Saturday, December 31, 2011

Perhaps I already have enough to do all my work?

In the face of new year's resolutions, the cultural process of making plans to lose weight, exercise more, etc., I have decided to not set any new goals or resolutions.  For one, this blog and year of living intentionally is certainly a work in progress... and the progress has been waining of late (though I am happy to report I successfully put away all new Christmas clothes, organized my closets and even weeded out some clothes to donate- returning to goal # 19!!)  I am grateful for the sense of new beginning that comes with a 'new year', as an opportunity to re-focus my efforts and consider who I am becoming in the coming year.  In addition to already having some goals set, I think a different way of approaching the new year is to focus on embracing trust in myself and God, that I can achieve, become, learn and grow.  Instead of focusing on the end results or goals, I'd like to focus on the process, the journey and a way of being.
A New York Times writer just finished a great piece on the Jesuit retreat center in Wernersville, PA.  This retreat center provided me with two very significant retreat experiences in my college life, times when I was particularly struggling and felt a bit lost.  The retreat space, both physical and spiritual, provided time to listen, to stop filling the silence with music, conversation, tv, reading and all the other 'stuff' of my life, and really hear God's voice speaking to me in my thoughts, prayers, dreams and sometimes just in the comfortable silence.  One of the lines from the NYTimes article seemed to encapsulate it all, as her spiritual director suggested, what if you already have enough to do all of your work?  To really believe and to know... to have the confidence and trust that with God, you have all that you need to face whatever life brings you.  To thrive, to attain fulfillment, and to live our life in trust.  Worrying less and having confidence in one's self and God.... Yes, please.  I'd like that.
Father Jim Martin, SJ, a great spiritual writer of late, posted a list of 12 "Really stupid things I'd like to never do again".  His style of writing is accessible to me, as I can relate to what he describes and instead of feeling shame, he helps me to laugh at myself and my many human weaknesses.  The first item on his list is about comparing...  Something that facebook continues to invoke in me, so that after I spend thirty minutes reading my newsfeed and looking at peoples' pictures, I often log off feeling a little less jovial than I did when I logged on.  It doesn't happen every time I log off, but often enough that I realize I need to compare myself less... and maybe get back to that goal of spending less time on facebook.  Here's what Fr. Jim had to say about it: Compare. Ever heard the saying "Compare and despair"? Comparing yourself to someone else usually means that you imagine the other person is better off, more satisfied -- in a word, happier. But here's the problem: We end up comparing what we know about our life, which is a mixed bag of good and bad, with a fantasy of someone else's supposedly "perfect" life. Why do we do this? Because we know all about our own problems, but other people's problems are harder to see. As a result, our real life always loses out. That leads to despair. Besides, there's probably someone comparing his or her life to your supposedly perfect one -- which shows you how ridiculous it all is.
The rest of his article is here if you're willing to look in the mirror and reflect on some perhaps 'stupid' stuff you do, too.  Bring your sense of humor!

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.
Thornton Wilder

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Witness to passion and hope

In the days leading up to Christmas break from school, a former student came to visit and speak with my classes about her experiences studying and doing service in El Salvador.  Claire is a junior at Boston College, and participated in an alternative study-abroad program run through Santa Clara University in CA.  Santa Clara sponsors a program based in San Salvador, which enables students from Jesuit (and some non-Jesuit) schools throughout the US study at the University of Central America in addition to serving at various praxis sights throughout the country.  It is based upon the principles of liberation theology and solidarity, enabling students from North America to walk with the people of El Salvador and learn from them. 
Listening to Claire's stories and watching the passion and fire in her heart as she described who she met and all that she learned, I found myself deeply moved.  There is something about working alongside the poorest of the poor that puts things in perspective a bit, pointing out what really matters: relationship, love, compassion and laughter... and points out the insanity that we often get caught up in, particularly in the Christmas season: money, competition, power and status.  It is easy to lose sight of what 'really matters' living in a culture that often emphasizes 'stuff' over 'people'.  But there are moments of grace, insights into the beauty of love and relationship, that ground me back in the realization of what brings true, deep and long-lasting fulfillment. 
I was wasting some time yesterday on Facebook and saw a picture of another former student who goes to Saint Joe's, and she was participating in 'Unity Week', what used to be called 'Rainbow Week'... a week of events that emphasize understanding and acceptance of all people, focused primarily on sexual orientation.  It made me smile, excited to imagine what this young woman and so many others will do to help bring change and compassion to our world.  It just so happened that I spent the afternoon yesterday having coffee with Claire, and this other young woman happened to be at the same coffee house meeting with another former teacher from our high school...  Truly, what are the chances?  God's hand, providing inspiration and hope! 
It's easy to get disillusioned with the 'Church' or the world in general, to focus on what isn't or what should/could be.  But it is truly inspiring and gives me great hope to see these two young women, in a sea of thousands (or millions!) of passionate, inspired and motivated young people, ready to set the world on fire!
I received this poem from a friend this Christmas, and find its message to be truly profound and challenging.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas :)

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.  -- Howard Thurman

Monday, December 19, 2011


For some reason this advent season, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about and being with Mary.  It might have something to do with my rekindled obsession with Breath of Heaven, which many of my students sang at our Christmas concert last year.  If you missed that, check out this great video with scenes from The Nativity: Breath of Heaven
Much of my thought and prayer this Advent with Mary has been about trust and anticipation... awaiting the unknown and yet trusting that all will be well, even if we can't always see how that will unfold.  This speaks to me on many levels of my life and I imagine it always will.  The myth of certainty and guarantees has been fed to all of us in America.  If you do x, y will be the result.  And yet, there are many other variables that aren't included in that original equation.  I can't control what other people say, I can't control health and illness, I can't control accidents, I can't control the actions of others.... but I can only control my response... and like Mary, I can trust.
A beautiful prayer and poem on the Annunciation, that moment of radical trust and assurance in the face of uncertainty and fear:

By Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
                   Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
                  The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
                                            God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
                   Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
             More often
those moments
     when roads of light and storm
     open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
                          only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                   Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking the time

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to accompany 49 of my senior students on a 3 day overnight retreat. In the days that proceeded the retreat, I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends... I found myself with meetings scheduled before and after school everyday in addition to meetings scheduled during my lunch and prep periods. There was hardly time to breathe while I was in the school building, and yet I realized that I am often most productive when I am most busy. But, as retreat showed me, I also need to make the time to slow down, to listen, and to just 'be'. When I feel pulled in so many different directions, scheduling time for down time becomes another thing to do and I put myself in autopilot. Not exactly the way I planned to spend Advent.
Advent is a time of listening, of preparing and anticipating. What are some ways we can better do this? Retreat was a chance for me to plug back in to my spiritual desire to be aware of God's presence in my life, both in the big things and in the little moments. It is being more aware of the twinkle of the lights on my Christmas tree, driving around new neighborhoods to delight in their holiday cheer, or in the sipping of a cup of peppermint tea while snuggled under the covers on a particularly cold night. I guess that is why I started this whole blog in the first place, to be more aware and intentional. At the point of my half birthday and subsequent six month anniversary of my blog, it is a perfect time to check in and reconnect with my purpose and desire.
Peace and joy to all in this season of Advent!