Posts Tagged With: discernment

New Year’s Eve: Hildegard, the Word, God’s Maternal Love, and Repentance

In less than four hours, our time zone will flip over to 2014.  January 1st symbolically holds hopes and fears, energy and trepidation, for many.  It is a natural beginning, just as today – the 31st of December – is a natural ending.  What have been the flavors of the year past for you, for me?  What do we seek in the year about to begin?  Is there a cultural message that, whatever it holds, we must pull ourselves along or up or over hurdles or around obstacles with new-year-will-power all on our own?  What gives me more will power tomorrow than I had today?

Julie Morgenstern, organizing guru and author, is wise as she writes of organizing our lives being more than re-packaging or re-ordering the contents.  In her work, she suggests viewing the present forward as the next chapter of our lives, for which we should determine the key theme.  And then we should ‘pack’ for that journey/chapter, letting go of stuff, time commitments and attitudes that don’t match with the theme we are entering.  It’s a great bit of wisdom (and may be helpful to some of us to truly re-order, as she puts it, from the inside out).

Though change takes more than a calendar flipping forward, markers llike New Year’s Eve and Day can provide motivation to access our truest desires and see if there can be movement in areas of our lives.  This is terrific, and we should all discern these steps – changes for health, for holiness, for wholeness, for virtue, for service, for compassion and solidarity with others.  Such discernment can bring us to an awareness of what has not been of sufficient priority in our lives.  It’s an end of the holidays-end of the year examen.  Can you and I repent?

SAMSUNGIn the spirit of these days of celebrating the Christmas season, note these words of wisdom:

Through the fountain-fullness of the Word
came the embrace of God’s maternal love,
which nourishes us into life,
is our help in perils,
and — as a most profound and gentle love –
opens us for repentance.

Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias II, 2, 4


* cover art of Hildegard: Prophet of the Classic Christ, Crossroads

On New Year’s Eve, I recommend looking at our lives through the arms of the embrace of God’s maternal love, as described by Hildegard.  Only from there can I (and maybe you?) safely contemplate the invitations to change and awareness and maturity and virtue that we need not attempt alone.  Spiritual formation and growth is not a western culture individual fix-yourself-up kit.  It is seeing from God’s loving view and letting it open us to repentance, and to unending mercy.

It heartens me that Pope Francis’ underlying orientation seems to be toward speaking to our age of mercy. His motto – “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen – tells us how he sees himself, and invites us to the same self-seeing.  We are lowly.  We are chosen.  We are seen.  We are given mercy over and over, flowing from love.

At the local YMCA, regulars speak about how crazy the locker room area is in January.  “But, no worries, it’s just the New Year’s crowd,” quickly follows.  “They’ll be gone soon.”  Cynical?  Maybe.  Often accurate to some degree.  And it makes me wonder.

Can our thinking about the New Year be rooted in what Hildegard offers us in looking at the Incarnation Mystery?  As we rest still by that manger and listen, perhaps we find our rootedness (stable-ity?) in recollecting the fountain-fullness of God’s love which is our help always, and is gentle and profound.  Any ‘resolution’ might best find root first in re-knowing (yes, re-collecting!) over and over, through practice, the truth of this vision.  We might then be open to a mercy that opens us up to repentance.

Check out these words from Wikipedia on the etymology of repentance/to repent (bold, mine) :

“In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.

Be with the Holy Family, be with the maternal love of God, be with the baby Jesus, know the love that is the help in all our peril — and THEN see what the ‘after thought’ might be.  For some of us, the being with may prove to be the best and most important first step.  And telling others of this love, a joyful evangelization.  And living it, service and justice.  And change may then be more than a January “till we run out of steam” event. It’s not our steam.  Our fuel, our food, is the manger, where we feed.  It continues in the Eucharist we share. Be fed, and move to after thought, repentance, metanoia only motivated by love.  By Love.

Happy New Year’s Eve!


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What’s Not Nailed Down? Wind-Wisdom!

Last night and today, the wind throws itself through the gaps between houses, past windows and doors, through tree limbs and over just-starting daffodil growth.  It sings as it moves in cadences up and down, strong and soft, forte and pianissimo.  As it goes by with a particular crescendo, I hear a crash of garbage cans or clattering gates, and go to the door to see if wood scraps at the back of the house set aside to unload have been picked up and tossed.  What’s not nailed down around the home that might go flying?

A parable, this.  What is it in our lives that is not secure enough to weather the weather?

Simple windblown thoughts this morning:  some things may need securing in our lives, and others loosening.  And wisdom may be in knowing the difference, acting where we can, getting assistance where we need it, growing silent before the realities, seeking grace with open heart, watching the Spirit (sometimes wind) at work at will.  And so, some wind-born questions for reflection:

  • Where around our lives are there ‘loose boards’ or unsecured items? 
  • What is our deepest desire with regard to these?  This is not about our compulsion, but our truest desire. 
  • Do we sense what God’s invitation might be with these? 
  • And so, should we do what is necessary to secure them tighter to ourselves?  Or should we untie them so the wind can take them, at its speed and whim? 
  • Are there other items inside the ‘house’ of our lives that ought to be put out for the wind to take or move?
  • Can we be patient with the process of how movement happens, once we’ve done what we can do? 
  • Should we celebrate the softer breezes of gentleness in the movement, or pray for a hurricane wind to take things far away? 

Regardless, we must remember that we are more than the loose boards – whether they need securing or loosening!  We might make the necessary adjustments on the items we’ve discerned and then leave the ‘house’ to take a walk away in wind which buffers and refreshes, free of the process.  I hum an old John Denver piece, and offer it to you as background for our walk.

The wind is the whisper of our mother the earth… so, welcome the wind and the wisdom she offers!

Happy Saturday, all.  Enjoy the day’s gifts.

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Closed Doors are Good Things!

What? How can that be?  I’m trying to go FORWARD, thanks!  I don’t need any closed doors.  I’m looking for open ones.

Recently, I’ve been reminded of an image from Parker Palmer’s wonderful little book Let Your Life Speak.  In it, he describes a conversation he had as a young adult with an older woman who was a Friend (Quaker) at Pendle Hill, a Quaker community where he was living at the time.  Parker was struggling to know his direction ahead, given his vocational journey at that point seemed to him a bit of a bust.  He was at a loss, as what he thought he wanted and where he thought he had been going had fallen apart behind him.  Now, there was much language within the Pendle Hill community about finding the Way Open.  This frustrated him.  And he vented about it to this woman wise in years and experience.  He exclaimed – I can imagine with an onerous tone of doom – that he couldn’t find the Way Open, there simply were none for him.  The woman listened to Parker wear out his tale and, after a moment of silence (and, I imagine, perhaps a chuckle that originated deep within her) she said something like, “I’m 80-something years old and I’ve been a Friend all my life.  I’ve never seen or found the Way Open.  But I’ve had a lot of Ways Close behind me, and they set the path.”  

On recounting this story to a friend-companion years ago, I remember her image of it as gates closing behind animals on a farm.  The very gates closing are the herding processes that move them to where they need to be. 

Perhaps you and I are “herded” forward too by the doors and gates that close behind us.  They may be closed because of actions of ours or others.  Events or circumstances may close them.  For whatever reason, they make inaccessible a certain path and the Way ahead is uncertain.  And yet, there is a direction — not there, but here.  The only Way is ahead, forget trying to determine which way.  As you approach narrowing entrances, you’ll see what’s open or not… and, if it’s not, that too is a herding.  If the doorway is open but requires you to cut out your heart or compromise your core values to get through… proceed forward only at risk of not finding yourself on the other side. 

Of course we all need to build experiences, nudge doors, claim directions — but often this kind of energy is the absolute driver of the first half of life.  In life’s second half, or in its seasons of wisdom – whatever our age, we look behind to see what is no longer an option and we choose ahead step by step with less frantic flight.  Our value is not to be found in a perfect journey.  What is that, anyway?  We are already of great value before any steps are taken.  Loved.  Held.  By a God of grace who is our refuge and strength.  We are not mice in a maze, but fearfully wonderfully made and much loved Creations who can learn to step in time with our gifts and to learn and give from our woundedness as well. 

Closed doors then are good things.  But they aren’t often fun when we encounter them: we prefer open spaces and smooth sailing.  Closings feel confining, perhaps sad, and they may prompt regrets or anger or guilt or confusion.  That’s okay – perhaps shed a tear or ask forgiveness or listen for the learning.  But then, breathe – and turn away from them!  

Closed doors provide something very positive to us – null data!  Researchers know that such data is very important.  It tells us what something is not or what doesn’t work in an experiment or process.  These doors in your lives tell you where you are not, and where you can no longer be, and where you cannot go ahead.  Let them herd you some, and then listen – so your life can be heard – and follow.  Maybe what is closing behind you is even a birth canal – no turning back!  Expect new life and lusty screaming as you enter a new way ahead simply by leaving the old! 

I think this is something of what Palmer means when he speaks of learning to let your life live in you.  “Relax,” he seems to say.  “Live your real life.  Where you really are.”  And let’s get support as we learn to trust life’s unfolding treasure-giving, whether it comes with kudos or closings.  Blessings on our journeyings – yours and mine and ours!  “The Lord will guard your coming and your going, both now and forever.”   (Psalm 121: 8)

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Let Your Life Speak

It’s an adventure, this uncovering and discovering direction in life and love and ministry and mission.  These weeks, filled with transitions and graduations for so many, I celebrate friends and colleagues, companions and clients who are making steps in the direction of what draws them.  They do so with courage, which is about acting and living with heart (French: coeur).  This does not mean there is no fear felt, or that self limiting actions or beliefs that have been habitual do not drag and dog their steps (as they do for us all).  But they walk the journey.  And faithfulness to the journey is its own success.  We look to where we are lured, and pray ‘make us wise in our ways’, Lord. 

Parker Palmer’s little book Let Your Life Speak has often been a source of reflection for me.   Palmer respects the hardwiring of our very being, and invites us into the art of humble attending to the mystery that is us unfolding.  When we speak of vocation or call, we also often hear the quote from Frederick Buechner that tells us we are called to where our deep gladness and the world’s deep needs meet.  Sebastian Moore tells us sagely that “Love is desire trying to happen” – and we can reflect on what we desire and how love draws us along the paths most aligned to the intricate uniqueness that is each of our very being-ness.

Can we believe that our very form and shape and loves and dreams – the best of us – can give us the data to determine for what giving and living we are best suited?  Can we look at our values, our dreams, our hopes, and proceed on a treasure hunt that finds the gems of clear brilliance beneath them that are God’s gifts and our deepest identity, within that of simply being God’s beloved one?  Can we look at our lifeway and lifework* as ways of expression and self gift that we can learn to craft with confidence?

Palmer talks in his little text, and elsewhere (see A Hidden Wholeness), of the soul being shy.  We need contexts where we can listen to our own souls, where what is truest and best in us is safe to come forward, where what is feared can be heard and understood, where what is in our way can be identified, where we can turn and return, where we can sing and cry freely, where what is most real can be determined.  These places are most often found in relationships – the most important one with the God who loves us and is thrilled with the work of art we are.  This is a God who dances over and with us!  In contrast, this is part of the reason why experiences in difficult or disastrous relationships really harm us.  They make our souls go underground, and prompt us at times to live a life more safe that is not our most real one.  Trust of ourselves becomes perhaps more difficult even than trust of others, for we know ourselves to be fragile. 

In times of discernment we often invite one another to listen.  Obedience is about having such an open ear.  Such openness must sometimes be coaxed from us, for we fear.  What if we cannot find where we belong?  What if what we thought isn’t right?  What if we make a wrong choice?  What if we hurt others or get hurt?  What if I’ve been fooling myself and others all along?  What if I’m just not up to – the work, the life?  What if I get lost forever in the wilderness or the dark, without a clue as to a path?  Such questions haunt and harm us.  They take us in circles that can become tornado spirals of distraction or distrust.  We have to learn to shush these, to give play to the now.  To trust in just this step.

Simple faithfulness to this present step, in line with Gospel learnings and values and our own paths to embodying these, is the way to the next step.  We are not given to know the next step… or what would have happened if.  These are mirages.  The adventure of vocation and call and journey is always in this moment.  I am never ready for the next moment – but I am always fine in this one. 

Creation’s beauty and seasons often bring me back to this moment.  The dogwood blossoms are mostly gone now, but the green leaves of spring on the tree are full of life.  The tulips are past and the tomatoes not yet planted, but the azaleas are gorgeous right now.  It is easy for me to let nature speak.  Can I, can you, can we let our lives speak and notice what God would tell us in this moment with the same attentiveness? 

Creation’s seasons are not all spring, and neither is this true in our individual and collective journeyings.  The now may be full of parting or painful transition, questions or challenges, lost or changed life and baffling contradictions.  In these moments too, we can bring attention and listen.  Even – perhaps especially – here, we need to remember that we are safe in a relationship of love that wants us to be who and what we most truly are.  Here, if we have great heart, we can learn to live the courage of being true to what our lives speak even then.  Here we are taught to trust and to celebrate.

Happily, the terrain of life is varied.  It unfolds quickly-slowly through the mystery of time that is chronos and kairos.  We are keen observers one moment, and sleepwalkers the next.  What can be our wish for our own lives and for those at particular turnings?

May we learn to lean confidently into the arms of God who is the God who invites us, in Jesus, to full and abundant life.  May we experience life’s variety as adventure and exploration, knowing that – whether we feel it or not – we are never alone and always in a safe relationship where our shy souls can come forth.  May we celebrate steps we see others taking with courage and faith – and our own – and support one another as sojourners and pilgrims.  May we dance life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that – whether we can understand what is said or not – our lives are speaking and have meaning and are best lived in generous expenditure in love, in imitation of Jesus.

For all those in flux, in discernment, in transition – be here, walk gently, see creation, call on God-with-us, dance, listen, and let your life whisper to you.   May it shout and sing and simply abide with you.  May you know the company of the story that is your life’s unfolding as comfort and steadiness.  Go gently in this moment, and then the next, remembering that “The Lord will bless your comings and your goings, now and forever.”  (Psalms)

* Lifeway and Lifework are terms used in a chapter by James Michael Lee in a text entitled The Spirituality of the Religious Educator

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