We are planting beans today. Last night, on the advice of my mother-in-law, I soaked them so jump-start germination. The bean itself is inert. Something outside itself begins the process of new life – it doesn’t do it on its own. Left alone, the bean will remain a hard object and produce nothing.
This got me reflecting on the nature of a seed this morning. Traditional religion teaches a seed is something that God scatters about, gives nourishment to and helps to grow. You know – the parable of the seed on different types of soil, seeds of faith, etc. In this teaching, spiritually we play a small part with God doing most of the work. But what if God is the seed itself? God, scattered about everywhere waiting for something to bring it to life. What if all of creation plays a role in bringing that seed to life to bear fruit in the world? This is a subtle shift, for sure, but think about it. That would mean that God needs creation - us, our yes, our help - to bring God forth. Our yes, creation’s yes, is what breaks open the seed, nourishes the seed and participates in the bearing of its fruit. True, God is all powerful and doesn’t need anyone’s help to do anything; miracles are certainly evidence of that. But what if God desires our help, prefers our help and is waiting for our help? If God is the seed itself and we the soil, water, light and heat, our yes plays a critical role in how God is present in our world, which fits right in with the Gospel message. I guess the question to sit with today is what does God’s seed in me need? How can I bring that to life? How can I share that seed’s fruit with all of creation?
Well, it snowed this morning so I guess we won't be planting after all. So even thought the beans have to wait, I'll open my heart to God, hoping my soil is ready for that new life being offered!
Last time I wrote, I spoke about the deep loneliness I was experiencing. I expressed my longing to talk about it with others who might be able to relate to what I was experiencing. It was a ‘crying out in the wilderness’ kind of call accompanied by a strong need for connection. But my cry was met with silence – deafening silence. It is so interesting to me that silence can have a weight to it, a denseness that feels like a sack of flour getting heavier and heavier; like a vast canyon deep within that echoes itself back into itself, where the dense, damp air clings and bring goosebumps to the skin. That’s the kind of silence and loneliness I walked through. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I realized I couldn’t run away from or try to push away this loneliness. I’ve tried that before but it only re-emerges stronger than before. I knew I finally needed to sink into and make friends with the darkness. So that’s what I did.
I began by just allowing the feeling to surface, resisting the urge to push it down or distract it away. I let it be my companion, day after day. At times, I even entered into conversations with it to better understand what it had to show me. I found it really interesting that I was suddenly drawn to poetry and the writings of the mystics – it’s as if the poets and the mystics spoke the language of this darkness, this hollowness, giving it shape and form. I found much consolation and companionship in these writings. My contemplative practices drew me more and more into that space of deep silence and loneliness and into deep rest. And there Presence met me. There I gazed into the Indwelling Spirit and was gazed upon in return. The silence and deep loneliness no longer felt a burden but a gift. It became space I didn’t want to share but hoard instead. It’s like I discovered that priceless gem the Scriptures refer to and I was ready to sell everything I had to keep it!
I don’t know if any of this makes sense – I feel like there aren’t the right words to explain. I can only say that the encounter with Presence and receiving that Divine gaze was a pivotal moment on my journey, like my own resurrection out of the depths. I still feel the place of deep loneliness but I now know it is a safe, secure place were Presence can be known. I’ve come to understand that only Presence can meet me there, it isn’t space that can be accessed by anyone else. It’s become a place of deep knowing or maybe being known and loved, of unconditional, complete acceptance. Just this little taste has enabled me to live these days without much fear or anxiety, in spite on the continued disturbing news about the effects of Covid-19.
So if you are in the midst of this struggle, hang in there. If you feel the desire to talk through what you are experiencing, I am here to listen. Only you and Presence can uncover answers but sometimes it helps to speak it into safe space. I would be honored to hold that space with you.
I’m wondering - how you are doing? We’ve now been situated in this “new norm” for a couple of weeks now, and I’m curious about how everyone is adapting. Because I’m not sure I’ve adapted well. I think I’m getting there, but some days are really hard, really tough.
It’s interesting to me the things that I am struggling with. It’s not fear about my job or anxiety about how this is all going to turn out or whether or not I’ll have enough supplies to get us through. Maybe these are vague concerns, but that’s not what is keeping me up at night. I don’t think I could have even told you what it was until just a few days ago when I came face to face with “it” in a very real way.
You see when the lockdown became real, I went into action. Concerned about the homebound folks in my faith community, I reached out to our ministers and put a call list together. I connected with the local food pantry and offered whatever help they needed. And concerned about spiritual needs and my desire/need to pray with others we started doing the Facebook Live prayer and contemplation posts. This need for connection pushed me, drove me to find ways to connect, especially those who were isolated and alone, just like many of you. I was doing something, and that felt right. But then…
Being and doing for others is awesome and wonderful and meaningful. But at some point, the well runs low and needs to be replenished. And that is when I came face-to-face with darkness. You may not realize this or have had this experience, but when you do Facebook Live posts or almost anything virtual there is little sense of engagement. It isn’t like you are talking to a group of people and can see their body language or facial expressions and sense how it’s going. In the virtual world it is much different, especially for a novice like me. I’m finding this true even through Zoom. And so for someone who is skilled at tailoring things based on audience participation, getting little or no feedback is like talking to the wind. How do you know it actually went anywhere or did anything? I guess what I’m getting at is that I lost my sense of relevance, of worth. I lost my connection on a spiritual level with the folks I normally connect with and I felt lost. I smacked head first into the awareness that there was a real likelihood that what I was doing had no value. In a flash, all the existential questions became very, very real for me: who am I? What is my purpose? What is my worth in the world? How do I matter? How do I fit in the bigger picture?
I know, I know, these are all very ego-based questions and before all this happened I would have had the answers. Rooted in my faith and being able to lean into a community seemed enough. But then…..
So these days, I rest in what I am calling a deep loneliness. I no longer wrestle with the storm of emotions that emerged this past week. I’m sitting with the questions and listening for the deeper answers. They will come. But I long to explore these questions with others who are grappling with them too. I truly believe that I am not the only one experiencing this deep loneliness, this need to connect on a deeper level. And I’m not talking about the mundane, superfluous conversations – I’m talking about so much more. Where I need to be fed is at that deeper level. While I still turn to my perennial favorites for sustenance – Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, etc. – human to human conversation at that level would be really good right now.
So I am interested in hearing your story. Now that I’m knee deep in this virtual world I’m seeing there are ways to share and connect. I would love to offer space for us to hold these questions and explore how the answers are emerging for us right now. I would love to hear how others are working through some of this. I need this kind of food for my journey right now and I feel like others do to. So if you are one who desires these things too, let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set something up. Maybe this will give birth to a new way of being together, an authentic, real, meaningful way of connecting. I need that as much as you. I hope you will join me.
Until this weekend, I’ve felt like this whole Coronavirus thing has been really surreal - it’s happening “over there”, somewhere else to someone else. And then the first cases were reported in Grafton and it suddenly felt really close to home. With all the conflicting information, it’s hard to know what to believe, how to proceed and how to plan. We are all suspended in this sense of unknowing.
I strongly believe, though, that within this altered state of reality, there is great opportunity – opportunity for our souls to catch up with our bodies now that we aren’t so busy; opportunity to spend time with our spouses and kids; opportunity to reconnect with friends, relatives and ourselves; opportunity to notice the wonder of life all around us. And I hope we are living into those openings and embracing this new pattern of life.
But in spite of all these wonderful opportunities and the constant reminders that “we are not alone” and “we are in this together”, there are times I still feel very much on my own and very much alone. There are times when fear, anxiety and powerlessness rise above and crush down these positive messages. In fact, several times this week, those very emotions washed over me, knocked me to my knees and came pouring out. The uncertainty of it all made me feel weak and at a complete loss as to what to do. As I allowed these feelings to be felt, as the tears and sobs poured forth, I noticed that I cried out and leaned in to Jesus. The more I leaned, the greater sense of presence I felt - for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12) - and I was able to go forth, trusting in that presence.
We all need a time, a place and a space to lean sometimes. A Place To Be would like to be one of those places for you. I will lean into you, and you may lean into me. Together, as community, perhaps we can be space for each other to feel the presence of God.
A Place To Be is offering a variety of online, live-streamed prayers as that space and as a way to stay connected. Please join me and prayer with me and others in our virtual community. If you have a suggestion as to how we can do this better or what we should add, let us know. Jenny and I promise to do our best to make that happen. If you need resources, let us know and we will try to plug you into an organization that can help. If you just want to talk, please call. I would love to chat.
But most of all, hang in there. Together, as community, we will be faithful and be given what we need. Thank you for being there for us. Be well.
Did you ever have one of those ah ha moments where seemingly random thoughts coalesce and become some great new awareness that really isn’t new at all? It’s as if you remember something you forgot a long time ago? I had one of those moments just now which compelled me to grab the laptop and write (clarity on an early Sunday morning – true worship!) Forgive me for setting up this ah ha with a little background – it will help make sense of it all.
For the past several years, church leadership has been grappling with the question of evangelization, dwindling attendance and an aging membership. With our growing relationships in the interfaith community, I am learning that this conversation is taking place across denominational lines – we are all having the same conversations.
At the same time, I’ve been writing a weekly series on the Sermon on the Mount for the adults in our community. Deep diving into these Scriptures has brought awareness to our individual struggles with authentic spirituality, cultural influences and true identity. The current piece I’m working on is about heavenly treasures, eye of the heart and God versus mammon (Matthew 6:19 – 24), which invites us to look at what is really the important things in our lives.
Tandem to all that is my own internal grappling with where I fit in the Catholic Church, the tension between my personal spirituality and Church orthodoxy, and my deep desire for ecumenism and true community. All this has laid the foundation for this morning’s revelation. So here it is.
I wonder if we cling more tightly to our religion’s identity than our true identity. I know – this needs explaining. Let me relate it to my own experience and allow you to overlay it into your own. In my family, in the various Church communities I’ve participated in, throughout the process of introducing A Place To Be, in committee and staff meetings I attend, and in a host of other situations, I’ve experience, both in myself and others, an underlying belief that being Catholic is a higher priority than being Christian. I mean, we’ve all heard the joke about church parking lots, right? Think about it. Most of the time people have no awareness of it as this belief is held so deeply within. But how often has being Catholic trumped being a child of Christ, often to the point that we aren’t even supposed to interact with those of another denomination! I wonder what Christ would say about that, him who regularly ate with people on the other team.
I mean, aren’t we tired of the factions in our world today? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even want to turn on the news because of the vitriol language, accusations and tribalism taking place in EVERY aspect of society these days – politics (of course), medicine, sports, music and, yes, religion. Don’t you long for some unity? How I wish that we would stop constantly seeing ourselves as different from everyone else and focus on what we have in common instead, especially in church. Perhaps if we stopped bickering about what divides us and lived out of a place of unity and true Christian community instead, more people would be attracted to our places of worship, regardless of the denomination.
Now, before the hackles come up, I am not denouncing the Catholic faith or a connection to any particular denomination. I AM, however, saying that being Catholic is NOT my first identity. My first priority, my primary allegiance is and will always be to Christ first. When the Church is in alignment with Christ’s teachings – I’m all in. But when they are not, I will always fall on the side of Christ.
This all may seem obvious but I wonder some days. I hope each of us, in all our different communities, reflect honestly about the spiritual identities we hold so tightly. Are we truly aligned with Christ or is our denominational identity our primary one? Something to think about.
Postscript: After writing this, I went to morning Mass. I listened – really listened – to the readings and the prayers. Funny how God works – the 2nd reading was from 1 Corinthians with Paul imploring “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose….I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?” Fr. Pat then did a wonderful homily on unity and that we are all part of the body of Christ. Thank you, Fr. Pat, for a message so on-target and needed in our Church today. I hope and pray that we begin to listen.
My husband and I just returned from an amazing vacation in Thailand. Before going, we collected information and advice from folks who have traveled there to prepare ourselves as best we could for what promised to be a very unique experience. On a friend’s advice, we downloaded a map program that we could use offline, which was a huge blessing since we couldn’t get cell service (another story, another time). After many hours of travel, we finally arrived at our B & B in Chiang Mai. After dumping our luggage, we set out to explore the city, confident we would find our way with the assistance of this map app. Our goal was to get to Old Town, the historical part of the city where most of the major temples were.
Now, my husband and I consider ourselves reasonably intelligent people, folks for whom reading a map shouldn’t be a challenge. However, somehow we misread the app, took a wrong turn and ended up pretty close to where we began. After hours of travel and little sleep, frustration and confusion erupted and almost derailed our excursion.
Isn’t that the way of life? As a young adult, I certainly set out to live my life with a plan, a road map, and with full confidence that I would fulfill all my goals. How very quickly life knocked me down, humbled my inflated ego and set me straight on the ways of the world. I really had no idea what I was doing and fumbled my way for a long time. I guess I didn’t have a very good map or I just stubbornly refused to read it correctly. Eventually I figured it out. It is only in hindsight that I can trace the wayward path that led to the wonderful life I live today.
Isn’t that also the way of our spiritual search? We learn as must as we can ahead of time, gather the information we think we need, set out in confidence, then find we are completely lost and start over (or maybe give up?). All along the way, we encounter fellow pilgrims on the road and seek advice and guidance. We swap stories and travelling tales and find familiarity and solace in other’s struggles. And every once in a while, a guide comes our way to direct, point out landmarks and help us find our way.
It seems to me that spiritual companioning is like that – a guide to help us read our spiritual map, identify landmarks and significant experiences, offer a legend to interpret signs and signals along the way and maybe even translate the new language we encounter. We each have our own individual map for our spiritual journey - that indwelling spirit within quietly nudging us into new territory – but often times we struggle to make sense of where we are being led or what the perils ahead might be. I find it comforting to know that there is someone I can turn to when I lose my way or take a wrong turn, someone to help me recalculate and find my way. I feel blessed to be able to offer spiritual companioning to others and a place for weary travelers to rest.
Back in Chiang Mai, my husband and I turned around, retraced our steps and found our direction. We figured out how to read the map, eventually arrived at Old Town and had a wonderful day – a little tired and bedraggled, but having experienced an adventure nonetheless. Welcome to Thailand!
Here at the Center, we talk a lot about how words or concepts like church, religion, denomination (pick any), etc. are barriers to people when it comes to talking about spirituality. But it occurred to me this morning that even the word spirituality could be a barrier. In fact, even though we throw that word around all the time, I don’t think we ever defined spirituality.
So what is it? The Oxford dictionary defines spirituality as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” So, in essence, spirituality is a sense or belief in something bigger than ourselves and how we connect or interact with that something bigger. Everyone has a spirituality, whether we are aware of it or not. Everyone operates their lives from a value system, a set of beliefs about how life works.
Our spirituality is a core part who we are and who we are created to be. And yet, depending on our awareness, our lives may or may not reflect this spirituality. In my practice as a Spiritual Companion where I accompany folks in all walks of life, at all stages in life, I have found that when folks have an awareness of and desire/feel/foster a connection to their inherent spirituality, they experience a bit more peace and are able to move through life’s difficulties with just a bit less turbulence. From my own lived experience, my life, no matter how crazy the schedule is, is calmer and more spacious when I cultivate a connection with my inner spirit. And when I don’t, exhaustion, frustration and stress dominate my body and soul.
The awareness of how much our spirituality impacts our lives influences the mission of A Place To Be and in all we do, we strive to provide a space and place for the awareness of one’s spirituality to emerge and grow. We desire for everyone to experience the peace and spaciousness that comes from living out of our spirituality. We are here for you should you desire to connect more deeply with your own inner spirituality.
After years of denying his authentic identity, Moses could no longer turn a blind eye to the reality before him.
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Then Moses was afraid and fled from Pharaoh.
I have to say I am feeling a bit sorry for Moses at this point in the story. I mean, he is trying to live in two worlds without quite fitting into either one. Taken from his Hebrew family at an early age and thrust into the Pharaoh’s home, he wouldn’t be trusted by the Hebrew people and was probably rejected by the Egyptian people, no matter how much influence the Princess’ status bought him. I wonder if it wasn’t some deep need for authentic connection that drove him to protect his kinsmen in such a drastic way. Whatever it was, it drove Moses to commit murder and banished him into the wilderness.
The wilderness - barren, desolate and sparse. Moses wandered in an arid but
breathtakingly beautiful landscape for days on end with only himself and maybe a camel for company. Have you ever been in a desert? – no planes, trains or automobiles, no cell phone towers for electronic gadgets, no distractions.
I wonder what that time in the desert must have been like for Moses. Moses certainly had lots and lots of time to think in the silence of the desert. There wasn’t anything to get in the way of the inner arguments and replaying of hurts, insults and perceived slights. It kind of makes me think about that line from the first Shrek movie where Shrek tries to explain to the donkey that there is more to an ogre than meets the eye, “Ogres are like onions – they have layers.” Just like Shrek, the real Moses was buried under layers of false identity and cultural expectations, each carrying with it a particular voice in his mind. Slowly, over time, each voice demanded to be heard and understood before he could let it go and make room for the next one. What memories arose for Moses in that stillness? What helped him peel
off the layers of his Egyptian-imposed identities? At what point did he begin to remember who he really was: a beloved child of God? When did the space in his heart clear out enough for God’s quiet voice to be heard?
I don’t know what it was like for Moses, but I do know that for me it was horrible. It took years and years of hard, honest looking, deep listening, buckets of tears, and tremendous grace that looked like courage to face all that I thought I was, to realize that who I thought I was wasn’t who I really was at all and to be willing to get to know the person I was meant to be. Late in his life, Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) wrote, “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.” Jung, a supposed unbeliever, knew that any authentic God experience takes a lot of humble, honest, and patient seeking.
This is the work Moses had to do to be able to hear God’s call. I believe that in those forty years in the desert, Moses re-acquainted himself with his Hebrew roots and finally embraced his true identity. I believe that in my desert experience, I finally got in touch with my authentic self. Only then, could I hear and respond to God’s call. Only then was I, like Moses, ready to approach the burning bush.
This is the first segment of a series. I don’t yet know how many writings this topic will turn into, just that it is very present to me these days. Thank you for joining me in this journey!!
Kelly is the Director of A Place To Be Spirituality Center. Here she shares her thoughts and reflections about life, family, God, spirituality and whatever strikes her in the moment. We hope something here resonates within your own spirit and that you will share. Enter into the conversation, share your story, join the family of A Place To Be, a spiritual home for seekers wherever they are on their journey. We look forward to getting to know you!