New Beginnings

By David Gosling

Two weeks ago I served as a volunteer “buddy” at Camp Me Too, a wonderful weekend event that brings bereaved children into community. Each of these kids lost a family member to disease or tragedy in recent years. Although I was assigned to work with a single boy, I quickly found myself bonding with most of the campers in one way or another. In my experience, they seemed very much like normal, happy children. It was only later on in the weekend—as the staff and buddies encouraged them to open up about their experiences and emotions—that these remarkably resilient boys and girls spoke about the ordeals through which they lived at such an early age.

Listening to their stories, it occurred to me that most of these kids didn’t know just how remarkable they were. To lose a father to the violence of the streets, or a mother to drugs, or a sibling to disease…and then spring back into the full joy and vivacity of youth in such a short time…I had a very difficult time imagining my ability to conjure a similar response in their place, even as an adult. It was a humbling and valuable lesson to learn.

As spring finally bursts forth after a long and arduous winter season, it is the time for new beginnings in our lives. I pray that we may each harness the energy of these children in our own lives. May we, too, find that beauty of simplicity in our daily routines. May we, too, face each new day with courage and optimism. May we, too, learn to laugh in the face of adversity, knowing that the Provider of All Things will eventually bring each and every one of us Home.

Living the Easter Message

 

by Nicole Snyder

Last year Vernon Ware wrote a blog called “Showtime” challenging readers to think about how we might take the message of Easter beyond Easter Sunday.  Vernon suggested the answer is by demonstrating love in a relevant way.  After much reflection, I have to agree.

The hard part is that love lived in relation to other human beings is complicated and messy.  People are imperfect.  I am imperfect.  If our imperfections weren’t enough, other people have the audacity to be different than me.  Loving in midst of differences requires me to be open and flexible.  It begs me when there is misunderstanding and miscommunication to open up more, to become even more vulnerable.

Easter is a very hopeful inspiring story.  The resurrection thing sounds great, but the cross part not so much.  I’ll pass on the flogging.  I’ll pass on the crown of thorns.  I’ll pass on carrying my cross to the hill.  I’ll pass on being nailed to the cross.  I’ll pass on being humiliated and laughed at and denigrated.  Can I just skip Calvary and go straight to resurrection?  The results of my ponderings was no.  As the adage says, people don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.

First I must love.  I am called to love with the agape kind of love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  I am called to be respectful and compassionate.  I am called to imagine dwelling in another human being’s lived experience albeit temporarily.  If I’m honest with myself in my desire to live the Easter message, then I have to also say that I’m called to love people as they are in all their imperfection and messiness and in all the ways they are different from me.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).  My cross is different from yours.  My path of following will be uniquely mine.  Through it all, I can choose to love agape style.  I will be patient and kind.  I will not be envious.  I will not boast.  I will not be arrogant or rude.  I will not insist on my own way.  I will not be irritable or resentful.  I will rejoice when you do well and find your truth.  I will protect, trust, hope, and persevere.  That kind of love requires my vulnerability and authenticity; it breaks my heart and tears me open; it is hard.  Because I am human, I demonstrate these attributes of love imperfectly.  Nevertheless, I choose to do my best to live the Easter message everyday: love lived agape style.

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!

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.

Spring Equinox

by Nicole Snyder

Winter with its snow and cold temperatures is holding on.  In a few weeks we will experience the Spring Equinox.  I suspect that the spring will begin to arrive and shortly after the equinox I will begin to experience the buddings of spring.  Every year I enjoy the transformation spring brings.  For perhaps the first time in my life I’m not living in the anticipation of the future.  (Although, I would welcome no more snow days.)  I am instead appreciating the opportunity to winter, to reflect inward, to spend some time in self-discovery and healing.  I am not yet ready to show the world the fruits of my solitude and inward reflections.

I struggle with wintering because I have a tendency focus outwardly.  I see the dysfunction of our world; I see the inequality; I see the costs civilization asks people to pay with their soul; I see the commodification of the sacred.  I see these things and I weep.  I came to this program because I wanted to learn how to be an instrument of healing.  Somehow it never occurred to me, before I got here, the importance of finding my own wholeness.

As I reflect on what the equinox means to me, I am asking myself what do I need to be ready to bloom.  I want to be able to take the wisdom of my wintering into the blooming of my spring.  I want to be able to see the sickness in the world and still be whole.  Holding these seemingly opposing parts makes me think of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

I believe these words point to truth.  I also hold that often we see ourselves through feedback from others.  This is what makes the therapeutic relationship so powerful (according to the six classes I’ve taken thus far) and negative feedback is just as powerful.  Pop culture’s shift of the quote to “Be the change you want to see in the world” glosses over the complexities of life.  In such a way it denies many people’s realities.

If therapy is all about helping others become their whole self, then I want to lead by example.  In this way perhaps my discovery of how to hold seemingly contradictory things together will allow others to honour their realities no matter how contradictory.  In this way I welcome the Spring Equinox, a day that reminds me that winter and spring do (no matter how briefly) co-exist.

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.

To Withdraw and Draw Inward

by Andrea Noel

Spiritual retreat’s offer us an opportunity to withdraw from the routine of our busy lives, inviting us to go within and bring focus to the heart and soul. A spiritual retreat should help us create depth, space, time for prayer, and grounding. Every retreat is distinct and finding the right one that works for you takes intention. When selecting a retreat, you could consider the following.

  • What are you looking for in a retreat:
  1. Context and content
  2. Facilitators/retreat leaders
  3. Location and accommodation
  4. Schedule and duration
  5. Cost

Context identifies the set of circumstances surrounding the retreat, i.e. is it a group or personal retreat; Yoga or Church retreat; all-male or all-female retreat. Content relates to the focus of the retreat. What will you learn while on retreat? Is this particular area relevant to your spiritual needs at this time? It is also important to know who will lead your retreat. What credentials, experience, or learning does a particular individual, or individuals, hold in a specific area to help facilitate creating depth, integrity, and focus during the retreat?

Location and accommodation represent where the retreat will take place and where you will stay if over-night lodging is needed? Also, how do the accommodations contribute to the theme and feel of the retreat? Schedule and duration are important aspects to consider because it can greatly influence the cost of the retreat. The selected date for the retreat could also impact the entire retreat experience. For example, if you are at a retreat center with beautiful outdoor landscapes and you want to enjoy the open outdoors you would need to be mindful of the weather when scheduling your retreat.

Finally, you should consider the costs associated with the retreat. Retreats can range from $50-$500 not including travel costs. Set a comfortable budget for your retreat, including the retreat, accommodations, food, and travel costs. Do not correlate costs with the value of a retreat. You can go on a $20 retreat and leave rejuvenated and transformed. You can also spend $2000 and leave unmoved and frustrated. Being on retreat is less about how much you spend and where you are, it is more about your spiritual intent and the purpose of the retreat.

Here are a few of my favorite retreat centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area:

Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown Maryland

http://www.dayspringretreat.org/

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriotsville Maryland http://rccbonsecours.com/home.html

Yogaville, Buckingham Virginia

http://www.yogaville.org/

The Shambhala Center, Washington DC

http://dc.shambhala.org/

The Belfry, Lexington Virginia

http://bellfry.org/

Another great resource for finding retreats nationally and internationally is www.retreatfinder.com