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Posted by on Jun 13, 2014

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

 

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

The primary image of Pentecost is that of tongues of fire that accompanied the sound of a rushing wind and settled over the heads of the disciples, both men and women, gathered in the upper room of the home in Jerusalem where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and then appeared to them on several occasions after the Resurrection. In this unforgettable moment, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to witness to what they had seen and heard of the love of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom to the world. The Church was born on that day nearly 2,000 years ago and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love into God’s world through ordinary men, women, and children.

Many ways of celebrating Pentecost exist around the world, beginning with the gathering of the community to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For children, other activities can make this a special day as well.

Common symbols of the Holy Spirit include a dove, the wind, and a flame. A craft I learned many years ago makes an enjoyable activity for children to celebrate during Easter Season and Pentecost.

Crepe Paper & Stick Birds

Supplies:

2 thin sticks or branches – about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long
String or yarn – 1 foot length
Cellophane tape
Crepe paper – white, yellow, red, orange
Orange ribbon (optional)

Making your bird

Take two sticks of unequal length and tie them together in the form of a cross. Use string or yarn to tie them securely and help hold them in the cross shape.

2012-04-17 17.02.28

Next take a bit of the crepe paper and wrap it around the yarn to help stabilize the bird’s body.

Take the orange ribbon or a bit of orange crepe paper and wrap it around the tip of the shortest end of the sticks. Go around the stick enough times to make a beak and a head for your bird. If you use ribbon, you can use crepe paper to cover the body-end of the beak and build up a head.

2012-04-17 17.07.17

Once the head has been formed and the center stabilized, take a long strip of crepe paper, tape it to the stick or to itself, and begin wrapping it around the sticks.

2012-04-17 17.14.49

Cover both sticks completely with crepe paper. Leave only a little of the beak showing.

Close-up of head

Close-up of bird’s head

Take strips of whatever color of crepe paper you are using and tape them to the bird’s wings and tail. Some will want to tape them all along the wings. Others will put them only at the tips. Either way works just fine.

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

When the feathers have all been attached, the bird will be ready to fly.

Away we go!

Away we go!

 

This bird can be constructed to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection (as a phoenix), or Pentecost (as a reminder of the Holy Spirit who comes igniting the fires of love and settles like a bird on those called to God’s family).

Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Blow where you will in our lives. Strengthen us to respond with the freedom of a bird flying in your love.

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2013

The Week before Christmas – A Time for Stillness

Please join us in the joyful anticipation of Christmas during this time of stillness and waiting that is Advent. We remind ourselves that the celebration of Christmas begins on the Eve of the Nativity, the 24th. There are two weeks to celebrate this great feast of God with us. Leave the hustle and bustle and share the gift of peace with your loved ones.

The O Antiphons which are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers set the tone for each day of this special week.

December 17 – O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

 


 

What wisdom is this folly?

That God should come to share our death?

What Word of God, the Fullest Godself Expression on High

That governs all, would come for us in such lowliness?

O Wisdom? O Foolishness of Divine Love,

You seek us out, O Wisdom from on high.

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Posted by on Oct 24, 2013

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Seeking God, Decision-Making and the Ignatian Examen

three-candles-by Alice Birkin

Finding Peace and Freedom

We cannot find peace if we are arguing with God in whatever form we perceive the sacred. The Divine Reality loves us without reservation. We cannot find happiness and peace in any other place. Even non-believers will only find peace in the Reality that has created the universe and encloses all of it within Itself. God has given everything in the universe love and freedom. God’s love is total. It encompasses everything that promotes our growth and transformation. We have been created for union with this sacred reality, so we learn and experience during all our lives ways to be like God: to be knowing, understanding, wise, discerning, reverent, courageous and in awe of the transcendent. Everything in the universe has degrees of freedom. The nature of everything determines the degrees of freedom. I cannot flap wings and fly. I cannot breathe under water just as I am. I will always be a middle child. But, there are many ways in which I can determine my course in life, work with limitations or with strengths.

As I live my life I have many possibilities before me. I also have a certain amount of freedom. If I believe in the reality of God, I see myself in a relationship with God, a God who is close or distant. All religious and spiritual traditions have concepts of the relationship of human powers and divine powers. These relationships involve change, improvement, decision, freedom, human failure, consequences and divine intervention. The theological terms often used for these phenomena are: conscience or consciousness, grace, nature, discernment, acts, harm or sin and moral good, and judgment or karma.  If I am thinking about getting more money I have a number of reasons as to why I want more money, what I possibly want to do to get money, and what the pros and cons are with various options. I can look at the decision from many angles. I can line up my ideas and come up with what I think will work the best. I can talk to others or read various sources. I can also present this to God in prayer and say: “Please tell me what You see as best for me.”

This is not easy to do because most people feel that God does not think of my little side to things; God is only interested in the Bigger Picture and saints or martyrs. In fact, God is very interested in individuals. God as most Westerners conceive of God is a personal Reality who sees us fully and knows exactly what would make us happy. We are still not too sure about that because it sounds too mature for us. Attending to our health and saving money may sound difficult, so long term happiness planning may seem very hard. I am the first to say that buying something new sounds like fun. But, wanting to surrender to God as our source of wisdom and a guide is the only way to have peace.  We are also very rational in the West and often think God is so intangible or un-provable as to be neither reliable nor a reality with which we can have a two-way communication.

Time for Centering

Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your well being, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear and I am much more at peace.

Image: Three Candles by Alice Birkin, public domain

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Posted by on Sep 19, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

The First Fruit of the Spirit is Love

Driftwood Flowers

Writing about LOVE is daunting. What can one say about it that has not already been said? How many songs and poems, plays and stories have been written about it?

But the hesitation about this is based on a false premise. The false premise is that our lives and thoughts are set and not constantly changing. Change scares us but change also frees us and gives us hope.  So, LOVE is always new in us. Everyday we grow and greet life with new thoughts and feelings. These may be negative, but even if they are, we are exploring new ways to reach for love, to know love, to experience love, to be angry at love.

Recently I was wrestling with the tremendous variety in love. From the Greeks forward we know the ancient spectrum of types of love: from pleasure to sacrificial spiritual love — pure altruism.  I have always considered the “ideal love” — the purely altruistic love — the standard against which I judge my feelings and actions. I put myself down for having “Mixed Motives.” I see that I often pursue people for double motives. I may want to help that person or validate that person, but he or she also makes me feel good or important or useful. Does that nullify my help to them? From the point of view of suffering, especially suffering from things such as depression or trauma, the love of things we enjoy, including relationships and sexuality, is rare and to be sought. Many people enjoy very little. If they could get pleasure out of a painting or a meal, it would be a good thing, possibly a very holy thing. So, love should not be interpreted as something free of my concerns or enjoyment. It is possible both to please God and others and also please myself.

Teilhard de Chardin, in The Divine Milieu, speaks of being both attached and detached at the same time. We should love what we do or enjoy but we at the same time must surrender control over the processes or outcomes. Love involves the risk of caring, of getting involved. But if an affinity or pursuit is taking us away from God, we have to detach ourselves from it. So, love includes the maturity of wisdom, of surrendering to what is best, not just to what I want.

Love is said to be generous. Paul in I Corinthians 13 presents a description of extraordinary generosity and lack of ego, patience and kindness. How can love be so generous and still please me? There is a double answer to this. First, we believe that everything is grace. The very ability to love without counting the cost to us, is a sign of God’s work in us. So, being able to do loving actions is a sign that God is close. Secondly, it is a very good thing to see ourselves as loving. We don’t need to feel like failures at life. It is not a prideful thing to know ourselves as happy, as someone who is doing well, or as someone who enjoys giving in appropriate ways.

Love requires discernment. When love is expressed as giving, it can be beneficial but it can also be harmful. Actions that seem to help people may actually be robbing people of their independence or need to do things on their own. Loving actions may be good in themselves, such as cooking a meal for the homeless, but not actually be loving because I may really need to use that time to do something else, such as study for an exam.  As we all know, sometimes the most loving thing is not to do something or not to say something. I cringe at the thought of letting my children make mistakes; but, not trying to control them or lecture them, now that they are grown, is a very loving thing.

Love is often a decision, not a feeling. Putting my mother in a skilled nursing facility was a very painful thing for me. It was the very best thing to do given her level of medical difficulty and my need to work full time. It was a loving thing to do especially since I had visited and researched all the possible facilities and knew my mother’s likes and dislikes. Every step of the way I had to be supportive and creative with my mother’s reactions to her new home, which turned out to be multiple. As she aged and grew more ill, I tried to find the best fit for her in residences. I met a number of people in the same situation who also were making hard decisions that nevertheless were out of love. For the last nine months of her life I drove 40 miles from work to where my mother lived just about every day. She was in pain and often unhappy. I could not fix her or her situation with my love for her. I decided to be there, listen to her and solve whatever problems I could. I wanted to take her off her cross. Oddly enough, that would not have been loving.

Real love always involves some suffering. By its very nature it involves attachment to who or what is loved and when that person or thing leaves, dies or deteriorates we suffer. That is not wrong, but it does hurt.

Love also involves longing. Built into our spirit is the desire to be united to what we love. We feel separation all the time. In developing our own identities we do so in relation to others who are separate from us. It is necessary and good to be our unique selves, but it is also taxing. We sometimes feel that we want to fall back into union with our mothers, or mother images of infancy so that we can get out from under all the responsibilities and worries of life. We also long to be truly known as we really are. We want unconditional love.  These feelings are in all of us and good in themselves. In this life our task is to become our true selves. We travel through a series of experiences which challenge and teach us. One of the things that draws us forward is the desire to be known and loved. God is in the midst of all these experiences — knowing and loving us. The more we see how God loves us into growth, the more we can love this way in our lives. This love can be both sensitive and harsh. If we mediate on the Gospels we can see these two expressions of love in the way that Jesus lived and how he related to people. We can see how he relates to us, to me.

This sense of God’s personal love for me is sustaining. Its gentle and challenging aspects make sense to me. In The Living Flame of  Love, John of the Cross, speaks of God wounding us to get our attention in order to purify and heal us. Love is not always pretty but it is the most important thing in life.

Public Domain image by Christina Spiegeland

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Posted by on Jul 21, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

The Fruit of the Spirit: A way to live a transformed life

 

In his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23), Paul speaks of the “Fruit” of the Spirit. He uses this term in the singular, implying there is just one fruit, with nine aspects or expressions. In Galatians, Paul rejects a meticulous observance of multiple laws as a way to be righteous before God. In contrast, the “one fruit” is transformation in the Spirit, which blossoms into many virtues. The word “fruit” probably alludes to the image in the Bible of a person of virtue being like a tree which is rooted in living water and bears fruit (Ps. 1) or to trees that are cut down and burned because they do not bear fruit (Luke 13).

The idea of conversion and transformation is intriguing in our 21st century world. We have an increasingly secular society which presses us to talk about God in empirical ways. If we can’t prove that God exists in a mode measurable by our senses, then God is dismissed as a product of the imagination. Another common interpretation of belief in God is that the image of God is the fulfillment of a psychological need. In this world, the idea that God is attractive or that I would allow God to have control of my life is either inconceivable or not of importance. Transformation or change for most 21st  century people means that I change myself. It could also include help by others, such as a therapist or doctor. The only limitation to change in this world is a lack of will or skill, either on my part or on that of my helpers. There is the sense that given enough time, a solution to all problems can be found within the scope of human means.

From a Christian point of view, there are limitations and forms of harm that cannot be remedied by human effort. Transformation in this context presupposes an experiential relationship with God. It is the opposite of fixing myself. Transformation implies that I accept my limitations and let myself hear the voice of God, both inside myself and externally. The fruits are then part of the dance between God and me. I cannot make myself love heroically, but I can approach that kind of love if I am enlightened and empowered by the Spirit. I may naturally approach life in a positive way, but the basis of hope and courage in the face of great difficulty is God, whether I know it or not.

Interestingly enough, this topic came up in a conversation very recently with a sister in a religious community who told me that at the homeless program where she works in Portland, the people speak often about their experience of God. Many of them feel God’s presence and God’s love for them. They pray often to God and recognize God helping them. They do not feel alone. So, those who are the least fortunate and have very few comforts experience God’s power in their lives and can let God help them. It is so often the case that those we usually judge as the most blessed do not report a sense of closeness or awareness of God. In my seminars for professionals in the corporate world, it is rare to have someone tell me of the comfort of closeness to God in the day to day, even in private conversations we have about faith. Jesus asks us to become open like children and to come to him for help with our burdens. How hard that is.

The Fruit of the Spirit – Image by Terri Holaday – Public Domain

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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Baby Galaxies in the Night Sky

When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe.  I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally.  One billion galaxies!  Possibly two billion.

Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.

The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire.  That there exists  perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing.  With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is.  We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory.  We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people.   It’s amazing.  You either believe it or you don’t.  If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing.  My particularities matter.  I am fully known.  Nothing is impossible.

In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience.  The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way.  All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated.  Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual.  There was no separation of the secular from the sacred.  The world was whole and we felt whole in it.  How nice!  My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria,  chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.

Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details.  Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded.  She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both.  As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms.  How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm?  What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world?  No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic.  It is a gift.  We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur.  Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting.  It was very close.  The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy.  What a pointy nose and whiskers!  Wonderful round dark  eyes.  Such a lovely animal.  So light on its feet.  I couldn’t dismiss it.  It made my day.  God is near.

 

Red Fox

The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on.  I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods.  In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made.  Yes, we are.  Sometimes squirrely and difficult;  other times sleek and dolphin-like.  But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.”   And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response.  Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor.  Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!

 

Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.

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Posted by on Jun 6, 2012

The Sixth Gift: Reverence

Reverence is rare in American society yet we love to see it.  We are enthralled by dignity in great people.  We appreciate graciousness and care, attention to detail, kindness to the helpless.  We love to gaze on a photo by Ansel Adams of a ray of sunlight coming down on fern beneath redwood trees and ache to be in that very quiet, quiet place.  Many of us love the scent of incense, the intonation of chant, and bowing before the Blessed Sacrament.  All of us, even non-believers feel humbled by special churches or temples.  If I spy a butterfly up close or gaze on a sleeping baby, I feel taken aback by these, I feel reverence.

Reverence is an attitude and feeling of being in the presence of something bigger and more important than we are.  It is not a feeling of unimportance but rather of an encounter with something one admires and wants to honor and respect.  In order to feel reverence for someone or something, I have to have realized that this reality is special and unique.

St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of reverence a number of times in relation to God.  He links reverence to honor or service.  He is not referring to the idea that one should honor or serve God as a duty.  Rather he is stating that one wants to honor and serve because God is so amazing and humble with respect to us that we cannot but want to reverence Him.  Teresa of Avila refers to Jesus as the Divine Majesty who desires only one thing — that of humble closeness to us.  Julian of Norwich speaks of Jesus who is so courteous with us that He will not force any aspect of himself on us.

Reverence requires that I am able to be grateful and humble.  All of these are gifts.  It is only by the grace of God that we are not blind and obtuse all the time with respect to what God has done and is doing for us. Reverence implies that I have deference for God, that I acknowledge the majesty and superiority of God and feel deeply thankful for God’s attention to me.

This kind of admiration and gratitude is not automatic.  Our daily lives and problems are so all-encompassing and often overwhelming that we feel little relief.  God does not seem involved.  Where is He?  We have a difficult time finding God in the discomfort.  I often resent the fact that God could eliminate my problems in the wink of an eye if he wanted to.  He could do that.  So why doesn’t God construct a world in which there is no pain and suffering?  He allows the struggle to go on because he envisions a far better outcome for us than we can imagine.  He allows all the challenges to purify us because he is the best possible parent.  He lets us make choices and learn from them.  He lets us live in a world that presents growth possibilities — controversies, complications, tragedies, opportunities.  He loves us enough to risk our hating him.

When I realized that God was calling me, dragging me, carrying me, and letting me be beaten by the most awful forces so that I could be stronger and surer, I began to admire him.  When I watched Jesus in the Gospels be ridiculed, baited, criticized, and threatened, I really grew in respect for what an awesome and holy opponent he was.  Jesus was smart, humble, strategic, direct, disarming, and kind.  What a special person just on the human level! I feel the desire to bow before him any time.

Reverence also extends to  how we feel about other human beings.  This is much harder for us because we have encountered so many who are arrogant and ignorant, childish and irrational.  But, God sees a spark of himself in each one.  We also cannot imagine ourselves being anything less than perfect.   It is so easy to perceive the insensitivities of everyone else.  We do in fact feel the abrasiveness of being in relationships.  People are very hard on each other — demanding.  Real love though is not about enjoying only the pretty parts of people.  Real love is reverent.  It hopes in my potential and that of others.  Real love is not arrogant or overbearing.  God calls us to love each other as we want to be loved.  This is a very hard thing to do.  It means that I wish for the other the joys  and respect that I want for myself.  It also means that I am not superior.

In the past twenty years we have also begun to appreciate the importance of the natural world and our dependence on it.  We no longer take for granted our environment.  We see the beauty and complexity of every scientific process within our bodies and every element of the universe.  While not wanting to cling to physicality in a literal way, we do want to reverence it.  The entire process of living, developing and getting nurturance is an amazing interplay of resources, influences, choices, and challenges.  Our bodies, the solar system, atomic particles, and plants and animals are all amazing.  Learning about these realities should help us to appreciate them and to reverence them — from wanting clean water to finding a cure for malaria.

This humility before God, each other and the universe is reverence and it is a gift.

Two saints to read about in regard to this gift if you have not already done so are St. Peter Claver, S.J. and St. Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap.

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Posted by on Jun 2, 2012

The Fifth Gift: Courage

Courage comes from the Latin word for heart cor and the French coeur.  To have the heart for something means to be able to face something difficult or frightening and to persevere.  Courage therefore does not mean not being afraid.  It means to be afraid and go ahead and do the right thing anyway.  Plato, Aristotle and Cicero wrote about this virtue as well as others, just as the authors of the Bible did.  They and later philosophers and theologians recognized the importance of courage for the moral life.  Courage is considered the most important of the virtues by many because without it the others cannot be practiced consistently.

There is an interesting and important distinction between the non-Christian and the Christian traditions in the understanding of courage.  The Greeks, Romans, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists and others did not/do not believe in grace. They feel that if someone does not have courage, he or she has not been trained properly, has a psychological problem, has a physical illness or is being compromised or harassed by evil spirits. All or one of these may be true, but at base, Christianity teaches that true courage or heroism, which is not self-seeking, is a gift which builds on the other natural human efforts. Christianity often quotes St.  Thomas Aquinas’ famous teaching that “Grace builds on nature.”

In considering courage, the teachings of Aristotle make sense as a foundation. Courage can be taught to a great extent and moderation is important in exercising it.  A person does not have to take risks all the time or confront every fearful thing in order to be morally strong.  On the other hand, it is good to try new things, to face one’s fears and develop parts of the personality that are underdeveloped.  If I want to be able to dance I can take dancing lessons.  If I would like to be able to do public presentations I can get some personal coaching and feel more comfortable.  From the faith perspective, even these decisions are based on the work of the Spirit.  It is the life of the Spirit, the Paraclete, in the world which calls us and empowers us.

At times I may find truly upsetting or frightening situations in my path.  I may face an illness, the addictions of a child, or the possible loss of my job.  Being at peace or thinking clearly may be beyond me.  I can internalize this crisis and work on it by myself or I can consciously offer it to God and ask for help.  I can practice consciously giving it to God over and over and ask for light on it.

I can also use Discernment to identify if any motions are going on inside me that lead to distress.  These powerful negative thoughts can come from my own psychology but often they come from the Enemy (St. Ignatius of Loyola’s, term for the Devil) who loves to undermine us by introducing negative interpretations and scenarios.  St. Paul confronts these deceptions by reminding us that if at all possible we have to counter anything that does not bring peace.  I might be feeling fairly stable even in the middle of a crisis and all of a sudden a thought comes that is very scary.  The thought says: “This might happen.  That might happen.”  Someone who is seasoned in courage will immediately sweep away speculative frightened thinking.  The only thing that matters in a frightening life or event is the question addressed to God: “What should I be doing right now?”  Cultivating a prayer life all the time goes a long way later on when I need to center myself and ask God for courage.

Courage is a grace.  We get the grace when we need it.  The saints who have done heroic things or died as martyrs were given the grace for that at the time.

Courage also may be needed for non-crisis situations.  It may be needed for a long term commitment to something difficult.  Parents who find that they have given birth to a sick baby may need a lot of courage to live day-to-day with this struggling child.  Courage can be called fortitude or perseverance in this case. Caregivers who take care of a spouse with Alzheimers or any severe condition also have need of great courage in order to live out the other gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  In both cases,watching another suffer without becoming cynical requires the gift of courage.

It is sometimes startling how far life can challenge and stretch us.  The tragedies, injustice, and atrocities can almost strip us clean of hope and energy. Christ had the courage to take the side of goodness and it cost him his life. We can be called to extend ourselves and donate ourselves for the good of another.  Wisdom and Right Judgement can take us to the point of choice but the Gift of Courage will have to take us across the line.

For an excellent movie on courage rent Of Gods and Men about 7 Cistercian monks in Algeria — good casting — fantastic music.

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Posted by on May 31, 2012

A Fourth Gift of the Holy Spirit: Counsel or Right Judgement

A recent issue of the Costco Magazine, The Costco Connection, included an article on Sir James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum and an number of other products. The article described the history of the development of the vacuum as a way of also relating the process that Dyson went through in the development of his business and his values.  One of the most compelling aspects of the story was Dyson’s clarity about his decision to produce the best vacuum possible.  Sir James went through 13 years of failures (5,127 prototypes), near bankruptcy, 2 lawsuits, rejections, illicit copycats, and supply problems.  But, in it all he knew his concept was right.  He also did not mind working alone.  Now that his product is a huge success (number one in the UK) he is quite happy to let go of total control of his business to a group of engineers.  He is very involved but not hovering.  Dyson has never been concerned with a certain timeline for getting products from concept to marketing.  He told The Connection, “I don’t care how long things take.”  He also states: “Failure is to be celebrated–That’s how we learn.  I learned from each of my mistakes. That’s how I came up with a solution.  So I don’t mind failure.”  There is not a shred of religious talk in this article but it is in fact full of Gospel values and the basic principles of Right Judgement.

This gift of the Holy Spirit was exclusively referred to as Counsel” until the end of the 20th century.  The more recent use of “Right Judgement”  for this gift points to the balance needed in availing oneself of the gift.  “Counsel” has always emphasized the active need for and role of the Holy Spirit in determining the truth and making decisions.  The term “Right Judgement” emphasizes the role of the person.  In Catholic thinking, both God and the person are involved in the constant process of identifying what is real and what is best and correcting one’s course towards these.  Some religious groups emphasize either the sovereignty of God in the process or the sovereignty of the person. Catholicism holds both in balance.  The Tradition is sufficiently optimistic about humanity to affirm the role of free will and yet well aware enough of human weakness to affirm the need for grace.   Another term for this gift is Discernment.

James Dyson speaks of not being afraid of being alone, of failure, of learning new things, or of long processes.  With these values as his foundation, he is in a perfect place to make good decisions.  The only thing he is missing from this life stance is the place of God in his perceptions and actions.  Why does it matter that God be involved if Dyson is so successful and reportedly happy?

In the article, Sir James reports that he loves to invent and has a passion about setting one goal after another and working toward them.  All of that is fantastic on one level.  On another level, one could ask if a person might let God get a word in edgewise about the over-all direction of his life?  The surrender of that basic orientation of life is incomprehensible  to nonbelievers.  The idea that life is a dance with the Spirit is crazy to the successful person in the normal secular context.  Dyson is happy, so why bother with him?  My inclination is to leave him alone, but a large part of me has had a lot of experience with universal human limitation.  By definition, James Dyson (and all of us), does not have access to the sum of his full potential.  At this point, he is controlling all variables of his life as far as he perceives them.  The idea of consciously referring himself to a high reality is not in his view.

In seeking Right Judgement, a person first lives a life as open to the truth as possible.  With specific aspects of life, such as job, relationships, health, education, finances, civic involvement, or faith, a person is expected to do as much as possible to grow in knowledge of these things and self-knowledge in relation to these things.  Beyond this, he or she can bring these things to prayer.  Doing a daily exercise of putting different aspects of life or the way the day has gone in front of God can open up a type of detachment in which one can sort through how a specific part of one’s life or the whole day feels.  If I ask for an openness to my finances I may see that I fritter away money on creative projects that I end up not doing, supplies I never use.  If I ask for an openness to the truth of my health and consistently feel a kind of anxiety about how I eat, I can let this commitment to the truth carry me past the desire not to see the truth and ask to see why I am troubled.  I may like to collect things, but I may never face the fact that as long as I am in debt I should not be buying anything unnecessary. In Right Judgement, I learn to identify my feelings when I entertain helpful ideas or unhelpful ideas.

Two days ago I knew I needed to get gasoline for my car because I was going to go on a trip the next day.  As I got off the freeway to go to a store, I approached a gas station I know well and a voice inside me said that I should go in there right now and get gas.  I absolutely, positively did not want to do that.  I was tired and sick of errands and obligations and wanted to continue up the street to the last errand and get that over with.  I would get gas later (in some vague gas station– who knows where?).  This was just a bald case of procrastination.  My brain forced me off the road into the gas station.  I saw an inner vision of a taller me as a parental figure leaning over me saying, “You will be so messed up tomorrow if you don’t get gas today.  You will be yelling at yourself as you pay 20 cents more per gallon for gas in San Francisco!!  Go get the d…n gas and quit whining.  You will feel so much better.”   It is the same inner conversation when calling for a dental appointment, walking the dogs two miles, or setting up my durable power of attorney.  I do not want to deal with complications (as if procrastinating on these things will not create any complications!). Right Judgement helps us identify the feelings around the truth versus the feelings prompted by false reasons to do or not do something. With Right Judgement I ask God to send me whatever imagery or feelings will clarify what is His will and what is best for me.

Right Judgement always involves self knowledge.  We often choose out of very deep desires and fears.  If I recognize that I am in pain over never being noticed in my family, then I will understand why I often get depressed at bigger family gatherings.  I will see that I can be quite happy being in the same room with these insensitive people or on a inner tube in a murky river with them if I bond with someone like my sister-in-law or a cousin.  With Right Judgement I will begin to see if I regularly surrender appropriate control of life to overbearing people.  I might see that I give up on things I want for myself legitimately before I even begin to figure out how I might get them.  I will feel the difference between longings I should pursue and guilt or laziness I should ignore.

We can ask for and receive this inner feedback at any time.  We may not want to hear or feel the motions of the Spirit versus our own appetites or emotions, but they are there all the same.  The more we obey the loving, healthy voice, the easier it gets.  Thanks be to God!

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Posted by on May 27, 2012

The Gift of Wisdom: Ancient but Pertinent?

When I think of Wisdom my mind always throws up pictures of Michelangelo-like figures with ponderous looks on their faces.  The scene is very serious and feels absolutely irrelevant to my life.  A second later I am seeing two figures on a canvas mat  struggling to get control of a situation.   Both images are important and both apply to me.  Living in a wise way is very important and serious and this life skill plays out in my life as a pitched battle between my ego or inner child and God.  We are down on the mat wrestling away all day long.  At times the struggle for me to be wise is funny.  I am the child with a Look or Big Hunk candy bar, covered in chocolate who badly needs a bath.  I am wading through my life with a terrific personal coach whom I would like to ignore.  I would like to lay down in my life and be waited upon.  I would like to wave a magic wand and have all my troubles just go away.  Why not?

Wisdom is a gift from God which empowers us to do what is best.  Wisdom is the opposite of impulsiveness, self-indulgence and short-sightedness. In the secular world, wisdom is doing what is best because of fear or because of personal gain.  In the spiritual world, wisdom is sought because it draws us to growth, generosity, inclusivity, justice, love, and heroism.  Wisdom is what God expresses in the world.  When we exercise wisdom, we rise above what we want to consider what is best.  The two might be the same.  In any case, the activity of considering what is best frees us from the possible deception that can come by just following my feelings.  Wisdom asks if a thought or course of action is taking us to a bad place in life where we have been before or if a decision is taking us to a positive place.

One of the greatest deceptions in life is called the Pleasure Principle.  According to this principle, if something feels good it is good and if something feels bad it is bad.  This line of thinking is fallacious.  Obviously heroin may feel good, but it is horribly destructive.  Telling a lie may feel good right now and yet end up causing harm to me and a lot of pain.  Eating french fries may feel good now but the health results later may feel quite bad.  There are many things in life that feel bad, such as asking forgiveness or  letting someone inconvenience us, that when performed cause us to feel good almost immediately.  People who are wise can distinguish between short and long term results.  They are committed to the truth and to wanting to be joyful, not just comfortable.

Wisdom takes knowledge and uses it in the best possible ways.  It thinks broadly rather than just individualistically.  Wisdom perceives the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything in the world, so that when we have the gift of wisdom, we live with the Earth and all it inhabitants in mind.  We understand that what we do affects everything on the Earth.  My thoughtful and healthy living affects everyone.  Wisdom therefore does have discipline as a skill.  Another word for this is restraint.  It can be fun not to waste.  It can be really exciting not to be driven by addictions and obsessions.  I can and often am driven by food and things to which I am attracted that I want to own.  I love cinnamon rolls and designer fabric.  I cannot eat the first nor afford the second.  It is so lovely to feel free of pining for these.  Wisdom is sinking in and I do not feel the pull or deprivation of these anymore.  Wisdom has gifted me with excitement over better health and a good hold on my budget.  This process is bound up with good Discernment.  I am aware of the difference of quality in feelings between immediate gratification versus inner peace.

Another feature of wisdom worth considering is attachment to outcomes.  A relative recently said that he wanted to help someone but did not want to be attached to the outcome. By this he meant that he did not need to be in control of what was best for someone.  He also did not see any value in feeling bad if the other person decided not to take him up on his offer.  Implied in this was the fact that we cannot change or fix other people.  Only they and God can do that.  Wisdom sees the sense in all this.  When we are wise, we realize that may see someone else’s situation as it really is or we may not.  We know that only God sees the whole picture.  I may want someone to save money or be less depressed, but I inevitably do not have all the facts.   In any course of conversation or action I take, I should first put the situation in God’s hands and wait to see if the various options I have are out of my fears, anxieties, or anger or something that is best for everyone concerned.

I know several people who are very activated emotionally by the suffering of others.  They want to help people with problems or obstacles immediately.  That’s very understandable and usually good.  But, sometimes it is good to not help people.  We should be compassionate but may decide not to step in and do things for people.  If this decision is motivated by wisdom it may not be easy but it may be best.  We do wise things because they are correct, not because we feel guilty or because we want people to be dependent on us or approve of us.

Wisdom is cited throughout the Bible.  There are free online concordances which can lead to all the references to wisdom.  Reading these texts and ruminating on them can lead to important ideas and graces.

A very good book on wisdom from a non-Judeo-Christian perspective is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.

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Posted by on May 25, 2012

A Second Gift of the Holy Spirit: Understanding

Events happen, both good and bad, feelings arise, people say amazing or unusual things; but, we may not understand these or perceive why they happened.  We might also be filled with a great peace and have no idea why it arose.  The gift of Understanding is given so that we may perceive the meaning of things.  Understanding builds on but goes beyond a basic intellectual process in which we analyze the causes and meanings of all the facets of life.

God wants us to understand him/herself first.  This is a lifelong process.  As it says in Isaiah 55: “My ways are not your ways.”  As we call upon God and study God in the Bible, the liturgy, and the words of others, we increase in our understanding of how God works in the world and in us.  We might want God to change us or heal us. We might want this right now.  But God may want to leave some aspects of us unchanged or may lead us through a long process.  God’s ways may seem like a long road trip on which we make many stops, sojourn in all kinds of places, get diverted, break down, climb hills, meet the strangest people, etc.  In this process of coming to understand God, we will become more like God.

Understanding moves us closer to the reality we ponder if that reality encompasses goodness, truth, beauty and/or love.   As we understand more and more, we will be capable of understanding even more.  Understanding allows us to be increasingly open and able to incorporate even more awareness because it gives us a mature knowledge of how things work.  After we realize that God works in steps and gradually accustoms us to hard work, we begin to appreciate the progress we have made and not argue so much with the difficult things that come our way.  Frustrations and disappointments start looking like opportunities.  The computer acting up or having someone snap at me can be an opportunity to be an Observer Self and to experiment with putting the computer in God’s hands or taking a deep breath before replying — a response I may never have tried before now.  We may want a hurt or fear to go away and not realize that the way it is going to go away is to have a similar bad experience happen or to relive the original bad experience and be given the grace to go through it with God or with another loving  person.  The more we surrender our lives to God, the more we will understand how God is involved and why things are happening in the way they are.

Understanding includes perceiving who we are and why we do the things we do.  It is the gift to be able to penetrate deeper and deeper into the unconscious and to gain insight into all those good or impaired aspects of ourselves from which we hide. In this gift we travel back into our family and personal histories and see how everyone and all the various ups and downs make sense.  We understand how our era, birth order, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class,  personality characteristics, physicality, geography, and religion have contributed to who we are.  Along the way, God gifts us with insight, even into horrendous things that may have happened. It is not that what happened was perfectly fine; but, with understanding we see how God took the terrible and brought something unexpected and beneficial out of it for us.  There can be an understandable and difficult struggle with understanding.  Things that have caused pain are normally repressed.  We do not want to think about them.  These memories may even be unavailable to our conscious minds. Spiritual growth, though, involves integrating the painful into our consciousness so that it can be used in new and positive ways.  Repressed feelings and memories also take energy away from us because it takes quite a bit of psychic energy to monitor and filter repressed material.  Little by little, God draws us to understand ourselves.  We begin to see what is motivating us or blocking us. We also begin to see what our deepest desires are.

Understanding also refers to perceiving the truth about others.  It implies an empathy for others.  Understanding involves getting at the meaning of what is happening in our relationships.  We may think that a particular relationship is about fun or adventure, but it may really be about being competitive with that person in order to feel good about myself.  I may think that someone dominates conversations all the time just to be mean or to get attention, but in fact, that person may be terrified of being seen as him or herself and is trying to distract the group from the supposed truth.  We may be gifted with understanding what is really going on with people.  We may see past the appearances.

Finally, understanding extends to the course of history.  Societal events can be frightening or depressing.  The gift of understanding can allow us to see what God is doing with humanity.  The Paraclete can enter our minds and feelings and make us realize the growth process that lays before us on this Earth.  We can calm down because we see meaning in the challenges that happen everyday.  We can see the freedom that people exercise and the choices they make as part of the struggle to grow up.  God cannot force humans to be good.  We have to learn it on our own.  The gift of understanding gives us a perception of what is happening on this bigger scale.  It allows us to surrender to a God who is smarter than we.  To trust more, to hope more.

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Posted by on May 23, 2012

The Feast of Pentecost, The Holy Spirit and The Seven Gifts: Why it Matters

Today more than ever we dig deep within to center ourselves around calm and inner peace.  We don’t do this to tranquilize ourselves. We do this to be in the best possible position to live fully.  For believers, this includes seeking a real growing relationship with God.  There is a dance going on between our decisions and actions and God’s involvement in our lives, a dance which we call grace.  We have freedom and gifts.  God has insight, power and ingenuity.  If we consent to His involvement in our lives, He can move us into positive places we cannot even imagine.

The person of the Trinity whom we identify as a creative and loving agent of action and change is the Holy Spirit.  This person is believed to be the action of God in the world — both visible and invisible.  One of the names for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  This is an ancient Greek word meaning “one who consoles, uplifts, comforts.”  In the New Testament it also is translated as “helper” and “advocate.”  The Holy Spirit or Paraclete is the divine reality whom we celebrate on Pentecost.  “Pentecost” comes from the word “pente” meaning fifty which refers to 50 days after Easter. At the Last Supper Jesus said he was going to send us the Paraclete.  He let us know that this third person of the Trinity, who expresses the love between the Father and the Son, would be the spirit of Christ operative in the created world — that we would not be alone.

On Pentecost we focus on God as Paraclete in the world of space and time, of the particulars of life.  The Paraclete comforts and uplifts us by working in us and in our lives to give us greater holiness and power for good in the world.  We speak of the work the Paraclete does in us as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We are going to take a look at all seven in a series of posts.  In the Bible there are a number of lists of  spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. They can be found in Isaiah 11, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. These are all indeed gifts of the Paraclete, but many of the “gifts” in these texts are roles and leadership skills that are gifted by God.  The Seven Gifts on which we will focus are basic qualities that all human persons need no matter what they do in life.  We are given these seven gifts at baptism but the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us to grace to live these fully out in the world of decision and action.

Knowledge is the first gift we will consider.  In the everyday world we use knowledge constantly.  It matters that I know how to get my car fixed or that it is important to check the oil periodically.  A dentist needs to know how to work on my teeth.  Knowledge as a gift of the Paraclete who wants to help us grow fully first includes the knowledge of God.  As we mature we will know God more and will also develop in our images, concepts, and feelings about God.  We will come to know ourselves better and better as well.  To the extent that we are open we will come to more and more realistic and energizing knowledge of God and ourselves.  If we fear God we may learn more positive things about God — maybe from talking to others.  If we are depressed we may find out why.  Much of this knowledge is from God.  We think we are learning on our own.  But, in fact, it is the Paraclete who is offering us knowledge all the time.  We have resistances in us and God is working all the time to help us see the truth, often a positive truth.  God presents ideas to us from different angles constantly and we can consent to be open to these prompts.  My eye may fall on a magazine in the doctor’s office and suddenly I can feel myself slightly more inclined to actually do exercise every day.  The ideas in the article, the knowledge, may have made it easier to see how I can move into a new life skill.

Knowledge of others is also a great gift.  I may not know why a neighbor or relative is so hard for me to get along with and then find out that he is in pain all the time.  I may then find out that the medication he is on has terrible side effects from a commercial on television.  Or, I may find out that an adult school near me has a watercolor class that is very reasonable in price.  I may need that for my emotional life.  The Paraclete is gifting us with knowledge internally and from external sources all the time.  We only need to consent to not try to control what the this Consoler sends our way. God sees us totally and knows what we need.  We can practice a daily Examen or a time of reflection on how things are going and ask to see what we need to see.  In that way we can receive the gift of knowledge and become more fully who we were born to be.

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Posted by on May 18, 2012

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Seven Gifts and Nine Fruits – Come, Holy Spirit!

 

Holy Spirit as Dove

The final nine days of  Easter Season are a time of prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit more deeply into our lives today. Each baptized Christian has already received the Holy Spirit. Through Confirmation the gifts of the Spirit are strengthened in our lives, so we become adult Christians, ready and able to bear fruit in the world as Christ’s Mystical Body. In a very real way, we are Jesus’ eyes, hands, feet, and heart in our world.

What are these gifts that are so powerful? The prophet Isaiah first listed them in describing the one who, springing from the family of Jesse, would bring justice to the land. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.” (Is 11:2).

Each of these gifts comes from the Spirit of God. The gift of Counsel is sometimes known today as Right Judgement — choosing to act in accord with God’s wisdom and understanding of the way of love. Strength is sometimes called Courage — a courage that goes the distance, even to sharing in the cross. Fear of the Lord is better understood as Wonder and Awe before the powerful love of our God — a sense of “Wow” or “Isn’t God amazing!”

Gifts from God are meant to bear fruit in the lives of their recipients. They are never given to be cooped up or to be a source of personal pride. The fruits of God’s favor are not what we commonly consider to be signs of success, however. They don’t include gaining personal wealth or holding on to a good job. Becoming a celebrity, even if a celebrity because of doing lots of good works, isn’t a fruit of God’s favor. Feeling happy all the time and loving one’s work is not a fruit of the Spirit.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are listed by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22) These characteristics are not dependent on our success in our work or our efforts to spread the Good News. Even if everything is crashing around us, these qualities will be a sign to all that God is still in charge and will bring good out of what is happening. Some may be more obviously present at one time than at another, but even when God seems far away, the strength to remain faithful to the Gospel’s call is a fruit of the Spirit. The presence of these Fruits of the Holy Spirit also helps us discern whether the way we are following is the way God would choose for us. To the extent that these fruits of the Spirit are present, God’s Spirit is present in our lives and reaching out into our worlds.

Now is the time to pray together for the Holy Spirit to pour out these gifts anew, that we may bear fruit in God’s garden.

Image by Gian Lorenzo Bernini – From Throne of St. Peter stained glass
St. Peter’s Basilica – Public domain

 

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