Examen 2016

On this last day of 2016 I find myself truly wanting to reflect on this past year with an eye toward growing in love in the coming year. I don’t usually make “new year resolutions.” If I find something that needs to be “resolved” in April or September, I certainly am not going to wait until January 1st to take action! But today I’ve encountered the Jesuit practice of “Examen of Consciousness” twice in the last hour. There must be something to this that demands my attention.

Throughout this year the daily meditations from Fr. Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation have focused on a single theme:  Love.  As a sample, here is yesterday’s reflection (I especially like the last 2 paragraphs).  Although it sounds simple enough, this theme of love is the foundation of Christianity and all major religions, and it is hard to put love into practice in a world full of violence, hatred, fear, ego, and injustice.  I must admit to more than one occasion where I purposefully avoided reading Rohr’s reflections because I just couldn’t love anymore.  My own ego and sense of righteousness got in the way of my ability to see God in the faces of others.  I was, in effect, wallowing in a kind of adolescent selfishness.

During the Advent and Christmas seasons I’ve also been getting daily reflections from Loyola Press and Ignatian Spirituality.  Here the author Vinita Hampton Wright shares the 5-step practice of the Examen.  I like Rohr’s simplified version from today’s meditative practice, too:

Practice: Examen of Consciousness

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), founder of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, proposed a daily exercise which he called the Examen of Consciousness or the Daily Examen—a simple exercise in discernment. Rather than focusing on what went right or wrong, how you failed or succeeded throughout the day, this exercise encourages you to reflect on moments when you were aware of God—when you were present to Love—and those times when you were forgetful or distracted.

Center yourself in silence and an awareness of God’s presence. Recall the day—or, on this New Year’s Eve, the entire past year—with an open spirit. Notice the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that arise as you review recent events. Let your attention settle on one of these instances and look for God’s presence within it, whether you were aware at the time or not. Pray from this memory and within this present moment.

Release the day (or year) with gratitude and rest in God’s love.

If I am truly honest in my necessary Examen of 2016, I think I may need all of January 2017 to reflect on this past year in order to make a plan for the new year.  Hopefully I’ll learn new habits that will allow me to love others more fully, more readily, and more joyfully.

Happy New Year!

May we all find ways to love ourselves and others as God loves (1 Cor. 13).

Reflection: A Las Posadas Communion

Last year I did not attend any of the Las Posadas nights here at St. Francis.  Mostly I think I was too stressed and withdrawn to want to be around happy people; my sprained ankle was a good excuse.  This year is different.  I’m different.  Although the stress of this missionary work is still high, my attitude and approach to it has changed.  My center and focus have begun to stabilize, and I am experiencing the serenity from having turned things out of my control over to God.  It is difficult to “let go & let God,” but, Oh! the freedom and peace that follow!

For those of you unfamiliar with Las Posadas, it is a nine day prayer and celebration beginning on December 16th, and ending on Christmas Eve. Click here for more detailed information.  Las Posadas is celebrated throughout Mexico and here in the American Southwest.  For at least 10 years I’ve been reading Tomie dePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas to my First Graders in Florida, introducing them to this Hispanic Christmas tradition.  We would then make little construction paper donkeys with fan-folded legs, paper clips on the hooves, and a string to make it go “clip-clop” across the tile floor.  I brought this art lesson with me out here, and the kids loved making their little donkeys!  But, never did I imagine I would ever get to participate in the beautiful tradition of Las Posadas.

Unlike the book, here in the middle of nowhere we cannot walk from house to house knocking on doors every night for nine nights.  We’d freeze before getting to the first door, and the total distance travelled over the nine nights would be greater than the 80-90 miles Mary & Joseph initially travelled to get to Bethlehem!  So this community has improvised their Las Posadas (as it improvises with just about everything here!).  Nine nights; nine homes.  Each night members of this small parish gather at someone’s home and the prayer begins.  A small group gathers outside the front door reciting the words of the Holy Couple, “Let us in; my wife is weary and cannot walk; I request lodging from you.”  The group inside responds with “No!  This is no Inn, and you might be a crook!”  This back and forth continues for several verses, all sung in Spanish.  When those inside recognize the Holy Couple, their tune changes and Mary & Joseph are welcomed into the home.  Once inside the host family chooses Christmas carols to sing, grace is said, and everyone begins to eat what the host family has prepared.  The building of community happens at celebrations like this.  I have always said that holidays and traditions have two common factors in every culture, food and people.  And of both factors it is understood:  The more the merrier!

As a Catholic I was brought up to believe that when we receive the Eucharist at mass, we are partaking in the Body of Christ and we, as a faith community, become one flesh in Christ, nourished to do the good works of faith we are called to do (CCC 1331).  I participated in two nights of Las Posadas, and I am feeling blessed, humbled, and nourished for the experience!  The consecrated Eucharist is sacred and treated with great reverence in our churches and cathedrals.  Sharing the prayers and songs of Las Posadas with the members of this community is also sacred.  These last two nights have been for me a Communion in the Body of Christ that is just as sacred to me as the Communion received during Sunday mass.  “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (CCC 1396).  I certainly feel renewed, strengthened and deeply incorporated into this part of Christ’s Church.

I met new people, shared faith, laughter, good food, and great joy.  A real sense of communion in the Body of Christ!  This experience will certainly sustain me throughout this Advent and Christmas season.  Thanks, St. Francis parishioners.  Last year perhaps I did not feel worthy to enter under your roof, but your love and hospitality have healed me!

Merry Christmas, and may peace & blessings be with you and your community!

Post Election Depression/Finding the Courage to Seek Common Ground

I did not vote for Trump.  And is there anyone out there who truly knows me and is still somehow surprised that I did not vote for him and his brand of hatred and white privilege?  I won’t say who I voted for, as keeping my vote private is something I do whenever I find the options limited and opinions on all sides highly volatile.  Suffice it to say I did not vote for Trump for many reasons, and all of them have to do with the division, racism, bigotry, and hate-speech he has brought to this campaign, and no-doubt will bring to his presidency.  Sorry.  I will pray for him and his conversion, but I won’t hold my breath.

I work with Apache and Hispanic children.  My own children are part black, part white, and part Cherokee.  I’ve worked with migrant workers in Florida.  I’ve been friends with and have worked with many undocumented workers, some of whom are trying to gain citizenship through legal channels, while others I know are prevented from applying.  I have many friends who identify as LBGT who continue to work for equal rights and simple respect.  I also have family members and friends with disabilities.  All of these “groups” have been verbally and viciously attacked by Trump’s insensitive and hateful rhetoric.

I understand the concerns of white Americans who struggle to find work and struggle to put food on the table for their families, but so do many American people on the margins.  Hunger, poverty, and unemployment affect all Americans, but people of color and people with disabilities are still hit harder than white Americans.  It’s a fact.

Our nation has taken some very courageous steps in the last 60-70 years to create a safe place for all.  I truly see the election of Donald Trump as a huge step backwards.  I also see his election as a serious threat to the very liberties, freedoms, and protections we all claim to hold so dear.  Even as I write this Trump is busy filling administrative positions with ultra conservative white men who are known for their racist, sexist, and homophobic views.

In an effort to sort through my own emotions over the future of our nation, and remain true to my faith and my integrity, I’ve been quietly reading and contemplating on the many wise and thoughtful post-election reflections of some of my favorite teachers.  Teachers I respect for always shedding light on darkened places, always opening hidden doors to a better way of being, and always bringing the issues back to a Christ-centered, love-centered whole:  Fr. Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Sr. Jamie Phelps, Christena Cleveland, and other wise and mystic voices from the past.

Mostly they all say the same thing.  We need to find common ground, and we need to be inclusive, not exclusive.  As Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”  While this is true, when dealing with political realms there is only dualistic thinking at play.  So how do we hold both, yet continue to move forward?

I think those of us who have expressed our fatigue with the “hate-speech,” the “us vs. them” mentality, the negative social media posts, and the news media bias must make a deliberate and conscious effort to eliminate these things from our own speech, attitude, and postings.  I also think we have a responsibility to lovingly point it out when we see the fear, anger and hatred being perpetrated by our friends and family.  This isn’t easy, but then Jesus never said it would be.  He was put to death.  The worst that could happen to me (I think) is that I could be “unfriended” or “unfollowed.”  That’s what tissues and hugs from real friends are for.

My ex-husband is fond of reminding me that we met while I was out with my college Poli-Sci friends, and we were all engaged in a heated conversation about politics.  We always laughed at the irony of my later declaration, “I hate politics!”  It’s true; I do!  But it is really the game playing and the dualistic nature of politics that I hate.  Like it or not, we all have to be engaged in politics if we want to affect change in our world.  Now more than ever we must stay on top of what goes on in Washington, and in our state and local governments.

Our planet, our water, our air, our freedoms, and our very lives are at stake.  We can no longer afford to just relax and let others do the dirty work for us.  We all need to snap out of our “post-election depression” and seek common ground, get involved, stay informed, make our voices heard, hold elected officials accountable, and work hard for justice for all, not just a select few.

Learning Lessons from Political Saints?

With the Election just days away I find myself asking the question, “Why does it seem like everyone expects politicians to be saints?”  I mean, they are not running for Pope or Dalai Lama, so why do people act surprised when scandalous skeletons are exposed in the media (Especially the same old skeletons, just in a different suit, and so close to election day.)?  And do we really think the candidates that we support are perfect? More to the point, are we so saintly that we think we don’t have a few skeletons in our own closets?
At the Conspire 2016 conference I’m told that Christena Cleveland said that “even people we don’t like have something of value to teach us; even Donald Trump.”  I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have heard it in context.  Nonetheless, this idea has stuck in my mind ever since.  Even Donald Trump?  Even Hillary Clinton?  Even that bigot I work with?  Even that racist, hot-head that lives down the street?

Although….  I think there is something deeper to be learned from disagreeable people such as Donald Trump.  In a blog post from March of this year, Christena says:

Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different.  This makes us feel better.***

Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men. 

Trump’s xenophobic and racist political platform provides the “prejudice buffer” that many white men need in order to find relief from the pain of vulnerability. Given the changing racial dynamics in the U.S., it is no surprise that so many white men have gravitated toward Trump. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order to white male supremacy.   

So, maybe the thing to be valued here is not some random redeeming quality like “they love their family,” or “they give to the poor.”  Perhaps the lesson to be learned is simply a lesson that teaches us about our own fears, failings, and prejudices.  Hopefully some of us will consider Christena’s words, and find a way through our pride to the humble shores where everything & everyone belongs, and no one is excluded.  I know I’m struggling to get there.

I’ve thought about Christena’s words and this election a lot and have concluded that for all the distasteful comments, actions, and skeletons, I do admire both candidates for having the courage and conviction to enter this race. It takes courage and a thick skin to throw your hat into the ring of this crazy USA system of elections.  Not only does the political machine grind each candidate and their family into sausage, but the news media, and social media are merciless in their tireless efforts to belittle the opposition while making a case for sainthood for their favorite candidate.

With All Saints Day just this past week, I know we are all called to be saints, but let’s get real.  Neither Hillary or Donald are saints, but then again, neither are we (YET!).  We’re all just trying to do our best with what we have.  That’s a big enough job.

Doing Little Things With Great Love

This week I am bubbling over with joy and pride!

I am also wiped out with exhaustion.

In June my principal asked me what charity I thought would be a good one for the children of St. Francis of Assisi School (a charity case itself!) to support; one they could relate to.  I can only say now, in hind-sight, that it was God who made me say the first thing that popped into my thoughts:  Fr. Mark Mlay’s orphanage in Tanzania.  At first I didn’t know why that was the first name I thought of, but now I do.  God is like that for us.  We can’t see God’s long-range plan, but we don’t need to.  That is where faith and trust come in.  Always!

After watching an adorable video on the website, I pitched the orphanage to my principal who simple shrugged with complete surrender and said, “I think it is an obvious fit.  This year’s charity is Fr. Mark’s orphanage.”

It’s been several years since I’ve seen Fr. Mark and worked with him in Florida.  I admit that I didn’t really know that much about the school and the religious order of sisters (Adorer Missionary Sisters of the Poor) he founded, but I had heard about the good work he had begun from a dear friend who actually visited the school’s site while in Africa (thanks, Glynda!).  So, I reached out, sent an e-mail, and two days later (after pulling off the side of Highway 84) spent over 30 minutes talking with this gentle priest about his work in Tanzania, and mine in New Mexico.  I told him about our school and our plan to raise money for his orphanage.  He was humbled and filled with gratitude, as is his nature.

How are the children of St. Francis supporting orphans in Tanzania?  Well, every Thursday is “Dress Down for a Cause” day.  Students can bring in a dollar and wear something other than their uniforms.  Last year we sent our donations to Food for the Poor to help build schools and clinics in Haiti. This year our collection will go to the Sisters in Tanzania who run Fr. Mark’s school and clinic.  Their goal is to help lift 600 orphans out of the cycle of poverty through education.  They currently support 140 children with another 40 expected in the coming year.  It is estimated that there are 3.3 million orphans in Tanzania alone.  This is mostly due to HIV and AIDS.  Earlier this year they opened a High School and now need to build more dormitories for all of the newly accepted children and teens.

Although I knew Fr. Mark would welcome our meager support, I was unprepared for what happened next.  My principal asked me if I thought Fr. Mark would come to New Mexico for a visit with our students.  I said I’d ask, and he said yes.  Just like that.  Wow!

So, Tuesday (9-27-16) afternoon at dismissal I jumped in my car, and made the 3 1/2 hour drive down to Albuquerque to pick up Fr. Mark.  After a late night dinner at Jinja’s in Santa Fe (THANKS, MICKY!!!) we drove to Lumberton, avoiding deer, elk and (thank goodness!) skunks along the way.  The next day Fr. Mark was welcomed into our school with a Cowboy Breakfast:  eggs, pancakes, and sausage.  [Of course, I had my homemade yogurt and fruit; you know what a hippie I am.  Not a Cowboy bone in this ol’ body!]

After prayer and Fr. Mark’s PowerPoint presentation on his vision, his ministry, the plight of the orphans in Tanzania, and how our donations help, my group of 1st & 2nd graders took him on a tour of our school, playground, church, and my garden.  Since I had shared with the kids my garden and my “magic” purple beans 3 weeks ago, the kids were very excited to introduce Fr. Mark to this amazing “delicacy!”  I introduced him to Frank, the foreman of our own newly funded project:  New volunteer-teacher housing.  (They talked shop while I attended to some disciplinary problems with 3 of my students!)

Back to the Main Building, where I let Fr. Mark go to explore our grounds & visit with the other classes at his own pace.  Thanks to Ms. Maria Montoya, our cook, Fr. Mark was introduced to Apache-style Fry-bread for lunch!  YUM!!!  On our trip back to Dulce/Lumberton from the airport, Fr. Mark asked me about cultural/regional foods and I talked about the varieties of Fry-bread amongst the Native Peoples.  Ms. Maria’s is made of flour, water, and a bit of yeast.  It isn’t often that we allow “fried” anything at school, so we all indulged in, & enjoyed this staple food of the Southwest alongside a hearty beef stew!

After lunch Fr. Mark enjoyed some meditative time alone in our beautiful 100 year-old church.  How I wish I could have joined him for a few moments of peace.  In the afternoon we were able to celebrate mass (we have no priest!), and then afterwards we celebrated Fr. Mark’s visit back in the cafeteria with juice, cake, and cookies.  More YUM thanks to Ms. Maria (love her!)!!!!

How I wish Fr. Mark’s visit could have been longer.  I would have loved showing him more of the beauty of this landscape, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and her people, and some of the unique regional tourist attractions, but…..  His trip was short for many reasons outside my control.

Thanks, Fr. Mark for the visit to our little community!  Thanks for the important work that you do!  And thank you, God for creating in Fr. Mark’s heart a place where your love may grow and grow!

Yep.  Bubbling over with joy, and pride in the students of my school.

I recently led a morning meditation with our school where I mentioned how St. Teresa of Kolkata used to say, “Not everyone can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.  Fr. Mark is certainly doing great things, and with much love.  The students of St. Francis of Assisi School are doing something small, but, OH, with such great love!

My only disappointment?  Realizing after he left that we took no pictures.  I suppose I was focused more on him, the kids, and enjoying his visit to remember technology or selfies.  Oh, well….  It is all lovingly etched in my memory!

 

 

My Black Children’s Lives Matter

I am a white woman with two grown black children, and I am genuinely afraid for their lives.

The death, violence, and hatred that we have all witnessed this week should concern us all.  As President Obama stated with such great emotional restraint last Wednesday, “These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”   The events of this week of violence in America concerns me deeply.  More deeply than I have ever acknowledged before.  And, as Obama said, these events should concern and trouble us all.

No mother or father (black, brown or white) should have to have “the conversation” with their black son to “be careful when (not if, but WHEN!) you’re stopped by the police.  Why?  Because you’re a black man in America.”  [This “conversation” has been happening for several generations.  Watch this emotional video.]  My heart is broken and I am weary of the racial injustice that is woven into the fabric of this nation.  As I stated in an earlier piece:

[As a nation and as a people] we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and oppression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?

I will not counter the #BlackLivesMatter movement with that petty, insensitive and ignorant retort uttered by so many white people who feel uncomfortable discussing racism in the shadow of yet another murdered black man.  Feel the discomfort.  Be appalled and horrified by the violence our nation continues to suffer because of poverty, bigotry, and oppression.  And please, I beg you, stop contributing to it with hateful, inflammatory speech and insensitive remarks based on nothing but fear and ignorance.

This world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket and I am feeling ashamed to be a part of a race that causes so much division, fear, bigotry, racism, and poverty in our world.  I am embarrassed by all of the ignorant comments on social media that clearly come from the narrow perspective of white privilege.  If you have the courage, I invite you to stop and consider what it is like to be a minority in America.  Everyday of your life.  Everywhere you go.  With nowhere to hide from those who fear you based solely on the color of your skin.  I have tried to imagine this and have fallen short, even though I have heard and experienced the hatred and prejudice of white people while out in public with my black children.  It hurts.  A lot.  Imagine being hurt every day of your life for no other reason except that you are black, and devalued by society.

I cannot speak to pain of racism and oppression in this country as my own children surely can.  I cannot speak to the feelings of cultural duplicity that they must feel or the tension of having one foot in one world and one foot in another.  I cannot possibly imagine what it is like to be a black man or a black woman in this country.  Or can I?  I am, after all, a member of the human race, am I not?  My ability to empathize with someone else’s pain is not limited by the color of my skin.  When I read reports and commentary on racism, or when I watch the news in horror, do I not feel a deep frustration at the unjust system that fuels hatred and fear, and targets black men in this country?  Of course I do, and so should every other human being.

But they don’t.

The deaths/murders of two more innocent black men at the hands of white police officers this week has left me feeling inconsolable.  The ambush on police officers in Dallas leaves me feeling hopeless.  The relentless violence that engulfs our nation leaves me feeling deeply troubled, sad and weary.  If we continue to meet violence with more violence, and hate with more hate (MLK speech on “Loving Your Enemies.”), then is it any wonder that this country remains racially polarized so many generations after the end of slavery?  As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

The whole issue of racism in this country has me questioning everything.  Again.  After all these years I still do not understand it.  I do not understand how civilized people can continue to cling to a system that is complicit with racism and bigotry in an age that is groaning toward a more progressive and egalitarian society that embraces and celebrates diversity in all of its forms.

I just don’t understand anymore, and I’m afraid for our children and their future.

Grant us peace, Lord, for we are in desperate need.

A Profile of Racism In Our World

 

I began this draft back in February of 2016 when I first read Kristian Davis Bailey’s account of his horrifying experience in Israel and the West Bank.  I’ve visited this draft several times since, but was never satisfied with it overall.  That is until I awoke this morning to the news of yet another mass shooting/killing in Orlando, Florida, in the “good ol’ us of a.”  Again, I am without words to describe my horror, sadness and grief.  And, saying the obvious, “my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” sounds hollow and small.

How can I relate?  How can anyone relate?  Only those who have lost loved ones to hatred, violence, abuse, and death can relate.  I only know that today I cried tears of compassion and solidarity with the many who mourn the loss of their loved ones, their ideals, their innocence, their joy, and their belief in a world where peace and love always conquer violence, hatred and fear.  I still believe in these values and truths, but today…. I’m a bit shaken.

 

At the risk of offending just about everyone I know, I want to talk about the evils of racism {and, after today’s terror in Orlando, we can add to racism:  intolerance, hatred, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms}.  Not as a white woman, or as a white woman with children of color, or as any label I may be stuck with, but simply as a member of humanity.  Quite honestly I have always been a bit naïve and/or idealistic when it comes to relationships, so I’ve never understood how societies continue to justify racist and unjust laws, racial profiling, and blatantly racist and ignorant speech.  What disturbs me even more is how these advanced and so-called “civilized” countries turn a blind eye to the poverty and violence such racist behavior perpetuates upon targeted groups.

Again, given the tragic events in Orlando today, I am horrified at the numbers.  The US leads the world in the number of mass shootings.  We have more guns in circulation than any other country, and there are about 40 million more guns than people in America.  Appalling!  I do not, nor will I ever, own a gun.  That means that most gun owners in the US must own more than quite a few guns one gun.  Personally, I do not feel “safe.”
Back in February I read an article on Color Lines by activist and journalist Kristian Davis Bailey.  He was on his way to a conference in the West Bank where he was one of the featured speakers on Palestinian and Black solidarity.  Of course he was racially and politically profiled and treated so horribly and unjustly that I simply have no words to add to his own detailed report on the events that followed.  SeriouslyClick the link and read the article. In Kristian’s own words he has “no illusion about what occurred” to him at the hands of Israeli border agents, nor do I.

I am baffled and deeply saddened by the obvious take-away here:  In the last 100 years (and more!) we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and repression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?  Peace?  Love?  The possibility of authentic joy?

I know that poverty is at the very heart of the violence and hatred we see all across the globe, but I’m naïve & idealistic.  I believe that there is more than just one person in every nook and cranny of the world that has had enough.  I want to believe that we can change this culture of violence & hatred into a culture of peace & love.  I want to believe this with all my heart, but today…  I am shaken.  I am truly shaken.