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).


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!

Detachment; Translation, please!

Long ago I learned about AA, NA, Al-Anon & the 12-Step Program.  My younger brother was doing drugs, my mother and I did a family intervention, and soon we all found ourselves thrown in the deep end of an unfamiliar pool called “recovery.”  Scary times for all of us, and stories to last a lifetime.  Most of those stories have been told & shared among the family; some stories have yet to be told I’m sure.  Thankfully my brother survived, is married, and has two beautiful daughters!

I learned a lot from the many Al-Anon meetings I attended (both while trying to understand my part in my brother’s addiction, and later my ex-husband’s alcoholism).  One thing I still struggle with is this term:  Detachment.  What does it really mean?  Every time I think about this word I get a visual of my childhood Barbie and how I could easily detach her limbs.  No blood.  No pain.  And I could just as easily re-attach the limbs if one of my siblings happened to dismember her in an effort to upset me.  I was not usually so easily upset.  I knew how to perform “Barbie Surgery” and save her!  Twelve Step Programs talk about “detachment,” and recently I’ve been thinking about this practice again.  Unfortunately, this kind of detachment can be painful.

I found a very inspiring article called “The Art of Detachment” by Eknath Easwaren where he talks about detachment in a variety of relationships.  His insight into this thing that I have always found to be an annoying paradox, suddenly clicked with me and made sense.  I think my misunderstanding of “detachment” is why I’ve always cringed whenever my mother tells me I have to “detach” from things & people that totally frustrate, anger, and upset me so.  “I’m an emotional artist; I can’t just turn my feelings on & off,” I would say to her.  That’s where I’ve been mistaken all along.  Detachment has less to do with my feelings, and more to do with “withdrawing desire from lesser things, letting them fall away, so as to harness their power to reach the heights of what a human being can attain.”  Easwaren creates a beautiful analogy to the rocket boosters used to launch ships into space.  The space ship uses the energy from the heavy rockets, but then dumps the weight so it can achieve orbit!

One of the things I learned from my week spent in family therapy at the re-hab center my brother finally entered, is that detachment from the disease of addiction was what I needed to do in order to find serenity. Well, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  An excellent prayer for anyone who finds themselves neck-deep in just about anything life throws at us!  Well, I’m up to my eyeballs in life, and yet another period of discernment, and I find myself in need of a little detachment.  Detachment from my job, my possessions, and my self-doubt.  I wonder though, could it be that the act of detaching is also linked to the act of connecting?

My mother often said that change in life is like what the trapeze artist has to do.  He or she has to let go of one bar & be air-born and detached for a brief moment before catching the next bar.  It’s scary, but you can’t get from one side of the Big Top to the other without letting go.  Sooner or later you just have to trust that the other trapeze bar will be there when you let go of the one you’re hanging on to.  HA!  Just when I thought my mother couldn’t possibly teach me anything more, I go and recall this trapeze analogy from my twenties!  Some lessons we keep learning over & over again, I guess.

So here’s what’s been on my mind:

Working for peace and justice has always been a big part of my life, and for the last few years it has become the major driving force of my life.  So, what now?  It’s not in my wiring to learn about social injustices & then just go about my daily life; business as usual.  In his article Easwaren quotes Buckminster Fuller, “We are not nouns,” he says pointedly; “we are verbs.”  Easwaren explains, “Those who keep trying to get closer to others, to understand and appreciate them more all the time, are verbs: active, creative, dynamic, able to change themselves and to make changes in the world they live in.

I need to be more actively, creatively, and dynamically engaged in being (as Gandhi so famously stated) “the change I want to see in the world.”  I’m trying to figure out what form this will take on and in what direction I am being drawn.  As Fr. Richard Rohr explains in so many of his writings and talks, this “second half of life” stuff can be painful.  Not exactly “Barbie surgery.”  Grrrrr!  Fr. Rohr says that people who become transformed and begin the journey of the second half of life tend to lose friends.  Funny, that’s what 12-step programs say, too.  You cannot engage in recovery while still associating with those who are still actively engaged in addictive behavior.  You’ll never leave the launch pad, let alone achieve orbit!

As I work on learning the art of detachment, and withdrawing from lesser things, I will keep my heart open to other possibilities.  There’s another deep and unfamiliar pool up ahead; God, grant me the courage to take the plunge!

Building Peace One Recipe at a Time

Last Thursday my tiny kitchen was full of the energy, delight & pure joy of a great bunch of women.  I invited members of my milk co-op over for an afternoon of cheese-making.  What fun!

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Homemade Mozzarella Cheese!

Some of them had been asking me to do this since last year.  We all make an effort to lead more conscious, sustainable and healthy lives, and we all readily share our tips, tricks, and all the latest homesteading info.  I’ve been getting to know these ladies over the last 18 months, and I figured now was a good time to share my cheese-making know-how (I’ve had over a year of practice).  School’s finally out and so my house has been cleared of the last 5 months of dust, webs, & the accumulated piles of junk (my annual end-of-the-school-year-clean & purge!).  I can once again fearlessly welcome people into my home.  Hello, Summer!

In reflecting on this day of cheese-making fun I found it to have a much deeper and richer significance.  This was peace-building at its most basic level:  Relationships (in this link note Joan B. Kroc Institute’s #6, and 8-10, as well as JP Lederach’s definitions of peace-building.)!  Everything anyone ever learns about peace-building or how to lead a more mindful, non-violent, and loving life learns that building relationships leads to peaceful solutions that are more sustainable.  Number 8 in the Joan B. Kroc Institute’s list (see above link) is what happened in my kitchen the other day.  Of course bombs, drones, or terrorists weren’t threatening our lives or the mozzarella, but we were engaged in an activity that connected us all in a very human, non-violent way.  And we were certainly communicating!

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“8.  Peacebuilding creates spaces where people interact in new ways, expanding experience and honing new means of communication.”

I would’ve bet good money that you couldn’t fit six women in my itty-bitty 4×6′ kitchen, yet there we were; huddled around my stove like a Norman Rockwell painting peering into a pot of raw milk which was turning into mozzarella cheese before our very eyes in only 30 minutes! Magic!

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Mozzarella cheese curds!

I firmly believe that we humans need more of this kind of thing.  We need to create opportunities to interact with one another in sharing, caring, community building.  This requires that we again step out of our “comfort zone” and invite people into our homes, into our lives, and into a new way of thinking.  It isn’t easy, but it is possible; perhaps just one recipe at a time.

Is there something you know how to do that you can share?  Think about it & then invite some people over.  Trust me… You’ll have a ball & wonder why you didn’t do this sooner!

Archbishop Romero’s Call to Serve

This week marks the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I find that the more I read and learn about horrific wars, massacres, and violence in places like El Salvador, Colombia, Syria, Venezuela, the Middle East, and the many other places both in the news and those suffering silently beyond the media spotlight, the more I doubt myself. I doubt that I can have any affect on any of it. I feel hopeless some days, and frustrated at the complacency of the people around me. I also feel a great sense of sadness and shame for being a citizen of a nation in the grip of a culture of violence and whose government is obsessed with war: The United States of America.

In a post by Pax Christi, this quote by Romero hits home for me:

“There is no doubt whatsoever that here there is no room for neutrality. We are either at the service of the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. And it is here that we are faced with the most fundamental reality of the historical mediation of faith: either we believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

There is no room for “neutrality.”  I like Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-31), and I believe we are all indeed parts of the one body, but with different gifts and functions, yet I struggle within myself on what God has planned for me.  I have been blessed with many gifts, but I still struggle with how best to use them.  As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 13 (the famous “love is patient, love is kind” discourse), I do not want to be just another “resounding gong,” and yet, so often, I feel like a voice in the wilderness that no one hears.  So how can I help end violence & injustice in the world?  How can I help & be of service to my brothers & sisters in need?

Perhaps it all boils down to that pesky thing we call “free-will.”  What do I choose for myself?  If, as Romero put it, I believe in a “God of life” (and I do!), then I choose life.  I choose life, love, and compassion!  I know that I can only change myself, and I think that’s how nonviolent leaders like Romero help bring about systemic changes.  By changing my response to the “idols of death,” I pray that my life may be an affirmation of nonviolence and love, too.  As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sums it up, “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Giving-up on New Year Resolutions

I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, the end of the year lends itself quite easily to reflection on the important events, milestones, successes and failures, improvements and shortcomings of the year, but I take a different approach to resolutions.  Reflection, or contemplation, should be something we do throughout the year.  Kinda like that sentiment “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.”  Why wait until the end of the year to consider improving some aspect of our lives?  Being a long time procrastinator I began to see the “New Year’s Resolution” phenomenon as just another gimmick imposed upon us by our consumer driven society.  It’s been about 20 years since I resolved to give-up making New Year’s Resolutions for Lent!

Yep.  You guessed it:  I don’t “give-up” anything for Lent, either!  It’s the same thing.  We vow to give-up something, only to fall into the same old ways or habits a few weeks or months later.  My parish priest often says that giving up something like smoking for Lent is certainly noble, but it often makes one cranky.  And then when Easter rolls around they buy a carton & smoke up a storm!  Not exactly the right message, and there’s no real change.  How many times do we make resolutions only to break them or fail to complete them?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t need new reasons to feel defeated & inadequate at the beginning of a New Year!  Why torture myself?

Instead, I try to reflect on my life as it happens.  If something isn’t working in my life, I reflect on it right then & there, whether it’s January 1st or August 27th!  I think it’s human nature to look at what to “cut” from our lives, but oftentimes we forget to consider what to “add” to our lives to make them fuller, richer, and more meaningful.  And, I don’t mean that in a self-centered way, but in a more connected way.  How does my life impact the lives of others?  How can I become a more positive, loving, peaceful, mindful being? How do my behaviors, attitudes, and understandings need to grow or change?

Recently I created a list of 10 Things To Do To Improve the Environment to be shared with my Adrian Dominican Community.  Not surprisingly, there are many top-10 style lists out there on the topic of Climate Change, Global Warming, and Carbon Footprint.  What caught my eye today is a new top-14 list from the FoodTank, a Food Think Tank.  There are lots of good suggestions out there for those of us who still need to make New Year’s Resolutions and are looking for something more connected than the customary “exercise more” or “clean out the garage” (yeah, mine’s a mess & I probably do need to do more sit-ups!).

Happy New Year, everyone!

So, here’s my list with a few good links:

(And Minimize Your Carbon Footprint)

1. Eliminate plastic from your life. Plastic is everywhere and it can be overwhelming when considering the number of products, household items, appliances, techno-devices, and everyday items that are made using plastics. Don’t despair! Check-out this link and do something each day, week, or month to start your journey to a “Plastic-free Life!” http://plasticfreeguide.com
2. Bring your own reusable bags. You know you should use them, but you always forget to bring them into the store. Here’s a tip: keep them on the front seat or in the trunk of the car. You’ve developed many other good habits, this is just one more. And don’t just bring them to the grocery store. Bring them when you shop for clothing, shoes, and other regular needs. This act alone will inspire others in the check-out line to do the same!
3. Bring your own containers. How often do you find yourself at a restaurant asking for a box for your unfinished meal? For me the answer is, “Always!” You know those bags for groceries you started keeping in the trunk? Keep reusable containers there, too. Styrofoam is equally as bad as plastic and you probably have more Tupperware than you know what to do with. Why not keep some in the trunk “just in case?”
4. Pack your lunch. This makes so much sense on many levels! Here’s just one link with some creative ideas from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/15-fresh-brown-bag-lunch-ideas. We’re all busy, but by preparing meals just once or twice a week you’ll not only save time & money, you’ll help the environment in many ways. No gas is used by you or the delivery person, no take-out packaging, and you probably won’t throw away any uneaten food.
5. Plan your trips. Until the transportation industry changes over to more sustainable & affordable vehicles, we’re stuck with cars that burn fossil fuels. Yuck! You can minimize your gas consumption by planning & limiting your daily or weekly trips. Here is a link to a site with even more tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint at home, work, when traveling, & more: http://www.carbonfund.org/reduce
6. Use cloth napkins. Make every meal a special occasion! You can even make your own napkins from cheap remnants at your local fabric store. It takes less water to wash that cloth napkin than it did to make that 500 count package of paper napkins (even if it is recycled paper). Also consider the plastic that those paper napkins are wrapped in!
7. Take back the tap! Food & Water Watch has everything you need to kick that bottled water habit! If you are in charge of planning meetings or events, consider using drinking glasses and pitchers of water instead of those wasteful & expensive water bottles. Do the math: We pay more for bottled water than we do for gasoline! http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/take-back-the-tap/
8. Open the windows, or close them. We live in a world of extreme weather and record-breaking temperatures, thanks in no small part to climate change. If you live in a home or apartment where you can open & close windows, you can cut your electric bill in half. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with a dad who was well known for shouting, “Close the door! We’re not heating the neighborhood!” And a mother who was fond of saying “If you’re cold, put on a sweater. If you’re hot, take it off!”
9. Eat & shop locally & seasonally. Find your local Farmers Market and make it your weekly trip for seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of the produce at the supermarket is shipped from other countries & is out of season for the region we may live in. By shopping locally and eating seasonally you are helping the local economy as well as the environment. It’s easy to buy large quantities of fruits and vegetables from your local farmer and freeze them or “put them up” like we used to do.
10. Shop with purpose. This last one addresses social justice issues as well as the environmental impact factor, and so it makes the list for many reasons. Read labels & know who makes your clothing! NPR’s “Planet Money” recently produced a story that tracked the production of a t-shirt. Not only does it address the very human side of our purchases, but it also shines a light on the environmental impact of the journey across continents and oceans that these goods make before landing in our shopping carts.