Delving Deeper Into My Spirituality and God

Lenten season is upon us once again and as we have begun, I’ve noticed a similar theme crop up in a couple of places and it’s had me thinking, how is my relationship with God at the moment? Am I letting Him in, and growing? Or am I going through my busy life with time only for church on Sunday and prayers for sick ones, people I’m concerned for, guidance for myself? That type of superficial relationship is not what fills me up the best. Am I listening to Him? Are you?

The first quote that resonated with me was posted on social media by a friend:

When I was younger, I thought Lent was about giving up something I liked and that was it.

As I’ve grown older, I pray now, “Jesus, what’s keeping me from you?” Usually, I already know the answer. It’s usually the one thing, action, or thought I don’t want to give up.

But every time I do give something up, or take on something else, allowing and inviting Jesus the time and space to change me, I’ve grown in love and sacrifice. “He loved His own in the world, and He loved them to the end.” -John 13:1

He’s longing to love you this Lent.

He’s longing to lead you deeper this Lent.

He’s longing to call you this Lent.

What’s keeping you from Him?

Her comments really hit home and challenged me to look at my life and how I could improve my relationship with God during this Lenten season. This led me to search a few other books, blogs, and videos highlighting Lent as well as my relationship with God.  I found a wonderful video posted which focused on our relationship and how Lent can re-energize our relationship with God.  You can see it at Lent , but be sure to listen to the entire thing or go to about the last minute and a half.  As I’ve been mulling over these in the last 2 days  another voice popped in from a popular blogger I follow, Emily of Jones Design Company. She writes:

In my lifetime of following Jesus, I can only count a few times when I know I’ve heard God speak to me. There are lots of times when He speaks through scripture, music, dreams, conversations or nature. I adore these special moments of closeness and connection.

This time was different.

It wasn’t a conversation or an affirmation. It wasn’t even in response to something I had been talking with Him about. It was a catch-you-off-guard, clear as day directive.

It’s time to write.

I stopped mid-tread, listened, and agreed.

The first two encounters above made me truly consider what is keeping me from allowing me to be closer to my God.  Not just through my actions showing my belief; but also knowing more about Him/Her and especially trusting and allowing Him to really know me.  Offering up the openness in myself to really allow Him to enrich my life and grow in my spirituality, healing; and, in turn, in my own loving, supporting, and giving to others. When I read Emily’s quote it made me wonder whether I’m spending the time to really listen for God, for His word, or for what I’m to learn through different experiences.  In other words, am I responding to my God when He/She is calling me to love me and be with and in relationship.  The question is really one of whether I am allowing intimacy, or deeper intimacy, with God.

What is intimacy with God?  I believe time spent with and quality of that time together with the other(s) are always signs of intimacy in human relationships.  Is this really any different that with God?  I don’t think so.  And in reviewing what others have said I found these additionally:

  1.  There’s an excellent article titled, “5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with God“,  and one suggestion is to “Abide and Meditate”.  This means finding some time for silence each day. Set a time in your schedule–while you have your morning coffee, just before you go to sleep, or sometime in between–that you turn off your devices, pick up the word of God and really read it and ponder it. Maybe a verse, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. Meditate on what you’ve read and really internalize the meaning.

2.  One of my favorite authors is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a Franciscan priest who truly           gave us all a gift when he was shared how Centering Prayer can allow us to enter a           more intimate, and deep, relationship with God through Centering Prayer.  As he said:       “As we move from conversation to communion with God’s human and divine nature,         Christ, we experience the divine intimacy. ” (You can read more about this form of             prayer at Centering Prayer).

3.  The closeness so evident that God hears us before we even turn to Him or know                  what we need:  “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will                  hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

So now I believe some are asking, what does faith have to do with my psychological functioning?  I’m going to take a risk here and say, it has everything to do with our functioning in life emotionally.  When I presented a workshop last year the intersection between the two was clear, it allows us to be whole people.

Spirit and Psych Intersection

If we look at this, we notice that the first item is related to intimacy and authenticity in our relationships.  Thus as we have a lived sense of spirituality, and this means a healthy spiritual practice, then we will experience more intimacy with others as well.  In Lent, a major focus is that of developing our relationships with God and others.  Any tradition can borrow from this, and take on a period of 40 days to focus on our Higher Power, our God. Colleen’s post indicated that her deeper question for this period this year is what is keeping her from accepting God’s love and being more deeply in a relationship with God.  My suggestion for each and every one of you is to ask yourself:

  1.  What is keeping me from a deeper relationship in my spiritual life?  Is it laziness, or is it fear, or is it a lack of awareness of relationship and has become more rote practice?  Or, is it _________________________?  Fill in your own blank.
  2.  What is one step that I can take during this time to grow psychologically and spiritually?  Do I need to spend more time with God in a way that is meaningful to me on a regular basis?  I am committing to go to some Taize prayer services (see Taize Prayer for an idea about these services if you’re interested).  For some this will be through nature.  I loved Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith’s e-Pistle where he recently wrote about nature and God.  In it he was discussing Richard Rohr’s quote:  “Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity–however invisible–have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made” as well as Thomas Acquinas’ quote: “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes–that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.”  So perhaps this can be a way to come closer to your Higher Power, your God, this season.  Or, perhaps it needs to be in centering prayer as I mentioned above.  Or, for does it need to be through gratitude?  This is in part the recognition that your Higher Power is at your side even during the times of difficulty. Whether all is well in life at present or you have challenges you’re facing, God’s plan is in place. Thus focusing on recalling the moments where you have been blessed and offer up thanks.  Again, fill in your own blank here:  The step I will take this Lent to inspire my relationship with God is to ____________________________________.
  3. Am I an active participant in my relationship to God or within my spiritual walk?  Many have written about this and how to be more active.  Perhaps read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller that focuses on how to live in this busy world we have and yet still stay connected with God.  Or, perhaps taking the 7 steps each day that Joyce Rupp talks about, see 7 Steps of Morning .  Maybe it will be watching movies that lead you to deeper awareness of how to be more connected spiritually, like Walking the Camino or The Shack.  Or perhaps looking to music to inspire your spiritual participation with God.  Never tried listening to chants?  Or what about Tibetan bowls?  Or perhaps gospel music is more your speed, but with an Elvis twist:  Lead Me Guide Me  For me, a beautiful classic piece can do it, as can Every Grain of Sand by Bob Dylan and sung by Emmylou Harris at  Every Grain of Sand .Get creative – how can you experience, try new activities to express your feelings or thoughts in relationship with God or in a spiritual manner.  So, answer this question:  I will try a new spiritual practice to become more aware of my participation in relationship to God by ____________________________.

You now have three steps you can take this Lent.  Are you going to use this Lenten season as I am, to delve deeper into your relationship with God? Some focused effort in these coming weeks may really deepen your faith and bring you greater peace. Will you join me?

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Thoughts on love.

Recently I had the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never seen before, the southeast, more specifically, a part of North Carolina. There was a wedding I had great joy in attending, and had a part of my longing for Ireland assuaged…through the friendliness of the people and the beauty in the deep green foliage.  The wedding was so incredibly beautiful in its simplicity that it allowed the love of the couple and the family to truly be hallmark.  So often the love can be secondary to the pomp; although true love shines through if one looks to see it.  As we flew home I had the quiet time to ponder what I had witnessed. In doing so I realized I’d seen love throughout the trip.

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There are likely thousands of definitions of love. Surprisingly, perhaps, I am using a definition by C.S. Lewis for this article: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained”.  At weddings we see affection, but when we can really sit back and watch people over time, we are treated, in specially gifted moments, to glimpses of one acting for another’s ultimate good, as Lewis defined love.  That weekend I saw affectionate love, a mother with her near-toddler away from the group so that he could exercise his need to move and explore. A groom gently stroking his bride’s hand during the ceremony. A mother and father watching their daughter lovingly and then searching for reassurance later that she was included and embraced as family and in family when not near them.  All of these both affectionate, for they each were affected by and with the person of their love; but also reflecting Lewis’s definition that love truly seeks and wishes for the other’s overarching best. The health of the child, the peace in the bride, and the true well-being of the daughter.

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Brene Brown, whose work I find challenging in deep ways each time I hear her words or meditate upon a sentence in one of her books, said “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.  I believe she is speaking of the same love Lewis did. And that weekend I saw the same bride able to be silly and later play spoons with the musicians. Even the musicians, all family and friends, though talented, had safety to be themselves and not have to play or sing perfectly. Such a fun evening!  A friend of the couple willingly made childlike faces with his friends, and walked a little girl around umpteen times to explore and quench her thirst for experience. The mother of the groom stepped back in love and then later reached out to her son in true love for him.  Did each lose something? Yes, but they also gained something bigger in sharing their love. In wanting the best for the other, and in doing so imperfectly and courageously.

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How do you love yourself? On a hike to some waterfalls I enjoyed many, many moments of laughter and sharing with our small group of merry middle-aged folk and one young couple brave enough to venture out with us. (And I’m so glad they did! So much fun to see them together as family and enjoying what for them was one more hike, for me the opportunity to revel in the love they share.)  Yet there was another inner part of me aware of less inner judgment of others, of myself.  Yet I still felt challenged to stop any negative chatter about myself, how I walked, looked, even interacted. At one time in my life I recall this inner chatter wearing me down long before the hike did. But this time I found myself probably at my most self-accepting, able to just pace myself, laugh with others, push on another 20 steps up from Triple Falls, and enjoy the people, the views, the majesty of the mountains and falls, the grandeur of the old and so very tall trees, and the love of the couples surrounding me as each helped the other in some way over the course of a couple of hours.

So this summer I want to challenge each of you to look and really see what is around you. Particularly the love that wants for the well-being of the other, and sometimes in the special presence of affection as well. Do not look only for the love of affection, but also the tougher to find-that love which, over time, allows for courage to be imperfect.  You must, however, start with the courage to be imperfect yourself.  You don’t have to be a concert pianist, in love playing the spoons is quite enough and more beautiful! You don’t have to climb Everest, sometimes hiking in a group of middle-aged or just inexperienced hikers is plenty because it’s time with family. So I want you to grab a pen and paper and fill in the following three blanks for your summer wholeness:

Today I have the courage to acknowledge this piece of imperfection in myself ___________ (name some part that is hard for you to accept) and I promise myself to share it with someone who loves me enough to want for my well-being as far as it can be attained. This person is _____________ .

Today I took the time to appreciate love and beauty around me when I ______________ (where you were or what you were doing).  And I am grateful to have observed love in _____________ (name the situation).

And today through the above I opened myself to take a step beyond fear, into self-love, out to experience love of other, and I showed love and desire for their ultimate well-being to ____________.

Wow! Look at you now! You are closer, even by a bit, to playing the spoons, making a silly face, and being an example of imperfect, courageous, authenticity and love. As John Lennon said: “Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life”. And I believe that is all right back to what C.S. Lewis said happens when we love through a steady wish, a hope, a strongly and long held wish for the ultimate well-being for the other.

Embracing Ourselves

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It’s been a busy few months and I got distracted from this blog; however, it’s been on my mind, and my visit to the Frida and Diego art exhibit yesterday has given me the inspiration needed to pick it up. It was a wonderful visit with some friends, and as I wandered through it I became aware of Frida’s growth over the years. Some of her paintings and dresses were on exhibit as well as photographs by others of her. And while I’m focusing on her, Diego’s work and pictures were exhibited as well.
Frida and Diego were known for their art, relationship, and their politics in Mexico. While I do not believe her lifestyle was necessarily healthy, i.e.: affairs, I do believe her art matured and grew as she did. There are many ways to approach this, but as I considered Frida, her movement from one mastered by Diego and using his art as teacher and model shifted to her own technique and self as more independent of him, while still showing and experiencing love for and from him. One view that struck me at the exhibit, and that shows her dependency was captured by my friend, Dr. Mark Arcuri and was posted above. Here the focus of her quote is on Diego, and all he meant to her. Where is her sense of self, one might ask? While she certainly captures her mother’s background in her clothing, and wears it brilliantly,
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she does still rely on Diego and mother and cultural background to define her. How many of us do that? Truly there is nothing wrong with this…as long as it is defining part, not all of who we are. I am Irish in my mind first culturally, second Polish, and lastly Scottish. I celebrate some holidays in ways that capture these parts of my genetic and cultural background my parents shared with me. I enjoy the many friends that I have, and what time with each means to me, to the fullness of my life, and to what they do in encouraging my growth as a person. And I take hope from my faith and live it through my spiritual walk. So my life and identity follow Frida’s life pattern as most, if not all of us, do.
And yet, I was most struck by a picture of hers from 1949, The Love Embrace of the Universe. The exhibitors describe it as her assimilation of her spiritual beliefs and the embrace similar to that of Mary embracing Christ and simultaneously showing Frida’s minimization of Diego and his influence over her life. This was only 5-6 years before her death, and many years into her relationship. Further, it was during her recovery from a major surgery and is followed by a few years when her art was accepted some on its own merit, not secondarily from Diego’s.
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What this made me reflect on again, was how when we are not relying on others for definition, then we become our own person, and are capable of interdependent relationships. We are able to be held and hold others, as she was in this final picture I shared. And we are experienced and accepted on our merit and being, not as someone’s spouse, sibling, parent, or child. Not that those roles aren’t important, but again, they are but part of the whole package of who we are.
So as I end today, I urge you to consider who you define yourself as, whose life you are following, and what your faith and spirituality do to influence this? Ask yourself, where do I need further definition? Where are my shadows that need light and color to be made a part of the whole of me? And let the last days of spring encourage your growth as sunflowers popping up, being and embracing their being-ness boldly, fully, completely.
Blessings on your journey.
(PS: Interested in the Frida and Diego exhibit? It is at the Heard Museum in Phoenix through August 20, 2017, see http://heard.org/exhibits/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/ or for other locations see http://www.fridakahlo.it/en/eventi.php)

Love is Everywhere

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Valentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. Although originally the focus was on fertility, it later centered on a religious figure, St. Valentine, who was martyred for marrying couples. So although the origin is related to marriage and reproduction, today the focus is more on balloons, chocolate, flowers, and expensive meals out with a loved one. And yet, if we look at the roots, it was as much about love as loneliness. Loneliness is at the roots of couples unable to have children, couples unable to marry due to a decree, and today perhaps an individual who doesn’t fit the advertising world’s view of love in purchases deemed suitable for Valentine’s Day.

What? How can I say that?  Think about the infertile couple who long for children to love. Or, the couple lonely within their relationship. Or, the single of any age who might feel ostracized on a holiday clearly focused on what they are not- a couple. Or the divorcee or recently separated from a partner who misses being in the relationship, or still loves his ex, but instead is alone. What about the person married for 1 or 70 years whose beloved died and long for just one more hug? Or even the person is generally happy and content, but the holiday leaves them feeling something is missing? When you do think of it you realize that when we consider all these people there are a lot who may feel a bit down this week, or a lot down. Perhaps you’re one of them.

I’ve been reading the book, “A Man Called Ove;” he is a man who is feeling desperately alone for many reasons, and we know that clearly people don’t gravitate toward this kind of curmudgeon. And though it’s set in Sweden, where I don’t even know if they celebrate Valentine’s Day; I’m sure he would not have felt very uplifted on this day at many points in his life. I’m not going to give the story away, but suffice it to say he learns, as the back of the book says, “that life is sweeter when it is shared with other people.” And this is the saving grace for many who face a day of loneliness each year…or many lonely days after the loss of a love.

On this day of love—reach out for some philia love, friendship. Call a friend and tell them how important they are to you. Give them a Valentine’s card for friends. Remember the exchanges in elementary school? When they weren’t unhealthy competitions, they were about sharing good thoughts with each other. Do that as an adult. Have nieces and nephews? Do they know you care about them? Tell them on this day. Write one to yourself-remind yourself of your good points. Cuddle your pet-give them an extra treat on this day. Plant a small houseplant to celebrate life. Put it in a red or pink pot to remind yourself of your friends all year.

All of the ideas will focus you on the love you do have. And love is everywhere … even when we don’t feel it … Just look around. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Reflecting on summer and life-long relationships

While walking on the beach of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego I had the opportunity to collect and marvel over many beautiful shells. Each shell was unique in color, shape, texture, scent. One in particular reminded me of a part of Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “It (the shell) was handed to me by a friend. One does not often come across such a perfect double-sunrise shell. Both halves of this delicate bivalve were exactly matched. Each side, like the wing of a butterfly, was marked with the same patterns; translucent white, except for three rose rays that fanned out from the golden hinge binding the two together… I wonder how the fragile perfection survived the breakers on the beach. Isn’t the same true of our closest relationships, and in particular those with our partners?

When we are in an intimate relationship, be it a friendship or love relationship, that relationship is subject to the crash of the sea waves, the intensity of a summer sun, the weathering of rough winds. And yet, it is not unusual for us to spend less time, effort, and concern in protecting this relationship than we spend taking care of our homes.

In relationships with close friends and lovers we work together, play together, cry together. The seas, however, can crush upon us. Disagreements, dashed plans, separations, disappointments, differing life paths cause the shells of our friendships to be changed as the water and weather change the shells we collect on the sand. The intensity of summer sun also burns us individually and in relationships over the years. The hours working together strain, the illnesses worry, the changes in each bring fear for the survival of the relationship. And, the winds of life whip us. These are times we choose to be present and close for the other as confidante, gentle helper, encourager.

While summer storms do threaten to break our shells Lindbergh reminds us: “it (change) moves us to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome.” This fall, pick up the shells of your relationships and brush them off. Wash the sand off the delicate patterns engraved over the years. Celebrate their beauty and commit again to keep the shell. As Heller quotes 53 year old Roberto in Little Lessons of Love: “love endures because you want it to, not by accident”. That’s the most important thing to remember.