You may have seen me at the center. I come down from Green Bay on occasion and offer a class here or there. Last summer Kelly was cleaning and preparing the center for guests, for the opening of A Place To Be Spirituality Center. One day I came to give her a hand. Walking into that home, now the center, I felt a sense of safety and a sense that love resided there. I was put at ease. I feel that same sense of comfort each and every time I enter that sacred place. The center has become my home away from home.
This Saturday, May 11th from noon till 2pm, I am coming down with a group of drummers. We are not professionals. When I first joined the group, I knew nothing about drumming, was afraid to try, and couldn’t hold a beat to save my life. The group welcomed me in and taught me a few simple beats. It didn’t take long and I was drumming along with the rest of them. Our drum circle is made up of people from all walks of life and diverse talents.
On Saturday we will teach you a few beats if you are not familiar and invite you to join in at your comfort level. And, if you feel comfortable, you can teach us a few beats! If you have a drum, a flute, a ukulele, a singing bowl, or whatever, you can bring it along. If you don’t, we will have lots of drums and percussion instruments for you to try out. This is a light-hearted group with no agenda except to have fun together.
Drumming is another way to communicate with each other, a sacred song. As we drum our hearts begin to beat together. We naturally join together in community. There are no mistakes or off-beat drummers. Every tap, every breath, every heartbeat contributes to the song!
Every once in a while, I get asked to tell my story – folks want to know how it is that I came into this ministry. Though the question seems straightforward enough, the telling of that story has been an evolving process.
The stories we receive from our family, faith traditions, culture & society become the lens through which we view our lives; they have tremendous power over us, both consciously and unconsciously. Mine was one of broken family relationships, abusive situations and painful rejections. I saw my life through the lens of my anger and pain, and the tale I told reflected that.
I began to heal from the wounds of my childhood and grow in emotional and spiritual maturity (thanks be to God!), but the narrative stayed the same. One day, I started listening and found I didn’t like the story being told. I was stuck, imprisoned by the negative feelings and memories. I wanted to be free; I wanted to share my journey in a new, more positive way. The facts of my life hadn’t changed - the bad things that happened were still bad and the wounds hadn’t gone away - but I realized that I wanted to tell it in a way that was healing and restoration.
With the help of friends, I began reframing and retelling until my story went from a tale of brokenness and abuse to one of transformation and redemption. The facts and events, once the main theme, became part of a bigger story, a bigger narrative that led me here, to this ministry. I find that I really like this version of my story.
What is your story? How well does that story suit you? What is the story you desire to grow into? On Saturday, May 5th, join us for a day of reflection. Step into the Story of Your Life is an opportunity to reflect on, share, and vision the next step in your story. Join us as we attend to “the story that holds us” then move to construct “the story we hold,” then awaken to the realization that “we are being held.” I hope to see you there!
You can learn more and register here.
I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Rohr lately. In one of his recent reflections, he says “to grow toward love, union, salvation or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder and finally to Reorder.” Order is when everything feels safe and certain. We have an unshakable, satisfying explanation of how things work and tend to see our status quo as appropriate for everyone. Then something happens; we lose a job, a loved one dies, your child comes out of the closet – something shatters your safe, secure world view. This tension feels very uncomfortable as many of the things we hold as truth are called into question. Certitudes and belief systems break down and nothing feels safe or right. There is a natural tendency to run away from this inner turmoil, to get back to our safe, secure world so we tend to grab control and build walls for protection. Yet there is another option; we can hold the tension long enough for it to reveal what must be let go of, what must be reframed, what must be Reordered and in that Reordering, we grow toward love and union with God, our true selves and each other.
I feel like the world is in a state of Disorder. Duh, right? We have lost our sense of safety and security, we no longer have a sense of what is true and right, our belief systems have broken down and we are left shaken and confused. Everywhere we look, it seems, there is chaos – crazy storms wreaking havoc, traditional religious institutions closing in or breaking down, socio-economic gap ever widening, and in our government… need I say more? This sense of uncertainty and chaos is certainly felt on the personal level. Individuals and groups feeling the rejection by our institutions with nowhere to go with the hurt and pain, anger leading to unbelievable violence and destruction, families crumbing because of abuse or divorce, and an increase in addiction and substance abuse as we seem to have lost our identity.
I have seen this pattern in my own life. As I reflect on my spiritual journey and begin to share more and more of my story, the pattern emerges. It seems whenever I have obtained a sense of Order with all its safe, secure, warm and fuzzy feelings, the rug gets pulled out and my life is thrown into Disorder. So often I have run away, not understanding how important holding the Disorder was. It wasn’t until I was given a safe container to hold the Disorder that I realized how much it had to teach me. Little by little, I gave myself permission (with the support of a marvelous Spiritual Companion) to hold the Disorder and listen, to let go and forgive, to allow my true self to emerge, and to Reorder my life. As Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016) put it, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” This cycle has happened over and over again and each time I sink deeper into God.
So I believe that is the invitation before us today – to allow, as best we can, the Order to break down enough to let God’s light in. There is no way around it if we want to grow – we must go through the Disorder, not under, over or around, in order to transcend it. Often, we need help to do this. A Place To Be has wonderful Spiritual Companions ready to journey with you through the chaos. You do not have to walk that path alone.
On a cold Saturday in January, A Place To Be Leadership Team gathered to pray, reflect, and discern about our own spirituality as well that of the Center. We began by reflecting on our personal relationship with God, how we would like that relationship to grow and what we could do to foster that growth. We collected words such as: dependent, longing, distracted, struggle, grateful, acceptance, communion, presence, humility, diversity and support.
We then were asked to think about our vision for the Center. In what ways were we intentional about bringing that vision about? What impact do we want the Center to have on our guests, on the greater community? After quiet reflection and deep listening, both to ourselves and each other, we collected words that offered our vision (see below).
From the discussion of our shortcomings, we identified many next steps and initiatives to help us achieve that vision. Many of these you will see in the upcoming months; some might be more subtle but will hopefully be felt. Always open to the movement of the Spirit, we welcome input and suggestions to help us grow into this vision.
Finally, we were asked to quietly reflect on the day overall and identify a word or phrase that arises. These words and phrases were then written onto ribbons and randomly distributed among the team to remind us of our commitment to the vision and to pray with as we strive to meet the challenges coming. The ribbons help us to remember: all are welcome, progress, respect, loving acceptance, presence, peace, surrender, beauty, silence, love, open, community, fellowship, sharing, calling, listening, hospitality, God is with us. Amen.
Last night at the Center, we watched the movie With One Voice, a documentary that explores the unity of humanity, reveals our essential oneness and spreads the single message that binds all faiths together. Spiritual leaders from 15 different religious traditions were invited to share their experiences of the Divine and how their particular religious tradition taught about peace and love, especially in relation to our world. One overarching theme was spoken over and over again: we are all part of the same oneness. Regardless of your skin color or religious affiliation, we all experience anger, shame, frustration and stress. We all feel love, compassion, gratitude and awe. These experiences and feelings are universal among all human beings and transcend differences that really exist only at the surface level.
This message resonated deep within me – it seems every book I read or speaker I listen to or webinar I watch lately alludes to this same message – we are one. We are one. We are all spirits seeking connection to something bigger than our small selves and the small world we confine ourselves to. We are all seekers mining for meaning in a senseless world of consumerism, rampant tribalism, and runaway abuses where we are battered by both natural and man-made disasters and acts of violence. We are all yearning for the same peace in our lives.
When I reflect on things this way, I can very easily tire of how our religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, spend an enormous amount of time and resources defining our separate identities and separating ourselves from each other. Just as division and tribalism are the addiction of our society, our religious institutions thrive on defining identity and narrowly focusing in on praxis unique to our specific traditions as if that alone defines who we are as Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. If Jesus’ teaching is so countercultural (as we believe and teach), why do we fall prey to the cultural tendencies of division and separateness?
Because of my recent reading, viewing, and watching, I believe that a different dialogue is taking place beyond the borders of our churches. I see a movement toward embracing the one universal truth as a starting point for inter-spiritual relationship. By focusing on what we all have in common and how to nurture and cultivate that awareness rather than that which separates us, we grow relationships and community. The very energy around this more accepting and inclusive spirituality feels softer, gentler, more loving than the energy in our faith communities today.
Make no mistake, I love my Catholic faith and community. My spiritual identity and experience of the Divine is deeply rooted in the Catholic traditional. But as we, like most religious traditions, grapple with our struggling communities, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we shifted our focus away from solidifying our Catholic identity toward recognizing our universal identity as children of the Creator. I wonder what would happen if, instead of the us-versus-them approach to evangelization, we banded together as believers of one Divine being with one voice, worked together to bring more love into the world. Now that truly would be countercultural.
I received an email from my mom the other day informing me that the husband of my adopted sister Cathy had died suddenly. Images of the last time I saw Cathy, over ten years ago at a family party, filled my memory. I strained to recall what little I knew of her – oh yeah, mom said she married. I actually knew very little about her except for the occasional unsolicited updates from my parents. Reading the email, I felt nothing inside.
Cathy and her brother entered our lives when I was six; my entire world turned upside down. My parents were ill-prepared for the brokenness of children who were horribly abused by their birth parents and left emotionally, psychologically, and mentally traumatized. Sadly, our family collapsed under the weight of it all – my siblings and I scattered and hid best we could to escape the pain of our shattered life. They did the best they could, my parents; they just didn’t have the tools in their toolbox.
I’ve spent most of my life working through the rejection, abuse, and anger endured as a consequence of my broken family. So when I read the news of Cathy’s pain, I sadly felt absolutely nothing.
In feeling that nothing, though, I realized I also didn’t feel anger or resentment or that “whatever” feeling I get when I really don’t want to deal with something. The nothing wasn’t a hardened nothing but a soft, gentle space. I realized that I had let all the pain go, the deep wounds finally healed. I began to see Cathy as a person, a person who just lost the love of her life, a person who lost one of the few people who treated her with genuine love. I saw her as someone who has struggled her entire life to find a place in this world, who finally found it only to lose it again. As I opened my heart further, I began to feel Cathy’s sadness and overwhelming grief. Out of that sadness and grief, I could reach out and send my condolences.
I don’t know if I will ever see Cathy again – she is now living down south near her kids. I do know that if I do, I can embrace her with genuine affection. I have complete, deeply, and lovingly forgiven and let go.
So if you are struggling with forgiveness – I get it. I wish I had a quick, easy remedy to help, but unfortunately I don’t. It’s no easy thing to let go of a deep, long-lasting wound. The world wants us to forget, to get over it, but we never forget - ever. Instead, I can now reflect on those events and see how they have shaped me into who I am today. There is where I meet God. Gradually, ever so slowly, I have handed over my pain and have been set free.
The last several weeks have been really crazy – awesome and amazing but crazy. One of those “how much more can I cram into my super-busy life” kind of weeks? Yeah we’ve all had them. Between work and time with friends this past day or two, I’ve actually managed to sneak in laundry and other chores. Now, with the end of the day drawing near, I find myself trying to finish one last thing before I call it quits and enjoy my (well-deserved) glass of wine. As I’m folding the baskets of now-clean laundry, it suddenly occurs to me – I get to fold and put away clean laundry. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the gift of clean laundry? It probably escapes us that over half the world has only one change of clothes and hardly ever gets to do laundry. The fact that I have three baskets of nice, clean, laundered clothes is an incredible blessing.
Tomorrow morning, before my husband wakes, I’ll tromp off to the grocery store to restock supplies for the upcoming weeks. I get to go into an air conditioned, clean building to select from a wide-variety of products from which I and my family will eat plentiful this next week. The only limitation on my purchase will be my personal tastes and preferences. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the gift of a grocery store and our ability to just shop at will? Another incredible blessing in our lives.
I guess what I am getting at is what can happen from a subtle shift in perspective; how the slightest movement transforms our lives from chores, to-do’s and have-to’s into gifts, get-to’s and opportunities. Life is hard and full of challenges, or suffering as the Buddha would label it. Sometimes, our perceptions perpetuate our discomfort, prolonging the very suffering we wish to be freed from. The good news is that we can learn to see differently, see life as it really is, free from all our projections and distortions and thereby attain true peace. Sometimes we need help in making that shift in perspective. At A Place To Be Spirituality Center, someone is always on hand to listen. Perhaps a kind listener is all you need to shift your view of your world. Stop in anytime – we are here to welcome you.
We have officially opened – the boxes are unpacked, the furniture is in place and books have been catalogued! How exciting it has been seeing our space come into being. I’ve had the privilege of sharing many of the books I have read over the years. As the boxes were unpacked, I found myself reflecting back on my own spiritual journey: “I loved this book!’ or “This is one of my favorite authors!” or “I really want to read this one again!” Authors I had encountered early in my journey greeted me once again, taking their place on the shelf alongside those who joined me as I grew and matured. Writings I clung to in times of suffering and despair as well as those that rejoiced with me in times of great joy gently reminded me of the ebbs and flows of the transformational process. I believe it is helpful to stop from time to time and reflect on the milestones along our own spiritual journeys. We need to be reminded of how God has been with us in times of turmoil and in times of joy to gain an awareness of our own growth throughout. Perhaps this reminder becomes sustenance for our current path or merely affirms that growth is occurring. Regardless, there is great power in the pause.
A Place To Be offers many opportunities for such reflection: Geography of Grace retreat, In The Land Between ministry, spiritual companioning or quiet, personal retreat time. Consider giving yourself the gift of time and space to reflect on your own journey and listen for God’s presence in your life.
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!