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!

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

by Dayna Pizzigoni

Spring cleaning was not a tradition in my family growing up. We did all our cleaning and work around the house on Summer Saturdays. Spiritual spring cleaning, however, is a tradition in my faith community. Each year during Lent the Catholic community engages in a searching and fearless moral inventory – to borrow from 12-step programs. As we contemplate Christ’s journey to his crucifixion, His deepest and most loving gift, we examine our spiritual journeys and notice what may be keeping us from experiencing God’s love. We clean up and re-energize our spiritual selves to gain strength and receive all the joy of grace in our lives. I offer the following spiritual spring cleaning tips in a non-theistic way for anyone who needs to shake off some spiritual dust and feel alive again.

  • Notice the light and joy-filled places in your day.

In the winter months we may have found ourselves just trying to keep it moving and get through our days. Now, stop. Breathe in deeply. Reflect over your past day or week and notice where there was light; where you felt lighter; where you experienced joy. Any of these cues are doors into sacred moments. (St. Ignatius would name these as consolations. This practice is part of the Ignatian Examen.) Sometimes we pass right by the love and goodness in our days. Notice it. Celebrate your light and joy. Feel the goodness of life.

  • Be curious about the dark or heavy places.

Resiliently moving through or past hard times can be helpful, but it can be a poisonous pattern. Pause for a moment and be curious about the heaviness on your heart or the tension in your chest. Do you need to slow down; make a change; or let go? Where does it feel dark in your life? Check it out. Bring the gentle, calm candle of your self-acceptance and courage into those dark and heavy places.

  • Stretch yourself and reach out to help someone.

Anxiety and stress create unintentional, worried self-centeredness as we try to “manage” our lives. Do one kind thing today with no strings attached… especially if you don’t feel like you have time to do it. It is a healthy reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you. This fact eases stress, creates humility, and enhances our ability to show compassion to others. Serve someone today.

  • Practice gratitude.

Write down five things you are grateful for every day this week. No repeats. If you can’t think of anything go back and practice tips 1-3 again.

Happy spiritual spring cleaning!

Emerge

by Andrea Noel

Emerge, according to dictionary.com, means to rise or come forth into notice, view, or existence. During springtime buds emerge on naked trees and flowers emerge out of those buds. In the spring, new life emerges.

This spring I am emerging into a new sense of self. The fall and winter seasons were times of deep contemplation about what it means to be authentically and fully who God created me to be. Listening to my heart, being present to deep feelings, noticing my intuition, and reflecting on past decisions helped me get reacquainted with me!

Over the last six months, I grew more familiar with my feelings, desires, fears, strengths and growing edges. I considered what external aspects of my life were not congruent with my internal sense of being and even realized that much of my life is spent living according to societal, familial or external exceptions, even expectations that did not fully resonate with my spirit. In the past, I made some decisions based on the affirmation and validation of things outside of me. All these years, all thirty of them, I made life choices that were mere reflections and interpretations of what others wanted for me.

This year I am choosing from within. As buds emerge, inviting flowers to bloom, I am living the life that reflects my inner most being. This spring I emerge, accepting who I am and living authentically. This spring I emerge courageously as who God created me to be. As we all anticipate lasting signs of spring, consider how you will emerge out of this prolonged season of stillness.

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.

Lighting the Winter Candle

by Shelly Mohnkern

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

Carl Jung, 1963

Winter:  The time of reflection, introspection, and thought;  the fallow time of the mind between semesters. We rest, but we are not still. We fill our days not with books and research and long hours at the library, but with family, food and fellowship. We prepare to re-engage in our scholarship by shopping for books, and supplies, thinking about our schedules, and waiting for the syllabi that will direct our efforts over the next five months. We reflect on the past year, and make resolutions for the upcoming one.

This is the time where we re-kindle Jung’s light, the light that will shine through us for the rest of the year.

I find myself looking inward, seeking that light within me, and searching for the knowledge I will need to nourish the flame to its brightest life. There are so many facets of that light. Much like the human housing it, it takes many different nutrients for the light to thrive and burn brightly. My light thrives on such lofty things as charity work, prayer, helping my tribe-of-choice, spiritual practice, and learning. It also thrives on more mundane pleasures like reading fiction, movies, time spent with children playing, vocal music, and indulging my theatrical side with role-play gaming. I give joy and receive it gratefully. I take “me time” and permit myself to be indulgent. It is a balance between doing for others, letting others do for me, and occasionally doing for myself.

Soon I return to classes. I’m excited and nervous.  I can’t wait to be learning again. In fact, I marvel at the idea that some folks stop learning, feeling they have already gleaned all they can from academic study. I came back to school later in life, and I marvel at all I have learned so far, and the horizons of learning yet to be achieved. I see my light begin to burn brighter, adding itself to the light of my peers, fed by the light of my instructors, the authors of our texts, and the scholarship of those who have gone before me.

Shine on, and shine well. The dark times are passing, now is the time of light.

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.

How To Succeed At Staying Stagnant Without Even Trying

by Kathleen Gerwin

Personal growth, self-actualization, spiritual maturity—that’s all we seem to talk about in the pastoral counseling profession! But what about advice for those who would like to remain stuck, possibly depressed and certainly 100% growth-free? Here’s a helpful “How To” list for anyone who would like to succeed at staying stagnant—with as little effort as possible, of course…

  • Seek the company of friends who won’t—under any circumstances— challenge you. In fact, see if you can find a community of these like-minded folks and spend all of your time with them. Another possible un-growth strategy is to avoid people all together.
  • Be sure not to engage in a spiritual practice on a regular basis—talking about praying, meditating or practicing awareness is fine, but be careful not to actually DO these things!
  • Load up on a daily diet of stress, drama, and distractions. If these three “stagnation” building blocks are in place, you’re well on your way to setting yourself up to becoming growth-free. Conversely, healthy eating, regular exercise, and a daily self-care practice create optimal conditions for growth, so try to avoid these.
  • Stay firmly fixed in your routines, habits, and viewpoints. Studies show that those who take well thought-out risks tend to be happier and have a more positive over-all attitude, so remember to engage in risk-aversion at every opportunity!
  • If you’re the type of person who likes to avoid your feelings or any type of inner work, then you’re already at a relatively low risk for growth. But don’t worry if you’re the type who likes to endlessly ruminate and stay joylessly mired in you’re inner depths for weeks—there’s hope for you, too! This can be just as an effective strategy for staying stagnant.
  • Be on the lookout for the ways in which joy and humor might subtly work their ways into your life—these two little sneaks can take you outside of yourself and connect you to others in a way that can be very dangerous for anyone trying to stay on the path to stagnation. Be especially careful never to cultivate a light-hearted, grateful attitude!

Gratitude that Grows Us

by Kathleen Gerwin

Lent just might be my favorite season. That’s not something I advertise and certainly not something I lead with at cocktail parties. When most people hear the word “Lent,” it usually brings to mind images of Girl Scout cookies deferred and pizza every Friday for a month, not to mention oh-so-fun terms like sacrifice and self-deprivation.

This used to be my view of Lent—40 days of chocolate-less Facebook deprivation. For the past few years however, I have been picking a different Lenten commitment to practice over 40 days and it has caused me to fall in love with this beautiful, misunderstood season.

This Lent, I chose gratitude. When I set out to practice gratitude, I had no idea the riches I would discover. I knew that grateful people were happier, healthier, lived longer, and were just more enjoyable to be around. I was excited to focus on all of the riches in my life that I often miss because I’m “too busy” or unaware. What I was really interested in, however, was how this practice might help me to become more thankful for the things that I’m not naturally inclined to be grateful for, like that co-worker who just won’t stop talking while I am furiously working, or the fender bender on my way to  class . . . or even the relationship where my trust was betrayed.

As I have practiced gratitude over the last 30 days or so, I have not found that the interruptions, disappointments and hurts have ceased—if anything, I am even more aware of them. What I have found is that these moments where gratitude seems impossible have opened me up to the opportunity that the moment presents. American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes beautifully on this topic. Rather than being originally sinful, Sr. Chodron sees people as originally wounded. Each one of us has a tender place of vulnerability or hurt that we go throughout life trying guard. Sometimes we’re successful at guarding the spot and we feel like life is good and everything is as it should be. Sometimes, however, we fail to defend our wound and stuff gets in—people annoy us or disappoint us or even fail us and we have to experience the pain of our wounding all over again.

It is at these times, however, that we are offered the opportunity to really heal  ourselves. When stuff “gets in” and our defenses break down, that is when we have the chance to become our authentic selves and connect with the fact that we are worthy and loved just as we are and there is no need to go through life with walls up. Suddenly, life becomes more spacious and gentle. The universe is a kinder, more joyful place to be. And that is certainly something to be grateful for.

“Go Take a Walk!” – Constructing an Empowering Theological Response to Suffering with Dr. Jill Snodgrass

Dr. Jill at FDR Memorial - One of her Favorite Places

JoAnn:  How do you incorporate spirituality into your teaching?

Dr. Jill: In the Suffering class (PC732 Spiritual and Theological Dimensions of Suffering), we start with a song as a musical response to suffering. I am intentional with incorporating a devotional practice such as a time of silence and framing each class in a theological way. We have two lenses: our social science lens and our religion/spirituality/theology lens. We are in a constant dialectic between them. I think the two different languages are not striving toward the same thing – except health and wholeness. They need to be held in relationship with one another; through this creative tension we find even greater insight. This is integration of spirituality into pastoral care.

JoAnn: Do you identify with the Jesuit Way of Being?

Dr. Jill: Yes, absolutely!  Cura personalis and making men and women for others is what we are trying to do – to create servants. Many service opportunities exist on campus such as CCSJ. This summer I received a Kolvenbach Grant to implement a spiritual/vocational discernment to the job readiness curriculum at Marian House – a program for women with histories of addiction and/or incarceration. Loyola is the most spiritually nurturing place where I have studied with invitations to attend to my relationship with God. That is huge!

JoAnn:  Was there anything that surprised you about Loyola?

Dr. Jill:  I appreciate our students’ maturity and the sacrifices they have made to be here. I have taught at other institutions where the humility of being a graduate student isn’t present. Humility and responsibility are important in graduate work. I had a professor once who said that only less than 1 percent of the population gets to have higher learning, so if you do not feel blessed every day, stop. I think they have an attitude of gratitude and a commitment that I have not seen in any other institution.

JoAnn:  You teach the Suffering Course, Spiritual and Pastoral Care, Introduction to Pastoral Counseling, and what else?

Dr. Jill: I taught Crisis Intervention and this Fall I teach Group Spiritual Guidance.  I will teach Pastoral Care Professional Seminar next semester. That is the kind of work that really excites me; the dialogue between theory and practice, looking at a current ministry situation, turning to what we know about best practices and saying: what are we going to do?

JoAnn: What course do you enjoy teaching most?

Dr. Jill:  I love the Suffering class because it is constructive and fun. We are never going to find out why bad things happen to good people. It’s really fun to wrestle with that question; to dialogue with personal experience and what theologians have been saying for millennia. It’s an interfaith class, so we look at suffering from different faith perspectives. There’s a tragic-comedy element in it because we have to laugh in order to suffer; you need both sides of that coin. Also, we are partnering with Grass Roots here in Columbia. The students in the course work with women-parents and children there. It’s like that book we read this year — What shall we say? Evil, suffering, and the crisis of faith by Thomas G. Long –  that was saying solvitur ambulando: the answer to suffering is by walking. To take on that perspective is empowering in a paradoxical way and deeply spiritual because you give it all over to God. I am not going to fix the world’s suffering in a lifetime, but I take steps toward it.

Read more about Dr. Snodgrass.