The Fire of the Holy Spirt

We have a Faith Sharing Group at my church that meets monthly. The facilitator appointed for the month chooses the topic, presents some information about it, and leads the group discussion. The topic for this month was: “Who is this Holy Spirit?” After our meeting last week, I have been paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Early on, in out time together, I related to the group how God uses synchronicity to get my attention–well, on Tuesday three of my readings–not one but three–spoke of the fire of God–the Holy Spirit. Talk about synchronicity!

The daily lectionary called for Psalms 94 & 95 which spoke of the refining fire of God’s love in Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying–nothing new there, of course.

But then I opened Thomas Keating’s Journey to the Center: A Lenten Passage that I am using during Lent. His prayer at the end of his daily meditation that day : “O Holy Spirit, infinite outpouring of the Love of the Father and the Son, soothe the wounds the refining fire of your Love has cauterized.” Okay, I get it–there’s something here for me.

Then I turned to Macrina Wiederkehr’s Seasons of the Heart: Prayers and Reflections (the book that recently unexpectedly fell off the shelf onto the floor for some unknown reason–see “graniathreads” below, Feb.15, for details). I read her reflection on Luke12:49-50 entitled “Fire on Earth,” p136ff. She says: “Fire burns and purifies. It destroys. It warms and it transforms. The transforming fire [the Holy Spirit] Jesus wants to cast on the earth cannot be received without pain. Whatever God’s fire touches will be changed. I long for the fire of God as much as I dread it. Who can bear such transformation? Who can be satisfied with trivia after being burned with this baptism of fire?” After her prose reflection, she shares a meditative poem, the last stanza here:

“I am called to the same vocation [see scripture cited above],

the same bath of fire waits for me,

the same God calls out  to me.

I placed you here

to light a fire on the earth

O how I wish the flames

were already leaping

But you have a  baptism

to receive

and like me

You’ll be restless

until it’s over.”

By that point, I felt sure some fiery ordeal was on the way, but then on Wednesday in Nan’s Psalms for Praying, I found comforting words in the portion of 119 appointed for the day in the lectionary:

“Be not afraid of Love’s touch,

the Fire that consumes all dross;

For love is the great transformer,

burning away false ways of the past,

and filling hearts with Light.

Awaken to the Indwelling Presence of the Beloved!

Envision the Beauty that Love brings forth.”

I am in awe of these messages that I recognize have my name on them. I trust that God’s grace is sufficient for me as I look forward to what Divine Love will bring forth in my life.

The Power of Acceptance of What Is

There’s a woman I see from time to time who tends to rub me the wrong way. Whenever we are together, her conversation revolves around instructing me on how to do common, ordinary things. She might, for example, go into great detail explaining how to mash potatoes. I have generally inferred that she must think I’m incredibly stupid not to know how to do whatever is the topic of the moment and have felt put down by what I perceive as her superior attitude. Needless to say, I have not looked forward to our visits.  Recently, as I was praying for her on her birthday, I felt led to forgive her for all the pain she’s caused me over the years–and then to pray the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book: “Forgive us for the hurts we absorb from one another.” How healing that was! How freeing! The very next day as I opened Wrinkles Don’t Hurt: Daily Meditations on the Joy of Aging Mindfully by Ruth Fishel which a dear freind gave me, I read: “I can have problems and, by accepting them, come to a place of balance, contentment, and even joy.” I realized that was how I felt about her at long last. How grateful I am for God’s healing grace enabling me to accept her as she is in all God’s glory. Now I can’t wait to see her again.

To make sure I got it, a few days later I was provided with the opportunity to accept another person in my life just as that person is, a precious child of God. We seldom, if ever, do things the same way, and that tends to ruffle both our feathers. When I realized the power that my acceptance could have in that particular situation, I could relax and let it be. I was no longer bristling. I was at peace. How different from my usual reaction of anger and frustration!

I came to realize that when I can accept each and all as they are, warts and all,when I no longer look at everything from my self-centered perspective, there is no longer a need for forgiveness on my part. There is nothing to forgive. My eyes were opened to see that is God’s way of unconditional love.

Here I Am

In midlife, when my relationship with God began to grown deepen, I found the Holy One reaching me through books. Since I am  a voracious reader–my husband claims I have a hungry eye–that should not be surprising because God reaches us where we are, as we are. First one book and then another would come my way. In reading one, I’d see a quote from another author that would speak to me, and then a book by that author would appear. I’d get absorbed in one author’s books for a while, and then another author would get my attention. Spiritual friends and guides would mention something, and I’d recognize it had my name on it. I’d wander into a book store with nothing in mind, and a book would call my name. That continues, but over the years the pace has slowed.

The process was so powerful, so clear for me, I somehow assumed that was the way God worked in everyone’s life. I was dismayed to think that those who didn’t read would be stuck right where they were. Fortunately the Beloved pulled me up short and made it clear to me that while I got books, others got creation, or music, or whatever they needed to open their eyes to see God’s love at work in their lives. We are all unique, and God does indeed meet us where we are, as we are. Thank Goodness!

In sharing my story with others over the years, I would often say something to the effect that the book just jumped off the shelf into my hands–a metaphor, of course. Then a few days ago, I was sitting at my computer, typing up a document–certainly a quiet activity. The house was still, nothing shaking the foundations, when all of a sudden a book fell off a nearby bookshelf onto the floor in front of my feet. I was stunned! It didn’t seem possible. There was no apparent cause. Because I was well aware of having used the above metaphor, I knew I’d have to pay attention to that book. I picked it up and discovered it was Seasons of the Heart: Prayers and Reflections by Macrina Wiederkehr that I had first read in 1998. I don’t yet know what this book has for me, but I trust it’s what I need right now. Since it’s the beginning of Lent, I’m adding it to my spiritual reading for this season. She’s divided her book into five spiritual seasons: Wonder, Hope, Love, Mystery, and Faith. Focusing on a season a week will take me up to Holy Week. I look forward to the gifts it will have for me.

Right away I started reading the Introduction and found something I can use in the Quiet Morning I’m offering to my church this coming Saturday. I doubt the book fell off the shelf just for that, however, so we shall see. It’s exciting to anticipate what may come forth.

First One Thing and Then Another

Some years ago, our priest and a group of parishioners were discussing ways to help the congregation grow deeper spiritually. Various ideas were tossed around, and I volunteered to organize a column in our monthly newsletter where folks could share spiritual practices that fed them and how others could participate. The column is called “Try It–You’ll Like It.” I have recruited folks that I knew had a particular spiritual practice; I asked others who I thought demonstrated the power of some spiritual practice in their lives. Some readily agreed; some said they’d love to, but not now; some just sent one in on their own. When I couldn’t find someone to write the column, I’d share my personal spiritual practices or descriptions of traditional Christian spiritual practices.

My Advent spiritual practice this year focused on the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s (SSJE) word and picture for the day and journaling with my reflection. When I received the flyer with the meditative photographs, I found enclosed a lovely book mark with a picture of their prayer desks on one side and on the other a brief description of what “Living a Rule of Life” entails. Because I am committed to a rule of life as an associate of the Community of the Holy spirit, it resonated with me. Since I didn’t have anyone scheduled for our January “Try It” column, I decided to use it to inspire others. Their rule had five foundation stones: Worship, Prayer, Retreat, Giving, and Service. The description of each stone concluded with a question designed to encourage one to reflect on how it applied personally.

The question in the Service stone section, “How is God calling you to use your gifts, abilities, and interests in the service of others?” struck me. I know I’m slowing down as I age; my energy and stamina are not what they were 20 years ago, but I still have much to offer. As I continued to let the call soak in, I noted the “Retreat’ stone mentioned Quiet Days for those unable to make a lengthy retreat. I have enjoyed giving Quiet Days over the last 25 years, but preparing for one takes a lot of time and energy–more that I have to give right now. Then I remembered a resource I have used for monthly personal quiet days. As I thought about how I might use it for others, I began to get excited.

The book was right on my shelf waiting for me. I picked it up and refreshed my memory. It looked perfect for what I had in mind–just a quiet morning at the church, where the inscribed banner just below the ceiling announces that “The Lord is in his holy temple.” I’d provide the time, the place, and the resources and trust God to do the rest. My priest happily agreed with my idea and offered to copy the resources for us to use. I know few people are interested in spending  a couple of hours in silence, listening to what God has prepared for them, but I also know some are. I trust the Beloved to bring those who need to join me in devoting time and attention to God in this way.

Our January newsletter has an article describing the Quiet Mornings scheduled on the third Saturday of each month throughout 2016, inviting those who feel the nudge of God to come and see if it has their name on it. I can’t wait to see what God has in mind as I am led from one thing to another.



A Lesson from My Knockout Roses

We have a semi-circular driveway, in the arc of which is a bed of knockout rose bushes. Small-leaf ivy that we brought back from our Assisi pilgrimage years ago forms a ground cover beneath them. A while back we had a worker weed and trim back the ivy, and in so-doing, unbeknownst to us, he apparently disturbed the watering system for the roses. Time went by, and I began to notice my roses were not looking as hale and hearty as usual. I thought perhaps it was the shorter days  with the approaching fall that was affecting them, and let it go. When I go out for the newspaper in the morning, I give the roses and encouraging word, but before long, I saw the blossoms were dying and few buds were sprouting to replace them.  Then one morning as I went out, I discovered one of the hoses was watering the driveway–not the rose bed–and finally realized what must have happened. I reported the problem to my husband who set about remedying the situation. My roses have perked up, and new buds are opening up all over the place.

One afternoon recently, as I was sitting on the swing on the front porch enjoying the breeze and noticing the roses’ rejuvenation, I realized what a metaphor they are for the spiritual life. We need the living water flowing up from our Divine Source day by day to keep us growing and blooming. When we neglect our watering system, we can begin to dry up and wither away. The water still flows, but if it is being wasted on our unproductive “driveway”, we get no benefit from it. It is up to each of us to pay attention to our watering system, our time spent with the Holy One, if we want to continue to bloom where we re planted, to share our roses with the world.

Ruminations on Pilgrimage

My priest has been away a couple of weeks leading a small group from our church on pilgrimage to Iona in Scotland. I would loved to have gone with them, but I recognize the reality of my physical limitations. On uneven surfaces, I am so unstable on my feet that I could never manage the roughness of Iona. I remember 20 years ago when we went on pilgrimage to the Celtic Christian sites in Ireland, even then I had a hard time with the Pilgrim Way at Glendalough, the rocky hillsides on the Aran Islands, the mountain slope of Croagh Patrick.

As I have been praying for the group, my thoughts have gone to my pilgrimage experiences, to Assisi in ’89 and the one mentioned above in ’95, both led by folks from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, DC. Each day was enfolded in prayer as we started each morning with prayer and information about the sites scheduled for the day and each evening gathering to share our experiences and closing with prayer, with communion held here and there along the way. Two services continue to stand out in my memory. In Italy, one mid-day we stopped beside a large lake–I don’t remember its name. For some reason the sight (that spelling is intended) spoke to me of the Lake of Galilee. I could see Jesus in the boat with his disciples sailing in the distance as we shared our bread and wine. The other was on the west coast of Ireland at a Catholic Church in Ballintubber, one of the traditional stops for pilgrims making their way to Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St. Patrick once spent the 40 days of Lent. The stone church was lovely, but it was the priest’s hospitality that impressed me, welcoming a non-Roman group led by Episcopal priests and allowing them to use the altar to celebrate eucharist for us was such an unexpected gesture of Christian love! The Church was encircled with a garden walk featuring niches with large, three-dimensional stations of the cross with statuary–not mere plaques or pictures. If I were ever to go to Ireland again, I’d go there just to walk those stations of the cross, so awe-inspiring were they.

It is the people you meet on pilgrimage, both in your group and along the way, who frame your experience. I suspect the folks in one’s group are called by God to experience the pilgrimage together, to bless one another, to stretch one another, to comfort and uphold one another, to open one’s eyes to our own foibles and failures. Accepting that we are all in different places in our spiritual journeys makes it easier to love our neighbors as they are and to trust they can accept us as well (whether we are on pilgrimage or not). Intention is an important aspect of pilgrimage; one’s intention to be open and present to the gifts of the day makes a difference in one’s reactions to what comes along. All is not always smooth; one’s expectations are not always met, but God is in the midst of it all, bringing us each and all where we need to be. On each of our pilgrimages someone slipped and broke an ankle. Both accidents were near the end of the trips, and the women were able to fly home with us. In Italy, it was our last day in Rome when an elderly pilgrim–probably about the age I am now– tripped on a step in the hotel lobby. She was rushed to the hospital for treatment and returned to her room in the hotel for the night–unable to attend the final group banquet. She and I had made a spiritual connection during the trip so I stayed with her. She lived in California, and the following year she visited us at our home here. We continued to keep in touch for several years until her death. What a gift she was to me! The other accident occurred on the Aran Islands where a much younger woman, probably around 50, lost her footing on a rocky hillside and had to be air-lifted by helicopter to the mainland for treatment. With lots of help from her fellow pilgrims, crutches, and our bus driver, she was able to make it to our final banquet at an Irish castle and to the airport home the next day. It was not the way either of them expected their pilgrimage to end–they learned the hard way the truth of the words of the hymn: “God will take care of you, thru every day, o’er all the way, God will take care of you.” I trust that every day of my life!

One of the insights that has come to mind as I have been pondering pilgrimage is the bigger picture–that all of life is a pilgrimage from the heart of God in the beginning back home to God as our earthly pilgrimage ends. That, of course, is not original with me, but it speaks to me in a new way today. I hear God tell Moses to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground–and I know we are too. Wherever we are, we are standing on holy ground consecrated by our Creator in divine Love. This holy place of pilgrimage is intended to open our eyes to God’s Love, our ears to God’s Word, our hearts to recognize and receive God’s Grace. May it be so for each and all the pilgrims around the world who are journeying with us here and now.

Starting the Day with Gratitude

Recently, a dear friend gave me a book of daily meditations entitled  Wrinkles Don’t Hurt: Daily Meditations on the Joy of Aging Mindfully by Ruth Fishel, with delightful line drawing illustrations by Bonny Van de Kamp. Each day’s reading starts with a short quote from someone famous, followed by a couple of short paragraphs relating to the subject  by the author or perhaps one of her friends, and ends with a statement of how the author feels after applying what she has suggested to the reader. The simple illustrations on most every page elicit smiles and make me think that even I might be able to draw like that.

On July 23rd, Fishel recommended a spiritual practice that I started in my journal that day. Her message:

” ‘If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it is enough.’ Meister Eckhart

“Dr. Daniel Amien found that when depressed patients daily wrote five things for which they were grateful, they actually needed less antidepressant medication. Other studies have shown that people who express gratitude on a regular basis are healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others.

“Could it possibly that easy? Why not start today and practice this for a week or a month and see if you feel different from when you began.

“I love how I feel when I start my day with gratitude.” 

It’s been interesting to see how my list changes from day to day. Some days it is more general; some days more specific. Some days they are very similar; some days something very different rises up for me. Most days my list starts with the gift of life, breath, health, followed by love, God’s love, family love, maybe my love for a specific one that day. Weather usually shows up somewhere: sunshine or rain, storm clouds, thunder and lightning, along with sunrises and sunsets, moon sets and stars. If I’m reading a book that particularly speaks to me in some way, the author will likely show up on my list. As I’ve noted before, I use Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying as part of my daily meditations, and she frequently shows up in my jousrnal as I thank God for bringing her into my life. Sometimes I am grateful for an opportunity that is scheduled for the day–the Faith Sharing Group at my church is an example. Other times, when I realize that God has used me in some way for another, I’ll note that experience in my list. Some days my gratefulness list includes eyes to see and ears to hear, for recognizing the synchronicity of two (or more) unrelated things that speak to me in a meaningful way, for the comfort,  strength, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit making the Divine manifest in my life.

While I agree with Fishel that wrinkles don’t hurt and there is joy in the aging process, I have yet to find myself being grateful for the physical changes that come with it. On the other hand, I am always grateful when someone notices a difficulty I’m having and rushes to help so maybe that experience needs to go on list the next day–if I remember it.

A few years ago, I discovered David Steindl-Rast’ book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness and his website so regularly expressing my gratefulness to God is not a new idea. I am, however, always glad to find a different spiritual practice to liven up my time with the Beloved. I find this practice to be another way to count my blessings, to be aware of how God is at work in creation, in the world, in my life.

A Day on Retreat

Last week a friend asked if I were still posting on my blog. I took that as a nudge to get back to it, but what to write about? The most recent way God has been working in my life is making possible my annual directed retreat–obviously that is what I need to share.

One morning while I was on retreat, I was sitting outside in the dappled shade beside the water garden–a lovely  fountain bubbling up as a spring, flowing over rocks and dropping over a stone outcropping into a pool that returns underground to the fountain–surrounded by lush plants and large trees. Listening to the flowing water was peaceful, contributing to my contemplative mood. I felt a breath of breeze wafting by, bringing to mind ruach, God’s Holy Spirit moving over the waters of chaos in the beginning. Yellow butterflies were flitting here and there. As I sat there enjoying the gift of God’s creation, it came to me that “flitting” is a way of work for some, that “flowing” is a way of work for others–a new thought for me to ponder.

As I rose to go inside I saw a blue jay’s feather on the path. When I bent to pick it up, I was reminded of Hildegard of Bingen’s metaphor of being “a feather on the breath of God.” Ruach, breath, wind, Spirit, “the wind blows where it will” (Jn.3:8)–what an affirmation of my trust in God’s work in my life! While I had been sitting with my journal open in my lap, the breeze had blown it open to my entry on 6/30 where I had copied a quote from “God said:  . . . The confidence you have is a quiet assurance. Trust. A Trust in God, a Trust in Yourself, a Trust in the Energy of the Universe. I will go so far as to say it is simply Trust, not so much in something or anything, simply an Overall Trust, a Reserve of Trust. Fear and weariness and worry fade away. They don’t have the presence they once had. As you become simply closer to Me and you see we are already melded into Oneness, the Presence you have known as God becomes more of an Omnipresence to you. You don’t achieve it. You don’t attain it. You don’t figure it out. You see it, feel it, this Oneness. You recognize it. Perhaps you recognize it as when you recognize , as a child without effort, that your hand is connected to your arm and your fingers are connected to your hand and so forth. There has to have been that  moment. You don’t have to remember that moment.”

I have long known the truth of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths.” Over and over in my life, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness have strengthened my trust and enabled me to know that God’s grace is sufficient for me no matter the circumstances. I didn’t achieve it. I didn’t attain it. It is gift, absolute grace.

At Night Prayers that evening, we sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” Isaac Watts version of the 23rd Palm. The last verse especially touched my heart:

“The sure provisions of my God

Attend me all my days;

O may your house be my abode,

and all my work be praise!

There would I find a settled rest,

While others go and come,

No more a stranger or a guest;

But like a child at home.”

The previous day while reflecting on a passage from Ephesians, the phrase “Household of God” had gotten my attention. It spoke to me of how much more relevant that image is to me than the “Kingdom of God.” It is more intimate and speaks to my personal relationship with the Holy One “in whom I live and move and have my being.” (Acts 17:28) Because it became a catch-word for me during the retreat, the tenor of Watts’ words:” your house be my abode . . . there would I find a settled rest . . . like a child at home.” was comforting, wrapping up the day in a healing balm.

God is good, providing just what we need when we need it. Never doubt it.

A Gift of Love

My husband did not have a very good morning. We arose at 5:00 a.m. to make it on time for his MRI in a city 75 miles away. That’s early for us. Since he had to go fasting, he was unable to take his morning pills, and as a result, his body chemistry was not happy. Following the test, we went to get breakfast so he could take his medications. After eating, we sat in the car in front of the restaurant as he organized and consumed his medications. I sat quietly and looked out the window to see a busy squirrel at the base of a big tree that was shading our car. As I watched the squirrel scurry here and there in search of a treasure, he settled on a spot that seemed promising to him and began digging in the mulch. The more he dug, the more energetically he dug. I assumed he was getting whiffs of what he was looking for. Soon the hole was almost big enough for his head, and he must have discovered what he was searching for. He would stick his head in the hole and come back out chewing and immediately start digging again even faster. He did that several times, and now his head was almost completely inside the hole. He stuck his head in as far as he could and started wiggling it around. When he pulled ihis head out this time, he had a nut in his mouth. He took it in his paws and nibbled a bit before quickly scampering away.

Now my husband loves squirrels. As a boy he rescued one that had fallen out of its nest and kept it for a pet until it was able to survive on its own. He fed it peanut butter and carried it in his shirt pocket everywhere he went, to school, to church–to the consternation of the adults in charge, no doubt. I knew he would be delighted to see this one, but he didn’t want to be disturbed while he was concentrating, so I watched for him.

When he finshed what he was doing, I told him I had a story for him, and I described the squirrel’s antics to him. He was delighted with the story, and his day brightened up. Whether it was the food, the medications, or my squirrel story, who’s to say? I choose to believe it was my story that made the difference.

And I know I was inspired by Love to pay attention to the details of the squirrel’s activity so I’d have the story to offer.

Light out of Darkness

Last fall I published a post on “Grieving” about my sadness in reaction to my “soul sister’s” diagnosis with Alzheimer’s and her move back home to be near her family. Over the past months she has been in my thoughts and prayers as I have wondered how she was getting along. Another friend and I have been talking about going to visit her, but something always seems to keep us from getting on the road. Then yesterday I got a call from my “soul sister’s” husband saying they were in town, and she’d like to come over to visit if it were convenient. If it were convenient? I would have dropped everything for the opportunity to see her–to hug her. Of course,it was convenient.

I was delighted to see how happy she is. We visited for about an hour, and she acknowledges the she has no memory, that it seems to have just blown away. She considers, however, that her not remembering could be a blessing because she has no complaints. Each day is a delightful surprise with whatever it may hold, she says, and she is grateful for it. She’s always ready to go and do whatever her steadfast, care-giving husband suggests, in her words: “following him like a puppy dog.” As she sat in my living room looking around, she said, “I remember this house. I’ve been here many times,” and she recollected our deep, long-standing relationship, noting how important it is to have real friends, true friends.

As we talked I realized she is living in the NOW, something the rest of us aim for as we let ourselves be distracted by so many things in our lives, and was reminded of what she said six months ago:”I am here now, and I’m happy.” When we held hands for prayer, I could feel her strength holding on to the moment, aware that nothing could separate her from the love of God.

I am relieved to see her acceptance of her condition with grace and peace, with her warm heart and happy smile continuing to be her trademark. That enables me to accept it and be at peace. Thanks be to God who brings light out of darkness.