The Capacity for Greatness

 

By Nicole Snyder

The winter Olympics are now here.  Watching the amazing athletes perform, I marvel at the capacity of the human body.  The Olympics remind me how far talent, dedication and hard work can take an individual.  The Olympics, however noble the accomplishment, celebrate the achievement of the one.  It is an achievement in competition, with just a few winning, and most not reaching the podium.

This month also marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If the Olympics excite the imagination of the individual’s capacity, Dr. King excited the imagination of the nation’s capacity.  In his “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, Dr. King, calls his listeners to be dissatisfied.

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.  Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.  Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.”

I worked in social services for seven years because I believe all individuals are marvelously and wondrously made.  I toiled and worked for next to nothing because I believe in the capacity of the individual to rise above their circumstances.  I have also come to see the necessity of national/cultural transformation.  If society places arbitrary limits on the individual, then the individual’s capacity cannot be fully realized.

Dr. King faced the complexity of how to inspire a culture steeped in its tradition to reexamine itself and realize its greater potential.  We no longer have legal discrimination, but I would dare to say we as a nation are still far removed from the America Dr. King dreamed of.  I see myself as a Pastoral Counselor with a unique opportunity to work at the individual level and also collaborate with others to continuously improve the greater community in order to give each client the space to become their best.

As I reflect on what the Olympics and Dr. King’s life means to me, I am reminded by his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

The Survival of the Friendliest

by Kate Gerwin

Ahhhhhhh, the Olympics. A test of skill and brawn, speed and agility. A time when the most honed and talented athletes take the world’s stage, ready to compete until only the fittest, most capable is left; standing atop a platform, basking in his or her glory. It’s enough to make Charles Darwin proud.

Or is it?

The term “survival of the fittest” has long existed in our common lexicon and collective memory. We seem to have a primal recognition of the phrase, using it to explain—and defend– all sorts of human behavior, from harmless competition to deadly greed. The idea that competition is at the very core of who we are as a species has gone unchallenged for so long that we have come to view it as gospel, even going so far as to base many of our financial, political, social and even religious institutions on it and its implications. Human beings, we believe, have evolved and survived thanks to competition.

The only trouble is, Darwin doesn’t seem to agree. Darwin is best known for his first book, Origin of Species, from which we derive the phrase the “survival of the fittest”; what is less well-known, however, is Darwin’s second book, entitled The Descent of Man., In this book he explains the process of human evolution as distinct from that of the animal world.  It may then, come as a shock to discover that in this 828 page tome, Darwin only mentions “survival of the fittest” twice. What does he focus on instead? Themes of love and mutual cooperation. Darwin refers to love or pro-social behaviors over 95 times, and moral sensitivity over 92 times. In contrast, the role of selfishness is only mentioned 12 times, while the need for competition is mentioned a mere nine.

What is one to conclude from these surprising statistics? In short, that we as a species owe far more to our ability to come together than our ability to compete.

Ahhhh, the Olympics. An opportunity for nations to cease the business of politics and war-making, and come together to share in our common humanity and desire for a more peaceful planet. Charles Darwin would indeed be proud.

Finding the Face of God

By David Gosling

“Each thing hath two faces, a face of its own, and a face of its Lord; in respect of its own face it is nothingness, and in respect of the Face of God it is Being. Thus there is nothing in existence save only God and His Face, for everything perisheth but His Face, always and forever.”

-Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

This quote from the famous medieval mystic al-Ghazali, one of the most important figures in historical Islam, demonstrates the curious predicament one finds in the modern application of counseling within a pastoral context. There is the immediate need to treat a person suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, someone deeply hurt by the world and their experiences within it. Yet, there is also the deeper and greater need to treat the soul of the individual, to acknowledge the Face of God that lies behind and beyond each physical being. Indeed, through this statement al-Ghazali demonstrates the ultimate futility of tending to the finite self while ignoring the Infinite: all paths converge on the Oneness of Being despite our intentions to the contrary.

It is an utterly human quality to forget such esoteric realities when concerns of the present come calling, and to our credit (or discredit) we often do such a good job that they are virtually forgotten altogether. On one level, this preoccupation with the present manifests itself in the record number of psychological and psychosomatic problems experienced these days. On a more profound level, and perhaps in conjunction with the previous crisis, our spiritual selves are being denied their rightful place within the framework of a healthy, well-balanced life. Every generation seems to forget anew Christ’s teaching to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength. We also seem to forget that it is through this continued remembrance of God in our lives that we are able to truly love our neighbor, thereby fulfilling the remainder of Jesus’ command.

The relevance of pastoral counseling seems more than ever to be in its ability to address both the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human condition, in this age of continued crisis and lackluster faith in anything beyond the scientific method. May we each continue to search for the uniquely divine Face of God behind every person who seeks our counsel.

Alhamdulillah (Praise to God).

Living With Choice

by Andrea Noel

Often I live each day not considering the fact that I have a choice. I have the choice to be present to life or to avoid it. I have the choice to be compassionate with life or to be indifferent to it. I have the choice to obsess about being in control or to relax into the freedom of letting go.Instead of considering my choices, I typically get consumed by fear, haste and the need to react. However, the beauty of life is that we are always being invited back into right relationship with creation, God, and ourselves.

The fall season has impressed on me the need to cultivate a ‘pace for grace,’ and is inviting me to create spaciousness to better notice choices. This season of slowing down reminds me that I am invited to choose all the time, and that I need to be more present in the choosing. My choices give me power to manifest the life I want to experience. Noticing what I choose also holds me accountable to owning my experiences and gives me the opportunity to change them.

As fall slowly shifts into winter, I choose to continue nurturing a ‘pace for grace.’ I choose openness, to be more aware of what options are in front me. I choose patience, to be more present to process. Finally, I choose to be in my choices, empowering myself to live more passionately.

Walking with the Ancestors

by Rev. Shelly Mohnkern

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

-The 13th Warrior

As the year slips into cooler weather and the earth into dormancy, we enter in a time of reflection amidst our academic learning. This is the time where our thoughts divide between school and the upcoming season of celebrations, family, and light. It is a natural part of the waning of the year. We are reminded that, like the year itself, life is a cycle, carried on after us by our children or the children we know, and perpetuated before us by the ancestors.

The crisp smell in the air always puts me in the mindset of remembrance. This is the time of year when we remember those who went before us, and honor their journeys both in life and afterwards. We cleanse our sacred spaces, we light candles, we care for graves and spaces of memory and we gather together and share our histories. We celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia De Los Muertes, and All Souls Day. For some this is a solitary time, and for others, a time of community.

Honoring our ancestors cultivates a sense of kinship, family loyalty and lineage. It celebrates the great Mystery of who we are, where we come from, and where we go when the familiarities of living leave us. It deepens our sense of history and how it has shaped us. Honoring ancestors is a tradition that is found world-wide, in almost every culture, class, political system and technical stage of advancement. Even those who have never known their genetic ancestors can find ancestral connection through those that raised them, those that taught and shaped them, and the society that surrounds them.

My ancestors have led me here, to pastoral counseling, and to Loyola. The lessons given to me by my parents, my grandparents, my family history, the tales I have heard from my loved ones about their families, and everything my community brought me up to believe in, to feel and to seek, have culminated in this path, at this time, in this place. I open my ears, my heart, and my spirit, and I walk with them for a time, giving thanks and reconnecting and finding myself at the heart of it.

 

The Power of Language

by Dave Gosling

A single word can brighten the face

of one who knows the value of words,

Ripened in silence, a single word

acquires a great energy of work.

War is cut short by a word,

and a word heals the wounds,

and there’s a word that changes

poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.

Withhold the unripened thought.

Come and understand the kind of word

that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word

and when not to speak at all.

A single word turns a universe of hell

into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don’t be fooled

by what you already know. Be watchful.

Reflect before you speak.

A foolish mouth can brand your soul

Yunus, say one last thing

about the power of words–

Only the word “I”

divides me from God.

Yunus Emre

Every major faith tradition warns against the uninhibited use of words. The wise understand that human beings possess a finite amount of energy. To speak is to use that energy, to direct it toward an object with intent. A hurtful word to a friend, a shallow or pointless conversation, an internal dialogue with one’s own egoistic agenda, a curse against the universe….these are all ways language can deprive us of energy otherwise allocated for the accomplishment of Good.  Like Yunus, we should hold our words until the right one approaches, the one that “changes poison into butter and honey”.

The magnitude of this challenge is clear in the current global landscape. The rise of technology has not only given us a variety of platforms from which to use our words carelessly and often; it has also opened our psyches and souls to the millions of meaningless words spoken by others. We are encouraged to push the entirety of our lives–our hopes, dreams, desires, and accomplishments–onto others, feeding our habits for constant attention, affection, and desirability. How, then, can we possibly withhold words until they ripen with meaning and compassion?

Counselors are blessed with a professional setting that encourages this process of patience and growth. Words, when they are spoken, must be carefully weighed and measured. They must reflect the professional knowledge of the speaker, but only in relation to the patient’s anguish and concern. They must also contain compassion and understanding. They may even be graced by the light touch of Spirit. Too many words and the power of the message is lost. Too few and the message remains unclear, muddled. May we all learn with Yunus how to “withhold the unripened thought” until the timing is right. It seems a great challenge, but one that also contains an immense blessing in its power to change and improve lives.

Letting Go

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Slowly, she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red…” Macrina Wiederkehr

About two years ago I decide to let go. I let go of my insistence to predict God’s plan for my life. I had just experienced a falling apart, a heart-break that invited me into a profound surrender. I held on to only two things: hope and a desire to know God anew.

I let go of my idea of God’s will for me because I had no answers anymore and the search seemed too clouded by my fear and will to control it. My sacrament of letting go began with re-discovering the grace inside myself. I couldn’t start to get to know God any other way. I had to accept the Truth inside me before I could trust the Truth anywhere else.

I can’t tell you how I got to know myself again. I did not take on this self-discovery like a project or goal that I had to carefully note and analyze. I accepted the beauty of uncertainty and let the process unfold. (By the way, this feat, by this recovering perfectionist, would not have happened without the gift of being broken open.) I remember doing things like going to yoga, eating at a restaurant by myself, attending mass during the week, seeing my therapist, and allowing time and space in my life to do whatever I felt like (eg coloring).

“And then, the sacrament of waiting began

The sunrise and sunset watched with

Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes

They kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that

her vulnerability

her dependence and need

her emptiness

her readiness to receive

were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated

the sacrament of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr

In this surrender, I waited for whatever life would present. I practiced trusting myself more and waited for God to reveal Herself however She wanted. I risked greater vulnerability and let God love me.

I sit writing to you now on a small porch outside my apartment enjoying the autumn sun with my husband inside. From heart-break to heart-bounty, I rest in the grace of letting go and waiting for God to surprise me again. Let go of something this fall as the leaves surrender. Wait for God to surprise you. Life is not a statistical analysis where we predict outcomes. Life is unfolding.

Change

by Nicole Snyder

Change is a part of life.  Weather changes.  Last week it was warm and dry, this week it is cold and rainy.  Seasons change.  Summer is gone and fall is here with its red, orange, and yellow leaves.  A new moon gives way to a full moon.  Days are becoming shorter, with a little less sunlight each day.  These changes become a part of the rhythm of my life.  Changes that are predictable.  Changes that I look forward to.

There are also changes as a result of choice.  Some choices change my life in minor ways and others send ripples through my life in dramatic ways.  My most recent life altering choice was to leave my home in Portland, Oregon, pack my stuff into a trailer, and drive 4,500 miles in order to attend the Pastoral Counseling program.  This change, no matter its impact and therefore challenges, was by choice.  As a result, the stress associated with all the changes in my life is, in many ways, expected.  I also have expectations of when all of these major changes will become routine and when the sense of change will decrease.  Like a large rock thrown into a pond, I can count on the ripples eventually dissipating.

Then there are changes that are neither predictable nor by choice.  These changes have spun my world, shattered expectations, and caused me to lie broken on the floor in pieces.  I could never have predicted their appearance and I often cannot predict when the ripples will dissipate.  Yet these unexpected changes have also been the changes from which I have risen stronger, leaving behind in the ashes the parts of me I no longer need.

Since arriving in Maryland, my choice like Pandora’s box has quickly transformed into unexpected change.  My knee jerk reaction is to resist, minimize, and deny what the change is allowing me to learn about myself.  I have to actively work at resisting these urges and instead embrace this tidal wave of change as a window of opportunity for healing.  I have learned the hard way over the years that embracing change is the best way forward, but it has been highly inconvenient.  Lying in pieces on the floor does not go well with being in graduate school.  Despite the inconvenience, I attempt to be grateful for my inward desire to be whole, for the opportunity to heal, and my strength to continually change.

My faith (both in myself and the metaphysical) is what I hold onto in the midst of change.   Change is what I hope to be all about, changing myself, and helping others find the change they want for themselves.  It is why I have chosen this career field.  Change is terrifying, but it is also inspiring.  May the changes before us inspire us.

What’s the Invitation?

by Andrea Noel

I began working for the federal government on April 5, 2006, and since that fateful day my job connected me to one of my life’s purposes. This purpose is using my technical knowledge and skills as an engineer to improve the quality of life for individuals. The motto of my agency is “We save lives” and everyone in our agency wholeheartedly works daily to achieve the goals of our agency’s mission to live up to our motto. So, during this government shutdown I cannot help but wonder why House and Senate officials are not calling to mind how the work they do impacts the lives of others.

We are all familiar with where good intentions can lead as many of our political leaders coin their choices as good intentions for the American public. Author, Andy Stanley, in Principle of the Path, shares that, “It’s not that we fail to see trouble brewing on the horizon. It’s a lack of honesty. We have a hard time leveling with ourselves. We deceive ourselves about why we choose the things we choose. And then we spin a web of excuses to protect ourselves, excuses that over time we come to believe.” The entire world is witnessing the decision-makers of our country contrive their webs of deception in a poor attempt to create solutions to our countries very real problems.

As I sit at home listening to the political pundits, and trying to keep my anxieties at bay, I wondered if God was presenting an invitation during this government shutdown. Maybe there are areas in my life that need honest review? Or, there could be some choices I’ve already made requiring further consideration? Maybe, I need to reflect on how I am deceiving others or myself? Yes, the government shutdown is a huge issue that needs immediate resolution, but I believe real change begins with me and within each one of us. So, I invite you to reflect with me. What is God inviting you to consider during this Government shutdown?

 

The Need for Adequate and Appropriate Treatment and Care

It was breaking news that flashed across the screen just as I was about to turn off the television and head out the door:  An active shooter was at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.  I was saddened by the news, but not shocked.  The occurrence of gun violence had happened so frequently in the last few years that a low-grade numbness had begun to take root.  As analysts talked to reporters and television cameras, the issue of the easy access to high-powered weapons was raised once again, and as expected, the state of the perpetrator’s mental health was called into question.

It turned out that the shooter did have mental health issues, and although he had been arrested twice previously, had gun related altercations, and had even sought help at two Veterans Affairs hospitals, he did not receive the necessary treatment that might have kept him and his twelve victims alive.  Maybe there was a concern about confidentiality, and while confidentiality is essential in therapeutic relationships, so is a duty to warn.  Could it be that his symptoms were masked, or were his treatment providers at fault?

As I mulled over this thought, I understood why it might be difficult to take the next step when dealing with the mentally ill.  Indeed, our Loyola community was affected by gun violence and mental illness when Mary Marguerite-Kohn was killed by a mentally ill homeless man in May 2012.   As social services are reduced due to budget cuts, the options for referrals are few, and mental health professionals are hard-pressed to work in a system with varying state laws, and a lack of public funding.  The result is that response to serious mental illness in many cases has been retroactive at best.

Yet I live in hope that eventually, maybe when the debate about gun violence is spent, the focus would shift towards addressing adequate care for the mentally ill.  The solution offered by the National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre on his recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that “they need to be committed” could not possibly be the answer.  As more citizens are exposed to gun violence, some are becoming traumatized, providing a new demographic of citizens with mental illness.  Law makers should realize that mental illness is not a crime, and even when it may not be curable, it is treatable in the proper environment.   It is time for them to respond to the mentally ill with adequate and appropriate treatment and care.  This will be beneficial to both the patients and those whose paths they will cross.