Tag Archives: gratitude

The Loudly Beating Heart of 2017

Evelyn de Morgan “Aurora Triumphans”

Right now, we are the woman draped in roses in this painting. The trumpets are sounding for the dawn of the new year. 2017 crawls away. Soon, we will have no choice but to get up, get moving and create 2018.

But first, we rest in the liminal space of what was and what will be.

Perhaps my reflections from this liminal space will bring to mind gifts you received in the passing year…

In 2017, I joined the team of spiritual directors at Loyola Spirituality Center in St Paul, MN and listened to the spiritual journeys of people ranging in age from 18 to 67, from atheists to Christian clergy.

It’s hard to articulate just how much I love this work I do, how much I love each person who comes to my office or home to share glimpses of their heart.

While the outside world of 2017 was ugly on many levels, my work as a spiritual director keeps me tapped into the beauty of the human heart. In one way or another, each seeker reveals to me their earnest desire to be more…  (genuine, balanced, whole, loving, mindful, thoughtful, open-hearted, joyful, close to the Divine, aligned with their true gifts and purpose and so on.)

It is this ache to embody the fullness of who we really are that is so beautiful, and I get to witness it daily.

Also in 2017, I spent months assisting a friend through her dying process. I walked her through her fears, held her during her final night and the next day I offered a blessing during her bedside service. I stayed there in her house with her loved ones all through the next day too, and when I finally emerged out into the public – a grocery store, to be exact  – I was nearly knocked over with love for the first stranger I saw. It was weird, because at first I pictured this stranger dead, and then I saw his light shining within and all around him

and then my heart felt “we are exactly the same” – this man of a different age, race, gender and size than me – we all have these bodies that we carry around and we are all the same light.

I guess spending so much time in that veil between the physical and spiritual realm gave me a glimpse of this reality in a visceral, visible way. That is the greatest gift I received in 2017, and I credit the expansively loving nature of my beautiful friend who died.

In sum, 2017 cracked open my heart and more fully connected me to the hearts of others. That was not my goal or new year’s resolution, it is just what happened. Less poetic things happened too – financially, physically, etc – but my expanded heart and the gift of a vocation that makes it beat louder and stronger all the time keeps everything else in perspective.

What gift of awareness did 2017 bring you?

Happy New Year, Everyone and

may 2018 bring you closer to embodying the fullness of who you really are!

Are you interested in trying a spiritual direction session?

Email me at carolyn@loyolaspiritualitycenter.org

 

 

What If Every Time You Saw a Nativity Scene…

Mary Southard, CSJ

What if…

…every time you saw a nativity scene, you visualized the baby as a metaphor for a mysterious, beautiful energy that is constantly birthing itself  into the world?

…every time you heard a song about the nativity, you used lyrics such as ‘o come let us adore him’ as a reminder to honor this energy that is already alive within yourself and within everyone you meet?

…every time you encountered any version of the Christmas story, you allowed it to serve as a reminder that although this beautiful energy is “forever being born in the human soul,” we must constantly make room in our awareness for it – emptying our minds of the clutter, opening to the reality of the present – because otherwise “there is no room in the inn for such a mystery?”

What if the point of the Christmas story has always been that:

1) this mysterious, beautiful energy is already present “hidden inside of everything”

2) yet we’re still always waiting (longing!) to see it revealed in the world because we’re too clouded from the reality that this energy is everywhere and already birthed inside of us?

Try listening to the story and all of its details – angels singing in the sky, refugee woman giving birth in stranger’s shed, lowly field men approaching in awe – as a metaphor for a moment when suddenly the universe stops and loudly announces that this energy of love is here! alive in the world! incarnate!

Behold! I bring you great news! The beautiful energy of love is here! Alive in the world! Incarnate!

And when an evil king tries to snuff out this loving energy  – be like the wise person who followed their intuition and enabled the energy to prevail.

May each of you fully know the beauty that is already birthed inside of you.

Merry Christmas!

(All quotes come from Richard Rohr’s Advent Message video which can be found here.)

Coming Out of Crisis Mode

After weeks of hospitals and family crisis…today was a new day. A better day.

It started this morning as I was sitting on my deck drinking tea and reading the paper, when an older woman on a little indoor-type scooter, scooted right up to me in the backyard. This was very unusual, as I live in a secluded spot at the end of a driveway that’s about a block long.

I didn’t even hear her, I just suddenly saw her head scooting by the rail of my deck.

She was looking all around and saying “What a secluded spot you have here!” “What big, beautiful trees you have!” “Your flowers are beautiful!” “What a perfect place to sit and have your tea!”

She was like an angel dropping down into my cup of caffeine and saying “LOOK! THERE IS BEAUTY ALL AROUND YOU! JUST LOOK!”

Of course, she also could have been casing the joint for a future crime spree, but I was so happy to have this unexpected visitor, I grinned the whole time we talked about flowers and trees and squirrels and then she just scooted away, back down the driveway.

Afterwards, I walked by the creek and saw this autumn leaf dancing in the breeze. I watched it twirl and spin and then stand still in mid-air! Ah, it was hanging on by a thread – an invisible spider web thread.

leaf three

It reminded me of the thread that holds onto me, even when I’m too tired to hold onto it.

leaf two

I watched this magical orange leaf dancing on its thread, took pics and felt grateful that I am held with a sense of purpose and peace.

leaf one

I next saw the sun sparkling off the water just so and thought “I am okay.” I have no idea what the future holds. I worry sick for the crisis in my family, oh, how I worry.

creek

But I don’t have to worry alone because there are angels all around, scooting right up to me and reminding me of the beauty and hope in the world. And there is an invisible thread that connects me to all that is.

What unexpected moments have you seen as a love note from the universe?

Breaking Free Into Your Life

Prisons are on my mind these days, both the literal prisons where law enforcement confines people, and the metaphorical prisons which make us feel that we are trapped outside of the life we wish to live.

prison-window-006 (1)

(Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian)

A young member of my extended family is currently awaiting prison sentencing – he is possibly looking at 25 years to life. The truth is he was born in a sort of prison – a crack house, to be exact – and was not given the care, education or even basic nutrition to develop his mind in a way that would lead him anywhere but to a life of crime and incarceration. At this point, the best we can hope for him is a correctional facility that will at least provide safety, access to education and decent food. His story is a devastating one.

I, on the other hand, was born free. Sure, I have a few complaints about my childhood, but the reality is that I was given tools to develop my mind and create a life of my choosing. Did I always see it that way, though? Or did I allow myself to feel limited by prisons of my own making?

There were definitely periods of my life when I lived as if I was in a sort of prison. Like when I held onto the desk job way past it bringing me any fulfillment, or when I stayed in a romantic relationship that was harmful to my spirit.

What situations are currently confining your spirit? Can you break free of them?

How can you more fully live and appreciate the freedom that you have?

buckingham fountain

Overall though, I think I used my freedom to create a meaningful life and positively impact some of the people around me.

I could have done better and the great news is that I can still do better!

After all, I am still mostly free – with a few exceptions, like the health issue that prevents me from air travel. But I’m mostly free and while it’s common for health issues to create some limitations as we age, it is even more common for debilitating mindsets to confine us throughout our lives.

What limiting mindset have you placed around your life?

Some common self-created prisons I see around me are: deep-seated beliefs that we lack the ability to accomplish what we hope, anxieties that paralyze and lead to inaction, and resentments that cloud our judgment and make us feel that change is not worth the effort.

The Washington Post recently published an article with fascinating interviews of people who were released from long prison sentences one year ago after being granted clemency by President Obama. I highly recommend reading the article, because it reveals an array of attitudes and approaches to new found freedom that can get you thinking about your own life, your own freedom and how you do or don’t appreciate it.

Go ahead, click on the article!

For example, one of the interviewees, Alex William Jackson, who was sentenced in 1999, said:

“It’s natural to be angry. But when I went to prison and had time to sit down and really reflect and internalize the principles of religion, it had a transforming effect on my life. I didn’t take lightly the blessing and gift that the president gave me in commuting my sentence. I came home and I was immediately able to do the things I envisioned doing when I was incarcerated — being there for my mother, being able to establish myself in the community.”

So the question is: What blessings are YOU taking lightly?  What are you envisioning for the next stage of your life?

Another interviewee, Norman Brown, sentenced in 1993, said:

“In April, I was able to go to the arboretum. It was magnificent. We went to the cherry blossoms…When I was incarcerated I would see movies and read different books, and I would say, I want to try that. Walking on the beach, the walking through the parks. The eating out around a pond…Being right up on a flower and smelling it and breaking it off and maybe giving it to your woman. These things, when I get a chance to do them, I’m going to do them.”

How are you making the most of the freedoms you have been granted in life?

I am so fortunate, because I am not writing this from a jail cell or hospital bed, and my health is pretty good right now. Today I am going to use this freedom to swim, write this essay, help my daughter with something, and do some research for a project I’m working on.

You’re free!

What are you doing with this freedom you have right now?

Doing Good Last Year and Beyond

Did I do enough good in 2015? There’s plenty more I could have done – I never did get around to fostering shelter dogs like I planned, for example. But did I do as much as I could manage – mentally, emotionally, creatively, spiritually?

Sometimes I think of myself as fragile: burdened with traumas recent and far past that can flare up and make ordinary tasks seem Sisyphean. Each of us is fragile and strong in our own unique way, I know that. I look back on some of the things I endured, in 2015 alone, and know that I got through it with as much grace as I could muster, and sometimes that was barely any at all. There’s a lot of messiness in leaving your heart open to a family member whose mind and emotions are in dire need of healing, and yet my heart is still open to them, even if slightly little less than before. That is something good I contributed to 2015.

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But that wasn’t all. I followed the thread that the world dangled before me, for reasons I still can’t fully know. I followed that thread to University, studying theology and strengthening my connection to the spiritual realm. This year, I took classes studying Jung and his profound Red Book, the art of rituals and Mary Magdalene. I wrote papers on those topics that I hope to send off to a wider audience in 2016 (another 2015 thing I didn’t do as planned.) I also worked with people seeking spiritual direction and facilitated workshops sharing what I learned about “following the thread” that might be useful to others. Doing this work, I am privileged to witness the unique blend of fragile and strong within each soul.

Finally, I made a new friend in 2015. Someone whose journeys both internal and across the globe are opening me to new ideas for living in 2016. She has taught centering meditation for decades, and I can certainly use more centering. Knowing her has been a gift.

Will I meet other new friends in 2016? Will I continue to learn, write and teach? Will I still have love and grace to give? The outlook is good for all these things, and so I’m going to turn the page on the calendar with anticipation, gratitude and humility.

Happy New Year, Everyone!