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.

 

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.

 

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.

Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Loving and Forgiving

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano

 

As I knelt in prayer after communion one Sunday morning, I became aware that my praying had been subliminally replaced by the words of the hymn being sung by the choir.  It was a sweet melody, and the lyrics had grabbed hold of my soul:

  

Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord,
slow to anger; rich in kindness,
loving and forgiving are you.

(You Tube: Psalm 103: Loving and Forgiving)

I stayed on my knees savoring the significance of the words, realizing how blessed I was to be the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness.  The hymn ended, but the lyrics continued to demand my attention. I imagined myself to be loving and forgiving, slow to anger, and rich in kindness. I thought “how awesome that would be.”

The themes of love and forgiveness are not new to Christians.  They echo through religious writings, and occur often in the Bible.  In Colossians, Chapter 3, we learn that “if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”  In that same chapter, St. Paul reminds us to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 12), and “over all these things, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (v. 14).

Practicing love and forgiveness is usually associated with spirituality, but it does not reside there alone.  If not in our personal lives, as pastoral counselors, we encounter clients whose health and/or relationships are compromised by an inability to forgive and love.  Oftentimes they believe that expressions of love or forgiveness might be misinterpreted for weakness.  Therefore, our initial task might sometimes be to help our clients release themselves from bondage by practicing forgiveness.  We help them recognize how challenging it is to love when filled with rage and resentment. Forgiveness offers them freedom to love.

What happens when one refuses to forgive?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.  You might become depressed or anxious.  You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.  You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others. (Mayo Clinic)

We can reverse those symptoms.  When we love and forgive we imitate Jesus, who with his dying breath asked his heavenly father “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  We must strive to love and forgive as our heavenly father loves and forgives us.  “God never gets tired of forgiving us; it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness” (Pope Francis I).

Showtime

By the time you read this blog, millions of people will have already attended an Easter service on Sunday. Many parishioners will have purchased new clothes, and numerous churches will have spent money to make sure that their buildings and the worship experience are as attractive as possible. There will be plays, dramatizations, special guests, and special effects. In an overheard conversation, one pastor even called Easter Sunday, “Showtime”.

I thought long and hard about that statement. What exactly are churches offering on “Showtime” Easter Sunday? And why is that offering not compelling enough to encourage persons to come back before Easter of the next year? Is that an indication of their lack of religious conviction or an indictment of the relevance of the Church? Many churches are reporting that attendance is dropping and it is not beyond belief to wonder if eventually Easter will just become another Sunday.

I don’t think it has to be that way. Even in our age of smartphones, tablets, and virtual-almost-everything, I still believe that the community church is relevant and necessary. There are challenges that the Church must address. How does the Church really feel about marriage equality and why are so many Church marriages failing? What does the Church really think about issues like gun control, poverty, and equal rights? Has there ever really been a separation between Church and State and, if so, what are the boundaries? These are questions that need answers and not all of those answers are easy to obtain. And most of the people who found their way into Church doors on Easter cared more about the love they felt rather than the answers to those questions.

So maybe rather than Showtime, it is “time to show” the love of Jesus in a relevant way. It is “time to show” that church members are not perfect, just persistent. It is “time to show” that wearing the right attitude is more important than wearing the right clothes and that what you are driving is far less important than what is driving you. For the Church it is time to show that compassion, forgiveness, redemption, hope, and love are really the most impressive things that can ever be shown. So is it Showtime? Yes, every single Sunday; hopefully, the Church will make sure to show the right things!

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

Time to Pull up My Big Girl Panties: Reflecting on Grief and Strength

“Time to Pull Up My Big Girl Panties”

 Yep—that’s what she said.  That’s exactly what she said. 

Who said it?

Dr. Kari O’Grady—a well respected pastoral counselor and scholar in the discipline of trauma and religious coping. 

What is she referring to?

She was quoting a former student and colleague in the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care (PCSC) Department at Loyola University Maryland.

This is where Dr. O’Grady’s turn of phrase becomes meaningful—almost beyond words. 

Dr. O’Grady was quoting the Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, an affiliate PCSC professor and graduate of Loyola during a eulogy. Only days before, Mary-Marguerite was in the church office with the administrative assistant of her parish when a participant in their ministry to the homeless fatally shot both women.  He fled the scene and killed himself.

Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn

In the moment that Dr. O’Grady repeated the proclamation that it was “time to pull up her big girl panties” she was making a double entendre.  In the context of Rev. Kohn’s funeral, Dr. O’Grady was honoring the life spirit of a former student and colleague who chose hope over despair and who chose courage and compassion in the midst of fear and loss.

She was quoting Mary-Marguerite’s conviction to begin a new path upon receiving her doctorate only three years before.  It was one of those miraculous moments the heart stumbles on at a funeral…when a sense of being embraced by the spirit of life and love of the newly departed envelops the bereaved in the midst of their shock and sense of loss.

It could easily be a reminder of all that the PCSC Department at Loyola has experienced recently.  Almost unbearably, Mary-Marguerite is the third PCSC faculty member at Loyola to die three years—and the third to die an untimely and tragic death.

First, Dr. Kelly Murray and her 7 year old daughter were killed by a falling tree while idling at an intersection in their family vehicle during a storm in 2009; and then, a little over a year later, the department chair, Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi died from multiple myeloma. 

All three of these folks lived lives filled with meaning and compassion which touched the hearts and lives of many, many people.  (Their obituaries are linked below.)  And all three were colleagues and friends of Dr. O’Grady and the members of the PCSC department.  Until Rev. Kohn’s death, I did not know the upheaval that the department had already experienced.

In that moment I learned the words in the Loyola online catalog describing the Pastoral Counseling program as holistic and integrated are not just there to describe positive sounding academic endeavors in the abstract.  They are accurate descriptors of the program.  They describe not only the courses but also the clinical education, the professors’ interweaving clinical work with quality teaching, the structure of individual courses, and the meaningful faculty and staff relationships with students.

We PCSC students are being challenged to learn, grow and transform our lives in the same way that we hope to accompany others on a path of meaning making and healing. 

This is precisely what Dr. O’Grady was doing for those of us in the congregation at Mary-Marguerite Kohn’s funeral…encouraging us to “pull up our big girl panties” and receive our own sadness, loss, fears, and wounds.  Because…as she well knows… the only way through hurt to healing, is through the hurt with compassion for self and others.  And the encouragement she gave to us to gird our hearts and move forward, just as she was doing for herself, was the most profound teaching moment and modeling of lifelong learning healing I have experienced as I continue to seek to understand the call to be a “pastoral counselor.”

Grace and Peace be with you—and everyone whose lives you touched…

Dr. Kelly Murray:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-06-29/news/0906280083_1_loyola-college-murray-psychology-professor

Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi:
Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-10-31/news/bs-md-ob-joseph-ciarrocchi-20101031_1_catholic-priest-psychology-educator

Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-05-08/news/bs-md-ho-kohn-funeral-20120508_1_memorial-service-mix-tapes-doctorate

Is “Diversity” really about Differences?

Quote

I am a person who doesn’t like to be around people who are like me, but instead different.  I have always sought out friendships and experiences that expand my understanding and love for people, and I’m often marveled at how our heavenly Father beautifully crafted us together.  So when I first began Loyola University’s career development class, I felt like a fawn frolicking amongst a meadow of diversity.  My class represented a variety of religious beliefs, nationalities, sex, ethnicity, professions and talents.    But as the class came to an end, I found myself less amazed by our differences, and more in tune with our commonalities – our personhood – the very life, breath, and heart of God’s creation.

Our final assignment was a demonstration from each student expressing his/her personal life path and addressing the question of identity, “Who am I?”  Sharing of the “self” is not easy or comfortable for many.  However, each student was given the creative liberty to demonstrate meaningful moments, persons, or experiences that have helped shape their identity.   In my personal journey, for example, I’ve come to realize that my life isn’t really about “who am I?”  For me it’s about, “knowing who He is – knowing Jesus.”  Instead of what I know or do, it’s about Who I know and what He does.  It has especially been through my struggles and weaknesses that God has proven faithful and strong.

My peers expressed themselves through drama, sand art, music, poetry, pottery, film, media, and scrapbooks.  It was a beautiful moment of how sharing of the “self” causes all other differences to become less definitive of “who we are.”  As my classmates grew increasingly comfortable sharing their stories with one another, I witnessed a group of people become “one” — I believe just as God describes in 1 Cor. 12:12-14.  It wasn’t our stories of success, achievement, or credentials that united us, but it was our openness about life’s failures, hurts, and mistakes.  To be open and allow others to see “you” — each one a masterpiece, yet also so human, fragile, and dependent on Christ — unveils all differences.  We are what I like to call, “commonly different.”

It was as though God intentionally pulled pieces from his human fabric – my peers — from across the globe to weave together one majestic tapestry.  Each thread so unique and exquisite, yet when hidden or separated, unable to fulfill God’s common purpose and good.

As counselors, I believe it’s so very important that we embrace diversity and extend compassion to people from all walks of life.  But, beyond diversity, are hearts and souls … the highest calling for Pastoral Counselors.

When Feeling Bad is Good

When feeling bad is good for you

Barbara Kass

Just as our bodies signal us to tend to our physical well-being, so our emotions act like messengers to mind our emotional well-being. When we are rested and energized, we can take on life’s challenges with ease. Feeling tired indicates we need to retreat and relax. Likewise, feelings of joy, contentment, and love say “everything is fine” while feeling angry, anxious, or depressed make us uncomfortable and think “something is wrong.”

The happiness road beckons all of us yet trying to follow that path by avoiding painful emotions is a gateway to living a less-than-authentic life. Meeting difficult emotions face-to-face is the foundation of resilience and can help guide our lives. When struck by a spark of rage or held immobile by despair or fear, we must ask ourselves: What purpose does this emotion serve for me? What am I trying to tell myself? How can this emotion best guide my decisions and actions in the next moments?

In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, author James Martin points out that any emotion can overwhelm us. We might feel a joy out of proportion to a particular event or moved to tears for something insignificant and wonder: What is wrong with me? In those distinct moments, we don’t quite feel right. There is a certain emptiness, a longing, a desire to connect with a larger understanding that seems just outside of our reach. Martin calls those moments invitations from God asking us to communicate with the greater power of our origination. And if we connect with the power that gave us this life – the power that wants us to have a good life – we know we are getting the best counseling available.

I frequent a blog, Domini Canes, where a recent post reminded me that we look to God for answers through prayer, but prayer is not a man-made action. Rather, prayer is a gift, a door eternally open to connection with God. We are both the seeker and the sought.

Our lives shout at us through our feelings and in the silent circumstances of our deeds. Your emotions will tell you everything you need to know about your journey. As you sift through the results of your decisions and actions, look at how your trials made meaning in your life and know the presence of God within you.