In my last blog, I reflected on how, over the last several years, my life has been re-orienting more and more towards the Divine. It is true that I have been actively seeking, intentionally exploring and dedicating space towards a renewed spirituality, one with genuine care, concern, compassion and love for all people and the real struggles they faced every day. A Place To Be Spirituality Center was borne out of that sense of longing. And I hope APTB offers that feminine energy, those feminine qualities, to those who also feel the void and long for a different way. There is much work to be done in this area and we are blessed to be able to continue serving in that way.
And yet my heart has yearned for something more. Deep within is a call to the contemplative life, to a more intimate, complete surrender to the Divine Will, to become a channel for that Divine Energy to flow into the world. For me, there can be only one response to that call – yes! A Way To Be New Monastic Community is the manifestation of my inner “yes”.
Now, the Catholic tradition has a long-standing mystical path as taught in the early monastic communities, the many Saints, theologians and contemplatives over the years – as does pretty much every other spiritual tradition. These monastic communities traditionally consist of ordained, celibate men and women who align with a specific faith tradition, denomination and founder who vow to embody and live out a specific charism. In recent years, as vowed religious communities have dissolved, this intentional community model has evolved into what is called The New Monastic Community. This is a call to a life committed to contemplation, simplicity, prayer and service available to folks who assent to this call to a deeper spirituality; non-ordained, deeply faithful people - mothers, daughters, husbands, fathers, students, ministers, etc. – who long to align the entirety of their lives to the Divine. A Way To Be New Monastic Community invites those who not only feel this call but are ready to commit to and live out the core values in community.
The path of the new monastic involves making a commitment to live a particular way and practice their spirituality according to what is called a Rule of Life, which are guidelines for helping one stay on the path. The new monastic participates in a community with other new monastics who gather to offer support and encouragement along the way. A Way To Be New Monastic Community does not replace one’s faith tradition but, rather, deepens the new monastic experience of God in order better live out their faith in every-day life.
Now, many may look at these commitments, this Rule of Life, and think, “I already strive to live this way – how does the making of a formal covenant change any of that?” To some extent, this is a fair question, one I wrestled with for a long time. I am not a very public person by nature so declaring these covenants for all the world to see causes a bit of anxiety and discomfort. But somewhere along the way it became clear that I was being called to voice the intention to live the new monastic life publically. I’m learning that “…once we name something out loud, it becomes true in a way it wasn’t before.” (Kaitlin Curtice, “Trauma as a Journeying Partner,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 61–62.) So last night, before a small group of close friends and family, I made my covenant and A Way To Be New Monastic Community was formed. I pray the Divine presence live deeply within my heart and the heart of this community so that all we do manifests the Divine Presence in the world. Amen.
For more information on A Way To Be New Monastic Community, its covenants and rule of life, go to the website at www.awaytobenmc.org
It was a beautiful spring day – deep blue sky, warm sun shining down and a cool breeze reminding me that winter hadn’t quite given up. Called into nature, I went for a walk in the woods. I lingered along the path, taking in the spring flowers and budding trees while listening to the wind rattle branches and shuffle fallen leaves. Soon I came upon a meadow, a clearing in the woods where someone had thought to tuck a picnic table. Seeing an opportunity for a quiet mindfulness meditation, I climbed on top of the table, settled into my breath and opened my awareness to the sounds and senses all around me. It didn’t take long for the sound of buzzing of flies to distract me so I slowly opened my eyes and noticed a dozen or so of them swirling around the table (probably because of a bag of dog droppings I discovered nearby!) And so I began to watch them. They landed, hopped around a bit, settled for a few seconds then flew off, only to repeat the cycle over and over again. I began to notice that once the fly had hopped around a bit, it positioned itself in the same direction before flying off. Every time. The same direction. All the flies did the same thing. Landed, hopped around, and turned to face the same direction. Intrigued, I noticed they weren’t facing the sun, nor was the sun behind them. They weren’t facing into the wind, nor was the wind at their back. Yet they were orienting themselves, ever so briefly, to something. It occurred to me that these insects must have had some internal draw, an internal orienting toward a common source.
That got me thinking about what oriented me, what orients us as a people? Am I oriented toward the Holy One or something else? Reflecting on the past several years, I realized I’ve been orienting parts of my life more and more to the Holy One. This past year of Covid has really given me the opportunity to re-align parts of me that wasn’t oriented toward the Divine. More and more I’ve shed that which no longer fits the deep desire of my being – oneness with All. While much of this work goes unseen, it has helped me focus on what is most important and who is most important. My hope is that these subtle re-alignments draw me closer and closer to being who I was created to be.
Now that things are returning to some sort of normalcy, the question lingers even more. What is my life oriented toward? As I hop around from task to task, where do I land and what or who do I face? Am I listening for that still, quiet voice? Am I allowing myself to be led, guided, directed? Or am I swirling around trying to find that next best thing? Each day brings its own challenge, for sure. Each day the questions arises anew.
Sometimes you read something that really speaks to your heart and you want to share it with others. This piece by Brian McLaren really struck me:
Christian mission begins with friendship—not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing—but genuine friendship, friendship that translates love for neighbors in general into knowing, appreciating, liking, and enjoying this or that neighbor in particular. . . .
Many new friends have come into my life . . . Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, and others—including lots of atheists and agnostics, too. One of the most dramatic of those friendships began in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. Like a lot of churches, our little congregation held a prayer service. While praying, I felt a voice speaking, as it were, in my chest: Your Muslim neighbors are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them. The next morning, I wrote and made copies of a letter extending, belatedly, friendship toward Muslim communities in my area, and offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action. I drove to the three mosques nearby—I had never visited them before—and tried to deliver my letter in person. . . .
[At the third mosque,] I clumsily introduced myself [to the imam] as the pastor from down the street . . . I then handed him my letter, which he opened and read as I stood there awkwardly. I remember the imam, a man short in stature, slowly looking down at the letter in the bright September sun, then up into my face, then down, then up, and each time he looked up, his eyes were more moist. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me—a perfect stranger. . . . I still remember the feeling of his head pressed against my chest, squeezing me as if I were his long-lost brother. . . .
My host welcomed me not with hostility or even suspicion, but with the open heart of a friend. And so that day a friendship began between an Evangelical pastor named Brian and a Muslim imam we’ll call Ahmad. . . .
It's one thing to say you love humanity in general, whatever their religion; it’s quite another to learn to love this or that specific neighbor with his or her specific religion. So, do you have a Sikh neighbor, a Hindu coworker, a Muslim business associate, a Buddhist member of your PTA, a New Age second cousin? Invite them into companionship over a cup of tea or coffee. Ask them questions. Display unexpected interest in them, their traditions, their beliefs, and their stories. Learn why they left what they left, why they stay where they stay, why they love what they love. Enter their world, and welcome them into your world, without judgment. If they reciprocate, welcome their reciprocation; if not, welcome their nonreciprocation. Experience conviviality. Join the conspiracy of plotting for the common good together.
Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (Jericho Books: 2012), 223, 225, 226, 231.
This was my prayer this morning as I pondered the snow....
Restore me, O Lord. Restore my spirit.
Fill me with your presence
Show me the path of love.
Things around me seem so fleeting,
Show me the real.
Let me not put my energy into meaningless endeavors
Help me to stay focused on the how not the what.
Help me to look beyond all the ways everyone else focuses on the what and not the how.
Help me to be compassionate toward those who trample on others, who force their way, their agenda over everything else.
Help me not to get hooked into anger, frustration, despair over the insistence of old patterns, old systems, broken and harmful practices.
Restore me, O Lord.
Fill my heart with hope,
Hope that we can live a different way - Your way.
Hope that we can create space for healing...for respect...for authentic care...for kindness...for being.
Restore me, O Lord.
Restore in me the vision of Your kingdom.
Fill me with the energy and courage to bring that about.
Help me get out of the way so you can do all this through me.
I desire what you desire.
Restore me, O Lord,
so that I may be an instrument of your peace, your hope, your love.
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.
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!