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Is it me, or does the world seem particularly noisy right now? Arguments abound — about who’s at fault in the government shut-down, about the kids from Covington, about how long a person ought to be able to last without a paycheck (“Just get a loan,” says one out-of-touch billionaire), about whether and how quickly political events are dragging Venezuela and England and the US and Zimbabwe (and a whole host of other countries) to hell in a hand-basket. It’s getting loud out there.

We cannot, of course, ignore current events. I mean, we can, but the minute we tentatively extend our ostrich heads out of the hole we’ve planted them in, the problems will still be there. Hiding won’t make the news go away. But being quiet and centering one’s self and getting away from social media (as Ruth has wisely done) can give us the space to get our heads together and form our own opinions. So —

Crawl into the smallest place in your mind,
the darkest, the most in-dwelling, and breathe.
Get entirely quiet with yourself.
Bring a book if you are uncomfortable with silence.
Turn inward on yourself until you are wrapped
securely in a sheet of inner tranquility.
Wait.
When you are ready, release yourself into the world.
You will be different —
one look at you and mouths will still.
This is a good thing.

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As much as I love Christmas, I’m not a huge fan of the busy-ness.  I suspect this is an introvert thing and Christmas requires shopping. I’ve finally come to the realization that I don’t mind finding things I need.  It’s the lights and the crowds and the noise.  This morning I ran out of tape and am contemplating how I can use painter’s tape just so I don’t have to leave the house.

I just want to sit on the sofa in the dark and stare at Christmas lights while sipping a cup of coffee.  Eventually I’ll light the candles on my Advent wreath and meditate.  Quiet time with God gives me the Light and Hope I need to venture back into the hustle and bustle.

That said, quiet time can be tough to find at this time of year.  But make sure you get a few minutes here and there.  It is, after all, the balm needed by a soul stretched thin in spots from doing too much.  Good things.  Fun things. Family things.  It doesn’t matter.  Too much is too much.

It is okay to need some quiet time with your own thoughts and with Him.

–SueBE

 

there-is-lightI’m not going to lie to you. I’m rising to Lori’s challenge to write about the Election but I’m not thrilled about it.  How can I be?  I wasn’t thrilled with the results.  That said, I wasn’t surprised either although I was disappointed. My husband could easily tell you that Tuesday night I was more than a little bratty. But I more-or-less got it out of my system.

I’ve taken a deep breath and looked around me. As I write this, the sun has come up yet again.  The sky is blue.  The air has a glorious chill to it.  Fall is my favorite time of year. I take a deep breath and as I exhale I ask God to use me as He wills.

There are difficult times ahead. I won’t deny that I truly believe that.  But I also don’t think that they will all result from this election. I’m a historian and a Calvinist.  There are always difficult times ahead.

But do you want to know something funny? I mean ironic more than I mean laugh out loud but I have to admit that I laughed at the irony. This morning I read about a study that said that 85% of the horrible things we imagine never come to pass.  Eighty-five percent.  That’s a lot.  In an election 85% is a landslide.

What this means is that whether you’re elated at the results of the election or appalled, you need to take a deep breath.  Then take another. Now for the challenge.

Turn it into a meditation.  Inhale for a count of five.  Hold it for five.  Exhale for ten.  As you breathe, exhale the negative and the dark.  Then breathe in God’s Light.  Breathe in His Love.  Imagine it suffusing your body from fingertip to fingertip.  Feel it flowing from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.

Take that light with you into your day. Look for those who are scared and those who are angry. Don’t overlook the self-righteous. They’re hurting and scared too and are showing it through their actions.  As you find what is negative, exhale God’s Love and Light.  Let it spill out and wash over the darkness.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying that solutions will be quick.  But it all starts when you take a moment and breathe.  Breathe in His Light.  Breathe in His Love.  Take it out into your day.  There is light even in darkness.

–SueBE

My pal Alice told me about a way to meditate anew on familiar biblical passages and favorite spiritual sayings. I call it “Quotation Subtraction.” It works like this: Choose a beloved, brief quote from a book, poem or other work of literature — the Bible, of course, is a great place to start — and meditate on what it means as you lose, one by one, the last word in the saying. Let’s use Psalm 46:10 as an example.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Take a quiet moment to reflect on the words. What do they mean to you? Now remove the last word.

“Be still and know that I am.”

How does this change what you feel? What emotions and ideas do these words conjure up?

“Be still and know that I.”

And now? Who or what is the “I” in this quotation? Which “I” does God want you to know?

“Be still and know.”

Know what? Again, reflect on what these words mean to you.

“Be still and.”

And what? What is required of you in this moment?

“Be still.”

What value is there in stillness? What can you learn from it?

“Be.”

If God said this single word to you, what would you think or feel?

I have found this meditation surprisingly rich and unexpectedly revealing. It is a quick and easy spiritual practice that can open to you whole new avenues of thought. Imagine what you might do with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world He gave his only begotten son”) or 1 John 4:7 (“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God”)!

Give it a whirl, and see how old words take on new meanings in your life!

I saw a new doctor last week, and while I was being poked, prodded, and otherwise probed, it dawned on me: We regularly have a professional check out our physical well being, but seldom (if ever) do we inquire into the health of our souls. But how does one go about doing a soul-check? Here are a few ideas. Please feel free to contribute your own!

  1. Examination: How is your conscience feeling? Any lingering guilt? Are there issues, addictions, emotions you’d like to put out of your life? Who help you with these problems? Perhaps a member of the clergy or a psychologist would be of benefit. Or maybe you just need a good listener to bounce ideas off of. Maybe you can find someone who struggles in a similar way and make a deal to work on yourselves together. There is strength in numbers, after all!
  2. Resuscitation: Is there someone whose forgiveness you badly need? Contact them immediately! Is there someone who you need to forgive? Do so, whether in the quiet of your heart or in person. Let go of past hurts. Breathe out the bad and breathe in a new start.
  3. Everyday Health Practices: What can you do to give your soul greater sustenance? Maybe you could set up a time for quiet prayer or meditation. Perhaps reading a good spiritual book (the Bible, for instance) every day, when you first wake up in the morning or before bed at night, would be a way to bring energy to the day or closure before rest. I appreciate the hour I spend in our church’s chapel every week. I read, pray the rosary, recite prayers. Sometimes I just listen to my own heart. It’s a peaceful practice, and couldn’t we all use more peace in our lives?
  4. Setting up a Problem List: My doctor created a list of my major health issues, including allergies, asthma and osteoporosis. Where are your weak points: Charity, mercy, forgiveness? Are you open-hearted, embracing of others who differ from you? Do you judge or condemn others? These are all problems of the spirit. Don’t dwell on them; just make a list and start to work on the places you fall short. Awareness is the key. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.
  5. Give Yourself a Gold Star: Don’t just concentrate on your failings. Pat yourself on the back for the things you get right. I am a big fan of water; I seldom drink anything else. Good for me! What are your particular talents? What in your spiritual life comes easily to you? These things are important. God made you as you are, with your particular strengths, to serve good in the world. Knowing your talents can help you identify ways to do this most effectively.

The health of our souls is every bit as important as that of our bodies. But we often ignore our sick souls; they don’t cause us to limp or cough. They don’t itch or ache. All the more reason for us to check in our spiritual selves from time to time! An undiagnosed disease can kill you. An undiagnosed soul-problem can wreak havoc, too — mentally and physical, socially and personally.

We are both body and spirit. Let’s remember to take care of both.

 

Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? Jeremiah 2:25 (The Message)

So I signed up for a 21-day meditation course online featuring two esteemed gurus of our culture to whom I refer collectively as “Oprah Chopra.” Got myself all ready to be decompressed, un-stressed and boldly blessed. Stoked and psyched, I was certain I was on my way to Serenity Now!

Cut to: the alternate ending. I made it all the way through… Day One. There was just too much to get done! I couldn’t justify sitting there, actively doing absolutely nothing for twenty-one days in a row. C’mon, people! Only so many hours in a day and oh so many obligations.

Did I mention that the meditation course required a commitment of only fifteen minutes per day?

Maybe it’s because I’m from New Jersey, but by default, my general tendency for most of my life has been to be in a hurry. As I’ve gotten older (and due to health issues) I have slowed down somewhat, but I see it all around me here in my home state. We walk quickly. We talk over each other in conversation. We get in the car, get on the road, and get where we’re going.

Some other cultures have figured out that life should not be on fast-forward, and they’ve slowed things down.

In Spain, businesses shut down in the middle of the afternoon to accommodate the traditional siesta, and although this practice is on the decline as modern, multi-tasking life encroaches, many still swear by that mid-day nap.

The French have made the leisurely meal into an art form. The “slow food” movement has gained a substantial following. Dinner is savored, friendships are nurtured. A glass of wine (or deux) is enjoyed. La vie est belle!

Native cultures speak of finding God in nature, of waiting for his guidance out in the woods or by the river. Time seems slower. Life seems simpler.

Why is it so hard for us to stop and smell the roses? Has it simply become the American way of doing things?

Maybe we should schedule a half hour of repose every day no matter what else is vying for our attention. It will serve to make us more productive and help us to find our center, but more important, it’s a chance to connect with God and be open to His leading. It may become a habit you won’t want to break. 

In her marvelous book “Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose” by Caroline Byss, the author discusses how and when we hear God speaking to us. First, she says, one must have one’s spiritual defenses down. That is, we must drop the social and sometimes cynical face we wear in the world and totally immerse ourselves in feeling — which is precisely why so many of us find ourselves thinking of God while looking at nature. You have to get past yourself to hear the voice of God.

Which is precisely the problem with contemplation, whether in prayer, meditation or simple holy quietude. We expect to hear God at these times, but often don’t. Why? We’re ready. We’re open. Shouldn’t God leap at the chance to be listened to?

God is not a TV show: You can’t stream God on demand. God speaks when God wishes to speak, not on our time, but on God’s. Of course we’d like to control the flow of communication. We humans love to control things. You’d think we’d have learned by now that we are quite powerless in the grand scheme of things. For all of our scheming and scrambling, we still die. We still hurt. For all our talismans and superimposed myth-making (lucky numbers! psychic connections!), we know nothing.

Today is the national day of prayer. This year’s theme: Hope. Hope’s a tricky little imp. It’s difficult to keep hold of hope when you can’t hear God, when you’re waiting for a message that has not come. Hope may be the most easily lost commodity on Earth. But that’s what makes it so important, so dear.

Here’s hoping we hear God when God speaks to us. Here’s hoping our defenses are down, that we remain in a constant state of willingness. Because whether God whispers or roars, God always has something to say to us. Prick up your ears! Let’s all pray today for the ability to hear and strength to obey.

The Blues Brothers weren’t the only ones on a mission from God — we all are. The difficulty lies in finding your mission. No one is going to hand it to you in an envelope marked “Top Secret.” The tape will not self-destruct in three, two, one…. You must discover your mission on your own. Well, not exactly alone. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Your job is unlikely to be your mission, though it can be, especially if you are a teacher or doctor or nurse or police officer or firefighter — any profession that serves, often with personal sacrifice as a built-in job requirement. For all the rest of us, our mission is separate from our occupation. So how do we find it? And, perhaps more importantly, why should we care?

Ever feel like there’s more to life than what you’re living? Ever wonder what you were put on Earth to accomplish? That’s where “mission” comes in. Call it a calling. Call it a quest. It gives life meaning, purpose. It gives us a reason to live.

Think of the things that matter most to you. Perhaps your mission is to be a parent. Maybe you’re meant to advance humankind in some way. When it comes to mission, size doesn’t matter. All missions are sacred. And that’s why you’re not alone — God is in it with you. Grace, freely given gift, will guide you to your mission. Only don’t expect a knock on the head. “Mission” demands to be deeply felt. To see what the exterior of your life should look like, you must go interior. Pray, meditate. Feel your way forward.

And don’t expect to see things mapped out for you. Missions must sometimes be taken in baby steps, groping forward bit by bit. As long as we continue to push ourselves forward, we are on the right path. My mission, as I see it, is to move closer to God, to walk with Him through the written word. Gift plus intention equals mission.

So…what is your mission?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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