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 – Prayer First

I love you, O Lord my strength,
O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven.
My God, my rock in whom I put my trust,
My shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge;
You are worthy of praise. ~ Psalm 18:1-2

I was going to write about discernment of spiritual gifts this past week, as I told you, but as sometimes happens, I am changing that. Last week, I couldn’t write even though I planned to do so and had some notes. I had an appointment with my oncologist that morning when we discussed my latest CT scan. It showed that my lung tumor has grown – I don’t know how much because I don’t think it’s in my best interest to know – and I had to deal with my thoughts and feelings about this even when I didn’t want to.

I haven’t wanted to bother you with my emotional states over the last six months because I don’t always have positive thoughts and feelings that I’m ready to share. None of us do no matter what our faces say. It just so happens that unless I tell it like it is, I can hardly write at all. So, this is a little longer but it’s time.

After the doctor told me the results of the scan, I was depressed. I had been feeling well for quite some time, except for a separate problem with my back which is not cancer according to the doctor. Because of that I had hoped that at the very least the tumor would not have grown and even that it might have shrunk. I didn’t really expect the results, but I was not surprised. It took me three days to get my head around it all. Questions filled my thoughts. What is this going to be like? How long will the process of dying take if that is what’s to be? What is heaven like? I must tell you that I never am comfortable doing something new and different. I always, always have anxiety about it. I like to know what I’m getting into and even though there are indications about it all, there it is. I’m anxious. Or was. I don’t know how long I have, but then we never do, really.

I am still praying for a miracle, even more so now, and imagining my tumor gone and my lungs clear. I pray for the darkness to leave them and to be filled with the light of Christ. I still know that Jesus healed those who came to him for healing. I believe he still does so. My prayers come from that knowledge, however, I have moments of doubt. At those times I need to remember, as I did at the beginning of this, to hang on to the hem of Jesus robe and not let go.

During my prayer time on the third day, Sunday, the words, “ACT HEALED”, impressed themselves on me. Act Healed. Can I do that? Isn’t it rather silly to act healed when obviously the CT scan says otherwise? You might ask. The answer is “Yes”. And “No”. Yes, because it not very real is it? Should I not stay with reality and prepare. No, because acting healed can keep me in the moment. It keeps me from having panic attacks, even minor ones. I stay with how I feel overall instead of counting every little twinge of pain. I remember who loves me. I remember whom I love. It helps me focus on something other than illness. There may be days when this acting might be difficult to carry out, but I’ll try. So far, I’m doing ok. I am sleeping better than I was. I was in the office two days this week. I laugh.

I’m still working on things that need organizing. I am giving away some trinkets and heirlooms to family members and fixing my genealogy program. I want to throw out some old files. These things have needed doing, anyway.

Last Friday – I had intended to write about this last week – the Gospel Lesson from Morning Prayer was the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:17-27, 38-44). As I read this I was struck by the fact that in this story, Martha is the sister that runs down the road to meet Jesus, even though she rebukes him for not coming in time. Mary is the one who stays behind. I was, for some reason struck by the role reversals from the story when Jesus went to dinner at their house and Mary was the one who sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha was preparing lunch for their guest (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was upset because Mary wasn’t helping, and when she complained Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better way. I doubt if that seemed fair to Martha. In the Lazarus story, I had always assumed that Mary stayed behind because she was angry with Jesus and wasn’t going to run to him on the road. But as I meditated on this, I remembered that there was a house full of guests who had come to pay respects and she had to be the hostess. Hospitality was at stake.

What do these stories say to me? What does Jesus want me to know here? I think it is that spending time with Jesus is my top priority. First prayer and then work and whatever. Both are necessary. I just need to get them in the right order.

Especially now.

“I have to stay close enough to the Word to hear my Father’s voice.
And in the stillness, our Father’s voice calls and there is a moving back closer to hear Him —we need the person of God more than we need the plan for our life.”—Ann Voskamp

Blessings, Donna

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Listen!

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is Advent again. In his sermon this morning, Oscar Uzin said: ‘Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily papers.’ The Lord is coming, always coming, Be alert to his coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.’” ~ “Gracias! A Latin American Journal

Henri also writes, “The word ‘listening’ in Latin is ‘obedire’, and ‘audire’ means ‘Listening with great attention.’ That is where the word ‘obedience’ comes from. Jesus is called the obedient one, that means the listener. The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, is ‘surdus.’ If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word ‘absurd’ comes from. So, it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading and absurd life. ~ “Discovering Our Gift Through Service”

In our Trinity Way of Life, we call being alert and listening, “Pay Attention.” We can not only spend a period each day focusing on God alone in prayer, being with him and listening for his voice if he speaks, we can become alert to God working in circumstances and people around us. Walt Whitman said, “I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name.” But it is hard to be alert and aware of all the ways God speaks to us unless we have that connection with him through prayer.

It is so easy, isn’t it, to get disconnected. We get sick. We get especially busy. We have company. We are company. Right now, we have that shopping, cleaning, wrapping, baking, decorating, planning the big meal stuff to do, don’t we? We’ll have our quiet time later. Why are we doing all this again? But sometimes later never comes. We’re tired. We are out of our accustomed place for praying. Other people are still here. Little by little, we stop being alert and in touch.

At the Quiet Day at the beginning of Advent, Fr. Jack asked, “How is your connection with God going? Does it need to be renewed?” My answer to this question was, “Yes”. That is often my answer. It’s not that I feel disconnected, exactly. It’s just that I don’t sense the closeness, now, that I often do. Finding out that I am so sick was a major shock. My illness had been going on for some time, but I was just beginning to feel that something was wrong and had made appointments with the doctors. So much else had been going on in my life that I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Ending up in the ER in great pain and being diagnosed with probable cancer in three places and perhaps more hit like a ton of bricks. I was stunned. Why had I not known?”

I knew that God was with me, always, but my feelings turned off. I disconnected in a way. I think I am starting to come out of that, but the relationship needs a little TLC. Our Renewal Weekend the end of August came at a good time for me as Fr. Russ Parker came with his words of blessing, healing, and listening. I so need all of that.

For the last several weeks, I have been waking up at 1 am. Absolutely wide awake. I’ve tried to go back to sleep but I am not able to do it. I am totally alert to something. It dawned on me one night that, just perhaps, God might be calling me to spend some time with him. Maybe he has something to say. So, for the last week or so, I have been getting up, at 1 a.m., going to my prayer chair and becoming still – listening. I haven’t heard any particular words, but I have become more aware of his presence sitting there in the semi-dark. I believe that we are renewing our relationship. Words may come later. His presence is enough.

Advent is a great time for reconnecting. So is Lent. So is Sunday. So is right now. So is tonight. So is 1 o’clock in the morning. We get to choose to pay attention.

Lord, help us to rein in all the distractions that bombard us daily. Let us pay our full attention to you. Let us truly listen to your requests. Keep us from the shortsighted absurdity of bestowing our attention on the wrong things. Amen. ~ Henri Nouwen

Grace and Peace,
Donna

 

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.