Little Things With Great Love in a Culture Preoccupied with Grand Achievements

As a recently retired Art Teacher at a Catholic Elementary School, I find myself now in a familiar, yet very different work environment, and it has made me contemplate & question my role as an Adrian Dominican Associate. Is being an Associate still important to me, and does it make a difference in my life and the lives of others?

I am now pursuing my own art career, but (until I actually start making a steady income from my art) I am waitressing again at a local restaurant. It is, after all, called the “service/hospitality industry” and are we not all called to a life of service as Christians? The truth is, I actually enjoy the hospitality business, and I absolutely love my boss and co-workers! I enjoy taking care of our guests and being a part of their dining experience here on the Atlantic Ocean.

But here’s what I’ve noticed…. First, my co-workers (or, as we say “team members” because our philosophy is not “the Body of Christ” but “members of a team” which essentially works like a “body” anyway, right?), have recognized something joyful in me. Each shift for me begins with me greeting the kitchen staff with a hearty “Hello, Kitchen!!!” And they all respond, “Hello, Maria!” We laugh and smile at one another, and know that all is well. I’ve occasionally come into work grieving a loss, and they’ve noticed. I failed to greet them with joy, and they expressed concerned. It lifts my own spirits when I muster the energy to cry out “Hello, Kitchen!”

I’ve rediscovered that in the “secular world” Christ’s presence is needed even more than in our churches and Catholic Schools. THIS is part of my new ministry as an Adrian Dominican Associate: To be Christ’s presence in the everyday life of everyone I meet!

Recently I found myself a bit tongue-tied and at a loss for words (imagine that!). I was asked by another Associate from another Order, “What do you do to support and build up our Holy Mother Church?” Now, I am a woman of simplicity and a great admirer of St. Therese Lisieux (do little things with great love), so… I was caught off-guard by leading tone of this question.

My mediocre response was “I sing in my church’s Choir.” Argh!!!! Although I love this ministry, it isn’t ALL I do, and it certainly isn’t what I do on a daily basis.

After a few days of reflection and re-evaluation I’ve come to realize that how I reflect and live out the Body of Christ in the world is my ministry. I do that in my interactions with those I encounter every day. Once it was my students, parents, fellow teachers and administrators; now it is my co-workers, guests, chefs, dishwashers, and managers. This ministry makes me smile in new and unexpected ways. Guests have commented, “You’re so joyful!” Co-workers come to me for hugs when they are upset. Several co-workers are quite adamant that “Maria can’t work Sunday’s! She has to be in church praying for the rest of us!” [This one makes me laugh the most!]

It makes me wonder; if we are all God’s children, and Jesus calls us to love one another, how does the Spirit move us in spreading God’s love in the little things? “Holy Mother Church” doesn’t need my help, but I can certainly be Jesus’ hands and feet in serving the immediate spiritual and emotional needs of my brothers and sisters wherever they are.

So, is being an Associate still necessary and relevant in my life outside “traditional” ministries? Absolutely! And, I think, even more so.

Welcoming the Children at Our Doorstep

Silence gives consent,” according to St. Sir Thomas More.

I cannot remain silent in the face of evil. I don’t know how anyone can.

This new policy (and it is a NEW policy) of separating families at illegal border crossings is pure evil. Trump, Kelly, Nielsen, and Sessions will be judged one day, but as for me, judgement day is today, and I will not be silent.  I tossed and turned again last night.  My outrage has given way to pure heartbreak and it is difficult to think of anything else.

One doesn’t have to be a witness to or a survivor of Hitler’s Nazi Regime (or any other oppressive regime) to be able to learn from history, or see similar patterns. My two take-aways from my college course “Hitler and Nazism” have stayed with me all these years, “If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes true. And the more absurd the lie, the better.”  And, “Evil is allowed to be committed when good people sit idly by and do nothing.” Trump and his staff are liars and they are committing evil, unthinkable harm.  Trump and Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy has little to do with party politics, it is a policy devised by power-hungry, self-serving men bent on creating a dictatorial state.  In a Forbes article from 2013 Jim Powell describes how a democracy can easily, over time degrade into a dictatorship.  He uses the example of Germany in the early 20th C and how “[The Nazis] became the largest political organization in Germany, and by January 30, 1933, with the help of a little blackmail, Hitler emerged as Germany’s chancellor – the head of government. He proceeded to consolidate unlimited power before anybody realized what was happening.”  Sound familiar?

Consider that Powell wrote this article in 2013, long before the 2016 presidential election.  Below is a list of his bullet points at the end of the article which should make any American shudder:

  • Bad economic policies and foreign policies can cause crises that have dangerous political consequences.
  • Politicians commonly demand arbitrary power to deal with a national emergency and restore order, even though underlying problems are commonly caused by bad government policies.
  • In hard times, many people are often willing to go along with and support terrible things that would be unthinkable in good times.
  • Those who dismiss the possibility of a dictatorial regime in America need to consider possible developments that could make our circumstances worse and politically more volatile than they are now – like runaway government spending, soaring taxes, more wars, inflation and economic collapse.
  • Aspiring dictators sometimes give away their intentions by their evident desire to destroy opponents.
  • There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.
  • A political system with a separation of powers and checks & balances – like the U.S. Constitution – does make it more difficult for one branch of government to dominate the others.
  • Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly.

The current policy and crisis at our southern border requires some honest perspective and real action if we are to protect our liberties and provide aid and comfort to those in need.  Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor of America Magazine, has issued an article full of links on ways to help turn our outrage into positive action.  Lots of other civic and faith-based groups are doing the same thing; making it easy for us to make our voices heard and come together to help the most vulnerable, refugee children at our doorstep.

How I wish I could go to the border, or go to Washington D.C., but that’s just not realistically possible.  If you’re like me, instead find a local event that you can make time for.  I just learned of one in Jensen Beach, Treasure Coast Mall entrance on US 1, 11:00am-1:00pm, Saturday, June 30th.

That’s the action part….. Now for some perspective to contemplate on prior to taking action:

At yesterday’s presentation at the Motherhouse in Adrian, Sr. Tarianne, OP read a beautiful poem called “Home” by the Somali-English poet Warsan Shire.  Listen to it and image yourself in a situation where your home is “the mouth of a shark” or where “you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.”

Fr. Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning also needs to be considered:

“Searching for and rediscovering the True Self is the fundamentum, the essential task that will gradually open us to receiving and giving love to God, others, and ourselves, and thus to live truly just lives. Grace builds on nature; it does not avoid or destroy nature. You are created in the image of God from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26-27). This is the basis for God’s justice: Since everyone is made in the image of God, then we need to recognize, honor, and respect the image of God in everyone. No exceptions.”

My prayer is that we may all discover and honor the image of God in ourselves and others, especially the most vulnerable.

 

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).

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.

Discerning Again: How I’ve Come to Dread “Discernment”

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been otherwise occupied by a number of things. To say the least.

The first semester here at school was extremely busy and the work spilled over into my “free time” all the time. If we volunteers weren’t teaching, grading, or getting lesson plans together, we were busy helping with fundraisers, sitting in meetings, or conducting parent-teacher conferences. All part of teaching, but a little over the top.  So, Christmas break was indeed a welcome break.  And then there was the depression that set in somewhere around Thanksgiving, followed by feelings of regret, stupidity, and the usual self-pity party (I haven’t thrown a party like that in years!).  Then my grandmother died January 19th.  So I went home to mourn with my family, clear my head and do some discerning.

Discernment.  I’ve developed a distinct distaste for that word.  I’m not too crazy about the process, either.  It’s hard work, it takes time, and it requires that I examine my inner self, accept it, and then make choices that will change my life.

In 2008 I entered a period of religious discernment.  It led me to the Adrian Dominicans and, after a year of formation, I became an Associate in November of 2009.  This process was emotional, but in the end I enjoyed the process and learned a lot about myself.  It also helped me to deepen my prayer-life, and in turn, my trust in God’s will for me.  In the fall of 2014 I once again entered a period of discernment.  This time the process was not what I would call enjoyable; in fact it was pretty painful.  In the end I totally uprooted myself and moved to New Mexico to serve the Jicarilla Apache children of Dulce.  The kids are great!  The people, the mountains, the environment, and even the snow are all wonderful, but in the end this mission is not a good fit for me.  It isn’t what I’ve found or experienced here, but what is missing here that has caused me to begin the process of discernment once again.

What’s missing at my current stop are not the material things like a local Starbuck’s, high-speed internet, or the beach.  I am missing time for the things that keep my spirituality healthy like regular mass with a priest and access to the sacraments, time for reflection and contemplation, time for my artwork, time for inspirational reading, time for online & on-pavement activism, and time to spend with my Creator.

Is it possible that the more I go through the process of discernment, the more painful it becomes?  Or is it that my past discernments have been false?  Perhaps I’m simply on a journey that requires a series of stops along the way.

Discernment:  It’s a bitch, and she’s biting my butt again.

When The World Moves At a Faster Pace

Is it my imagination, or do things happen so fast that one can hardly keep up?  So many good and bad things are happening locally, nationally, and internationally, it’s hard to find time to reflect on any of it.  As soon as I start to reflect on one issue, or event, another one of equal importance occurs.  It’s what I call “emotional whiplash,” or just a simple case of social/news media overstimulation.  What I rail against at my teaching job (now “former” teaching job) is not unique to educational institutions; it’s endemic throughout Western society.  We are in constant motion. We go from one activity to the next with little or no consideration given to the people involved, or how it affects us.  If we are to grow and learn we must have periods of contemplation, reflection, and prayer in between the events that fill our days.  I mourn the art of “down time” that has been lost; time alone with our thoughts, our God, and time spent in conversation with the people in our lives.

As I consider the recent SCOTUS rulings I am troubled by our reliance on a group of 9 women and men to tell us what is just and right.  I am troubled by those who praise the Supreme Court when a particular ruling supports their point of view or way of life, and then damn them all to Hell when they don’t.  I am also troubled by the way so many narrow-minded members of various religions apparently feel so threatened that they find it acceptable to speak and behave in such hurtful ways.  As a Catholic I understand Christ’s message of love to be about relationship; our relationship with God, with each other, and with our planet.  That’s it.  Relationship.  And, I’m pretty sure that if I delved deeper into every organized religion out there, relationship would be at the heart of these faiths, too.  To be clear, I am pleased with the courts ruling on marriage equality, but very disturbed by their ruling on the use of the controversial drug midazolam being used during executions.  Also, while I do not need the SCOTUS to spell out for me what is just and right, I certainly understand the important part the high court plays in our society.

Fr. James Martin, SJ posted (as usual) a terrific piece on his Facebook page, and also Tweeted in response to the marriage equality ruling.  Of course he got a lot of heat and verbal abuse from several followers.  Here’s what he wrote the other day:  “How can Catholics and Christians respond to the Supreme Court decision? First, of course by remembering to love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”  I am constantly amazed by people who think they have the moral authority to pass judgment on others when they themselves clearly have a plank in their skull! eye (Matthew 7:1-5)!  He followed up with a post reminding his “erstwhile” friends about how the “un-friend” and “un-follow” buttons work.  I love this Jesuit!

But, Fr. James wasn’t the only one who got dumped on.  Imagine my surprise when I opened up my Facebook to find a hurtful message from someone who is not even “friended” on my page, and who I consider only an acquaintance.  Apparently she was “shocked” at my profile picture (with rainbow filter), and she just “felt she needed to share that” with me.  Pretty bold for someone I hardly know, and who obviously knows nothing about who I am.  When Pope Francis says that he will not judge, and Jesus himself refused to pass judgment on a woman about to be stoned, who does she think she is?  I believe in healthy dialogue when it comes to important topics, not petty “bird-dropping” online.  Sharing ideas is important to building relationships.  Compassion, love, and understanding are at the core of Christianity, and it’s all relationship.  What this woman did to me, and what many others are doing on social media, serves no useful purpose, and does not reflect the light of Christ or God’s overwhelming love for us.  In fact, this kind of negativity only tears down relationships and the kingdom of God.

It’s troubling.

The other thing I find troubling is the lack of outcry from these same people over the court’s ruling on the use of midazolam to execute prisoners on death row.  What’s even more troubling are some of the comments I’ve read below the news reports on this latest ruling.  How do we manufacture such insensitive, aggressive people, some of whom profess to be “Christians?”  The bottom line for me on lethal injection and the death penalty is this:  Don’t.  All life is precious.  All life!  Murderers need to be locked up, not killed.

As I ponder how I should respond to my “friend” (if at all), I will struggle to practice what is always necessary when confronted by opposition and hurtful speech….  I will quietly, gently hold her in prayer.

And to my Facebook friends who are upset or offended by my rainbow filter profile picture:  Thanks for being respectful and loving by not posting anything hurtful!  I noticed that, & I love you all!!!!

PS:  I sat on this post for more than 24 hours & I’m glad I did, since it has given me time to find a podcast worth sharing.  My mentor, Sr. Helene Dompierre, OP, once gave me a book by Fr. James Martin, SJ.  I forgot about that until I came across it today while packing.  What an insightful and joyful man he is!  In December of 2014 Krista Tippett spoke with him on her show “On Being,” and I think this 50 minute discussion beautifully sums up what I believe, and what I aspire to become as a child of God.  Enjoy!

Discerning and Answering A Call

I’ve been a very silent blogger for these last few months, and I am sorry for that. Hopefully what I share here will explain my silence and provide a little something to look forward to. I have been busy at school (nothing new this time of year), and also busy with CIW and TCFF actions. Just last month I organized and helped lead a Prayer Vigil at a new Publix store opening in my area, and also created a little “Fair Food performance piece” for a Chautauqua at the Ground Floor Farm’s Spring Festival. All that writing & organizing was time consuming, but that’s not why I’ve been absent from blogging.  I’ve been away from blogging because I’ve been discerning a new path for my life.

Discernment is relatively new for me. In 2008 I was in discernment, but was unfamiliar with what discernment truly meant.  I had often heard God calling me to serve in one way or another, but usually found some way to ignore the call, always feeling unfulfilled in the end.  So, after a year of prayer and study with my mentor Sr. Helen Dompierre, OP, in 2009 I became an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.  For the last several years I’ve been feeling angry, overwhelmed, unsupported, and unfulfilled at my job.  Although I know I make a difference in the lives of so many children, the pace, the stress, and the politics has been killing me physically, emotionally, and (most importantly) spiritually.  In August of 2014 I again entered a period of discernment triggered by a series of disappointments, new road-blocks, and a few possibilities.  This time, however, I was having difficulty hearing God’s voice. I thought I had it figured out, but when I didn’t get the job that I thought God was leading me to, I felt depressed and defeated.  After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I regrouped and started to search for a bolder, more adventurous social justice path.  That’s when I discovered St. Francis School in New Mexico.  Quite literally, I searched for and found “a road less traveled” (Frost and Peck).

The more I looked, the more I prayed, the more I contemplated, the more I realized that this school and these children where calling me to come to NM!  So, I inquired with the principal, sent in my resume, and had my first phone interview in over 20 years.  She loved me!  My future boss, Madeline (I love her, too!), asked me what was giving me pause, so we talked a while more.  She said that she was going to send me an acceptance letter immediately.  I said I had some more praying to do.  [I also had to talk to my mother!]  After 3 days I sent in my letter of acceptance.  So, at the end of July I will be leaving for Lumberton, New Mexico to teach art, and (probably) language arts, and social studies at St. Francis School.

The school is 3 miles off the Jicarilla Apache Nation lands, and the majority of the students are Apache.  There are many Hispanic children, too, so I am brushing up on my Spanish!  I don’t know if this is where I am meant to be for the next 20 years, or if this is just a stepping stone toward something else.  What I do know is that I am excited to truly follow the Gospel message, and serve among the poorest of the poor.  I look forward to sharing my gifts with the children, and I look forward to learning even more from them.

I got a new computer that will serve me well in the coming years.  I hope to be able to post pictures from the “Land of Enchantment,” and blog about my experiences once or twice a month.  I will be in the middle of nowhere, and I am told that internet, cell phone service, electricity, and H2O are “sketchy” at times (OMGosh!!!!!), so keep me in your thoughts & prayers even if I occasionally go “off the grid!”

I want to give a nod to Skywalker Storyteller.  Over three months ago she began a series called “100 Days of Gratitude.”  I decided to participate, downloaded the journal and began receiving daily gratitude questions.  I never commented on any of the questions, but always read them and thought about them.  As I was discerning my new path in life, Skywalker, your questions became a kind of life-line to what really matters in life.  Here’s my comment on this experience:  I am grateful to you for your commitment to fulfillment, happiness, and balance in life!  In the final days of “100 Days of Gratitude” I realized how grateful I am for the many gifts I have, and how grateful I am for my trust in God to take this leap of faith.  Questions #94 (thinking creatively/outside the box) and #96 (helping others/acts of service/helping others be happy) were especially timely as I made the decision to sell my belongings and go to serve the children at St. Francis School.  Thank you!

It’s time to pack now!