So for now…

Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. – Proverbs 16:1 (MSG)

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Unbind Him…

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” ~ John 11:43-44 (NIV)

Having said this, he called loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, bound head and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth.  “Untie him, “Jesus told them, “and let him go free.”  ~ John 11:43-44 (NAB)

This story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is part of the reading for our service this coming Sunday.  It is a favorite of mine, first, because it is shocking.  Can you really imagine what those standing around thought, not to mention Lazarus’ family?  Raising of the dead had happened before by some of the prophets whose stories are in the Old Testament, but this man, Jesus, was a man that they knew – probably some of them since he was born.  People in their circle did not bring people back to life. It changed their perspective and direction.

The second reason is that this fragment of scripture did the same for me.  The first of the verses written above is the one we will hear on Sunday.  The second one under it was one I read over 30 years ago, and the part that grabbed me was, “’Untie him,’ Jesus told them, ‘and let him go free.’” This translation is from the New American Bible (NAB).  The revised version of the NABRE reads, “Untie him and let him go.”  The word “Free” made a difference to me.  When I read these words, it seemed as if Jesus was saying to me, “You, Donna, unbind them and let them go free.”

I took those words seriously as a command to me – marching Orders.  I had been contemplating a direction for my life and becoming a counsellor appealed to me.  Wouldn’t that help me do this? Unbind them?  So, I began and enrolled in college.  I loved my psychology and counselling classes and had finished those when I heard a different call.  I enrolled in a program at St. Thomas Seminary and received a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry with concentration in Spiritual Direction. The classes I took in counselling and psychology helps. Who would have thought?  Not me! But walking with others on their spiritual journey can be one way of unbinding – helping a person notice where God is in their life and finding blocks that get in the way of this.

Why am I writing about this today, and what, if anything, does it have to do with a Friday Meditation.  Just this, if Jesus’ command was to remove the grave clothes so Lazarus could go free, isn’t it possible that this might still be a command for us? Thinking……

I have gone through my own unbinding process.  It takes a lifetime, I’m beginning to think, and it has required inner healing, much prayer, community, Eucharist, and small groups of people with whom to pray and share, as well as a spiritual director of my own.  From time to time, it has required professional counselling.  A lot of removal of grave clothes happened. There are some scars still in evidence, and they will probably remain. Scars are reminders of how much healing there has been.

I’m sure that you can recall your own stories when you think about it.  Maybe you still have a few places that tie you down.  But all is not lost. Jesus still has his ways of unwrapping us. Then our healing – our spiritual freedom becomes a gift that we can offer to others.  There are many ways to serve in each little thing we do to help others.  Maybe you work with the food distribution.  Perhaps you go on trip to Juarez to help those who live at the dump.  Maybe you serve at the Cold Weather Shelter, or the clothing bank, or Meals on Wheels.  Maybe you visit the sick or sit with the elderly.  Maybe you give rides to those who have no way of getting to where they need or would like to be. Maybe you just listen to others.  Listen to that. Just listen??? Having someone listen to you is a wonderful, healing thing. Whatever you do or how small you think it is, it could be a very big deal to another. In so doing, and as you travel your own journey, smelly rags begin to come off. Then you and the person you touch may begin to walk again in the freedom of the love of Jesus.

SERVE OTHERS – #3, Trinity Way of Life

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Sounds of Silence

Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to surrender your life.” ~ Eugene Cho

“Pay Attention,” the first element of the Trinity Way of Life, is about prayer. Especially prayer to listen for the voice of God.  As a corporate Lenten discipline, we, if we choose to accept it, are to focus on listening to God through all of the eight elements of the Trinity Way. We are listening specifically for God’s vision for us — His desires for us as a community.

Listening to God can be difficult because we have so many distractions, but it gets somewhat easier the more we practice.  I say somewhat, because there are days, or periods of days, when the distractions take over.  Yet I try. I will most likely say more about this later, but for today, I ran across a meditation that I wrote four years ago during one of these periods.  I decided to send  it again today. Also, I was talking with a couple of friends about being still and quiet this week so it seems appropriate.

By the way, wasn’t the rain last night wonderful? We really needed it. We are grateful.

“Listen to this song: Jesus.  Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.  Jesus.

“I wish you could hear this simple meditative song because I think it is beautiful, but sometimes we can hear with our hearts what we cannot hear with our ears.  There are other verses, I think, “He died….”  “He rose….”  “He lives….”  Maybe that is one of them.  I can’t exactly recall nor do I remember who wrote this.  Maybe you have heard it, too. And maybe you remember.

“This song came to me, yesterday, [and today] when I couldn’t still my mind for even ten seconds in my prayer chair.  There are times when there is too much stuff on my mind and it darts back and forth between things.  Prayer/work/emotions/physical pain/what’s for dinner.  Prayer/work. We struggle with the story of Mary and Martha – between prayer and work.  When Martha complains that Mary isn’t doing her part, Jesus said, ‘…there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ We have tried to make sense of this.  What does this mean? How would we do this? Why?

“It is all about Jesus. Isn’t it?  We who are apprentices of Jesus know this and yet we also know that we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.  It’s Prayer and Service.  And, without “at least” ten seconds of listening prayer, without this conscious connection with Jesus, we might miss what work it is he has for us to do.  We might spin our wheels doing our own thing or what we think Jesus wants us to be doing.  When we listen, when we hear, when we follow, the work that we then do becomes prayer.

“Some days your mind is probably like mine and it won’t be shut up.  Then, how can we be still and listen?  There are ways that may help. This song came to me.  Some focus on their breathing to quiet their minds. Some use prayer beads—rosary or other.   Some use a single word to quiet their minds such as ‘Jesus, Peace, or Love or, …etc.  Others use the Jesus Prayer; ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  Or perhaps the Kyrie ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ What we choose is repeated until we are still. [I repeat this word in my mind rather than saying it aloud.  Aloud for me is a distraction.]

“The words and melody, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’, started to float in between and around the many thoughts, concerns and feelings darting around in my head.  Soon there was only, ‘Jesus.’ Finally,…  Still.

“’Be still and know that I am God.’—Psalm 46:10

“’Be still and know.’ ‘Be still.’” – (dlw 12 April 2013)

Listen. I hear His voice in the sounds of silence.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION -It’s Curtains

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord – Jeremiah 9:23-24

I will be so happy when this election is over.  The campaigns are making my stomach churn and hurt. There is so much anger, hatred and fear out there and it’s hard to be inspired by any of it. Or inspired at all.  I don’t want to talk about it and, by this time next week, it will be over. Please God. How shall apprentices of Jesus behave in times like these.  These are important times.  These are life-changing times.  All of us want life to be better than it is right now.  Violence is erupting everywhere with the promise of more to come.  And sometimes a writer who tries to follow Jesus must say something.

An incident that happened yesterday caused me to pause and discover that if you can get people to talk about their fears and truly listen to the desires of their hearts, you might find that even though we are on opposite sides of the political fence, we basically want the same things. We just disagree on how to get there. To listen well, I have to put my fears, anger and even hatred – oh how I wish I didn’t have those – into the hands of Jesus.

Even though this will make Friday Meditation a bit too long, I want to share with you a bit of a meditation by Terry Hershey that I read today.

“Every Christmas I used to go home to west Tennessee. (Fred Craddock tells the story.)  An old high school chum of mine, I called him Buck, had a restaurant in town, every year it was the same.  I’d go to the restaurant, ‘Merry Christmas Buck,’ I’d say, and he would give me a piece of pie and a cup of coffee for free.  Every year it was the same. I went in, ‘Merry Christmas, Buck.’

But this year he said, ‘Let’s go somewhere for coffee.’  ‘What’s the matter?  Isn’t this a restaurant?’ He said, ‘Sometimes I don’t know.  Sometimes I wonder.  Let’s go.’ So we went for coffee.  We sat there and pretty soon he said, ‘Did you see the curtain?’I said, ‘Buck, I saw the curtain.  I always see the curtain.’

Now what he meant by curtain was this: they have a number of buildings in that little town that are called shotgun buildings (we saw them in New Orleans).  They’re long buildings with two entrances, front and back.  One is off the street, one is off the alley.  In Buck’s restaurant and other restaurants in town, the entrances were separated by a curtain, with a kitchen in the middle.  If you were white, you came in off the street.  If you were black, you came in off the alley.

He said again, ‘Did you see the curtain?  The curtain has to come down.”Good, bring it down.’ He said, ‘That’s easy for you to say.  Come into town once a year and tell me how to run my business.’ I said, ‘Okay, then leave it up.’ He said, ‘I can’t leave it up.’ ‘Well then, take it down.’ ‘I can’t take it down.’  

After while he said, ‘If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers.  If I leave the curtain up, I lose my soul.’  (Moment of silence)”

So, what to do – I remember that God told me at the beginning of this process to bless both candidates. Have I been good about doing this?  Um, not consistently, but I have a few more days.  In addition, I need to add blessings for those with whom I disagree and who disagree with me.  That is one thing that a follower and apprentice of Jesus can do. Another is to set aside my own fears and listen well. I might bring some light into the darkness and the curtains might start to come down and the love of Jesus begin to shine.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – And Yet…

Hear my cry, O God and listen to my prayer.  I call upon you from the ends of the earth with heaviness in my heart; set me upon the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.  I will dwell in your house forever; I will take refuge under the cover of your wings. ~ Psalm 61:1-4

As usual over the last few weeks, I have no words. There is nothing really to say.  A thought will come and I think I could write and then it disappears somewhere.  Nothing coherent makes its way to consciousness. The stressors of the last two years have just about done me in, and they continue.  I’m not going to list them here this time. Because….well, because. Many of you will understand that because you have had your own troubles.

There are tears behind my eyes that occasionally make their way to the front of them.  There is such sadness in the world.  Terrible things are happening.  Terrible things have happened in my own family as well and maybe yours, too. The mystic and poet, Rumi, wrote, “I went inside my heart to see how it was. Something there makes me hear the whole world weeping.”

I asked Jesus. I feel his tears fall on my hands and face. His cry rings out, “Jerusalem. Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” ~ Matthew 23:37

Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “So I wonder… Where do we go and what do we draw upon when life is bigger than we are?” We know the answer to that question don’t we? There is “Even so” “And yet.”  There is always an “and yet,” GOD IS GOOD. And the end of the story promises that God WINS.

If I can put life into words it helps me get a handle on it.  Writing does that for me even when it is rather incoherent. It helps me find words that I might not even be able to utter out loud.  I can find my voice in writing and it helps get the sadness and heaviness out. The world at times seems hopeless but friends who listen, to and with unspoken words, are precious.  God does that.

There are so many blessings.  I am grateful for many things and God’s goodness, too, brings tears behind my eyes. I love my family – my husband and children, grandchildren great-grandchildren. I love my new home.  I love my church community.  I have lovely friends. A ministry that brings me joy. Prayers of praise and thanksgiving abound. Being grateful brings hope even when much around us seems to be falling apart. Counting daily blessings, even if or especially if, we have to look for them, brings gratitude and a measure of joy. Life is difficult, but also wonderful.

Frederick Buechner reminds us that “we have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to God too….We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us  We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of his grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own.” Yes!!

A friend sent this:

“Grief is a language without words and so it is untouched by words. Does it help to know that my prayers for you are often wordless, too?  And shaped like tears.”

A FRIDAY MEDITATION -Is there more?

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
 my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land where there is no water.
~ Psalm 63:1

Have you ever felt such a longing aching desire for something but you couldn’t figure out what?   Sometimes, I do.  Today.  There is a yearning for something. Sometimes it’s just a sense of something niggling at me. Something more. Today, it is strong. As I sit in my prayer chair I pray, “God, I need something but I don’t know what it is.”

As a child, there were times like this.  You’ve heard the stories about when I lay on my back in a yard filled with dandelions, if grandma hadn’t already picked the greens to cook for supper, watching clouds and feeling what?  Content.  Yes, but part of the sky also.  Part of something bigger.  Something more.

There were other places, too.  As a teenager, I would climb an ancient cherry tree.  Sometimes, to get away from the hustle and bustle of a life filled with people in a tiny house.  Sometimes, to reflect on things going on with my life at the time.  Sometimes for solitude.  The question, “Is there more than this?”

As a young adult with children – picnics, rocks by a stream, paths to unknown places. A life filled with busyness with little solitude or reflection.  Fear and depression filled many days.  More?  I don’t know where to find it.

Later with children mostly grown, driving through Gore range – such beauty and longing.

Coming home from church and starting to change clothes, the question – or was it a thought, “There has to be more to the Christian life than this.”

And again, later.  On top of Grand Mesa at Land’s End, standing in a field of wildflowers with the Grand Valley spread out way below and tears streaming down my face.  What is it?  I don’t know.

Riding in a car in New Mexico after a conference, nose pressed to the window looking at the sky covered in brilliant stars.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  Longing, hungry.  Is there more?

These have been and are, I believe, times when God is calling.  They are times when God is aching, too. God wants more.

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” ~
Song of Solomon 2:10-13

How do I respond when God calls for more?  What helps me connect?  How do I pay attention?  Maybe I’m alone in a cherry tree. Maybe sitting by a stream or floating in a raft on a lake.  Maybe I’m standing in a field of wildflowers on a mountain or a prairie. Sometimes, on my back in the grass watching clouds – not so much, now. Sometimes, I go to my favorite retreat house where I’m going soon.  Often, I go to my prayer chair in my prayer room.  I go to a place where there is silence and some solitude so I can go into the arms of the Lover and hear his voice. Or just be with him.  Because there is More. I guarantee it.

Where do you go when God is calling? Where and how do you find More?

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
~ Psalm 62:5-6