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!

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.

The Capacity for Greatness

 

By Nicole Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Hope-FULL


Psychologist Irvin Yalom stated that one of the most important agents of change that the therapist can use to assist the client is the instillation of hope.

While I am not an expert in the process, I did want to share a few lessons that I have learned that hopefully will be of benefit to you.

 

We instill hope, not install it

We are not the therapy versions of the Best Buy Geek Squad. We don’t install hope, like they would install high-definition television sets. During the counseling sessions we strive to “instill” hope. Instilling is defined as the process of “gradually but firmly establishing”. In therapy we try to “gradually but firmly” connect the client to the hope that is already inside them. It took hope for the client to even come to the counseling session. So they already have the hope, we just have to help them increase it.

We bring the belief of hope with us

Even though we don’t install hope, we do bring the belief that the client has hope inside them, which can be built upon. We bring the hope that the time spent in counseling will bring about a positive result. We bring the hope that we have been educated and prepared to journey with our clients through whatever challenges life has given them.

We hope in God

As great as our clinical skills may be, I personally believe that God is in the room as well. And that other person is God. I recognize that everyone may not embrace this hope and I understand that. When I feel lost in session, (and even when I don’t), I try to stay constantly aware that God is in the room and His love and grace are present as well. I also have hope that His love for the client, (and for me), is operating even more than my clinical skills and techniques. This is not to absolve me of being prepared, present and focused in session, but it is a sense or comfort.

Also as the semester begins, realize that hope is for you too! There may be times when you will feel that you are losing hope yourself. It may be after an unfruitful session with a client or after getting a bad grade. It may even be when the rest of your life intrudes and you are started to feel overwhelmed. When that happens remember this anonymous quote, “When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time”.

Social Media Revisits The Intensive Prayer Unit

Recently a friend posted news of her illness on Facebook. Within hours she had many “Likes” and it was heartening to note that many friends had offered to pray. This is not a unique situation. Those who utilize social media can attest to similar incidents where prayerful support is offered to those in need. Various forms of social media have made it easier to connect in prayer, and while technology has caused greater visibility, the practice of group intercessory prayer is not new.

Several years ago, Dr. Frank Richardson, a professor at Loyola University Maryland, founded The Intensive Prayer Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore which offered prayerful support for patients upon request.  Praying for patients provides them comfort and hope by partnering spiritually with their treatment plans.

Such a partnership is similar to what pastoral counselors bring to clients. Like other mental health counselors, we provide psychological care, and we offer something more. Pastoral counselors who graduate from Loyola University’s program are equipped to provide mental health care through the integration of spirituality and psychology. Being a pastoral counselor goes beyond having a career; it is a vocation, a calling to respond to the needs of our clients holistically.

It is this holistic response which I bring to my practice with a goal of providing the best possible care. Although my way of intervention reflects my clients’ spiritual foundation, I look to the Bible for personal guidance and recognize that:

  • I am humbled by my clients’ willingness to trust me as they share their deep emotions. I find support in Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good.”

  • I value the gift of hope. When clients carry feelings of hopelessness, I hold hope for them until they can accept it themselves. I find support in St. Paul’s blessing in Romans 15:13:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.”

  • I appreciate the power of prayer. While I do not pray with my clients during session, I pray for them often. I find support in Mark 11:24, when Jesus said “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Prayer is a powerful tool. The Intensive Prayer Unit reflected an insightful and influential element in establishing an organized medium for intercessory prayer that still exists, expanded through social media. It is possible for those in need to receive prayerful support universally and immediately. So the next time you find an online friend standing in need of prayer, join the Intensive Prayer Unit, and don’t just “Like,” – PRAY.

Prayed for

Somebody must have prayed for me.

As I listen to my clients’ stories, I know I have been blessed and prayed for. I never could have landed here on my own.

My story is no more and no less than their stories, and as I look back over the half century that my breath has filled this air, that my thoughts have contained this world, and that my words have expressed my being, I know that I have never been alone. Someone else’s breath has named my name. Someone else’s thoughts have held my sanity. Someone else’s words have prayed my existence.

I know this to be true because even as my fingers find the letters to form these words, my tears find my eyes and release the divine truth that can only be felt within. This truth is unexplainable and its proof can be found in the footprints of my journey.

I never should have lived this long. I never should have created this peace. I never should have found sustenance by the energy of my creativity.

But I did. I found a path beyond confusion. I learned how life is often built on lies and that each of us has the right to find our own truths. I realized that I could make choices that took care of me and the world did not stop turning. The sun continues to meet me on schedule each morning.

Instead of a life of darkness and poverty, someone must have seen me living this life of light and abundance. Instead of a lonely life bereft of company except that of my own shadow, someone helped pray me a family and friends.

And in times of shadow, I simply have to pivot to see what is behind me and I see the divinity that is with me always.

When clients come to me for pastoral counseling and help that appears beyond the reach of human hands, I pray for their blessings and peace. Some of my clients are empty of hope. Some feel absolutely abandoned and alone with their secret horrors and bestial histories. They can envision no future without pain, no time without sorrow, no being without tears.

I will be their somebody.

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)

 

Christmas: The Season for Meaning Making

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ
the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

This season is all about meaning making. Whatever one might believe, this month calls forth our need to have meaning and celebration in our lives.

As stores report record sales, and malls extend their shopping hours to accommodate the crowds, my pastor, for the second year, provided lawn signs that read “findtheperfectgift.org.” That perfect gift, as the website explains, is the sense of peace that we get from Jesus Christ, who came into this world to shine his light on our lives. It does not negate our earthly custom of exchanging gifts, for even the magi presented baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it goes beyond the material acts. For me, the reason for the season is Jesus. As I celebrate the birth of our savior, what makes meaning in my life at Christmas, is experiencing the God-given gifts of peace and joy, and the love of family and friends.

Christmas occurs at the height of summer in South Africa. Children return home from school, it’s 100 degrees outside, and the day is often celebrated with a BBQ (braai) after church. There may be a few gifts exchanged, but the festivities center on families gathering together to share a meal with friends and neighbors. In the aftermath of Apartheid and many lives lost and shattered, coming together to celebrate God-with-us seems just right, even without an evergreen tree or snow on the ground. God’s loss is our gain and God celebrates that gift with us. Sharing this love together in the face of the world’s brokenness is the best—and most meaning-filled way—to experience God’s arrival on Earth. Blessings of Peace, Joy and Love to all!

During Advent we make our hearts ready to receive Him. Forgiveness, healing, conversion, and charity are even more important now. We pray for those most in need reaching out to them. I am touched by the outpouring of love and care I have seen in support of those encountering atrocities that no one need ever confront. We light an Advent wreath, keep a Jesse Tree, and read Scripture/pray. We view Christmas lights, bake/cook, and appreciate our blessings. Creating homemade goodies gives me joy – a part of God’s creative process. The magic of Christmas to me is the miracle of LOVE. Have a blessed Christmas. I wish love and peace to you and yours this day and always.

Not all of us feel like celebrating. It is difficult to find meaning in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary. How can I be happy when those families have an immediate black hole in their lives that will never ever be filled? All over the world are people suffering, grieving, hurting, crying, and . . . hoping. Hope is where I make my meaning in Christmas. Christians celebrate the promise born on this symbolic day. My hope is the promise that my life and the lives of the 28 who died in Newtown, Connecticut, are eternal, that our lives here continue to make meaning in the lives of others, and we find the capacity to forgive and never forget.

Peace and blessings to all our readers from your Meaning Making bloggers.

Glenda Janie JoAnn Barbara