All Good Gifts

What if we were always grateful instead of just one day or one month of the year? We have one day in November where we stop and give thanks. Typically it is a day where we consume too much food, experience the usual uncomfortable family dynamics and for some, a frantic day of shopping.

We eat and consume and buy and consume. What if we stopped for a moment and considered the non-material gifts we have? What if we ate substantially less and shared our over abundance to a local pantry or homeless shelter? What if we did all of this year round and not just one day or one season?

What if we shopped locally year round and supported local businesses? What if we remembered charities and non-profits throughout the year instead of giving only on Giving Tuesday? What if donated monthly to the local food bank or agency supporting children and families involved in child welfare?

I decided to recall what I was thankful for every day this November. I posted on social media the people, places, things, gifts, talents, experiences, etc. for which I was grateful. Some days came easily. Other days required some more reflection and thought.

On one day I expressed gratitude for some individuals who hurt me because without them I would not have learned resilience and independence. Not an easy thing to say or do but on this particular day, I was mindful of how independent I am. I don’t always understand why things happen the way they do and I don’t necessarily believe everything happens for a reason as if somehow preordained by some controlling force outside myself. On this one particular day I was able to express gratitude for this particular painful incident.

Let me share some of things for which I was thankful: trees, wildlife, the owls in our woods, a warm bed at night, people who “get me and my Sheldonness, good health and peace of mind, cataract surgery in 2017 and new eyes to see, no absolutes, no black and white rules which means less judgment and of course, the Big Bang because I’m made of star dust (and so are you!)

I’m also grateful for Francis, Clare, Teilhard de Chardin, Rohr, Starr, Richardson, Oliver, Bourgeault, Delio, Phillips, Pope Francis, Dalai Lama, MLK, Pema Chodron, Buddha, Ghandi, and Jesus. SoulCollage, Enneagram, Myers-Briggs and lectio divina, centering prayer, and zen.

Thankful for eagles and hawks, and for veterans who served in our armed services, for baseball, my peer supervision group for spiritual direction, and my tribe of friends. Profoundly grateful for those with whom I companion on their spiritual journey. Grateful for adventures like backpacking in the Rockies, space camp, zip lines, swimming with dolphins and stingrays, and parasailing. Grateful for the life of Sr. Pat, an Oldenburg sister I only recently got to know, who suddenly left this physical world for the world of spirit. I am grateful I learned to laugh with Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, Scooby doo and others.

In gratitude for clean sheets, bubble baths, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup – not all at the same time! The smell of freshly mown hay, summer breezes and starry nights and for firewood to keep us warm on winter nights. Grateful for music and musicians and for our fur babies – Duchess, Duke and Dobby.

I am grateful for you and your support of my musings. Thankful for followers to this blog and for those who follow me on social media. I am grateful for the prayer support and love of brothers and sisters on the spiritual journey. I am most grateful for the love and support of my husband and best friend.

For what and whom are you grateful? How do you express gratitude to the people in your life? Perhaps over the remaining weeks of the year you can begin a gratitude journal. Every day write one thing for which you are grateful.

I’m reminded of the song “All Good Gifts” from the musical Godspell: “We thank thee then O Father, for all things bright and good. For seed time and the harvest, our life our health our food. No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts But that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts!

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above.
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love.
I really wanna thank you Lord!

Blessings,

Christy

This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)

Trains, Automobiles and Chevy Suburbans – A Vacation Adventure

We returned from vacation last week. We decided we would travel by train to Grand Junction, Colorado, rent a car, and spend time in Monument Valley, AZ and New Mexico and return by train. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, actually, it was a little more involved and more adventurous than I had dreamed. Our outbound train was almost 5 hours late in arriving in Grand Junction which meant cancelling reservations in one place and trying to get them in Grand Junction so we could pick up the car because the car rental closed at 6 and our train wouldn’t be in until well after that. Whew!

I learned – again – for the umpteenth time – there are simply some things out of my control. I prefer to have a plan and for things to go according to plan. Not this time but oddly, I was okay. Something about the pace of traveling by train with the multiple stops and never quite getting up to speed created a more laid back approach even as I prayed for a cell signal through the Rocky Mountains to reserve a hotel room in Grand Junction with a shower and a comfy bed! Our roomette on the train – seats which converted into beds – was better than sitting up all night in coach. It was a little bigger than a phone booth but I doubt Clark Kent would have been able to change to Superman in it (for those of you born after the early 1980s ask your parents or grandparents about phone booths!) A shower and comfy bed was much needed.

Thankfully, our hotel sent someone to pick us up at the train station around 9:30 when the train arrived. I just love the West! Our shuttle driver wore bib overalls and a small brimmed cowboy style hat with a feather in it. We were in mountain country and I loved it! With a smile, he loaded our luggage for our 10 minute ride from the station. Once in the room, we collapsed in the comfy bed!

The next morning our bib overall wearing driver shuttled us to the car rental place to begin the next leg of our journey to Monument Valley. Utah is lovely and it should have been a nice 4 1/2 to 5 hour drive to Monument Valley, AZ turned into almost 7 because Utah department of highways was blasting. Yea, the kaboom kind of “let’s blow up rocks and stuff” blasting. Apparently, rock blasting is Utah’s answer to orange barrels season found elsewhere in the nation!

A prayer for cell signal and I made a call to our guide for our Hunts Mesa camp out. He would wait for us at the visitor center in Monument Valley. We were about an hour and half late getting there. Then the fun REALLY began!

I never knew a Chevy Suburban could climb rocks and sand but our Navajo guide, Tony, showed me it was possible. We only had to travel 7 1/2 miles from the visitor center to the top of Hunt’s Mesa but it would take us 2 1/2 hours. Once we made it to the top of the mesa, the tour began. Tony dropped us off so we could watch the sunset over Monument Valley.

If Monument Valley looks familiar it is because it has been the other “character” in numerous western movies, five with John Wayne directed by John Ford, and even a few non-westerns like Easy Rider, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Back to the Future III and Forest Gump. A word to the wise, if you want to take a picture of the spot where Forest Gump stops and announces he’s tired, please pay attention or have you life insurance paid! We encountered a woman who simply didn’t want to leave the middle of the road until the very last minute. We smiled and waived as she took the pic of our rental car traveling along on US 163!

The bouncy, white knuckle drive to the top of Hunts Mesa was worth the trip. It’s almost as if time stood still in this valley. There are no utility lines or poles. Words don’t describe that it was like sitting on a rock atop the mesa watching the colors and shadows shift and change. Mesmerizing. Magical. Breath-taking. Magnificent. Sacred. That’s probably the best word. This truly is sacred land.

I felt deeply and profoundly moved within my spirit by something ancient and healing. I felt the sacredness of the place. The vastness is breathtaking. Science tells us Monument Valley’s rock formations which lie within the Navaho/Dine Nation, are eroded remains of their Rocky Mountain ancestors, formed by sandstone deposits and geologic uplift and then shaped by wind and water.

I felt the spirituality of the land. We were on our tour October 3 to October 4. I hadn’t deliberately planned to celebrate the Transistus of St. Francis of Assisi atop Hunt’s Mesa but it turned out that way because of how we structured our vacation. I watched the sunset receiving images of light and shadow and even wrote a bit in my journal.

Monument Valley – sunset October 3

Once the sun set, Tony guided us back to the camp for a hearty steak dinner with corn and potatoes and Navajo tea. The heavens were truly telling of the glory of God that night! We saw billions and billions of stars in the night sky including the Milky Way. We just don’t see the stars like that in Ohio even away from the lights of the cities. In the higher altitude we were closer to the stars and away for the light pollution of big cities and saw more stars in the night sky. We slept in a tent in comfy sleeping bags. Sometime in the night, I heard a light cool breeze dance through, kiss the tent with her gentle breath and move on. The next morning the valley seemed cleaner and brighter.

Monument Valley – the morning October 4

As the sunrise kissed the landscape, I recalled the John Michael Talbot song, “Sunrise/All Creation Waits” from his 1981 Troubadour of the Great King album, an album I played and played throughout college and after.

“Sunrise in the morning
Let all creation greet the dawn
And praise the Lord who created
Brother sun to open our eyes

For all of us would be blind
If not for the light of our Lord

For all of us would be blind
If not for the light of our Lord” – John Micheal Talbot (c) 1981

As the colors, light and shadows emerged and expanded, I recalled the moment immediately following cataract surgery in 2017. I saw so many things I never knew I was missing. October 4, 2019 I stood atop Hunt’s Mesa and felt immense gratitude for new eyes to see the amazing landscape of Monument Valley. I also felt heartfelt gratitude to the Creator for new spiritual eyes of the heart to see and walk with others on their spiritual journeys. This landscape in Monument Valley held a spirit of place and timelessness.

Questions for reflection, journaling or contemplation:

How do you experience “spirit of place”? What do you feel? What places are sacred to you? Journal, collage, draw or paint your place of Spirit.

When was the last time you felt gratitude for being able to “see”? What do you see with your spiritual eyes? What have you been “blind” to but now you see? Who or what opened your eyes to see?

What do you hear with the ear of your heart? Who are your companions on your journey? Your spiritual friend(s)?

Blessings,

Christy

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction and spiritual companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. If you, your faith group, your church or your book club would like to know more about spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)

Space, Politics and Loving Kindness

Earth rise – December 1968

I haven’t written much over the past month or so. It certainly isn’t because I haven’t been thinking! I think and ponder all the time. People who know me well tell me I over think like that’s a real thing. I believe I think differently than most people because I see things differently than most. There are times when I feel like Kermit the Frog – sometimes it’s hard being green!

I’ve felt, deluged, swallowed up and beat up by the negativity on social media and the general media. I’ve felt I can’t express anything challenges the party line, status quo or adopted position. I dread going out in public too where the swirl of comments eventually turns to things political accompanied by a poke in my ribs and a “we’ll be better off after the election in 2020”, assuming of course the incumbent is ousted.

Dang it! There it is again! The trap politic. What I wish I would hear is “I’m praying to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” or “I’m sending loving kindness to our elected officials whoever they may be.”

We have problems in our country. We’ve always had them. I was reminded of the turmoil of the 1960s last week as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing in July 1969. As a grade schooler, I had little sense of zeitgeist of the 1960’s. But the documentaries about Apollo 11 gave me a perspective on the turbulent 60s and the coming of age of the Baby Boomers at that time. Most of the shows discussed the space program from the beginning with Kennedy’s speech of choosing to go to the moon by the end of the decade “not because they are easy but because they are hard”. These documentaries relived the heartbreak of the devastating fire of Apollo 1 which killed White, Chaffee and Grissom and the Apollo flights, focusing on Apollo 8 and 11.

Apollo 8 with astronauts Lovell, Borman and Anders aboard occurred December, 1968. The mission was to go to moon, take a few laps around it and come back safely to earth. We thought we were going to discover the moon when in fact we discovered the earth (not my line but a line borrowed from Frank Borman!). 1968 was a pretty crappy year. 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, according to the History Chanel. Everything from the TET offensive in Viet Nam, to MLK’s and Bobby’ Kennedy’s assassination, student protests all over the world, the chaos at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the Olympic protests by black athletes.

As Apollo 8 circled the moon, Bill Anders snapped one of the most iconic photos ever – Earth rise. The Earth “photobombed” the moon! We saw the earth as a beautiful blue space ship in the oasis of black space in contrast to the grey lifeless moon.

In commentary of one of the documentaries I saw, Frank Borman reported they received thousands of telegrams congratulating them on their mission. One of them simply said “you saved 1968” *

What will it take to “save” 2019? It’s been a pretty bleak year – the Amazon is burning. Mass shootings. World wide immigrant crises in Europe and the USA. Antifa beating people in city streets for no apparent reason. Extremists of right and left sides of the political spectrum yelling and screaming at each other in person and on social media platforms. I heard a quote the other day which exemplifies the current climate – that Democrat/Liberals desire a world that can never be (utopia) and Republican/Conservatives desire a world that never was (the good old days). Somewhere in the middle has to be a world where we a judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin or our political party or religious preference. Has MLK’s dream died? Have we taken a giant step forward only to take 3 steps back?

Spiritual practice challenge: Start by learning to be kind to yourself. I’ve always liked the Buddhist meta mediation. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed to your own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others. Jesus taught this – love your neighbor as yourself.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be well.

May I be at peace and at ease.

May I be happy.

As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now or perhaps has a young child. You may adjust the words and images in any way you wish. Create the exact phrases that best open your heart of kindness. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind. Practice this meditation for a number of weeks, until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.

When I first started doing this, it felt awkward and contrived. Sometimes I felt irritated and angry. If this happens to you, it is important to be patient and kind toward yourself and just allow whatever arises and receive it with kindness. Do this meditation for several weeks.

When you feel you have established some stronger sense of loving kindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. After focusing on yourself for five or ten minutes, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has loved or truly cared for you. Picture this person and carefully recite the same phrases.

Let the image and feelings you have for your benefactor center your meditation and allow whatever arises to arise. Continue to send loving wishes, repeating the phrases gently no matter what.

If it seems easier for you to begin with sending loving kindness to a benefactor, start there. Whatever will most easily open your heart is the practice to follow.

Once you have established a strong sense of loving kindness for your self and your benefactors, expand your meditation to those who challenge us the most, those we perceive as “them” or “other”, those we may have uttered “I hate/despise/can’t stand him/her”. It could be a neighbor, a sibling, a parent, a co-worker or someone you may not know as well – the immigrant, the over zealous gun enthusiast, the mentally ill, the smelly homeless man, the braggadicious politician, or a group of people different from you in every respect – skin color, political ideology, religious belief, etc.

Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the phrases above and direct them toward the individual you see as “other”. You’ve spent weeks sending loving kindness to yourself and your benefactors. Now, send that loving kindness to the other. Love others. If anger and agitation arise, breathe gently in and out and continue repeating the phrases. Allow whatever arises to arise. This will seem really awkward and contrived. I recall do this practice toward individuals who deeply hurt me. (The process of forgiveness began for me after a substantial period of practice. It is a process and not a one time thing but that is another blog for another time.)

Can we save 2019? Can we save ourselves from ourselves. Will we tear down the divisions between us? When humanity landed safely on the moon and Neil Armstrong took that first step and Buzz Aldrin followed in July 1969, the feeling was that WE did it, not the American astronauts but we humans. The collective we walked on another world. What will it take for us to feel and believe we are a WE and not US and THEM?

I encourage you to take that first step toward loving kindness to yourself and others. If I can assist you in any way, please let me know.

Blessings,

Christy

*If you would like to visit the Apollo 8 command module, it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)

Images of a Retreat

Richard Rohr says, “To be a contemplative is to trust deep time.”

I spent last week on a silent personally directed retreat at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, Ohio. I’m still processing and ruminating with my experience but wanted to share a few musings since I haven’t written in a while.

I try to do at least one week long retreat a year. I try to trust deep time and I long for it. While I set aside a day each month for extended prayer and reflection, I always look forward to a week of solitude and prayer away from the busy-ness and noise of daily life.

I spent this retreat in silence and met with a spiritual director daily. I believe my years of Zen practice make me more sensitive to sound so, a slam of a door and a clank of a spoon on a coffee cup seemed so intrusive into my silence. But, I leaned in to it, smiled and affirmed the silence within myself. Silence is not always about no sound. It’s our relationship with sound that matters.

We also used the SoulCollage® https://www.soulcollage.com/ process to delve deeper into our souls and spirits. The process of discovering images and doing a “mash up” of various images in prayer and reflection helped me to go deeper into my spirituality and bring that to spiritual direction each day.

I was fundamentally changed by the grace of this retreat. I allowed myself to fully enter into a slower pace and to trust the deep time. OLPRC is truly beautiful and is full of pine trees, oak, maple, sycamore, and others along with deer, raccoons and hawks and more. It rained several days and I managed to find a cozy chair to read or solitude in the intimate chapel for prayer.

I asked for a deeper relationship with the Divine and I set an intention to breath slowly, to walk contemplatively and to relax into the Love of the Universe. I tend to be one who is most comfortable in the world of thoughts and of the mind. I deliberately chose a retreat where mind could sink into the world of intuition and heart. SoulCollage® paved the way for me to live in the world of heart and spirit for a week.

I re-discovered we are Loved by the Divine by whatever name you like. It may be the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as that symbol which lets you feel in your heart, you soul, your very essence that you are loved. It may be the chittering of baby raccoons and their mama that lets you hear the love of the Creator. It may be the image of a silhouette of a couple in a cosmic starfield gazing for eternity into each other’s eyes that lets you see Love. Whatever your image, sit with it. And sit with it some more. Feel your breath move in and out of your body. Feel that breath down in your diaphragm. Rest there. Live there. Love there.

I recommend SoulCollage®. I recommend a silent retreat. I recommend Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center https://www.pinesretreat.org/ I highly encourage you to pause – daily – for at least 10 minutes and breathe. Breathe in Divine Love. Feel it in your heart. Feel it all the way to your toes. Know deep inside you are Loved.

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)

Baseball and Mom

“Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand.” – Leo Durocher

In the past month or so, I’ve attended a number of high school baseball games – a continuation of something my mother and I did together for several years. I’d pick her up at the retirement home and I’d drive her to high school baseball games where she once was scorekeeper and sometimes trainer. In later years, when she put down the paper scorebook and athletic tape, she was present and dispensed baseball knowledge to any player or coach who’d listen. And she knew what she was talking about.

Mom

She grew up on baseball. My grandfather, a coach at University of Cincinnati in 1951, Reds Scout, and manager of a semipro team in Cincinnati, took my mother with him into that world. She attended a high school in Cincinnati which graduated players like Chuck and Ed Brinkman, Dick Drott, Art Mahaffey, Clyde Vollmer, Russ Nixon, Don Zimmer and Pete Rose.

John Beckel, Jr. – my grandpa

My mother’s love of baseball was a constant through her life. Friends came and went. My father died. She always returned to baseball. Through the last years of her life and on her last day on this earth it was baseball. It was her passion and her love. She loved our local major league team, the Reds, yet her great joy was watching a local high school team and sitting on the bench with them. Her love for her father was connected to her love for the game.

It’s pretty much the same for me. Memories of my mother is tied mostly to baseball. This time of year is a time of new life with flowers blooming and trees budding and yet for me, it is a time when I am reminded at every high school game I attend or every game I watch on TV that my mother is not physically with me. Mom waited eagerly waited for spring. Rogers Hornsby once said “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” This pretty much sums up my mother.

I can’t quite tell the story about the day she died without choking back tears. I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the facts so here they are: we listened to the high school state championship game on the radio. Our team did not win. Her favorite player came up to see her after the game. Twenty minutes after he and his family left her room, she took her last breath. It was as if the season had ended and it was time to put the tarp on the field and go home. We buried her with a baseball in her hand. We established a memorial fund in her honor – the Angel in the Dugout Fund.

Mom wasn’t much on faith and religion but I know she was spiritual. She believed certain things with all her heart. The baseball field was a sacred place whether it was a major league cathedral or a little league dirt field. Players had to have respect for the game and play with passion. Players should have guts and want to win. The team with the most talent doesn’t always win. It’s the team that wants it more. She was “old school” how she believed the game should be played – no bat flips or showing up the pitcher or the next time the pitcher would put a ball in your ribs! Sacrifice bunts, suicide squeeze plays and base hits up the middle were more exciting that homeruns. Hits were earned. Never act like you’ve never won or scored a run before. Treat the bat boy, equipment manager or ground crew the same as you would the star player.

Here’s the thing about grief. There is no wrong way to grieve and there is no right way to grieve When grieving gets in the way of your being able to function in daily life it’s time to seek support and help. I still grieve. I still cry. Sometimes I can feel her presence at the ball park in the crack of a bat, or the chatter of the boys as they take infield. Sometimes I hold a baseball knowing that she holds one in her final resting place. While I know there is no right or wrong way to sit with grief, it can be quite a struggle at times.

But I’m okay. It’s like I’m taking my turn at bat and I keep fouling off pitches until I get a base hit up the middle or on really good days, it’s a home run over the center field wall. On other days, it feels like I’m pitching well and I’ve got a shut out going in the 9th inning and the batter hits a dinger into the left field seats. Grief kind of sneaks up on me like that hitter in the 9th. I’ve learned that I have to let go of that moment and move on because I can’t replay that play of the ball game. I can’t go back and undo or redo anything but I can learn and grow and move through grief with awareness that I am not alone.

Blessings,

Christy

(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)

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