Breathing Lessons from Brother Omid

Dear Friends,

Lately in busy-ness and stress I needed a spiritual director to remind me to just get on the cushion and sit.  Just show up knowing that God is always, already waiting to sit and breathe with you.  Let yourself be breathed.  No effort, no generating of solutions and answers, no expectations other than to get to the next breath.

Please read this article on Breathing for life, and as prayer and communion with God by Omid Safi:

https://onbeing.org/blog/learning-how-to-breathe-again/

Today as I struggle with aggravated asthma symptoms, I am aware that many people struggle to breathe daily, not only due to pollutants in their air, but also to tension, tightness, restlessness and fear.  The transformational power of breath to re-center and ground us can be our greatest gift; but sometimes sitting in the center of all we have worked so hard to distract ourselves from can feel like a punishment….Until we try it.

The fear of getting lost and consumed by pain, worry, and discomfort can keep us from the sweet release of surrender to the source of comfort and solutions.  Omid speaks of asking God not only how to pray, as Jesus modeled for us, but also, how to breathe.  Please know that a commitment to conscious breathing can open a world of healing, expansiveness, and connection to the loving and creative force always around you and always within.  That Spirit of God moving in and through our bodies will will guide and direct our next breath and next steps.

If you are living with trauma, it is most advisable to seek a trained professional therapist or spiritual director to breathe with you and process that which is uncovered. Even if your trauma was not on a life-threatening scale, having a professional caregiver with you can expand the efficacy of your mindfulness and spiritual practice by working with you to unburden some of the weights which press in on your heart quite literally.

May the nearness of God be at the center of your heart, mind, and choices as you move through relationships and the world around you.

 

 

One Light in the Darkness

I woke up in the middle of the night in my very dark bedroom with a sense of disorientation from a strange dream.  For a moment I could not get a sense of which direction my bed was facing, where the door was, or even where the lamp on my night table stood.  I just sat there and searched the darkness for one single glimpse of light- from under the door, from around the window shades, from my alarm clock.  I said to myself, “I only need to find the source of one light I can discern and it will lead me to all the rest.”

This late night epiphany seemed profound in the liminal space of dreaming and waking.  It reminds me of the quote by St. Francis of Assisi,

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of one candle.”

For those of us heading into the Daylight Savings time change where many  will go to work in the morning and come home in the evening, both in darkness, it can be a time of slowing or stagnant energy.  It can be more exhausting than the usual daily grind already feels.  But I call us to remember that like the electrical systems all around us, flowing with the potential for light and heat, we are always surrounded with the the potential for light, productivity, creative process, and healing renewal.  It may not be as simple as flipping a light switch or setting a thermostat, which is why we must dedicate ourselves to daily preparation and maintenance of our energy systems.

What is energizing to you?

Enjoying good food, fun books, time out with friends, a phone call to a distant loved one, going to a spiritual event, helping at a service project, doing something silly, getting your crafty side going, taking a soothing bath, moving your body, getting a massage, going to bed earlier, meditating…

When our bodies are reluctant to keep up with time changes, and the transition of seasons, it is an invitation to give ourselves more positive attention.  A calling inside rather than the frenetic pace of Spring and Summer can be rejuvenative and caring.

What brings light and comfort to your life?

How and with whom can you imagine yourself opening spaces in your life to include these opportunities for joy, solace, and renewal?

You are worth it!

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”

(see discussion on authorship: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/03/19/candle/ )

(Image from Astronomy picture of the day of the Witch’s Broom Nebula- Credit & Copyright: Adam BlockMount Lemmon SkyCenterUniv. Arizona )

Prayer for Times of Tragedy and Trauma (from an Admittedly Christian Perspective)

God of the Wounded and the Healed

God of the Guilty and the Innocent

God of the Dark Night and the Shining Day,

You exist at the intersection of all extremes

In this tumultuous human journey.

We come to you broken into pieces,

On a painful and uncertain path,

Moving forward whether we feel ready or not.

During our journey

On the unexpected, hard road of grief,

Help us to know that

Like our ancestors in the wilderness,

You are providing for us

Day by day,

in the ways most meaningful for each of us.

Open our eyes and soften our hearts

To reorganize, and make space for

The new ways you will live and move among us.

Oh God, Remind us that

You are breathing our next Breath

When our lungs collapse in grief.

You can Touch the places inside us

Too jagged and tender to handle on our own.

You are the Bread of Life

When our appetites are lost, or hunger becomes a mindless distraction.

You are the Light which beckons from the other side of the door

When we cannot bear to get out from under the covers.

You are the soothing water mixing with our tears,

Blessing each one of them.

Holy and Resurrecting One,

Accompany us on the winding way to wholeness.

When we fall into despair,

Shine a glimmer of resilience.

When we realize we have had moments of joy, productivity, and optimism,

Keep us free from the harm of guilt.

Guide our Hearts and Minds only to Yourself.

In the name of the One who was lost to Death and found in Life

Who has both gone before us,

And remains deep within us,

Now and Forever.

Amen.

Maitri: Unconditional Friendship with and Acceptance of Oneself

Friends: Here is my second theological reflection, with some love from the wisdom of our Buddhist brothers and sisters.

Honoring the Personally Transformative Nature of CPE

By Employing the Four Qualities of Maitri

I began CPE with the specific expectation that it was going to focus on the Clinical Portion of Pastoral Care, essentially: how to go “be a chaplain” or “Do chaplaincy.”  I spent a good deal of my first unit totally confused about what we were actually doing.  Somehow I was so intent on learning some nonexistent rules about what to do and how to do it, I completely discounted the immeasurable value of the portion of CPE dedicated to Pastoral Identity and Self-Discovery that is at the core of a balanced chaplain and minister.  Perhaps for the purpose of an unconscious sense of self-preservation, I was blind to the Pastoral Formation and Reflection portions of the program, and fixated on the Pastoral Competencies, particularly as they related to performance with patients.  I met the HUGE body of work around self-awareness and peer group dynamics with great resistance.  I thought I knew myself to be incredibly reflective and self-aware.  In many ways this was true; but what was lacking, and what would leave a gaping hole in my ministry unless addressed, was self-love and acceptance.

Many years of serving in my family, relationships, and bodywork career as a poster child for co-dependency and people pleasing lead to an unconscious exhaustion and bitterness that would sneak out in vulnerable moments where I did not have the energy to control it.  Yet still I prized the Idea of what a good person, a good Christian, and a good woman Should be like, rather than actually stopping and feeling my emotions and desires, and offering them the time and energy I reserved for everyone else.  Then, along came CPE.  It was the pinnacle of service, the goal I have put high on a pedestal for 17 years. I was more than happy to focus on the other and even ranked the toughest, most gut wrenching cases as more valuable, feeling like a slacker if I was not “in the trenches” enough.  All along, this was a way of keeping the focus on others, never on who I was in the experience.  It just didn’t seem prudent, much less useful.  By the end of my first unit I had arrived at a holding space for what I called the Holy AND, a place of celebration of the existence of suffering and rejoicing at the same time, like the mystery of Christ being both on the cross and resurrected at any moment of our spiritual journeys.  It was a recognition of wholeness— so I thought.  But, it was only a recognition.  The Holy AND was about situations we encounter daily as chaplains; but what about our internal encounters? What am I feeling in these stories?  Why does it matter?  I completely missed that my lack of self-consideration showed a tremendous lack of faith and underestimation of who God is.

Finally, after years of listening to lectures and reading books by a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodrin which introduced me to the concept of maitri, just this unit I began to integrate the concept within the context of CPE!  Maitri pronounced “my tree” is a Sanskrit word that is translated as unconditional friendship with and acceptance of oneself.  Chodrin explains that maitri is about beginning a process of looking inside oneself for love and acceptance, with loving-kindness for whatever we see when we look within.  It is suggested to be the basis of compassion and the root to healing all suffering in the world.   The first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhist philosophy is that suffering or discontent is Universal; and fully recognizing its existence is the first step on the path of awakening (Brach, 18).  Buddhist meditation teacher Krishnamurti teaches that “This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky is called enlightenment and liberation.” (Chodrin,18).  Well congratulations all CPE students!  We are on the path to enlightenment here!  Somehow the answer to alleviating suffering is to go deeper into it and make friends with it.  I realize that I got into chaplaincy to help alleviate suffering in other people, lessen the existence of suffering in the world in general; but I never considered that this mission began with befriending my own suffering.

As humans we share a tendency to look outside ourselves- to others, spiritual practice, distracting behaviors and addictions for love and acceptance.  We use distancing behaviors as a primal reaction to avoid being open with and close to our own suffering, both physical and mental.  It is reflexive and self-preserving on many levels.  But on the spiritual journey, Buddhist philosophy and the CPE process invite us to sit with, go deeper into, and even honor the experiences that cause inner turmoil.  Chodrin suggests that this learning to feel friendly and at home with ourselves in whatever we discover under the surface sheds a Light on the dark and lonely places of life.  Pema suggests that we engage the spiritual process with the four qualities of maitri: steadfastness, clear seeing, experiencing our emotional distress, and attention to the present moment.

In steadfastness, we develop a loyalty to our experiences, including all sensations or thoughts and emotions of the wildest diversity, knowing that they are all a part of our intended practice- or as one CPE instructor would say: “everything is grist for the mill.”  Pema teaches that, just like in CPE, in meditation we must practice patience and maitri with ourselves. When we start to look closely and see everything about ourselves and our experiences clearly, we can become extremely uncomfortable and wish to flee or judge ourselves for what is coming up.  I relate this to how I feel in IPR and receiving feedback during verbatims.  It is such a closely magnified look, with witnesses to boot, that it can be excruciating.  Yet, with a gentle curiosity, a friendly affinity for ourselves and our fundamental nature- worded in my theology: honoring the inner dwelling of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and all creation- we can come to love ourselves into wholeness and freedom from the suffering caused by the desire to be different than we are.  We can share and model that liberating sense of friendliness, love, acceptance, and clear-seeing to others if we are willing to offer it first to ourselves.  (Chodrin 27)

As chaplains we have the unique opportunity to be reminded of most all kinds of human suffering on a daily basis.  Some of the worst suffering humans experience is a feeling of loneliness or abandonment.  Whatever pain we have physically, mentally, or spiritually is exponentially increased by the sensation of isolation in that suffering.  So as chaplains we offer to hold space for, sit in on, and dive into the empty darkness with our patients.  As CPE students we also do it for each other; and if we are really brave- ourselves.  Until I was willing to sit in my own uncertainty and squirm at my own self-recognition, forgive myself for mistakes, admit my shame and embarrassment, I was giving well intentioned, but ultimately inauthentic feedback.   Up until sometime last year my therapist who is a trained HeartMath instructor would always ask me where and how I felt a feeling.  I would use descriptions that were verbal, intellectual concepts; but I was absolutely terrified and repulsed by the suggestion of going into my heart and body where the pain was, and describing it in detail, allowing it, and breathing into it.  Then I realized that is exactly what I do when I am present with my massage clients and patients in extreme crisis.  I am not afraid to go towards it when the suffering isn’t coming from me, but when it is, I tend to resist it tooth and nail.

What I am coming to see in myself is a beloved daughter of God who at times also feels hurt, less than, unworthy, ashamed, weak, unprepared, unlovable, unattractive, fearful, lonely, misunderstood, eager, impatient, and a host of other feelings which I ate, talked, wrote, exercised, slept or helped other people in order to avoid.  I avoided them so much they got louder, bigger, more painful and expressed themselves in ways that were leading me farther from my path in God.  Using the second quality of maitri, clear seeing, we are watching our every tendency, and those to whom we minister care-fully (Patton 47).  Whether on the meditation cushion as in Buddhist practice, or in a pastoral caring moment, we are not trying to get rid of any kind of thoughts that may arise within us, or that we are observing happening in front of us.  “Rather, we are seeing clearly the defense mechanisms, our negative beliefs about ourselves, our desires and expectations.  We also see our kindness, our bravery, our wisdom,” (Chodrin 27-28).  We are offering ourselves and others the compassion of holding the space for both pleasant and unpleasant, powerful and vulnerable within in the same person or circumstance.

This practice of clear seeing often times evokes the third element of maitri- the experience of emotional distress.  Here is when we need to hold ourselves with loving kindness the most.   We are no longer just an objective observer of patterns and possibilities, we are engaged participants.  We are awake and poignantly aware.  We must engage that strength and steadfastness through faith in the viability of a program that asks us to stay where we would rather not in these moments, and see into the fourth corner of our Johari windows.  Buddhist teaching offers us this: “Transformation occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move toward our emotional distress without condemning or justifying our experience,” (Chodrin 28).  Meditation is suggested as a sort of training for staying with and growing from things we once tried to escape.  In CPE, the exercises of visiting patients, attending to crises, participating fully in group and supervision are all pieces of the obstacle course of this spiritual boot camp.  It is a delight to see that all we encounter has value, and to feel oneself expanding because of it.  It is empowering to find myself in personal relationships, with family, at work, or church, or even in conversation in my own head willing to slow down, get curious, offer words of loving kindness, and be willing to try again, and again, and again- knowing it may be just as painful, or it may open up an unknown world of possibility.

The final maitri factor that we cultivate in meditation or CPE practice is attention to the present moment.  In my mystical Christian theology, this takes on a particular brilliance, because it speaks to the presence of God.  I do not believe in time as we know it as an ultimate construct; only that as humans living on the earth plane we are temporarily and partially subject to its divisions.  Staying in the present moment is directly experiencing the fullness of God.  It is knowing for ourselves, as believers of the Resurrection of Christ, that Christ was yesterday, is today, and will be tomorrow.  In His death and Resurrection, all barriers of time and between diversity of the Beings He created, are destroyed.  Being in the present moment is honest, brave, loving, faithful, and transformative.  Staying present is a choice, often a painful one, when the moment we are in happens to be less than pleasant.  But by staying in the moment we are also empowered, as Quay Kestor instructs, by being perpetually at “choice-point.”  “Attending to our present-moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward the other, and toward the world.  This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.” (Chodrin 29-30).  When we seek to change the world we live in, first we must fully inhabit it, as Jesus did.  The practice of Christian Meditation called Centering Prayer suggests that every moment of suffering or distraction that we become aware of, is merely an opportunity to return to God (Thomas Keating).  So combining last unit’s awareness that God is in all experiences with the practice of maitri, this unit I have decided to be present in all my own experiences.  I decided to show up in the Dungeon and to supervision prepared to writhe in the naked truths of what I was feeling, hiding from, wishing to change, and watching in others.  Employing the concept of Radical Acceptance for all that is within in us, which sits at the heart of maitri, allows us to meet the God, the hound of Heaven, who seeks us wherever we may tend to run to or hide from Him (Psalm 139).

I would certainly not call myself enlightened, but a light has been shed on pieces of me and the common experiences of suffering we all share.  Now I can see more clearly how my own tendency to fix, fast forward, rescue and defend others wallowing in discomfort and uncertainty denies them the valuable experiences of resilience and growth.   God exists in all times, places and experiences.  I was refusing to meet God where God was, by refusing to sit quietly and lovingly with my own discomfort.  I was lashing out at Marla for beckoning me to come closer, and hiding from the group that was not trying to shame me into self-awareness, but rather love me into wholeness.  “Carl Jung describes the spiritual path as an unfolding into wholeness.  Rather than trying to vanquish waves of emotion and rid ourselves of an inherently impure self, we turn around and embrace this life in all its realness- broken, messy, mysterious and vibrantly alive.” (Brach 42)

Through maitri we can know that at any one time we too have been hurt, scared, angry, hungry, lonely, happy, in love, excited, brave, or peaceful.  We share this collective human experience and the planet on which we are having it.  We have to practice.  We have to trust the process.  We have to love ourselves first in order to love our neighbor.  Employing the qualities of maitri in CPE and life helps us not only sharpen our listening and communication skills, but softens and expands our hearts.  “When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of bitterness and resistance, our heart becomes an edgeless sea of compassion and we become the compassionate presence that can hold, with tenderness, the rising and passing waves of suffering (Brach 216).

 

Works Cited

  1. Brach, Tara, Ph.D. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha.  Bantam Books, New York, 2004.
  2. Chodrin, Pema. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living.  Shambala Classics.  Boston, MA, 1994.
  3. Chodrin, Pema. The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.  Shambala Classics. Boston, MA, 2001.
  4. Chodrin, Pema. Good Medicine: How to Turn Pain into Compassion.  Audio Lecture produced by Sounds True.
  5. Patton, John. Pastoral Care: An Essential Guide.   Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2005.

Incarnation: the Holy AND

Thank you for the beloved art: Richard Hooks:  “Head of Jesus”

Dear Readers, It has been a long time since I wrote, as seminary has kept me busy.  I promised in my introduction that some day I would share more about the experiences which shaped my way of understanding and living in the world.  Here is a theological reflection I wrote following my first experience in Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital.  As we approach Easter, I thought it appropriate.  It is long…. so if you are interested- get a snack and a beverage!  Peace- Gina

As a former Roman Catholic and family member of several mechanical engineers, my embedded thought processes and theology flowed easily into a polarized dualism.  I was either good or bad; getting A’s or anything else that was not as good;  I was either pro-life or pro-death, people go to Heaven or Hell, I needed to  do what other people want or I would hurt them.  There were many of what John Savage refers to as “life commandments” that I have been applying to myself, others, the way the world operates, and yes, God (Savage, 117).  Until CPE I was convinced that I had been doing a pretty good job of returning myself to the spiritually coveted non-dual thinking and functional self-awareness.  However, I realized that CPE is the ultimate crucible for Truth; and that it, Truth that is, is beyond all definition.  In its fullness, it is Mystery.  There is no greater mystery or representation for me of the CPE experience than the Incarnation, the Holy AND.

The mystery of the incarnation is that God who exists outside all boundaries and yet inhabits all possible spaces, times, and circumstances loved His creation so much that he made full communication and communion possible by inhabiting our very selves and cells.  Furthermore, the mystery of Christ is that this person was human and God simultaneously.  Christ’s part in the Trinity connects Him with the timeless, ubiquitous presence of God.  How can that apply to us at IU North?  It puts a framework around all that we humans live and know.  It puts the ministry of hospital chaplaincy and the evolution of our pastoral identities in a context.  It informs my ministry to the point that I can say with confidence to someone in immeasurable pain that the One who is without measure is present both in that pain AND on the other side of the crippling acuity it causes at the moment I am re-iterating Christ’s promise: “I AM with you always, even to the end of the age”  (Mt: 28:20).

The story of the person of Jesus, flesh and blood, connects humankind so completely with God that for me it bears the power to give all human experience a holiness.  The science and the hidden secrets of the biology and physiology of the body, shared by Christ are proof of God’s magnificence.  Seeing people whose wish in a particular moment is as simple as breathing unobstructed, being able to control their own bowels, being able to keep all of their original body parts, etc. is an exercise in Grace and gratitude.  The body simply working how it was originally designed is a miracle that I am reminded of each time I am on the medical units.   This clinical setting shows me the Grace of every-day life and health; and it also reminds me of the fact that nothing in our lives is outside of God’s awareness, and empathy through Christ.  The suffering, frustration, and feelings of abandonment Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane and passion encompass an extreme edge of experience that touches into some of the atrocities human kind has committed and faced.  AND accompanying that suffering in his life was forgiveness of those who betrayed and tortured him, and finally transcending the ultimate alienating experience, death.

Several months before beginning CPE I attended a series of lectures on Discernment which re-introduced me to some of the language St. Ignatius of Loyola used to describe aspects of our faith journey: the terms consolation and desolation.   Consolation refers to that which enflames the soul with love, increasing joy, faith, hope, charity, faith and tranquility in one’s being and a feeling of closeness and movement towards God.  Whereas desolation refers to the opposites of those feelings such as turmoil, agitation, loneliness, temptation, listlessness, unhappiness and feeling generally separated from God (Martin, 308-309).   That which fills the space between these two experiences with meaning and possibility is the mystery of the Incarnation, the IAM.

I AM is outside of time and without limitations, yet chooses to be with us.  In John’s Gospel and Revelations, Christ defines Himself with several bold titles including alpha and omega (Rv: 22:13) using the well known “I AM” statements.  Of the various proclamations Christ makes about who he is, and how he relates with us in the books by Matthew and John, the one common denominator is the “I AM.”  In my Trinitarian theology, this is the same “I AM” as the One who named Himself to Moses: Ex: 3:14 “I am who I am,” and the same God who spoke in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you.”   I experience an undercurrent of consolation that is steady and unwavering, when the rapids of desolation are the loudest.  I have been thrown into the depths of desolation with my early verbatim subject asking “why her?” and fearing death from cancer; to the high’s of consolation with one of my last verbatim subjects being filled with joy and tranquility and stories of God’s blessings in his cancer journey.  These are the AND’s made accessible through the Incarnation.

In the hospital setting and in our personal lives and global community we witness great suffering on a regular basis; AND we are privy to some of the most sacred, intimate moments of life where miracles and conversions take place and Eucharist is shared.  My favorite representation of this at North is the fourth floor. There, we have peds nurses who are treating kids with terrible injuries, handicaps and disease and still choosing to get pregnant themselves.  We have the sickest people in the hospital between peds and adult ICU in one wing; and just down the hall is labor and delivery.  The fourth floor is the AND floor.  As professional chaplains and or ministers, we are the representative AND’s in the world we live in.  We must be vehicles moving with such mass and force down the highway of life that we create a draft around us strong and steady enough for people to follow when they are out of gas or have lost their ways.  Also, we must be surrounded and supported by others who can get us to the next gas station and take the lead when we lose our way.  We are not called to fix or change anything that is shared with us, or that we are present for, we are called only to be a witness and a presence.  We are called to sit in darkness and see, if not just remember the existence of other side of feelings of darkness and separation from God.

Having the Ignatian notions of consolation and desolation named before I entered CPE has given me such normalization while I struggle to “trust the process” of all these aspects of spiritual and personal development into which I have been called during CPE, the ordination process, and discerning lay association with the Sisters of Saint Francis simultaneously.   Another piece of work which was pivotal to my application of the Incarnation in accepting the process, and searching for peace within tension as it relates to CPE comes from Cynthia Bourgeault’s TheWisdom Jesus.   The way Bourgeault interprets the period of Jesus’ narrative between his Death and resurrection when he descended into Hell, describes what happened there in a way that emphasizes the constructive value of what has been painful for me in CPE.  She offers that Jesus just sat there among the faces of the collected false self who were the darkest, deepest, most alienated, and in the most constricted states of pained consciousness.  He sat there “in the midst of all this blackness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love.  And in so doing, he was allowing love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise and holding that to the light.”  A harmonizing love infiltrated the deepest darkness in a way that didn’t override them or cancel them, but gently reconnected them to the whole, (Bourgeault, 123).  This sitting in non judgement, inviting people back into consolation with love and presence is the essence of supervision, peer group work, and chaplaincy.  One of the most challenging parts of the peer group and supervision portion of CPE has been accepting the tension of being the one feeling tortured by my inner “constricted consciousness” and egoic tendencies, and having people witness it, care-front me in it and still love me through it.  We have been Jesus to each other: the teacher, the shepherd, the brother/sister, the pastor, and Elton Trueblood’s “AND” (Savage, 105).

God is in all experiences now, because he was, as and through Jesus.  I have used the Garden of Gethsemane time and again with patients to assure them that fear, doubt, abandonment and generally negative places of suffering are places God has been and is with them.  The Incarnation gives us stories like this, gives us God’s first hand account of faith in times of suffering and fear, of divinity within humanity.  But what about those who are not Christian?  As an acknowledgement of my learning goal involving the honor and understanding of diversity and offering witness outside my chosen Christian, Trinitarian models, I offer the cycles of nature and the body as ways for us to know the movement of God without naming God.  Imagine how people watching the sky seeing the moon grow and disappear over and over, and the sun rise and set day in and out felt before they knew what it was and how it was happening.  We have so many tools that teach us the need for growth, movement and detachment in addition to faith.  My love of contemplation in nature, and Buddhist philosophy show me that while the experiences of suffering and desolation may be inevitable parts of human life; they are not the only parts, nor are they permanent.  That is a law of nature and physics to some degree, but some patients show me that that they can die scared and angry.  So, I return then to my faith to comfort me and survivors of those painful deaths, that healing may not come on the earthly side of existence but that death returns us to our origins in God and to wholeness and love.

The cycles and inevitabilities of life are ever present in the hospital.  Patients have a way of bringing me down and holding the light, volleying me back and forth between rooms.  CPE calls me to keep going and to keep using my supervisors and peers to help get me balanced, refreshed, normalized, and safe.   I came into the hospital setting with the idea that wearing a badge that said “Chaplain” communicated the very presence of the possibility of God in all places and experiences, pleasant and painful.  I still believe that passionately on a good day; but honestly a lot of days I believe it more in concept.  I still fight to know viscerally, with certainty that I can feel, the Truth of this.  I have to choose it again and again.  I want this deeply for every person I meet.  I have to admit that agenda.  I do not attach to one set concept of what it means to know God viscerally, but I have attached completely to its potential.  CPE has challenged what I thought I knew about who I am and how to implement my calling.  I have polarized so many times.  I want to know it all and do it all perfectly.  I want to forgo my humanness and be one with only divinity.  I find myself feeling abandoned between the polarity of my egoic desires and my actual life.  CPE reminds me that just as when I put a hot glass dish in cold water, it will shatter; if I try to learn and be too much too quickly I will get broken.  The AND is not just to offer in ministry; it is to live as ministers.  Incarnation means what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin taught us, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  It was good enough for Jesus, so I might as well keep working on it.

Works Cited:

  1. The Harper Collins Study Bible: NRSV. Wayne Meeks, General Editor.  Haper Collins Publishers, New York, New York, 1993.
  2. Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus.  Shambala, Boston, 2008.
  3. Martin, James, SJ. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  HarperOne Publishers, New York, New York, 2010.
  4. Savage, John. Listening and Caring Skills.  Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1993.

 

Silence Between Movements

Silence Between Movements

I was listening to the Amazon music station Classical Focus while I was cooking.  When I noticed spaces of silence I found myself momentarily irritated that the connection had been lost or that Alexa had stopped playing for some reason.  Then, seconds later, I realized it was just the space between movements.  I grew up playing flute in band and orchestra for years, hello!  I know about this!  Impatience and Western cultural norms had gotten the better of me.  That soundless space is to prepare listeners for shifts in tone, tempo, or emotion within the next movement of the piece.  It is not an end, merely a transition which begs our attention.

Sometimes we can have those moments when, after running, and running, and performing, or over-functioning for long periods we find ourselves uncomfortable in silence and stillness, when it happens upon us unintentionally.  We may have that sudden drop in our guts like Wiley Coyote when he was running so hard he doesn’t realize he had run off the edge of a cliff.  The expression on the coyote’s face of panic and fear can be awfully familiar.

Barbara J. Winter says, “When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”  When we find ourselves suspended in thin air after a particularly intense period in our lives, it may feel empty, like God has suddenly abandoned us.  We become so accustomed to striving and generating that rest feels static or unstimulating.  Some of us literally become addicted to the heightened state of adrenaline caused by chronic stress.

Perhaps more periods of intentional stillness and silence during which we set our focus inward  on the still small voice of God in whatever methods the Holy One chooses to communicate with us, we will be more seasoned when life presents us with those phases of the calm between the storms.  Silence and periods of calm, rather than being a time of dry abandonment or stagnancy,  can become a soothing restorative space in which we prepare ourselves to muster our faith and gather our resources for the next movement of the score of our lives.  They are also a wonderful opportunity to reflect and practice gratitude on the elements of life that made the recent periods of trial or chaos possible to survive.  God has written and is directing all of it, including the parts of the other instruments for which we never see sheet music, that somehow in the end all blend together into beauty beyond comprehension.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is widely recognized for the powerful declaration, “Music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”  We know that rest notes and pauses between movements create an affect that truly gives music life.  I believe God gives us calm and quiet, whether we seek it or not, to allow us to be more present in the movements of our own songs.

Find a piece of music that makes you absolutely stop in your tracks and consumes you.  Listen to it, and then sit in silence afterwards, bathing in the affects on your mind and body.  In that listening and feeling, know that you have been in communication with the Holy!

Here’s a song I work and meditate with:

Peace,

Gina

Journey into the Unknown

Journey Into the Unknown

A prayer of St. Brendan

Help me to journey beyond the familiar

                and into the unknown.

                Give me the faith to leave old ways

                and break fresh ground with you.

                Christ of the mysteries, I trust you

                to be stronger than each storm within me.

                I will trust the darkness and know

                that my times, even now, are in your hands.

                Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,

                and somehow, make my obedience count for you.           

This week I began classes at a seminary with people from all over the world, bravely opening ourselves to the call, contemplation, and action of the Holy Spirit within our lives and communities.  Many of us were already in the middle of some kind of ministry or another, with the hope that this further education will deepen and enhance it.  Some of us take the risk of being completely thrown off courses we thought were God’s will for us, and onto an unexpected new path.

I am aware of the heartache associated with attachment to what we think our calls are.  I am aware that we can be both passionately involved with pursuing goals, and lovingly open and curious to new ways to arrive at these goals.  That balance is one I hope to grow more skillful at maintaining as more and more experiences even out the edges of my course.

 What expectations for yourself and others in your life do you hold closest to your heart?

Does pursuing them give you endless joy; or does gripping to them exhaust you?

When was the last time you sat in the quiet and asked the Holy One what was yours’ to do in this moment?

Can you imagine a gentle flexibility in yourself that might leave an open space for new ways to reveal themselves, and new people or resources to guide you to appear?

May the Spirit of all that is, and all this is possible feel close at all times and in all places!

With Love,

Gina