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‘It is our most cherished belief that there is no one who is irredeemable, no situation that is without hope, and no crime that cannot be forgiven.’

The Book of Forgiving, Desmond and Mpho Tutu, 6

The idea of forgiveness has been with me ever since I learned the Our Father, those evenings that I knelt by my bed as a small child. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.’ A very demanding prayer.

Hurts have usually found a way of making a home in my heart. They sniff their way around, like a dog before he lies down. Once settled, they can remain there forever, or so it seems.

The idea of forgiving entered the living-room of my soul in the early RCIA sessions I attended more than twenty years ago. Forgiveness is a choice. Hm…

Breast cancer came along and thanks to Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live, I started to work systematically on gratitude and forgiveness. I made lists, if nothing else. I became aware of my grudges.

While working on a degree in Pastoral Studies, I wrote a timeline of those times when I had felt close to and far from Godde, when I was happy or miserable. This is when I realized how unhappy I had felt in the very early years of my marriage, while living in Paul’s hometown. The idea of returning to visit filled me with dread. The mere idea of going there made me want to bolt. I did not find hard to meet my in-laws individually, but family gatherings felt overwhelming. Usually, by the end of our stay, shortly before leaving, some random event would take place and leave me flat out.

From 2005 on came our Camino years. I can think of many reasons to walk the Camino. One of them is to work on forgiving those people whose memory fills me with bile. I would pick up a stone or two, each for a different person. My fingers would play with them as I walked along, till the moment when the anger seemed gone and I would leave the stone by the side of the road or on a cross along the way.

Grudges really smell like stale cookies or vegetables passed their prime, but I had learned to live with their smells.

This year, after a decade or so, came the time to return to the Pacific Northwest to show it to our grandsons and visit Paul’s relatives. The same old angst filled my heart. Two books, however, came to my rescue: Kathleen Dowling Singh’s The Grace in Aging and Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s The Book of Forgiveness (mentioned above). (Note:I have only started these two books and still have quite a ways to go before I finish them.)

From KDS’s book, I realized that I did not want to take my fear of relatives with me in death. I would rather leave them all behind; this meant coming to some sort of understanding and resolution. I also came to see that in view of our respective ages (60s and 70s), this might be the last time I see some of these people (or all of them if I happen to die first). This thought put a distance between what was to come and my feelings somehow. I found safety in distance.

The Book of Forgiveness, where Desmond Tutu and his daughter address the need for reconciliation in South Africa — and the rest of the world –, revealed to me that Paul’s relatives had not harmed me in any way. They all are good people who come from a culture quite different from mine (not all Westerners are alike). I just met them in my 20s and simply did not know how to cope with my culture shock. My angst had sprung from who I was, not from who they were. Truly, I had nothing to forgive them. This turned out to be quite a revelation. An odd and amused peace spread through my heart and soul. Had it been this easy all along and I had not noticed it until now?

As we were preparing to leave for our family visit, I mentioned my experience to our younger daughter. ‘My fear is gone,’ I told her. She looked at me and said, ‘Maman, it only took you forty-five years.’

And so it did.

Photo: Ruby Beach, Washington State, August 2015

… whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. 2 Cor 9:6-8

This reading struck me yesterday because, if I read it correctly, whatever abundance Godde gives us in our life is to be shared with others, some of it, at least, to be given away. The word ‘abundance’ brings back memories of my reading, and saying, years ago affirmations like, Every day in every way I become more prosperous…

This passage stopped me in my track and had me wonder how much of my ‘abundance’ do I share?

Today, Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change,  Laudato Si, Praised Be, is to be released. Much noise has been made already, for it and against it. I will read it as soon as I can lay my hands on it.

Until then, what dawned on me this morning is the link between our abundance and the climate change. Our abundance comes basically from the grabbing by the First World of the natural resources in the Third World. As you may already know, if everybody in the world lived the way most US citizens live, it would take seven ‘earths’ to maintain that lifestyle.

Our abundance comes from the Industrial Revolution and this Western sacred cow which capitalism is for some of us. Our planet is being raped again and again, so that we can drive gas-guzzling cars,  eat salted almonds, turn on our A/Cs, enjoy strawberries at Christmastime and buy cheap goods made and sold by exploited workers.

I expect some people to rave about Pope Francis’ encyclical. But will those who rave be willing to change their way of being? Will I be able to live with less so that others can live with more, all that without destroying our Mother Earth?

Of course, some people are going to fight tooth and nail the reflections and recommendations proposed by Pope Francis. Strong political anti-bodies are going to react violently to a reality they prefer not to see, because this reality is too deeply challenging to the way we are.

Today’s situation is fascinating: Are we truly followers of Christ and willing to save both our poorer brothers and sisters while saving the earth as well? It is in our power, in our own interest even, to do so, but is it also in the realm of our will?

May Godde give us the grace to change.

Photo: ICCG’s tweet, 9 June 2015

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Eph 3:14-19

I remember reading this passage one very early morning years ago. I felt the breath of the Spirit sweeping from St Paul to me, crossing two thousand years within a moment. I was flooded by a delight only experienced again a few times since then.

This morning, as Paul read the passage aloud, I felt my heart expanding way past my ribcage and taken by an enchantment that brought tears to my eyes.

to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge… How much I have longed for this connection with the love of Christ these past months! My distracted mind has lead me through a fog where, mesmerized, I followed the sirens’ call. Deep in my heart though, every night, I could feel a longing which wanted me somewhere else: To feel the gaze of Christ on my face once again. Otherwise, I spent the day sleep-walking.

This morning, as I heard the familiar lines and as I looked at them again on my own, the warm glow in my heart helped me understand that I had returned home and that all was, and is, well.

Each word in this excerpt tastes of honey to me. Christ’s presence infuses each one of them. St Paul’s grace is at it again: It fills my heart with gratitude for His love flowing over me, through me, in me, around me…

Thank you.

Photo: from artofprayer.tumblr.com

I long for you so much I have even begun to travel Where I have never been before. ~ Hafiz. The Subject Tonight Is Love

At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What give would enable me to do it? ~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Now it is time to sit quiet alone with You and to Sing a re-dedication of my life in this Silent and overflowing joy. ~ Rabindranath Tagore, “A Moment of Indulgence”

These three quotes come from Christine Valters Paintner’s latest book, The Soul of a Pilgrim. You will find many more fantastic quotes there.

This book came at the right time in my life. I had finally accepted the need to leave a place very dear to me. As John Valters Paintner explains in Chapter One, “The Practice of Hearing the Call and Responding”:

“Pilgrimage … can mean the life journeys we take in response to unwelcomed circumstances… Any time life ousts us from our places of security, we are called upon to bring ourselves fully present to our experience. We honor that even unbidden journeys can take us to places where we encounter God more closely.” (21)

As some of you know, I have gone on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. I have spent days walking, sixty-eight days the first time, then thirty days, then fewer and fewer. I also made a pilgrimage once to Dharamsala to listen to the Dalai Lama. A seeker by nature, I have gone on inner pilgrimages most of my life. Also, next year, we will be taking our children and grandchildren on a short pilgrimage to Santiago to celebrate my 70th birthday. This book came as a preparation for it.

The Soul of a Pilgrim is meaningful on several levels, levels which are presented by Christine and her husband John. Those levels are identified as practices: hearing the call and responding; packing lightly; crossing the threshold; making the way by walking; being uncomfortable; beginning again; embracing the unknown; and coming home.

It has been a while since I have held in my hands a book that I found so seminal, so inspiring, so moving. Every page makes me want to write. It opens doors in my heart which I did not even know were there. It gives me courage…

“What if when life started falling apart, we opened our hearts to welcome in the grief and fear that arrived? What if we considered them as holy guides and windows into the immensity of God? What if all the painful feelings of loss and disorientation were invited in for tea? What if everything that turned our preconceived ideas inside out was precisely where we found God?”, writes Christine Valters Paintner (111).

This book is a result of two e-courses that Christine gave through the Abbey of the Arts . I have been privileged to take several others in the past, as I have been fortunate to read several of her books. They have enriched my life more than I can say.

In her latest work, I found familiar themes that I was glad to visit again, such as Lectio Divina, Midrash, Visio Divina, Creative Exploration through Photography, and a Closing Blessing. I also particularly enjoyed the many questions she asks throughout the book; I know I will return to them, again and again. The novelty here for me was the inclusion of Christine’s husband, John, who writes the eight reflections of biblical passages. He adds another voice, also filled with wisdom and kindness, bringing new angles to old stories.

This is a book I would love to discuss in a study group, to “walk” with some like-minded friends and explore our thirst to encounter our God within. It is a book I will offer, a book I will keep by my side, a book which is such an incredible gift in itself.

I will close this by sharing here the seven-word prayer which came to me at the beginning of the book. I started reading The Soul of a Pilgrim in Puerto Rico and finished it on the plane to France. The seven words which came to me were: Love Calls Me To Open To Life. This prayer, more a mantra maybe, has already operated magic in my life.

May this book bring joy and wonder in your life as well.

Blessings.

Thirty years ago in Dharamsala (India), while attending teachings given by the Dalai Lama, I met a Swiss Tibetan Buddhist woman who told me something interesting. I quit smoking, she said, because when I die I don’t want to spend my time in the Bardo Thodol (intermediate state between death and the next rebirth) looking for cigarettes.

Interesting thought. On what am I spending my life, my money? Where does my attention dwell? Which fears do I nurture? Which secret garden do I keep to myself? Were I to die tonight, which attachments would lead me away from where I hope ‘to spend eternity’?

In recent weeks, I have fled ‘reality’. I just did not want to look at it. I anesthetized myself by closing down and watching TV series on line. I stopped praying, I stopped meditating. I stopped doing my evening examen. I entered the virtual world of Korean drama and hid there. Mind you it has introduced me to an entirely new world, both real and virtual, which has brought new life to my life…

Still, last night, as I was fighting jet lag and trying to find sleep, I called Godde for help to get me out of this self-induced trance. And the question came: How do I want to spend eternity?

Would it be possible to take with myself, as I walk across the threshold between now and the hereafter, all that has seized my mind while I was alive, the good and the not so good. For instance, were i to be into sex, or clothes, or losing weight, or money, or travel, or power, would I just continue being seized by the same obsession for all eternity?

Like my ex-smoking friend, are there areas of my memory which I need to clear so as to create space to welcome the Ultimate Awesomeness which is there awaiting everyone of us? Do I want to hide myself ad vitam eternam in TV reruns?

[Smile]

When I lived abroad, the minute I realized that I was deep in culture shock, my life started improving. I am in a similar situation today: I see what I am doing to myself by numbing myself so that the only feelings I experience come from romances thought up by skilled writers and played by delightful actors — thus avoiding to deal with my own reality.

Godde and I are writing my life together. It is a remarkable adventure in itself. It is time for me to get back to it.

Photo: Sky in viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

A long time ago, my mother-in-law told me that she saw life not so much as circles (or ellipses maybe), but as a spiral for ever revolving upon itself, moving along, whether upward, downward or sideways, as you choose. Thus, we revisit events that happened long ago, drawing the fruits from the experiences lived then.

Walking along the beach with the waves and the clouds, I remembered something [Sri Sri] Ravi Shankar told us thirty years ago during a weekend retreat in Delhi. “You choose the experiences in your life.”

At the time, these words had felt liberating: I had not been the victim of events; I had chosen the experiences to learn something from them. Life, after all, is to be, to experience, to receive, to cherish, to let go, to move on…

I feel blessed these days, grateful for all that Godde has given me and keeps giving me, grateful also that I am approaching 70, with Death waiting for me at the end of the journey. This thought of the end of my journey (it might still be twenty years away, I know) fills me with peace.

A peace, strangely enough, that I have already experienced. Nearly fifty years ago, one evening, I felt very depressed and slit my wrists. I was not very good at it and I did not end this ‘me’ which drove me to despaired. I did think I was on my way out, however, and I experienced the most incredible peace. This is the peace which is with me today when I think of the time I will be moving on.

You may find this morbid, but it is not. Especially when I link Ravi Shankar’s words to it. My life is inviting me to revisit major events, both joyful and painful, but especially those which have left bad memories — those wounds, grudges, scars that Life distributes as we move along.

As I walk along the beach and remember events that have left me like a deer caught in headlights, as I remind myself that I chose them, I ask myself the question: What did I learn from them? How would they have impacted me had I been different? What did they help me become?

The woman I am today cry tears with the woman I was then. How hard those days seem! The woman I am today welcomes the woman I was then. I can hug her as long as she needs. I untie the knots in her stomach and her heart. I kiss her bruises. We have so much to tell each other.

I wish I could do cartwheels on the wet sand to thank Life for this life of mine… The waves wash my feet of old anguishes and sadness. Loneliness dissolves in the foam. My soul stands naked in front of the One who creates me moment by moment.

Bless Godde my soul…

The other day as I was walking in viejo San Juan, my mind whispered to me, “Adios to all that” as in, Goodbye to all that. These words have a familiar ring, so I checked. Robert Graves wrote an autobiography by this title in 1929. In 1967, Joan Didion published an essay with the same title. In 2013, a book on writers loving and leaving New York used this it as well. More recently still, in 2014, a movie was entitled this way. For me, however, it is just more Adios than Goodbye.

My time in Puerto Rico is coming to an end. We arrived in 2001 when Paul had just retired. All these years, we have been able to  spend several months with our older daughter and her family (this left our younger daughter somewhat in a lurch; we found other ways of spending time with her). We discovered a small apartment in viejo San Juan, facing the ocean. What fabulous years we spent there!

Ten years ago this month, we both left on our first Camino, the longest one, from Le Puy to Santiago. It took us 68 days to walk 1,500 km, or 900 miles. We had trained for it walking around the Laguna in Condado. We caught the Camino bug and went back pretty much every year, seven or eight times in a row. During these years we spent our time in Puerto Rico, in France, and walking the Camino. How fortunate we have been.

More important maybe, from 2002 until 2010, Paul and I worked at Las Duchas with Ramonita and her crew, receiving the homeless and drug-addicts living in viejo San Juan. We got to know pretty much everyone of them, loving some more than others, getting to understand their story, their hardship. Jesus was one of us at all times. This may well have been the most intense time in my life.

Still more incredible, we left our life in Geneva, Switzerland, heavily involved with Ignatian spirituality. Right away, as if by chance, we found ourselves invited into a CVX (CLC) small community of Puerto Rican women and men. All this thanks to two couples: One who invited us to their Tres Reyes party that first January. There we met a Jesuit father who invited us to a CVX day with theologian Maria Clara Bingemer.  At that same workshop, another couple invited us to join their small CVX community. With all of them, we have shared our life in prayer every time we come back to the island. Our CVX involvement led us to retreats in Barranquitas with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, then to Manresa, Spain, for its Ignatian Immersion Course and more recently a 30-day retreat.

When we returned in February, we found out that our children are leaving the island for a while to take care of an elderly relative. Our grandsons will go to school on the mainland. In the coming years, we will return to Puerto Rico, of course, but for much shorter visits.

Life transfers us. Once again. With Paul’s UN job we grew accustomed to transfers. They were both sad and exciting. Saying goodbye to lovely friends and hello to new adventures. It’s still a bit this way now.

Like the boat above (all the way from Stockholm), on the beach, waiting for the tide, we too will sail off in a few weeks.

I have so many reasons to thank Godde for all that we have received here. For this wonderful island and its wonderful people. For its culture, its music, its beauty, its fantastic coffee. For the friends who welcome us, again and again.

It does feel like the end of a chapter, with the knowledge that I don’t have that many more chapters left. Next year, I will turn 70 and this feels both wonderful and awesome. On the horizon, faintly, I can guess my final transfer, a liberating take-off into eternity.

I have not written much in recent weeks. My heart and mind are usually at peace, something odd for me. I don’t feel particularly drawn to ‘religious feelings’ as I did in past years. Organized religion, right now, irritates me more than inspires me.

Like the sailboat on the beach, I bask in the sun, waiting for the wind to catch my sail, wondering where it will now take me…

(While I know where my future will geographically take place, I wonder where my inner life will lead me.)

Where the Spirit will blow, I will go.

Photo: A Swedish sailboat on the beach

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering “I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.”

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow!

– Maya Angelou

poem seen on simply-divine-creation.tumblr.com

She thought it was the gardener and said to him,

“Sir, if you carried him away,

tell me where you laid him,

and I will take him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

Jn 20:11-18

In his shadow I delight to sit,

and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

He brought me to the banquet hall

and his glance at me signaled love.

Song of Songs 2:3-4

The recurrence of biblical passages year after year in our liturgy offers an inner exploration of the many interpretations one can give to the same passage. Take today’s. Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden.

What struck me this year is how much their encounter reminds me of the Song of Songs. How much Mary Magdalene’s soul and love for Jesus want to become one with the One she has followed for several years.

Another aspect of the Triduum and of this morning in the garden in particular which has impacted me: how much the women and men disciples of Jesus must have not only feared and trembled for Jesus and themselves, but also how much they must have wept during these days of trial and crucifixion and loss.

It is thus a very teary Mary Magdalene whom I see coming to the tomb, inquiring from the angels, and turning to the gardener. Anyone who has felt “filled” by a time in a retreat can imagine and feel how Mary Magdalene’s heart and mind were full of love and longing for Jesus.

I sense the intensity of their encounter: the faithfulness of the woman, Jesus no longer the man who walked the earth. The woman’s hunger for his presence, his comforting touch, his soothing words. An encounter both in time and out of time. Out of time in the sense that anyone who wishes to join them and experience their connection can.

For years, I felt desolate for Mary when Jesus tells her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…” This morning, I realize that her possible desolation at having to let him go is replaced by the energy she feels when she hears his command, “go to my brothers and tell them…” Her love for him sends her into action, the way Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary has her immediately leave to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Is it really possible to love Jesus and not feel sent on a mission?

Mary Magdalene will rush out of the garden and announce the good news to the others. I choose to stay in the moment before she goes, when Mary Magdalene hears a beloved voice call her name, that instant of recognition, of connection, of oneness, however ephemeral, that moment she will surely revisit again and again till death brings her back for all eternity to the One who loved her and saved her.

Illustration: Rembrandt, Noli Me Tangere, 1638

Anointings in Bethany. Jn 12:1-8

Solemnly, Mary entered the room,

holding high the alabaster jar.

It gleamed in the lamplight as she circled the room,

incensing the disciples, blessing Martha’s banquet.

“A splendid table!” Mary called with her eyes

as she whirled past her sister.

She came to a halt at last before Jesus,

bowed profoundly and knelt at his feet.

Deftly, she filled her right hand with nard,

placed the jar on the floor,

took one foot in her hands

and moved fragrant fingers across his instep.

Over and over she made the journey

from heel to toes, thanking him

for every step he had made

on Judea’s stony hills,

for every stop at their home,

for bringing back Lazarus.

She poured out more nard,

took his other foot in her hands

and started again with strong, rhythmic strokes.

She felt her hands’ heat draw out his tiredness,

take away the rebuffs he had known —

the shut doors, the shut hearts.

Energy flowed like a river between them.

His saturated skin gleamed with oil!

But she had no towel!

In an instant she pulled off her veil,

pulled the pins from her hair,

shook it out till it fell in cascades

and once more cradled each foot,

dried the ankles, the insteps,

drew the strands between his toes.

Without warning, Judas Iscariot

spat out his anger, the words hissing

like lightning above her unveiled head:

“Why was this perfume not sold

for three hundred denarii

and the money given to the poor?”

“Leave her alone!”

Jesus silenced the usurper.

“She bought it so that she might keep

for the day of my burial.”

The words poured like oil,

anointing her from head to foot.

Incarnation: New and Selected Poems for Spiritual Reflection

page 88

Art: Table in Bethany, Refektorium des Aletti-Zentrums, Rom