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.

Coming Out of Winter

by Rev. Shelly M. Mohnkern

“A second characteristic of the process which for me is the good life, is that it involves an increasingly tendency to live fully in each moment. I believe it would be evident that for the person who was fully open to his new experience, completely without defensiveness, each moment would be new.”

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961

This winter has left me with a curious habit; one that I assume will fade as spring takes a firm hold. Each morning when I get up, I immediately go to the window, and peek outside to make certain that winter is actually staying gone. There has not been any white on the ground in over a week. Check. The temperature is staying above freezing, even at night. Check. The daffodils are starting to open. Check. Breathe deeply, and relax.

Never was Carl Rogers more right about new moments than this past winter. No matter the forecast, no matter the previous few days’ temperature, no matter the date on the calendar, one could wake up to a white wonderland and a houseful of homebound children. There was little the authorities could do to predict the actual event. They could guess, they could speculate, they could even look at the data of the past, and project. But weather is still not an exact science, and sometimes it will simply go in ways that surprise us, for ill or for good.

For me this has been a parallel to what I am learning about the fascinating subject of mind-body-heart interactions, and what we, as humans, do with them. We are not an exact science either… we embody Spirit, and through Spirit, we are Mystery. There is not a way to categorize us down to base predictable mechanisms. We cannot fully know what the next moment will bring, for ourselves or for those we attempt to help and care for. All we can do is Be, and Be With.

It is first important to Be. We need to be present and aware, of ourselves and the world around us. We must learn to take in as much as we can, and experience it. We may not understand it all, but we can take it in. We can learn and adapt as things change, and store and reflect on the things we did not understand, and learn from them as well. We can become aware of our own Mystery.

Then we can Be With. As counselors, we learn the importance of empathy. It is mentioned in almost every class we take. We can Be With our clients, even when we are not 100% sure what is going on with them. We can reach out with our understanding, and be there with them, gaining knowledge from every work, every movement, and every silence. We can make them feel accompanied, no longer alone in their own understanding or confusion about their condition. We can share somewhat in their Mystery, and share a bit of our own.

We can move out of winter and into spring. We might still have to look out the window for a while, to assure ourselves we are moving forward, but eventually, Spring will arrive.

May all of you enjoy this season of rebirth, and awakening, and find your own amidst the Sacred. Blessings!

Responding to God

by Dave Gosling

“You say, I am more compassionate

than your mother and father.

I make medicine out of your pain.

From your chimney smoke I shape new constellations.

I tell everything, but I do not say it,

because my friend, it is better

your secret be spoken by you.”

Rumi

All of creation is responding to God, praising God at every moment of the day and night. The cycle of birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth points to the seasons of the year and to the implicit circularity of the cosmos. Human beings, too, participate in this cycle of praise by the fact of our very existence. We are special, however, in that we are blessed with the faculty to discern, and to choose the manner in which we respond to God. Even a person who turns away from the Divine does so in some sense as a response to the One from Whom all things flow. A tree that produces no fruit still has the sun and the rain and the soil to thank for its existence.

Furthermore, in many traditions it is believed that God created humans in order for them to turn away, so they could then find their way back to His embrace. God knows Himself through us as we stumble blindly back into His embrace. We are inclined to step away from the overwhelmingness of the Infinite from time to time through the rising and falling tides of our mortal lives, and as we do so the collective impact of our imperfections, failures, and tragedies weigh us further and further down.

God, however, wants to make a medicine out of our pain if only we are willing. There is a vast sense of empowerment when we realize our pain and failure is in fact another form of communication from the All Mighty, another way for God to show up in our lives and push us back toward His embrace. He cannot always give us the easy and straight path toward the answer; as Rumi points out He cannot say our secret. We must each live into our secrets, and speak them through our thoughts, our beliefs, and our deeds.

Let us remember that we also speak our secrets through our failures, losses, and humiliations. Today, let the fire of your pain become the chimney smoke through which God’s new and wondrous constellations are formed.

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.

Falling In Love and Finding God

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.” Pedro Arrupe, SJ

 

If you know how that quote continues, you know Fr. Arrupe’s wisdom. My experience of love and God, however, would be better expressed as such:

Nothing is more practical than falling in love, than finding God.

When I met my husband at Loyola, I was not searching for love or God. Mid-way through summer, I happened to be in a class about Imago Therapy, a model for Couples Counseling, with my now-husband. After class a few of us decided to drive to DC for a Theology on Tap. Conversation during that car ride, by the campus lake, and at my church after a movie about monks and social justice stirred up my interest in this friend. As God would have it, he found himself locked out of a parking garage in Baltimore city after the aforementioned movie. I happily found myself showing this friend around Baltimore for the day.

The thing about being in the single-discover-yourself-lifestyle is that you can risk vulnerability slowly with deliberate choice.  I chose to trust the words he spoke without analysis. I chose to stay grounded in reality and got to know him as he was, not as the future-him I predicted he could be. I also recognized the future to be a mystery with or without him. Most importantly, I walked with my fear of vulnerability while remembering that I was whole already and God was with me. Then, I fell in love and found God.

When I say I found God, I do not mean that I had a conversion experience. It was more like a slow spiritual awakening. I had a new, profound emotional experience of God’s love for me. You could say my God image was shaped in a new way.  When we talk about God image in our field, we are describing an internal working model of God as a divine attachment figure (Davis, 2013). God image is not about our beliefs, but our experiences. People we become close to or develop an attachment to can influence our God image (Davis, 2013). I discovered a new part of God through falling in love and being loved by my husband.

Arrupe is right. When we find God as if we are falling in love, our faith embraces all the practical pieces of life with a glow of being in love. The reverse is also true. I fell in love and the practical pieces of life (even data analysis) twinkle with a glow of being in God. Let someone love you this Valentine’s Day and experience something of God.

 

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.

When Things Fall Apart

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.”

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Many clients come to us with their own versions of “falling apart” and it is our privilege as counselors to share in that space with them and to not flinch, (or to flinch but still not run). In that space and with the understanding that there may not be a specific “destination”, but a belief that the counseling journey will produce movement, a more enlightened person or both. And it is that universal love for the client that allows the counselor to be in that space without agenda, impatience or predetermined result. If universal love is the foundation upon which the counseling relationship is built, then acceptance would then be the framework of that counseling relationship. The universal love can lead to an acceptance of the client for who and what they are, which is many times far beyond their actions and behavior. That growing space of acceptance, supported by the universal love, allows the client to feel safe enough to open those dark doors and shine light on dark hallways within them. But acceptance also requires that the counselor accept a few things as well. The first acceptance is that of the counselor’s limitations. Even with the best techniques, theories and counseling presence, there is a limit to how much can be accomplished. That limit is based upon many factors, a good number of which are outside of the counselor’s control (client willingness, client support systems, environment just to name a few). There is also an acceptance of the fact that the effective and productive counseling process is not free of pain or discomfort. Many times I have found myself shying away from asking questions that may cause the client discomfort or even pain. And I have had to realize that the client was ALREADY in pain and discomfort. So yes a portion of my reluctance was based upon that concern for the client, but a portion of that was also for me. I wanted to avoid the pain and discomfort that I would feel, so I avoided certain lines of questions and inquiries in part because of my lack of acceptance that discomfort on both sides (the client and the counselor) are a natural and essential part of the process of truer healing.

 

 

Seeking Silence

“What you seek is seeking you.”
Rumi

Silence calls to me.

There’s an oxymoron for you.

Here’s another one: Thomas Keating says that silence is “God’s first language.”

I automatically equate language with the spoken word and this is a mistake on my part. Language occurs in so many different ways such as body movement, facial expression, feelings. Sound is not required.

Noise is easy to find in the world. Noise happens with constant abandon. I have nothing against noise. It is very necessary. Birds call to each other to find their way. A baby cries in the night to signal to mother a need to feed. Without noise, we would not hear the approaching car, the cell phone ringing, or the announcement that our dinner order is ready. Noise helps us survive. But we need silence to distinguish between the various noises in our lives to give them meaning. If we did not have those precious seconds of silence, life would just be one huge cacophony of sound and nothing would make sense.  

The Quakers believe that God speaks to us in silence. Their unprogrammed worship is conducted in silence – they gather in communal stillness. No one speaks unless he or she feels moved to do so by God.

I am seeking some spontaneous silence . . . a time where noise falls away and makes room for the voice of God. Usually, that only occurs during a power outage and that just aggravates people.

When I sought out a way to learn to speak God’s first language – silence – I found Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is reminiscent of meditation. One chooses or asks the Holy Spirit for a sacred word as the focus of intention to consent to God’s presence. When distracted by thoughts (which also include feelings and body sensations) while in prayer, I return to the word to return to the place within me where God and I reside.

In his book, Manifesting God, Thomas Keating makes the important distinction that God is not separate from us. God is within us at all times and it is up to us to create this space, this fourth dimension within ourselves, where we can constantly communicate and live in the presence of God.

The call is not a noise or a sound. It is an urging, a pulling, a beckoning . . . like home waiting in the distance with a candle flickering in the window.

The Contemplative Leader

by Andrea Noel

 

Everyday usage of the word contemplate implies thorough consideration, or observation with continuous attention. In early Christian spirituality contemplation typically happens within the framework of prayer.

A simple definition of contemplation is “loving presence to what is.” In a Christian context, because we “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28), being present to things as they are involves encountering the Christ who “fills the whole creation” (Eph. 1:23). In other words, Christian contemplation means finding God in all things and all things in God. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Carmelite friar, called it “the loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”[1]

Contemplation is an all-encompassing type of presence; it is an instant, open awareness to all creation, accurately perceiving and benevolently responding to things as they actually are. Contemplation can be still and quiet or active and loud. Contemplative living is an orientation toward life that nurtures a simple willingness to be open to God’s movements, leading, and invitations.

The reality and diversity of our community begs for more contemplative leaders throughout our society. The hallmarks of a contemplative leader are transparency, vulnerability, and incompleteness. These characteristics expose the reality of human nature. They reveal humanity’s contusions, fallibilities, fears, innocence, and our need for God’s guiding love. These characteristics open the door for reconciliation, empathy, and change. Other qualities of a contemplative leader include: love, trust, faith, authenticity, prayerfulness, and courage.

The principles that guide contemplative leaders are counter-cultural to American social norms for successful leadership. Surrender is necessary for change; gentleness promotes action; doubt creates space for Divine guidance; being quiet permits a deeper fullness of life.

A contemplative leader is nurtured by an active commitment to prayer and spiritual disciplines: journaling, meditation, intercessory prayer, communal worship, and Sabbath. The type of spiritual discipline practiced is of least importance in the life of contemplative leadership. What matters more is having a consistent daily time of prayer.

A contemplative leader intentionally creates space for prayer and commits to praying during times when prayer is difficult. During seasons of doubt, insignificant awareness of God’s presence, or emotional, psychological and physical strains, a contemplative leader chooses to maintain a regular prayer practice.

The contemplative leader knows deep listening begins with listening from the heart and not the head; it involves empathy and self-reflection. Self-care, and peer support are essential elements for maintaining healthy boundaries and creating safe spaces for care and transformation. Inner work is done best within community. The contemplative leader is fully aware and committed to allowing God to be fully in control and prayer does not need to be elaborate, or difficult, but simply consistent and routine.


[1] Crumley, C., Dietrich, B., Kline, A. & May, G. (2004). What is contemplative spirituality? Retrieved from: http://www.shalem.org/index.php/resources/publications/articles-written-by-shalem-staff/contemplative-spirituality