My Simple Easter Message

by Andrea Noel

As we approach this Easter weekend I decided to spend some time reading and reflecting on Matthew 28:1-20. There are several themes that stand out in scripture’s account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On Easter Sunday, we are usually reminded that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven; Jesus overcame death; Jesus was restored to his throne. I remember, when I was a young girl, this depiction of Jesus’ triumph left me wondering “What about those Jesus left behind and equally what about us?”

Today, as I read Matthew chapter 28 I found the answer to my childhood wondering. The last lines in Matthew chapter 28 reads, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus’ resurrection was truly a miraculous sign, one of hope, but his words, “I am with you always…” offer more than hope to me. These words are a reminder of Jesus’ commitment to not just rule in heaven, but to share in our physical experiences here on Earth; our experiences of pain and wellbeing, joy and sorrow, excess and lack. Jesus’ words evoke peace. Jesus reminds us that his return to Glory is not one that leaves us abandoned or forsaken; his ascension is not a miraculous event that separated his presence from us. This Easter, I am reminded that throughout my earthly experiences Jesus is with me till the end of time. I do not breathe, think, or move without his loving presence accompanying me. As you celebrate Easter, and move through the ups and downs of life, recall these simple words, “I am with you always.” Be assured that the peace of Jesus lives with us and in us forever.

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.

 

To Withdraw and Draw Inward

by Andrea Noel

Spiritual retreat’s offer us an opportunity to withdraw from the routine of our busy lives, inviting us to go within and bring focus to the heart and soul. A spiritual retreat should help us create depth, space, time for prayer, and grounding. Every retreat is distinct and finding the right one that works for you takes intention. When selecting a retreat, you could consider the following.

  • What are you looking for in a retreat:
  1. Context and content
  2. Facilitators/retreat leaders
  3. Location and accommodation
  4. Schedule and duration
  5. Cost

Context identifies the set of circumstances surrounding the retreat, i.e. is it a group or personal retreat; Yoga or Church retreat; all-male or all-female retreat. Content relates to the focus of the retreat. What will you learn while on retreat? Is this particular area relevant to your spiritual needs at this time? It is also important to know who will lead your retreat. What credentials, experience, or learning does a particular individual, or individuals, hold in a specific area to help facilitate creating depth, integrity, and focus during the retreat?

Location and accommodation represent where the retreat will take place and where you will stay if over-night lodging is needed? Also, how do the accommodations contribute to the theme and feel of the retreat? Schedule and duration are important aspects to consider because it can greatly influence the cost of the retreat. The selected date for the retreat could also impact the entire retreat experience. For example, if you are at a retreat center with beautiful outdoor landscapes and you want to enjoy the open outdoors you would need to be mindful of the weather when scheduling your retreat.

Finally, you should consider the costs associated with the retreat. Retreats can range from $50-$500 not including travel costs. Set a comfortable budget for your retreat, including the retreat, accommodations, food, and travel costs. Do not correlate costs with the value of a retreat. You can go on a $20 retreat and leave rejuvenated and transformed. You can also spend $2000 and leave unmoved and frustrated. Being on retreat is less about how much you spend and where you are, it is more about your spiritual intent and the purpose of the retreat.

Here are a few of my favorite retreat centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area:

Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown Maryland

http://www.dayspringretreat.org/

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriotsville Maryland http://rccbonsecours.com/home.html

Yogaville, Buckingham Virginia

http://www.yogaville.org/

The Shambhala Center, Washington DC

http://dc.shambhala.org/

The Belfry, Lexington Virginia

http://bellfry.org/

Another great resource for finding retreats nationally and internationally is www.retreatfinder.com

 

 

Happy Holidays

by Nicole Snyder

On Black Friday a quote came through on my News Feed on Facebook.  It was attributed to Ohiyesa (Charles Alexander Eastman) a Wahpeton Santee Sioux.

“It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome.  Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one’s spiritual balance.  Therefore, children must learn the beauty of generosity.  They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving “.

Given the source, I cannot be certain the quote is correctly contributed.  Nonetheless, the quote speaks to my inward struggle at this time of year.  I want to be a part of the cultural celebrations.  Yet, I also want to celebrate in a way that honours my “spiritual balance”.  In a culture that celebrates materialism and consumerism, I find it very challenging to actualize my intentions.

When I lived in Ireland, the holidays were about family and friends.  It was a time set aside to spend time with people, usually accompanied by good food and drinks.  Any gifts that were exchanged were done by businesses thanking customers or were for the children.  When I try to explain the differences between there and here, it’s hard to put into words.  The differences are in the spirit of the celebrations, in the attitude, and therefore intentions of the people.  It makes me incredibly aware of how much the environment surrounding me impacts me.  As much as I might try to recreate the spirit of the holidays here, as it was there, it is astonishingly hard to translate.

How do I honour my “spiritual balance” in the place I am today in the midst of cultural expectations I resist?  When was the last time I gave away what I prize most merely because I knew the recipient would enjoy it?  Have I learned the beauty of generosity?  How do I reconcile these thoughts and my intentions with the season that is upon us?  I don’t have any good answers yet.

I know I will continue to struggle with finding my spiritual balance in the midst of culturally encouraged consumerism.  I will continue to explore what spiritual balance means to me.  I know I will continue to struggle with finding the balance for my son between him celebrating the holiday and not being consumed with what he is getting.  I will continue to struggle with all of these things.  My hope is that my struggle and the thoughtfulness of my choices will eventually find me a way through.

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.

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.

Deb Calhoun’s God-Led Path to Chaplaincy

(Deb Calhoun is a distinguished 2012 graduate of the Pastoral Counseling Department’s M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care. She won the John R. Compton Integration Award for her pastoral presence and ability to practice pastoral integration in her work.)
 

Deb Calhoun

JoAnn: How did you find your calling to Loyola?

Deb: While working with a special family – members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation – I learned pursuing pastoral care with greater commitment was my path. My minister recognized it before I did. When I thank her, she denies that she deserves the credit. At first, I could not use the word “calling.” I kept saying “no” until finally I couldn’t any longer. I stumbled upon Loyola’s program. It was the perfect fit for me.

 
JoAnn: What is your lasting impression of Loyola?
 
 

Deb: Spiritual and Pastoral Care with Fr. Kevin Gillespie shaped me as a caregiver. He taught us Care of the Entire Person or Cura personalis and – “where there is a story, there is hope.” Being present to someone listening to their story is the foundation of how I do pastoral care. When you are really attentive to the story, the heart of the matter is revealed. That is where God is! I come to it with the skills that I need and God does the rest.

JoAnn: How is God found in your work?

Deb: When I have the right words for someone that aren’t mine – during a baptism a Scripture verse comes to me that I didn’t even know I knew, or miraculously I run into someone and events just fall into place so that I am able to meet a need.

JoAnn: How do you use your education in your work?

Deb: I draw a lot on Loss and Bereavement and Crisis Intervention. A one-day seminar on suicide prevention came back to me when I dealt with someone who was considering suicide.

JoAnn: Since graduating from Loyola what have you been up to?

Deb: Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).  I did one unit each at the Hebrew Home, Sinai Hospital and now Johns Hopkins. I have had different supervisors, groups, and clinical components and learned a variety of skills. Typically, someone does a full-time chaplaincy residency in the same place for all four units.  It is 60 hours a week – physically and emotionally intense. That was not the correct path for me. I have Muscular Dystrophy and I was not sure that I could handle it physically.

JoAnn: In your work in CPE, have you worked with people of various faiths?

Deb: Yes! My current supervisor is a ṣūfī, my supervisor-in-training is Episcopalian, and I had a Jewish Rabbi supervisor. I am comfortable praying with people of all faiths. I am leading the worship service at Johns Hopkins every other Sunday, and it is a surprise to me how much I love it.

JoAnn: Do you like your work?

Deb: Oh yes! I am where I am supposed to be. People ask: how can you do it? It is so sad to see people suffering. I think how lucky am I to be able to do the work that I do!

Deb Calhoun receiving John R. Compton Integration Award from Dr. Tom Rodgerson

Since our meeting, I learned that Deb Calhoun has been accepted to Earlham School of Religion to pursue her MDiv. We wish her well.

Vehicles for Change

by Beverly Sargent

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Matthew 17:20

You might have heard the radio announcements asking people to donate their vehicles to a non-profit organization.  The donated vehicles are meant to help make life easier for those with financial, mental, developmental and/or behavioral health challenges.

What does it mean to make life easier? Really, the recipient of the gift can best
express its meaning. Also, the meaning may change from day to day, week to week and month to month.  The change a vehicle can bring may be minimal to those in the organization but monumental to the family who receives it.

As Pastoral Counselors, we, too, hope to be vehicles of change. In a way, we give of ourselves as we study, write treatment plans, and share knowledge and compassion with our clients.  It is a relationship in which we give and we hope for change. To us, the change may appear minuscule; but, to our clients, it may have taken years of struggle to experience positive change.  The minuscule can be monumental!  The hope of being a vehicle of change is sort of like faith.

It’s not about the mountain. It’s about the mustard seed.

“I have a mustard seed; and I’m not afraid to use it!”

~Joseph Ratzinger: Salt of the Earth (Pope Benedict XVI)

 

Shining a light in the darkness of despair: Holding hope for the client until (s)he is ready to receive it

The holiday season is live and the malls are crowded with shoppers. Beautifully decorated stores lure customers through their doors with a promise of exclusive sales. Names placed on lists are checked off as patrons load gifts into their shopping carts. Churches welcome their flock and extend an invitation to those who have strayed, to “come home for Christmas.” Brightly lit homes greet holiday guests, and scrumptious dinners are planned for families who travel by plane, train, bus, and car to spend Christmas with their loved ones. Everywhere the atmosphere is electrified with joy and excitement, as Christians and non-Christians alike prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is considered by many to be the most wonderful time of the year. It commemorates the birth of our Savior. But for those who are submerged in the darkness of despair, it is a difficult time. Consider the wife who is celebrating Christmas without her husband for the first time; the daughter whose mother died before they could reconcile after an argument; the mother with no money to buy gifts for her children; the children whose mother can’t find her way home after a night of drugs and alcohol; the old man who is all alone simply because he has no one left. For them, Christmas is a time of want; a depressing reminder of what they have lost, or never had. As pastoral counselors we are tasked to make a difference for those who are in despair and to offer them a sense of hope.

Hope is what Jesus’ incarnation is about, and why He is the light of the world. In John 12:46, Jesus said “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness.” During the Christmas season there are many people in darkness. Pastoral counselors are uniquely qualified to help shine a light into their world.  As psychospiritual healers, integrating psychology with spirituality, we are often called upon to compassionately hold hope for our clients until they are ready to receive it themselves. What a beautiful gift that one can receive at Christmas – the gift of hope.

As I serve my clients during this blessed Christmas season, I know that I cannot undo their past, but I can try to soften the impact as I prepare them to face life as it unfolds.  Christmas is much more than the commercial trappings that are propagated by businesses. Jesus came on earth to shine a light so that no one will remain in darkness as long as they believe in him.  He came to give us hope. Pastoral counselors have an opportunity to help our clients claim that hope and escape from the darkness of despair.  This is such a significant and honorable role for us, and one that I accept with gratitude and humility.