Set the World on Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is My Resurrection For?

by Kate Gerwin

“There is no them, there is no them, only us.”—Bono

Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Christians world-wide, Easter marks the highest holy day of the liturgical year, the day when the great drama of the Gospel reaches its climax. During Easter, we revel in the resurrection and the mystery that life is stronger than death, and that love can overcome any obstacle, no matter how impossible it may seem.

During Easter, we are reborn through Grace.

And then what? That’s the question I find myself asking this Easter—how to live out the abundant life that Jesus came to offer and die for; what to do with all of this gratuitous Grace.

I’ve found that the more I delve into the Gospels, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I am convinced there is only one answer to this question: share it.

Despite what an obvious answer that may be, certain elements of Christian triumphalism paired with our increasingly individualistic culture whisper to us that it is “my faith” or at least “ours” to be enjoyed only by a select inside group. In this mindset, it’s easy to start viewing my faith journey as a self-help project—one in which faith is meant to make me happier (and even happier that someone else, as if happiness was a fixed commodity), healthier and wealthier.

While I firmly believe that God intends for, even longs for us to be wildly happy, when I think of faith this way—as my own, protected piece of the pie—I feel a million miles away from Love. A million miles away from Jesus.

In Buddhism, there is a term for an enlightened being, called a bodhisattva. What makes the bodhisattva unique however, is that this individual has taken a vow that she will not enter into full enlightenment, or “Buddhahood” until all sentient beings have entered in before her. For the bodhisattva, there is no separation between her own ‘good’ and the ‘good’ of all living things. For her, it is better to be the small strong light of Love in the depths of hell with those in need than bask in the glory of heaven, removed from their suffering.

I ask myself then, who is my resurrected life for? Me? Yes, certainly, for I am a Child of God, worthy of a life of abundance and joy. But when I look to Jesus, the ultimate bodhisattva, I cannot help but see that there can be no isolated ‘me’—not as long as I want to call myself a follower of Christ.

The message of Easter is that there is only ‘we’—only ‘us.’

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.

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.

 

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.

Before You Begin

By Kate Gerwin

With the PC Open House coming up next week, thought I would put together a list of a few things I would tell anyone starting the MS program.

  1. Let the process unfold in its own time. Two and a half years and no more. That’s how long I wanted the program to take me when I first started. I was, by necessity, working full-time so even though this rich, growth producing experience may need more time to evolve in me, that fact was secondary to my desire to get it done. As it stands, I am slated to graduate in May of 2015, five and a half years after I started. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The “extra” time it took wasn’t extra at all—it was vital space for me to learn, integrate, question, play and grow. So if you are like me and find yourself anxious to be finished before you have even started, take heart! The process will take the time it needs to, no more, no less.
  2. Get involved.  I had the great fortune of attending Loyola Maryland (at that time Loyola College) as an undergrad and one of the things I appreciated most about my choice is how many opportunities I was presented with to get involved in campus life and other activities. When I started grad school however, I was working full-time, living far from campus and like many grad students, really pressed for time. In the last year or so, I have become slowly become more involved with the Pastoral Counseling community and it has been very rewarding. Even something as simple as meeting up with classmates for a cup of coffee can help you feel more connected and invested and is well worth the time you think you don’t have.
  3. Save Stuff! In fact, save everything! For one thing, you will need to have all of your syllabi to qualify for licensure. For another, you never know what kind of insight you will glean from that one little hastily scribbled note down the line when you are actually practicing in the counseling field.
  4. Plan Backwards. When I started the program, it was all I could do to register for one class—the thought of planning out what classes I would be taking the next semester, or the next year seemed way too overwhelming! I quickly learned however, that the best way to move forward is to plan backwards. As I learned what classes were offered when and got a sense of my overall “plan”, it became easier to see where I stood in the bigger picture and keep myself on track towards my graduation goal.
  5. Find a peer advisor—or a whole team of them. As great as Advisors are, the reality of office hours and schedules makes meeting regularly somewhat difficult. It’s definitely in your best interest to get to know some individuals who are further along in their journey and glean whatever information and insight you can from them. They can be invaluable resources for helping you navigate everything from what classes to take to helping you through the major challenge of clinicals.
  6. Take your own therapy seriously. While I have always valued therapy, I must admit I saw the 20 hour requirement as a bit of a chore when I first started—one more thing to fit into my busy schedule. As I grew in the program however and things started coming up for me however, my own therapy has been key in the process of evolving my identity as a counselor and a person. I think it is one of the best parts of Loyola’s program, so don’t short change yourself!
  7. Network Now. You never know if your “first friend” in Intro to Pastoral Counseling could later become a link to a job down the line! The program is just as much about developing your own professional identity as it is knowing the material, and networking is a key—and very practical—part of that process.

And most of all, as strange as it sounds, HAVE FUN!

The Survival of the Friendliest

by Kate Gerwin

Ahhhhhhh, the Olympics. A test of skill and brawn, speed and agility. A time when the most honed and talented athletes take the world’s stage, ready to compete until only the fittest, most capable is left; standing atop a platform, basking in his or her glory. It’s enough to make Charles Darwin proud.

Or is it?

The term “survival of the fittest” has long existed in our common lexicon and collective memory. We seem to have a primal recognition of the phrase, using it to explain—and defend– all sorts of human behavior, from harmless competition to deadly greed. The idea that competition is at the very core of who we are as a species has gone unchallenged for so long that we have come to view it as gospel, even going so far as to base many of our financial, political, social and even religious institutions on it and its implications. Human beings, we believe, have evolved and survived thanks to competition.

The only trouble is, Darwin doesn’t seem to agree. Darwin is best known for his first book, Origin of Species, from which we derive the phrase the “survival of the fittest”; what is less well-known, however, is Darwin’s second book, entitled The Descent of Man., In this book he explains the process of human evolution as distinct from that of the animal world.  It may then, come as a shock to discover that in this 828 page tome, Darwin only mentions “survival of the fittest” twice. What does he focus on instead? Themes of love and mutual cooperation. Darwin refers to love or pro-social behaviors over 95 times, and moral sensitivity over 92 times. In contrast, the role of selfishness is only mentioned 12 times, while the need for competition is mentioned a mere nine.

What is one to conclude from these surprising statistics? In short, that we as a species owe far more to our ability to come together than our ability to compete.

Ahhhh, the Olympics. An opportunity for nations to cease the business of politics and war-making, and come together to share in our common humanity and desire for a more peaceful planet. Charles Darwin would indeed be proud.

Coming Home

by Kate Gerwin

“After the Ecstasy… the laundry.” – Jack Kornfield

This past weekend, I went on a retreat—or perhaps more accurately stated, this past weekend, I came back from a retreat.

The retreat itself was one of the most soul-touching experiences I have ever had. I showed up on Friday, resistant and jaded (just the right temperature for cooking, my teacher would say) and left on Sunday with deep new wells of life. It was humbling, empowering and one of those rare moments where you realize you are watching your life change.

So overall, a pretty good weekend.

To give some context, I am somewhat familiar with retreats; I’ve been on more than a few and led many more and perhaps most importantly, I had finally learned the art of fitting a sleeping bag, pillow and all my clothes into one tiny duffle. My experiences have run the gamut, from deeply meaningful and life-altering, to extraordinarily empty and stale.

One thing about retreats that has always intrigued me is coming back home, as the experience is always different. At times I have been so raw and broken open that coming home has been like waking up under harshly lit florescent lights. Sometimes I have been so deeply moved that my attempts to share my experience have been totally futile. And on other occasions, I have been so frustrated, cynical or bored that I haven’t been able to make it to the car fast enough; impatient to get back to the distracting business of my ‘real’ life.

I think the greatest gift that this particular weekend gave me, was the gift of coming home.

Jack Kornfield, beloved author and meditation teacher, sums up the beauty of “coming home” in his book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” Kornfield writes about how moments of transcendence can be so powerful and life-changing; and yet, after such realization, we are faced, or gifted, with the day-to-day-living of our lives. These are the real moments of miracle and mystery. For Kornfield the moments of ecstasy and enlightenment are worth very little if they do not help the laundry become a luminous or sacred task.

As we were about to leave the retreat, my teacher, mindful that we would all be returning to our proverbial laundry, left us with this quote by Buddhist meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, from his sermon about the life of Jesus:

“The real miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

I am off to do some laundry!