Set the World on Fire

“Set the World on Fire” – The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Ph.D.

Graduation Day!! I had looked forward to that day since my very first class at Loyola and what a glorious day it was! Sharing that celebration with so many of my classmates added to the joy. Even with such great emotions there was also a sense of uncertainty. What happens next?

President Brian F. Linnane had a suggestion: Set the world on fire!

He made this statement during his closing remarks and those words still resonate with me. As graduating students our time at Loyola has been an incredible and enlightening experience. Yet if it only remains an experience, a moment in time, then I believe that we have not fully embraced what has been taught. We went through this experience so that we could change ourselves and also assist others in the process of positive change. Whatever theory you use, from CBT to Adlerian, positive change for the client is the goal. Well your client is the world and it is in need of some positive change!

Many of us will move on to different parts of the country and in some cases, even the world. I hope that we resolve to do our part to make the world a better place. It may sound like a cliche’ or a song lyric, but that is the goal. It may be through an incredible counseling session with a client or sharing an encouraging word with a stranger. Whatever the case, know that, as graduates, we are being sent out into the world to make a change. And I am confident that we will. (You can contact Dr. Ralph Piedmont for the exact probability within one standard deviation, but trust me it is high!) We have endured reading the equivalent of the Library of Congress, we have used United Nations level cooperation to make group presentations, we have written papers of biblical proportions, and have meticulously prepared APA citations. In addition to all of that, we have also completed years of clinical internships. And we have not only survived; we have thrived.

The world needs our hope, our faith, our service and our presence. It has been my honor to have shared this journey with you, my fellow classmates. I have been enlightened by your conversations and encouraged by your lives. You are truly wonderful and exceptional and I am excited about the great impact that you will have on others. So to echo the words of President Linnane: Set the world on fire!

New Beginnings

By David Gosling

Two weeks ago I served as a volunteer “buddy” at Camp Me Too, a wonderful weekend event that brings bereaved children into community. Each of these kids lost a family member to disease or tragedy in recent years. Although I was assigned to work with a single boy, I quickly found myself bonding with most of the campers in one way or another. In my experience, they seemed very much like normal, happy children. It was only later on in the weekend—as the staff and buddies encouraged them to open up about their experiences and emotions—that these remarkably resilient boys and girls spoke about the ordeals through which they lived at such an early age.

Listening to their stories, it occurred to me that most of these kids didn’t know just how remarkable they were. To lose a father to the violence of the streets, or a mother to drugs, or a sibling to disease…and then spring back into the full joy and vivacity of youth in such a short time…I had a very difficult time imagining my ability to conjure a similar response in their place, even as an adult. It was a humbling and valuable lesson to learn.

As spring finally bursts forth after a long and arduous winter season, it is the time for new beginnings in our lives. I pray that we may each harness the energy of these children in our own lives. May we, too, find that beauty of simplicity in our daily routines. May we, too, face each new day with courage and optimism. May we, too, learn to laugh in the face of adversity, knowing that the Provider of All Things will eventually bring each and every one of us Home.

Living the Easter Message

 

by Nicole Snyder

Last year Vernon Ware wrote a blog called “Showtime” challenging readers to think about how we might take the message of Easter beyond Easter Sunday.  Vernon suggested the answer is by demonstrating love in a relevant way.  After much reflection, I have to agree.

The hard part is that love lived in relation to other human beings is complicated and messy.  People are imperfect.  I am imperfect.  If our imperfections weren’t enough, other people have the audacity to be different than me.  Loving in midst of differences requires me to be open and flexible.  It begs me when there is misunderstanding and miscommunication to open up more, to become even more vulnerable.

Easter is a very hopeful inspiring story.  The resurrection thing sounds great, but the cross part not so much.  I’ll pass on the flogging.  I’ll pass on the crown of thorns.  I’ll pass on carrying my cross to the hill.  I’ll pass on being nailed to the cross.  I’ll pass on being humiliated and laughed at and denigrated.  Can I just skip Calvary and go straight to resurrection?  The results of my ponderings was no.  As the adage says, people don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.

First I must love.  I am called to love with the agape kind of love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  I am called to be respectful and compassionate.  I am called to imagine dwelling in another human being’s lived experience albeit temporarily.  If I’m honest with myself in my desire to live the Easter message, then I have to also say that I’m called to love people as they are in all their imperfection and messiness and in all the ways they are different from me.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).  My cross is different from yours.  My path of following will be uniquely mine.  Through it all, I can choose to love agape style.  I will be patient and kind.  I will not be envious.  I will not boast.  I will not be arrogant or rude.  I will not insist on my own way.  I will not be irritable or resentful.  I will rejoice when you do well and find your truth.  I will protect, trust, hope, and persevere.  That kind of love requires my vulnerability and authenticity; it breaks my heart and tears me open; it is hard.  Because I am human, I demonstrate these attributes of love imperfectly.  Nevertheless, I choose to do my best to live the Easter message everyday: love lived agape style.

Pursuing Religious Freedom

by Rev. Shelly M. Mohnkern

Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.
C.G. Jung

This country’s exploration of the ideas of religious freedom has been on my mind a great deal over the last couple weeks, and different states struggle with what it means to allow the freedom of religion, in balance with legally excusing discrimination. The states will make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them, just as we in our pursuit of knowledge and learning seek to understand our own, and those of our predecessors. I am simply grateful that here, at least, the students and professors seem to get something that lawmakers still fail at.

Over the last two years that I have been in attendance here at Loyola, I have had many opportunities to express myself and my faith, my beliefs and my personal gnosis, this blog being one of them. As a pagan, I am in the minority here, in a sea of more traditional faith-paths, and yet I feel as valued and respected as any of my more traditional colleagues. It is the truest form of religious freedom, to be able to study how to bring Pastoral Counseling skills to a faith that does not have the centuries of established centers of learning and seminary enjoyed by more established churches. I enjoy this religious freedom. I revel in it every day as I attend classes, have discussions with my peers, and challenge the boundaries of established understandings of the universe and traditional views of our place within it. This is truly religious freedom done right.

It is my feeling that it is the atmosphere here at Loyola that America’s forefathers had in mind when they established a new country where faith was not mandated by the government, but was instead the freedom of every individual to keep to and live by as they saw fit. I hope that all of us here at Loyola will remember that when we step out of this world and into the larger one, so that through our practices we can spread our tolerance, acceptance and love to the larger world outside these doors, and let this country see what religious freedom truly means.

You readers may not realize that you are providing this grace to your fellow students, but believe that we have noticed receiving it, and are grateful.

 

Hungering for Justice

by Dayna Pizzigoni

Today I drove past four tents near the on-ramp to a local highway. I could hardly stand to consider the frigid cold the homeless would experience in another snow storm decorated with daggers of freezing rain. I feel sad and angry when I sit with awareness of people being hungry and homeless in a society of abundance. It’s infuriating to see commercials about new super-glossy lipstick, but no comments about hungry mouths.

I imagine people do not want to hear about the poverty in our neighborhoods. Poverty is not a pretty or comfortable reality. I have volunteered in city soup kitchens. I have had the honor to serve in the intimate space of someone’s home in Appalachia. I’ve sat with saints in the scarred and sacred space of Salvadorian advocacy communities. Despite my varied service, I still feel some discomfort every time I volunteer to serve people who are marginalized in our society.

My discomfort likely comes from a deep knowing that the world is not the kingdom on earth that God intended. The discomfort is also an urging to respond more fervently to my call to serve and do my part in creating a more just world. As a doctoral student, I have found it difficult to make time for this call. Thankfully, a wonderful opportunity called HungerworX has come my way through the Center for FaithJustice, an awesome non-profit dear to my heart that inspires the youth to connect their faith to a call to serve and shape the world to be a better place.

HungerworX is a mission-centered fundraiser that raises awareness about food insecurity in the United States. As a participant, I commit to eating for less than $4 a day for seven days in solidarity with the 1 in 6 Americans that struggle with hunger and food insecurity. [You are welcome to join me or support this initiative with a donation; check out my personal page, http://hungerworx.causevox.com/DPH.]

The truth is that reaching out to others and stepping outside of ourselves would not only help our communities, but would likely help our mental health too. Alfred Alder named social interest as a characteristic of mental health. Dr. Lisa Machoian suggests volunteering as a tool of empowerment for teenage girls who are struggling with depression. Serving others can get us out of our own worried minds and into a place of humility and gratitude.

A priest once proposed that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was not that Christ Jesus multiplied them, but that strangers, who would not have traveled to see Jesus speak without provisions, all shared what they brought with the crowd. I am no scripture scholar to comment on what happened, but this message of sharing from what we might need, not our excess is beautiful. In this long winter, I hope you find some way to give of yourself. Our human family and our psyches are in great need.

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).

An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

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.