Doesn’t it seem like that is the mantra these days? As we approach the New Year with the highlights of 2022 and the expected resolutions for 2023, the barrage of chatter feels so recycled. From the “lives well lived” to the weight loss meal programs to the gym memberships, etc., etc., etc., - each annual turning feels like rinse & repeat. Doesn’t it exhaust you? It does me.
Perhaps because I am getting older, I desire more than just the same old, same old. I long for something new. I long for something fresh. I long for something meaningful, something that will really make the world a better place. Not that a healthier diet and exercise plan won’t have a positive impact but has it really changed us if we’ve gone back to the same old bad habits by June? I’m talking about real, sustainable transformation.
What will 2023 look like for us? I can’t say I’m that hopeful that the political climate will become less divisive; or that we will take steps to chip away at the refugee explosion around the world; or that we will move towards better treatment of our earth; or that racial, economic or mental health injustices will be addressed. I could go on and on in the ways I don’t feel hopeful about our world today. That’s not really the New Year’s message anyone wants to hear, is it?
So maybe I’m hoping for transformation and renewal in the wrong places. If there is one tiny nugget of wisdom I’ve acquired over these past 50+ years of life it is that the only change that can happen is within. I can only change me; you can only change you. But if we are willing to do that – change ourselves – then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to effect change in our world. Not huge changes – that is asking for too much. But tiny changes. Changes like being a smidge kinder at the grocery store. Changes like opening the door for someone else. Changes like not thinking everything is about me. Changes like allowing someone the space to have a bad day. Changes like allowing someone the chance to make a mistake. Changes like maybe allowing room for others to change. I could go on and on.
I don’t know…I guess the ministry at APTB has really shown me the impact of tiny, small allowances that offer presence and acceptance and real, genuine care. Given that, I’ve seen folks soften their rigid edges, open their hearts and consent to love. I’ve been so blessed to see such transformation in people and groups that I truly believe it is possible. There lies my hope for 2023.
Now, does that mean I’m not going to try to eat better, exercise more and get healthier? By no means! This aging body needs all those things to stay on track! But I guess it does mean that I’m going to put most of my intention into my interactions with others; that I’ll keep working on getting out of the way so that the Spirit can flow through me into…whatever it needs to; that I’ll keep reminding myself to let go of control and surrender to what is, trusting that it is enough for now. And I’ll keep leaning into my friends and family, both at APTB and beyond, to help me along the way. And in all this, perhaps there will be room for the new, for the new, the fresh, the meaningful – whatever will help the world become a better version of what it is today.
Happy New Year, my dear friends!
Continuing the "YES"...
This Incarnation Season offers us an open invitation to ponder what it all means – for us, for our community, for the world. I’ve been reflecting on Mary’s yes:
…yes to God, yes to a wholehearted call she could not possibly understand, yes to vulnerability in the face of societal judgment . . . yes to a vision for herself and her little boy of a mission that would bring down rulers and lift up the humble, that would turn away the rich and fill the hungry with good things, that would scatter the proud and gather the lowly [see Luke 1:51–53], yes to a life that came with no guarantee of her safety or her son’s. Rachel Held Evans
I quickly transition from Mary and Jesus to my role as one who also incarnates the Christ. And then, being such a direct outflow of my own spirituality, my thoughts move to how APTB incarnates the Christ. Like Mary, this ministry strives to say yes to a vision larger than our small selves, one that lifts up the humble, that gathers the lowly and, often, comes with no guarantee of our success or viability. In some respects, this feels like a great risk, a step off the cliff into the unknown. But more often than not, it is really like falling into love, surrendering into trust, or allowing what Is to Be.
The Divine has entrusted us with this baby ministry. The awe and the humility of that alone is daunting. And as I sit with that, my eyes rest on the word “us”; we do not do this alone. We is rooted in the Spirit, which leads all that we do. We consists of our amazing Leadership Team (aka our Board of Directors) and our volunteers who make the day to day happen. We includes our donors who, in so many ways, give us the ability, both financially and otherwise, to keep the ministry going. But most importantly, we encompasses all you who participate, who show up, who share your incredible spirit, who risk becoming vulnerable and open and honest with yourselves and others, who open your hearts to the way the Spirit is moving within and among. It is you who I stand in awe of. It is you who, with great humility, we strive to accompany. It is you who teaches me, time after time, how to be a better person. Thank you.
And so we move into 2023 mindful of the calling of the Incarnation. In this season of glitz and glitter, holiday lights and scented candles, food, family and celebration, we re-commit ourselves to being conduits of the great Love that permeates all of creation. We absorb this light and strive to reflect it back illuminating the goodness and Grace that fills our communities. Together, let us continue our YES to a life of great risk, great surrender and great Love so that, just like Mary, we, too, participate in the true miracle of the Incarnation.
As I turn down the Holiday lights, pick up the last of the wrappings and ribbons, and prepare to turn the page on the calendar, I find myself reflecting on this past year. In the world and in my life, there certainly has been much to celebrate and much to mourn. Throughout it all is the thread of gratitude - for family, for friends, for all the blessings in life.
Here at APTB, it has also been quite a year! On July 1st, as we celebrated our 4th anniversary, we transitioned from being a sponsored ministry of St. John XXIII Catholic Church to an independent organization! We are truly grateful for the support SJ23rd has provided in launching this unique and Spirit-led ministry – we could not have brought forth this work without you.
This transition has brought many changes to our organization – a new, awesome Board of Directors, volunteers, and growth. We have held programs, community events, and fundraisers; have laughed together, cried together and prayed together; and we continue building this vision that Spirit is calling us into.
Through all the ups and downs, testing of new skills and mis-fires, everyone has worked so very hard to support this ministry and our work – thank you. Together we have touched so many lives. I am in awe of you and in the power of the Spirit among us.
Looking forward, I am excited to welcome more new faces into our community. We welcome new facilitators, look forward to new programs and welcome new participants. Thanks to your support, we have expanded our technological ability to support more Zoom participants and programs with a quality experience. We have added several service opportunities and hope to introduce collaborative projects with our ecumenical partners. In a nutshell, the work continues. We continuously turn to the Spirit for guidance and grace but ask that you, also, continue to pray for us. We truly cannot do this work without you.
So thank you. Thank you for all the ways you have supported APTB and all the ways you continue to offer your amazing presence. Because of you, we are an authentic community providing spiritual care and fellowship to all.
May the Divine continue to bless you and your families!
Wisdom of the Trees
My last morning on retreat. What a weeek! Once again, I feel called to share my reflection this morning. Once again, take what is helpful, leave the rest...
I take with me a little, tiny bit of wisdom received from/generously given by the trees. Wisdom about endurance, presence and grace. Wisdom about deep roots and about bending and flowing, about listening to the wind, being touched by what's around me and praising and worshipping always. The wisdom of community holding us up, encouraging us along, supporting us through all stages of life. The wisdom of surrender and sacrifice. The wisdom that all that is necessary for new life to emerge. The wisdom of interconnectedness with all things, also necessary for survival.
I have been touched by my smallness and insignificance - I am but a speck on the continuum of time. Will I help or will I hurt? Do no harm my monastic vows say. Tread softly, watch where I step. Sometimes go very slow to make sure nnothing is harmed.
None of this seems new knowledge, just things I tend to forget. I go forth from this time and place with this tree energy, the tree spirit, in my heart. I am deeply grateful. I will hold this with reverence and awe, consciously, gently and lovingly as I re-enter my life.
In Silence and Solitude
I've been savoring these past two weeks on retreat. Long days of mainly silence and solitude, interlaced with cherished time spent with family and close friends. This week, my second, is devoted to reflection, long hikes, and quiet contemplation in the rich land of Door County, amidst ancient forests, wandering creeks and the beautiful Lake Michigan. While much fruit is emerging in this sacred time, I was invited to share what came this morning, before I was called out into the forest grove for morning worship. I don't consider myself a poet, or much of a writer, so I offer this with humility - take what is helpful, leave the rest. Peace!
Silence within the silence
The invisible within the visible
That is where Spirit rests
That is the Real, Reality, Truth
Words only mask
True Presence is within the Silence
True connection is made in the Silence
True relationship/community is in the Silence
It is there that we are real
Words only mask
The invisible, within the visible, is what we connect to
Essence to Essence
Real to Real
Consciously or not, doesn't matter, the connection is still there
Consciousness brings awareness
Awareness brings Transformation
Transformation brings Blessing
All within the Silence
Words only mask
Can you hear the Silence within the silence?
Is your heart listening?
Words only mask, choose them carefully.
What we see in the visible, manifested world is only an echo of the reality underneath.
What our senses take in is just a manifestation of the spirit, the essence within.
The quest is to make the unseen seen. Not hidden versus unhidden - this hints at being covered, buried, shrouded, underneath something else that, once removed, allows the object to be seen. This is a valuable process, especially on the road to transformation. Only by making unhidden that which is hidden can healing and transformation take place.
Unseen is different. Unseen is essence, spirit, truth. Unseen is what animates us, enlivens us. The unseen is the drive behind our words and actions.
The question then becomes: what is the condition of our unseen self? Who are we in that unseen place? What does our seen self reveal about our unseen self?
Orienting to A New Way Of Being
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
Land, hop, orient...repeat
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.
Restore Me, O Lord
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.