Thursday, April 5, 2018

Poem: When the call doesn't sound like you think it should

When the call doesn't sound like you think it should

Does your heart break?
Do your eyes water?
Knowing that what you imagined
                       what you hoped
                       may never be.

Tell me what do you do then?
Locked in the upper room
of your being
Scared to emerge into the reality
of what is.
For fear
For distress
For anger
For dying
All may be lost in this moment.

And what remains?
A call you thought you knew
A love that has seemingly disappeared
All is lost, including you.

How then do you begin again
rise again
When the call doesn't sound like you remember
doesn't feel the same deep within your soul
When stripped bare you take account of what's been lost
Pause and hold it there.
What is worth it
What does your heart tell your head
not vice versa

For this is the realm of the heart.
Real life felt- lost and found.
There are no solutions
only questions or substitutions
the choice is yours

What remains we must engage
or the tomb wins out
Death's victory
Lost only to the one lost enough to find,
grieved enough to feel,
loved enough to behold
a body risen, a call revealed, a hope revived.

Monday, March 26, 2018

An Open Heart Policy

My most recent piece for the Global Sisters Report draws off of a series of workshops that I'm giving to our sisters on conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, and intercultural dialogue.  In it, I offer a few simple insights about conflict and how having an open heart opens us to the possibility to transform moments of friction in our lives. May it meet you where you are and I pray offer a moment to consider the conflict of our world and your life in light of the call to love. A blessed Holy Week to all!+

A sister turned to me after a recent workshop on conflict resolution. "I ask myself," she said with a troubled look in her eyes, " 'How is it that after all these years I can still feel this conflict in my bones?' It's like it never left me."

There were sadness and surprise swirled together in her statement. In her eyes, I saw a search for hope, a desire for resolution. I had no response to her statement except to nod knowingly. All I could do was return her gaze with a look of loving compassion. It wasn't that I was at a loss for words, but rather that no words would do in that moment. Instead the sentiment hung between us, a truth held in the reality of being spoken.
As she spoke more, she wondered aloud, "Why am I still carrying this with me? Why can't I just let it go?"
It's a reality that many of us know — if not fully, at least in part. That sense of conflict once forgotten that returns; the shaky feeling of trying to stand under the weight of a memory revived.
The truth is that conflict runs deep. The way we engage the conflicts of our lives has a big impact on what it is that we carry with us from those moments and experiences of opposition.
Simply put, conflict is the encounter of feelings or elements, such as actions, ideas, interests, beliefs or perceptions that are in opposition. Few people enjoy conflict, and yet it is an inevitable reality of life; conflict is normal and there's a consolation in knowing that. Wherever two or three are gathered, conflict is not far behind.
At this moment, it might be the sharing of a memory reawakened of a long forgotten or avoided feeling; in another, the awareness of an overreaction or displaced response that comes from another place, situation or relationship entirely; and in still another moment, it might be an actual encounter with someone that dredges up a sense of conflict you thought was forgotten or forgiven.
These moments are rarely expected or readily welcomed. Yet that's not to say we should ignore them. To shy away from such feelings when they surface is to deny the deeper need for healing and the long-term effects of hurt in our lives.
Opening our hearts, transforming conflict
Every conflict begins with a negative perception of the other. That perception stems from the initial judgements we make of others to the state of mind and being we're in when encountering a person or situation and everything in between. To be able to recognize the many aspects of ourselves and the situations that lead to conflict when parties come together, we each must be aware of our own interior life as well as the way that life interacts with the world around us. Such awareness requires an openness on our part; we need to be honest about our feelings and attentive to the many elements interacting in any given moment.
Sometimes this happens in the moment and helps us to prevent conflict, but, more often than not, it's only after a conflict occurs that we are able to stop and assess what has happened (and then choose how we will or will not react).
Each of these choices is just that — a choice.
As a mentor once said to me, "Depending on the moment and your capacity in that moment, you need to ask yourself — is this a time to 'block and go' or do I need to 'stop and engage?' "
Just as we have the ability to interpret a situation for good or ill, we also have the capability to face conflict head on, through compromise, not at all, or through a myriad of other approaches. We all have our reasons for the choices, both conscious and unconscious, that we make concerning conflict. Our choice reflects our desire; the skills we employ to deal with conflict help to facilitate that process.
The skills for dealing with conflict are imperative to living a life of peace and love in the world. They are skills that in theory seem easy to practice but in practice stretch us to be proactive, self-aware and humble. Such skills do not promise to eliminate conflict. In fact, in some cases, they are sure to instigate conflict. Yet, they also provide a means to transform conflict so that we might emerge less shaken, more informed, and with a greater sense of wholeness by working through conflict in relationship and dialogue with others.
Part of transforming conflict, not just managing or resolving it, is to choose to engage conflict and to do so with an open heart. This means being willing to look at what lies beneath the conflicts of our lives and seeking to more deeply understand who we are by how we engage conflict.
Much like an open door policy, an open heart approach to conflict creates space where it is safe to explore conflict in our lives. This requires courage and a healthy dose of humility. It invites us to stop, assess, think, and then act, while undertaking seven key steps: Continue the article here

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lent: Missing Pieces, Finding Fullness

The Lenten journey is one that offers us opportunities to deepen our relationship with God and to examine the way we live our lives. In my latest piece from Global Sisters Report, I look at the invitation in this season to discover what might be missing and to invite God into the emptiness.  Below is an excerpt; I pray it might give fuel to your reflection and speak to your experiences- Lenten Blessings!

"Not only we ourselves desire life in abundance; God desires it for us as well. Not only must our eyes and ears be attentive; God's "eyes" and "ears" are always attentive to us. … God does not wait for us to puzzle out the way of life; God rushes in before the soul finished its prayer to show us the way. And the way is to rejoice in this constant, loving Presence." —Norveen Vest, Desiring Life

A few weeks ago, I found myself in front of nearly 150 students in grades five through eight at a local school where one of my congregation's associates-in-mission is principal. I had been invited to come speak on vocations and my own story.

After speaking to a similar number of students from the lower grades, I dove into the lesson prepared by our vocation directors for middle school students. We began by looking at our own unique being and how the God who has uniquely made us calls us to be who we truly are by living out our call to love and to embody God's love in the world.

Of course, no matter your age, exploring such topics isn't simple. And so, after reading a poem and a prayer, I pulled out a bag full of 24-piece puzzles featuring cute animals and cartoon characters. Unbeknownst to students, each puzzle intentionally had missing pieces.

Grouping the students by grade level, I spread them out in 15 groups around the gym we were in and put the stack of puzzles in the center of the room. "Your task," I told them over the flurry of chatter in the space, "is to create a whole picture. The first group to complete this task wins!"

With that challenge, the energy and noise levels in the room went up a notch. On the count of three, each group would send a member running to get their puzzle and to race back so that they could hopefully win.

"One ... two ... three!" I shouted into the microphone as students rose to their feet in pursuit of the prize.

Soon the groups began to realize something wasn't quite right. First, the oldest students flagged me down. "Do you know where our pieces are?"

I shook my head and shrugged. Almost instantly they began to theorize about what this all meant. Before I could listen too intently to their discussion, a younger student ran up to me out of breath and with a look of panic on his face. "We don't have all our pieces. … Where are they?"

Again, I shrugged. He quickly left my side and began searching under chairs and in the corners of the gym for the missing pieces. Meanwhile, his fifth-grade classmates began to ask me what the true meaning of this exercise was.

"What do you think?" I asked them.

Their responses surprised me: No one is perfect. God is the missing piece. We can't always put the whole picture together. You need other people to give pieces and help complete the puzzle.

All of those lessons are true.

As I called the group back together and the disappointment of not winning subsided, lessons began to sink in, and the students began to recognize that the puzzles had more to teach us about how God calls and how we put that call together, even when we don't have all the pieces.

Then I ended by sharing pieces of my story and inviting the students to strive to work with God to assemble the puzzle of their own call, now and in the future.

That's the call for each of us. Leaving the school, I thought of the eagerness with which the students responded and the conclusions they drew. I patted myself on the back and then promptly got back into the grind of everyday life, all but forgetting about the experience. That is, until I began preparing for Lent.

Reflecting on what I might give up (fasting), give back (almsgiving), and give to prayer (prayer) in order to draw closer to God this Lenten season, the image of the empty space in the puzzle returned to me.

We all have those spaces in our lives that are in need of greater clarity, the pieces of our lives that require time, patience and prayer to discover, recover and uncover. The empty spaces remind us of the lessons many of us spend our lives learning — no one is perfect; you don't need to be perfect to be loved; there's grace in empty spaces; God fills us when nothing else can or will.

Dwelling on the gaps in my own self-awareness and spiritual life, I remembered the fifth grader who ran up to me panicked, out of breath, and desperately looking for the pieces. How many times in life have we or do we busy ourselves in frantically searching for the missing pieces? Running to the point of exhaustion, only to realize that it might benefit us more to sit with the empty space?

When we take a loving look at our lives, what might benefit us more: filling the hole in our life or being in the hole with God?

The latter is a simple and yet profound gesture. In the empty space, we surrender; we don't know or need to know; we can be and be perfectly well in and with Christ.

In her new book (and accompanying podcast), Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I've Loved), Kate Bowler underscores "what it feels like to live a non-shiny life in a world that prefers glittery people." That word — "shiny" — resonates within me as I consider the life I live and the life each of us is called to. Life can be messy, and we often find that pieces are missing or that they don't fit the puzzle the way we think they will. God's invitation is to get dirty, to rend our hearts as the Prophet Joel declares in the Ash Wednesday Scripture.

Lent is not a shiny season; it is a season of grit and dependence. It requires us to lean into God while examining (and hopefully letting go of) what prevents us from growing in relationship with God and one another. This requires determination. Not determination to get it "right," but determination to hang in there, to persevere, to occupy the empty spaces, and to embrace the missing pieces and perhaps, in the process, regain our missing peace.

As we enter into these forty days of reflection, there is the invitation to be in it all with God... Continue reading the piece

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Time to Bless TIme

A new year bring with it the invitation to bless time and to be in touch with what has been, what is, and to hope towards what will be.  With that in mind and with blessings to you all as we enter this new year, I offer my latest piece from the Global Sisters Report, "A Time to Bless Time":
For the last few years, I've spent the days leading up to the new year in the cozy confines of a retreat center in western Massachusetts. While friends send text messages about New Year's Eve, I share silence with a group taking a prayerful pause at year's end. In silent, guided reflection there is the invitation to reflect on all that has been, to pray for all that will be, and to bless the time we have.
Without fanfare, one year flows into another. Peacefully, like fresh, unblemished snow, a new year begins.
There are few times in our normal lives that we as a society pause to reflect on what is, what has been, and what lies ahead. Yet, as the frenetic pace of preparing for Christmas comes to an end, the opportunity to make an account of our year becomes an invitation, whether you're on retreat or not. Here in the still and quiet winter days following Dec. 25, a hush falls over us. Christmas, we know, lasts more than just one day, and as we settle into the season we find that to reflect on the nativity of Jesus also draws us into reflecting on the realities of God's love incarnate in our lives this year.
Making the time and space for such reflection deepens our sense of the season while also inviting us to make an account of all that we (and God) have been up to. There is a grace and a gift to such reflection if we can intentionally take the time to sit with God and see where the year has taken us individually and collectively.
How have you grown? Where has God been evident? What were the blessings of this year? What has given you energy and life? Where in your life are you being invited to be more attentive? What can you hand over to God to share the load? What are the gifts or what are the graces you need most at this time in your life?
Like any relationship, our own relationship with God benefits from renewal and reflection from time to time. Year's end and the beginning of a new year lend themselves to such practices, as, collectively, we as a culture set goals and make resolutions to begin again.
Reflecting back on the year and how we've come to where we stand today, though, are only one part of the equation. At New Year's Eve, we stand on the brink of something new and unknown. One foot is planted in what has been, while the other moves forward into what will be. We know from experience that there is no knowing what the future will hold. Standing on the threshold of the new year, we ask for gifts and graces to handle what we don't yet know.
In this "in-between time," we catch a glimpse of the mystery captured in the Incarnation. God has become human, and in that act what has been is joined irreversibly in hope and prayer with what will be. Our lives and faith testify to that union. Our hope placed in the One who sanctifies time by entering into it. The God who is beyond all time, conditions and bounds came to live among us so that our human bounds might not bind us.
Embracing that mystery and celebrating it invites a leap of faith. We trust that God will be with us wherever we go, just as God has been with us everywhere that we've been. In the space in between, we pause to be with God before rushing on to what will be.
At the retreat house, as retreatants awake on New Year's Day there is a special tradition of blessing time. With calendars and watches in tow, everyone gathers in the chapel to offer a blessing on the items we use to keep time. What began 30 years ago as an assembly of paper calendars and analog watches is now joined by cell phones and smart watches, step counters and datebooks. Though the pile may look different the blessing has the same intention — to consecrate the minutes and months of the coming year to God.
As we begin again this year, it is a blessing I offer to you, a means to bless time and an invitation to prayerfully pause and ask God's blessing on all that lies ahead:
A New Year's Blessing of Time & Time Keepers
Life-Giver, in the beginning you set the days in motion;
as we begin this new year, we ask your blessing on the days ahead.
to be attentive to the time we've been given —
time keepers, not only marking time but marked by time,
open to your indwelling spirit and to the moments beyond measure.

Help us to remember those things that come without notifications or reminders... Continue the blessing here

Friday, December 29, 2017

Poem for the New Year: The Ever Dawn

The Ever Dawn
They said if you awake
in the night
at a time not your norm
arise and say “speak!”
Then listen deeply
for the One who speaks to hearts
might be calling

Perhaps it will happen that way
Or perhaps we must realize
that the caller is crying out all day
in ordinary voices
“I am here!”

and amazingly we miss it
trading the wonderment of day
for the darkness of the night
where blearily we open ourselves to hear
the Voice that does not grow hoarse
and see the light of a dawn
that never fades away.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

One Day

One day you awake
and realize
that everything had changed

All by the small actions
of living life
you've formed a foundation
for yourself

From those depths
you'll need to draw
what comes next

The lifegiving water
only God can give
You must be willing
to receive
to trust
to know in your heart of hearts
that life is greater
and deeper
and truer
than you ever could have imagined

And yet, in the stillness, the sameness, the everyday
God imagined it for you

Open your hands, to receive
your eyes, to see
that grace is in the gifting
and God's taken everything you knew
and made it new
and you'll never be the same again.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Charism for Our Times

After a little hiatus from the blog (see: switching ministries, moving, and some medical issues), I'm back!  Thanks for your patience. Below is a piece I wrote for the Global Sisters Report reflecting on the nature of charism and why the world is so very in need of the gifts charisms offer right now. Enjoy!

Over the last year, I've noticed a phrase pop up more and more in conversation with the sisters in my congregation.

"Now, more than ever, our charism is needed in the world," sisters will say as we discuss current events.
"The world needs our charism," others will say as we reflect on a corporate action the congregation is undertaking.
In congregational mailings and in presentations on the mission to everyone from associates and employees to students, the same sentiment prevails: This charism, our charism, has something to offer the world right now.
"We live and work so that all people may be united with God and one another": I believe in this mission; I know this charism in my bones.
At first, I nodded my head in agreement.
Yet as I see pictures of flooding in Texas and read stories about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the threats to peace and unity in our world, I can't help but think the conversation needs to be larger. Perhaps it's not just one charism, but myriad charisms — and ultimately the faith and practice they point to — that are needed right now.
Out of one Love, many ways of loving
Mercy. Peace. Cordial charity. Care for the sick. Healing presence. Prayer. Hospitality. Unity. The list could go on and on. These are the gifts of religious life, a sampling of the charisms of religious congregations being lived out in the world today. No one is better. Each is a gift given to the world, the expressive way in which congregations live out their mission and call in the world.
Each charism has its place. Each charism fulfills a need. And just as each charism is lived out by members of specific religious congregations, each charism embodies the spirit of a religious foundation and utilizes the gifts of that foundation's members toward the same end: the glory of God and living of the Gospel.
In a world that seems in many ways to be in disarray, it's hard to deny the need for such Gospel living. St. Joseph Sr. Mary Pellegrino, past-president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, alluded to as much in her presidential address at this year's LCWR annual assembly as she tapped into Pope Francis' call to communion: "Each of us by virtue of our vocation are to be 'experts in communion,' witnesses of communion in and for a broken world."
As we grow in communion with God, with ourselves, and with one another, we are drawn out into the world to foster and nourish communion. Such communion is founded in each of the charisms vowed religious live out.
The call to religious life, after all, is refracted in these different lived charisms. Charism as a lived expression of call is an embodiment of the gifts we have to share and the grace we desire to discover in the world. It is by our lived action that these gifts take on life. Our living of a specific charism puts flesh on the call of Christ and the vision of our founders.
As long as we continue to live the call in these specific ways, we offer the gift that is charism to the world. And because of the dynamic nature of life, charism, no matter how old historically, is continually made new by the needs it responds to, the current events of a society, and the lived experience of those called to live it out. It is only if or when one of those aspects changes — the need, the society, or the presence of those who respond to the call of a specific charism — that a charism runs its course.
Now more than ever?
As religious life evolves, so does the nature of charism. A charism is only as sustainable as the needs it serves and the response of individuals to the call to live it out. Today, that response and the needs served by a charism are in constant need of reconsideration. While a charism is associated with a specific religious institute, the call to live out that charism, which once might have been considered limited to vowed religious, has expanded to lay associates and beyond.
Such expansion gives new life and expression to a charism; yet such expansion mustn't forego the need for vowed religious commitment in our world. Each new moment requires a new expression and living of our charism. With openness and freedom, we must surrender to the Spirit's creative work in us and our way of life, allowing the development of means to envision (and re-envision) charism for our times.
Perhaps what is needed now more than ever is an open response to the call of the Spirit. That call and response isn't one and done. It is the "yes" of a lifetime: a life well-lived in pursuit of Truth and Love through the expression of our gifted and grace-filled being.
As a male religious friend suggested to me when I remarked about the assertion that our charism was needed now more than ever: "Maybe our charisms have always been needed now more than ever. Perhaps that's part of religious life — there's an inherent need for it."
Religious life bears witness not just to the charism of each order, but to complete and utter dependence on God. Living such a life can be a challenge, but to do so at this time in our history is a gift unto itself... Read the rest of the piece here