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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thomas Merton’s Guide to the Holidays

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

“The Holidays” can often feel like a roller coaster ride. This last week of November feels like we are almost at the top of the track.  Soon we will crest the hill, and our roller coaster car will careen down, quickly accelerating and jerking us this way and that around sharp corners and sudden stops.  Sometime around January 2, the ride will end.  We will pull into the station breathless, hair flying, and maybe just a little queasy.

I don’t know if the catholic writer Thomas Merton ever rode a roller coaster.  But in this calm before the storm, I have found his writing about “True Self” and “False Self” helpful.   According to Merton, the false self is the person that we present to the world, the one that we think will be pleasing to others:  attractive, confident, successful.  The true self, on the other hand, is the person that we are before God. Merton once wrote, “If I find Him I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find Him.” Our true self is that deep place in us that represents the combination of our unique human identity, and the image of God in us.

Our task this Advent season is to live this true self out in the midst of  the roller coaster ride of our daily commitments. James Martin SJ writes:
Perhaps more to the point, the call to holiness comes whether we work in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan or as a housewife in a small house in Iowa.  Whether we are caring for a sick child late at night or preparing a church dinner for hundreds of homeless men and women.  Whether we are listening to a friend tell her problems over a cup of coffee or slogging late hours at work in order to help put our children through school.  Whether we are patiently spending long hours listening to people in the confessional in a small church, or spending long hours memorizing our lines for a small part in a big Broadway show.  Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, straight or gay:  all of us are called to our own brand of personal holiness.
~Becoming Who You Are:  Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints
What is your situation this year as we head toward Advent?  Are you busy or bored?  Facing your first Christmas alone, or trying to figure out whom of all your friends and family you can see?  Are you alive spiritually, or dry and empty?  Are you tired of giving, or hungry for a place to serve?

Roller coasters tend to be great equalizers.  It’s hard to look “attractive, confident and successful” while you are hanging on for dear life.  So, as long as you are strapping someone in for the roller coaster ride we call “The Holidays,” why not make it your true self? 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Thanksgiving Reflection On Account of Josh

by Tom Pappas

One of the ways Laurel and exercise our faith and commitment to God’s creation is to organize our church’s Green Team (I sometimes call them “earth angels”).  We are the ones who nag, and complain about the unnecessary dependence on one-use items, especially foam cups.  For a significant number of years we have collected enough volunteers to wash ceramic cups and glasses each Sunday.

Josh joined the church with his guardians last October. He is a special young man whose baptism brought tears to my eyes as he carefully placed his glasses on the edge of the font and carefully lowered his over 6’ frame directly over the basin.  We sprinkle at Westminster, but it’s a good dose! Even though Josh was coached on what would happen, there was a bit of surprise; I found it a sweet moment.

Some of us conspired to invite Josh to help with dishwashing last Sunday. I approached him and he thought it was important to not waste resources, and he’d like to give it a try and he could do it today if it was OK with K___ and J___. It was, and he did.

Our machine doesn’t take coffee or tea stains away and is hopeless against lipstick, so every cup must we scrubbed and inspected. Josh nailed it.

He was visibly happy and so was I.  I will not try to count the times he commented, “I think I can do this every week.” (Coming in second, “I’m doing great, aren’t I?”)

God is good. Life has its ups and downs. There are many things for me to be thankful for in 2012. Spending less than an hour with Josh is one of them and puts a lot in perspective. It remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a call story. Stay tuned to see whose call it might be. Josh?  Me? Other volunteers?

The Josh experience freshens my attitude. May you have an experience that will be the seed of the gift of a fresh and inspired Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When the Soul Short-Circuits

by Lauren Van Ham

I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.”                                                          
~ Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

Last Wednesday morning, I was traveling from Berkeley to San Francisco, on BART (the train system).  Last Wednesday was October 31st.  On any other October 31st, the morning BART commute might be more colorful than usual, it’s true; AND this wasn't just any other October 31st.  It was also the day San Francisco was welcoming home their Giants, the 2012 World Series champions.  The train cars were PACKED, each one teeming with humans dressed in orange and black which - conveniently enough – satisfied themes for baseball and Halloween.  Above ground, the streets near City Hall were buzzing.  Even those clearly dressed for business-as-usual appeared tickled, caught in the contagion of winning, solidarity, city pride. 

But that wasn't all that was happening last Wednesday. 

As the Bay Area was celebrating, the East Coast was trying to make heads-and-tails of itself in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy.  It was also the day before All Saint’s Day, which is the day before All Soul’s Day, less than a week before the US election, and…and…and…what else was happening right now that I (mercifully) wasn't even aware of?!!?

In moments like these, my soul short-circuits. 

In my effort to be present, with my intention to fully appreciate life’s joys and sorrows, my chest tightens.  My mind becomes that hourglass on my computer desktop -- you know the one!

I've come to feel grateful for these moments.  Like my computer, I “freeze” for a moment and notice all that’s happening.  I breathe, I pray, I ask for help and send blessings wherever I can.  I love the way Wendell Berry says it above, “And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving.” 

What happens for you when your soul short-circuits?  What in this (miraculous) life, do you have?  What are you willing (or wishing) to save?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Prayer Involving a Tennis Ball

by Angier Brock

The other day as I sat cross-legged on the floor in my study, eyes closed, hands open and relaxed, a tennis ball dropped into one of my palms. Enough of stillness! My dog Joey was ready to play. I smiled—but I kept my eyes closed and let the ball simply rest there in my hand as I went back to silently repeating the “sacred word” I use in centering prayer. Holy God¸ breathing in. Holy God, breathing out.

Joey was undeterred. He picked up the ball—and then dropped it back into my palm. Again I kept my eyes closed and remained still. Holy God, breathing in. Holy God, breathing out.

And then Joey did something he almost never does in the house. He barked. Which is how he got me to get up and go outdoors and play fetch with him that day.

Time spent in contemplation is good. Any quieting time that allows the still small voice of calm, the whisper of God, to be heard through the noise of daily living is good. But the point of it that quiet time is not to stay there indefinitely. Rather, we let the quiet prepare us to be called more fully into the world—to vote, for example, or to be a poll watcher; to give blood, or to serve a meal at a shelter; to do our day job or our weekend volunteer work; to sit with a suffering friend or to help strangers pick up the pieces of lives torn apart by a hurricane-turned-superstorm. Moments of quiet can make us ready to receive whatever gets dropped into our palms. On days when we are lucky, what gets dropped is a tennis ball and we can go outdoors to play, rejoicing in the goodness of creation. But even on days when the call is to a difficult task, we can keep on breathing with the words we repeat during moments of quiet. Holy God, breathing in. Holy God, breathing out. We can open ourselves to what calls us, one centered breath at a time.

What’s being dropped into your palm this week? What sacred words have meaning for you? Some words I have heard from others include “Love,” “Trust,” “Peace,” “Amen,” “Maranatha,” and “Abide.”  As you respond to whatever is calling you, may you find sacred words to carry with you—words that keep you strong, clear, and centered in the love of God as you breathe them in and out. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Giving Thanks For All Our Saints

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Who modeled for you what it means to be the person you want to be? 

Today is All Saints Day, a religious holiday in Western Christianity that comes the day after Halloween.  The word “saint” means different things to different people, ranging from exemplary and officially canonized catholics who have died, to a football team in New Orleans.

Frederick Buechner wrote, “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief.  These handkerchiefs are called saints.”  (Wishful Thinking:  A Theological ABC)  One definition given in the dictionary for a saint is “a person who is admired or venerated because of their virtue.” 

Which leads me back to the question:  Who have been the saints in your life?  Who has been this kind of “holy handkerchief?” Even though they may have died, is there a person you still draw strength and wisdom from because of the way they lived their life?

Today is a good day to give thanks for those people.  

(And, bonus...not sure if you've got this in your head right now, but here's the hymn: For All the Saints)