Archives for category: Contemplative Prayer

Now we come to the setting of the sun

This morning has been one of  “Facebook Connection with God.” Surprisingly, my Facebook experience this morning felt like getting hug after hug rather than being bombarded by negativity. The first, and perhaps biggest “hug”  I encountered was a post about the forgiveness ceremony at Standing Rock. This event is proof that after centuries of hurt by working together reconciliation and purposeful building of community can help us heal as a nation. It gives me hope that this united effort will continue to heal our nation and block negativity.

Another hug was a video of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing and children singing “Christmas Canon.”  This particular piece of music has always comforted my spirit,  and,  as I listened, I realized God was hugging me again.

A third hug was a posted contemplative prayer article that supported my efforts in practicing contemplative prayer. In a kind way the article reminded me how important it is for me to practice growing closer to God in purposeful moments when I quiet my mind and let Him fill the silence with His Love. If it had yelled “Practice, practice, practice!” at me I would not have bothered to read it

These past months have been full of nation-wide negativity and ugliness. On a personal level I fought a long battle with bronchitis and asthma, and I won. Truthfully, although all the medical intervention was integral in my recovery, so was the support and prayers of my friends. I could have easily ended up in the hospital as many of my friends have with this particular strain of bronchitis. Not doing so was a huge “hug from God.”

The biggest “hug” happened this past weekend. I began experiencing abdominal pain about 10 AM Saturday morning, and it seemed to worsen all day.  I tried to convince myself I was having a stomach ache as a result of the new antibiotic I was  taking. When I got home from a local craft show, I got out the antibiotic’s  pharmacy print out, and found, much to my dismay, that if your stomach hurt when taking this medication you needed to call your doctor. On a Saturday night, that meant calling my doctor’s “service.” The doctor I talked to was an angel from God. He helped me realize what I was describing was more than what is usually expected as a side effect of this medication, and when I explained my history of multiple partial bowel obstructions, he suggested I consider visiting an emergency room. He did a good job of breaking through my denial—- I drove myself to a local ER.

While there I got the usual IV, EKG, blood draws, and CAT scan. Based on what the CAT scan showed the ER doctor determined that my “dysfunctional colon” had started backing things up into my small intestine as it has many times before.  “Backing up” and the pain it causes are  generally the first symptoms associated with developing partial or total bowel obstruction. I was lucky—– the doctor decided he could treat me there in the ER with a humongous soap suds enema rather than having to send me by ambulance to Barnes Jewish in St. Louis. Now, in case something as old fashioned and “low tech” as an invasive enema sounds like torture to you rather than a positive outcome, I can tell you from personal experience an hour or so of intense discomfort is much more positive than having a NG  tube forced down your throat into your stomach, a catheter put in your bladder, and spending a week or so in the hospital with the threat of possible surgery hanging over you.

This positive ER experience outcome was intensified by the fact that the nurses who took care of me had been my students in the past, they both recognized me, and they both gave me excellent care. Sometimes it pays to have previously been a professor in a small town. By 4 AM I finally was able to go home and go to bed.

I’ve been able to rest a few days now, slowly building back to almost my normal activity level, and this morning when I was trolling Facebook to find a daily  bible verse and prayer for my church’s Face book page, I encountered the hugs spoken of earlier. Finding all those positive postings got  me to thinking about all the ways God has been kind to me these past few weeks and how grateful I am.

Thanks for letting my mind wander on about hugs.

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Needlework by S. Staples; photograph by K. Farwell

 

Once again I feel that urge to write. This morning’s sermon got me to thinking—–which is sometimes a dangerous thing. Usually I either think “rebuttals” and “disagreements” (when I am in my critical persona, one I learned from my mother) or I find myself embellishing one of the ideas presented. Today was an embellish day. The sermon itself was a wonderful one that did an excellent job of explaining what Lent is all about. I had not thought of it as an opportunity to exercise and strengthen my temptation resisting skills until I heard this morning’s sermon by Rvd. Edie.

She explained that temptation is a process. First, we become aware of an idea—-you know, those ideas commercials, for instance, are always planting in our heads. The second step is entertaining the idea—–this is a crucial step where the idea/temptation builds its strength and attractiveness to us primarily by us actively focusing our attention on it. The last step, of course, is to act on the idea. She discussed how we need to exercise and strengthen our attention skills and our ability to  intentionally re-focus our attention away from the idea that tempts us so that the last step of the process for us is choosing not to give into the temptation.

This is where I started embellishing as I listened to her sermon. As a person who practices the 12 steps of recovery I am quite familiar with these steps. When I see a commercial for a candy bar I can focus my attention on that and even begin to taste it with my imagination. Then my mind can build on the idea by telling myself, “Oh, come on, one little candy bar” won’t hurt you.” If I keep my attention going down that road, it won’t be long before I act on the idea and actually find myself eating that candy bar—-and another, and another until I make myself sick.

For a long time I have been telling myself and others in recovery to “follow it through” when the idea of having a drink comes to you—-not with thoughts of how wonderful a drink would be but with memories of what really happens to us when we take that drink and keep drinking. I have to do the same thing with thoughts of eating foods with flour or sugar in them. Giving in to either obsession has the potential to kill me. I wish I was exaggerating—-but I am not.

So, here’s the “kicker.” Those of us in recovery get to exercise “healthy attention” every day of our lives one day at a time. There is no magical end after forty days when we can go back to having what we’ve been practicing avoiding without facing deadly consequences. With all that exercise, you’d think we would develop immensely strong will power. Instead of exercising my “self-will” (which has, historically, been what has always gotten me in trouble) I have learned I can only be empowered to make healthy choices if I turn my will over to God and let God focus my attention and guide my actions.

I don’t always do so perfectly. Letting go of self-will is sometimes a daily struggle especially with food.  After all, I have to eat every day to live; therefore,  food triggers in my life are much stronger because of my daily consumption than they are with alcohol because that daily consumption ended for me over three decades ago.

I am learning to let fleeting thoughts of “wouldn’t it be nice to eat….” float right through my crowded mind. Contemplative prayer has helped me with that because I am learning not to fight my thoughts—-just to acknowledge them and to let them “float by” without giving them undue attention. I am learning to focus my attention on consenting to God’s love—–in my prayers and in my daily life. And that includes focusing my attention away from tempting food or alcohol thoughts.  It is not that I have given up certain foods or alcohol for Lent—–rather I have given them up for life and for living. I can only do that one day at a time by turning my will and my life over to the care and love of God as I understand Him/Her. May God bless and keep you.

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Photo “God’s Eye” courtesy of K. Farwell

 

Today I was reminded of the fact that facing our life’s challenges is not a matter of perfection but of progress. Too often I have used “it has to be perfect” to keep from doing what I should.  There are many guidelines for how we should be living our lives given to us by tradition and holy writings, and I think they too agree with the appropriateness of aiming for progress rather than perfection. I understand this basic principle, but I also am aware that I can use accepting myself as I am and calling it progress is not necessarily progress—–and it certainly won’t initiate needed changes. AA’s “big book” also says “half measures availed us nothing.”  There are numerous guidelines in scripture that were never meant to be “worked towards”——they are absolute “do it now’s.”

See how my mind can paint itself into a corner? If I let my intellect rule my heart and my life, I get stuck and miss the gifts inherent in living life in relationship with Creator. So, how does one solve this dilemma? How does one decide whether to adopt an attitude of acceptance or to instead  actively pursue accomplishing a specific goal? For me, I must return to another 12 step saying, and that is from one of our prayers: “….asking only for God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”  This, for me, is where the solution lies.

This solution became even clearer to me when I considered the words of Miss Eileen Caddy written yesterday and shared on my Facebook feed this afternoon: ” Seek Me, Find Me and Love Me With All Your Heart. Never waste time praying for your material needs, for I know all your needs before you know them yourselves, and I will answer each one when you learn to put first things first. Humankind wastes so much time praying for this, that and the other and fails to do the only thing that really matters and that answers all prayers: to seek Me, find Me and love Me with all your heart, mind, body and soul. That is all you need to do for this is the Source, this is the beginning and the end. This is all that really matters.”

Funny how intellectual quandaries can easily be solved by something simultaneously simple but infinitely wise.  If I put seeking, finding, and loving Creator with all my heart first then everything is as it should be and everything falls into proper perspective. I don’t know Miss Eileen, but wherever she is I want to thank her for giving me this important message today. May God bless and keep you.

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“Three Flowers” Photograph Compliments of K. Farwell

 

Of One and Three

Today was my day to once again revisit the concept of the “Holy Trinity”—–you know, father, son, and holy ghost (or spirit, depending on your preference) as one united supernatural entity. Today was “Holy Trinity Sunday” at my church, and I’ve been thinking about “The Holy Trinity”  intermittently all day. This concept is the  embodiment of “Systems Theory” if you will in which the whole is different than and greater than the sum of its parts—-with the “parts” in this instance being God, the father; Jesus, the son, the Holy Spirit. Seen in this light, the Trinity would be both different and greater than Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit when they are perceived as separate entities.

I sometimes encounter people who feel very strongly about predominantly focusing their prayers and spiritual beliefs around Jesus rather than God or vice versa. Then there are those  like myself who do not believe it makes one iota of difference as Jesus and God can be perceived as part of the same entity (Trinity).  I tend to lean towards addressing “God” with the majority of my prayers as Genesis declares “in the beginning was God.” But, sometimes, I feel more drawn to communicating directly with Jesus because of the time he spent as a human on this planet—-in my mind, that has to give him a heads up on empathy over God—–but then God created us,  and who would or could understand us better than our Creator? It can all get very confusing.

Then, there is the Holy Spirit component of the Trinity to consider. What, exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is it a ghost floating out of the woodwork of an old church? Is it that “hair raising on the back of my neck prickly” feeling I sometimes get when I know the Holy Spirit is near? Or is it in the tears that come to my eyes while singing specific words and phrases in a well-loved hymn? Well, I am not even going to try to answer this one except to say that, for me, the answer is “yes” to the latter two…..that and more. I perceive the Holy Spirit as the more feminine aspect of the Trinity—-that part that speaks to me without words and seems to be intuitively linked to my soul. For the most part, I visualize the Holy Spirit as a thread of energy binding me with a direct connection to the other two components of the Holy Trinity. When I partake of communion, the connection between myself, my God, God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit seems to grow stronger in me, and I often leave the church service feeling energized to spread God’s love and compassion as I live my very ordinary life. Thankfully, I often feel more “at one with the Trinity” after spending quiet time in centering or contemplative prayer. It seems to be contingent on my willingness to take a deep breath, quiet my mind, and allowing myself through consent, to being open to God’s love. And, yes, in doing so I believe I am relating to and being linked with the Trinity as well as its three components.

I would very much like to hear my readers’ thoughts on the meaning of the Holy Trinity and the part it plays in your life. Thank you for allowing me to try to articulate my own thoughts in relation to this topic. May God bless and keep you.

 

Now we come to the setting of the sun

Image courtesy of Kathryn Farwell

There is something about Holy Week that has always ranged from mildly uncomfortable to extremely unsettling to me——and that is the direct result of wrestling with my own mind and soul. My instinct is to question how any father could allow his son to die such a painful death. Then I realize we–you, me, and others  are the ones that killed him and keep on killing him with our selfish and cruel actions over and over again. That realization is not pleasant either. I find myself wondering “why?” Sure, I know without death there would be no resurrection and without that miracle many would not accept Christ into their hearts. But couldn’t there have been an easier, more humane way of nurturing our faith?  God is patient, God is kind, God is love. God allows his only son to be crucified and to spend six hours in agony while he slowly dies. And, lastly, God allows his son to feel abandoned.

When I peel away my intellectual resistance to this whole Easter thing I realize it is the parts of me that suffered abuse in childhood and abandonment in adulthood that are really angry at God for letting it happen not only to Jesus but also to me. At the core, my strong reactions to anything, sadly enough,  seem to be “all about me.”

The good news is God is patient with me. He sent me some answers yesterday that I am going to try to share in a way that makes sense. First, I attended a presentation by a motivational speaker that I had not known was going to happen until less than an hour before his speech was given. Some of the answers God sent me were in that man’s story. He told us about being in a near-fatal accident when he was a first year college student and about what has happened to him because of that accident. One of the biggest messages he gave was that the most powerful gift you can give another is the gift of presence. He received emergency care that saved his life. He could not talk or see, had to breathe through a tube, was in traction, could barely move, and the only sensory message he was aware of was periodic intense pain. But the memory, the thing, that stood out to him through all those hours of agony was the hand that would intermittently squeeze his and he would squeeze back as a caring voice said, “I’m here.”

The second answer God sent me yesterday was during  a book study session following centering prayer.  One of the topics discussed was that suffering is a gateway to strengthening our spirituality. It is through being broken and wounded that we are connected to God’s presence. His presence is always there, only sometimes it takes something drastic to get our attention. Leonard Cohen’s  song “Anthem” was discussed in regards to the lyric about cracks letting the light in  meaning that it is through being wounded and/or suffering that cracks occur in our perception so the light of God’s spirit can enter into our awareness.

So, you may be asking, where are your answers in all this? Well, I think God was trying to tell me yesterday that yes the crucifixion was painful, yes it is painful to think about it, and, yes it may involve perceived, but short-lived, abandonment—–but you, Kathy, have to seriously consider this event in your soul at least once a year so you can realize God’s love and presence. You need this painful reality to sink in so you can let the light of his spirit to illuminate your soul. He seems to be telling me I should accept the pain of the crucifixion and move away from “why” to “what are am I going to do about this event. God seems to be reminding me that the alternative is to completely miss the gift/miracle inherent in this event by getting bogged down and stuck in my own insecurities, anger, and judgmental questioning.

I have spent an entire career suggesting people stop asking “why” when they contemplate their own addiction and instead, ask , “what can God and I together do about it?”  Yesterday, God directed me to ask that same question to myself in regards to Holy Week. I heard loud and clear yesterday to stop getting stuck in my judgmental head and start asking “What can God and I do together about this?” I  know now that God doesn’t want me to miss this gift and that he wants me to take this love and share it with others instead of questioning the gift. And the next time I want to cry because of Jesus’ pain and perceived abandonment I am going to replace that image with one of God squeezing Jesus’  hand and saying, “I’m here.” God bless and keep you.

 

Stained Glass Window

Image courtesy of artur84w,/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sunday, sitting in church, a bit of wisdom being read from the bible flew straight into my heart as if it had been launched on an arrow meant only for me. It was from the fourth chapter of John, and the reading was about when Jesus had been given water by a woman who was drawing water from a well, and he, in turn, offered her the water of eternal life. I was familiar with that part of the scripture, but what caught my attention was what Jesus said to his apostles after the woman went to tell her neighbors about her encounter with the Messiah.
With the brief transition of “Meanwhile,” John next describes how the disciples urged Jesus to eat. The answers Jesus gave them astounded me: “I have food to eat you do not know about……My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
There it was. Words in black and white. Ancient words. Words full of wisdom. The words I need just now, just this moment to energize my efforts to eat only that which is healthy for me to eat. I have spent sixty years, give or take a few spent indulging my addiction without restraint, on one diet or another. The words describing my efforts at healthy eating may have changed over time from diet to food plan or from calories to ounces, but I have learned the only ingredient that gives these tools life and makes them effective is when I turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand him.
So, when people offer me something to eat, always with the best of intentions and with caring hospitality, and I decline their offer, I will probably say, “No, thank you, I’m a diabetic and I can’t eat sugar or flour” or just “No, thank you”—–but I will, I hope, think to myself, “I have food to eat you do not know about.” And, if I am spiritually fit that day, my thoughts will add that the focus of my life is doing God’s will.
When I allow myself to feel the love of God within and around me and quiet my thoughts so that my ego surrenders to that love, I am never hungry. To be honest, when I am practicing contemplative prayer, my stomach may growl or I may have a fleeting craving for one food or another, but those thoughts are allowed to immediately “float by” and are quickly replaced by my link to God’s love. And, as they say, that is “Priceless.”

Red Door

Image courtesy of  Pixomar/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today at a centering prayer meeting a question came up about why a particular church is often referred to as the “red door church.” The answer was that the women who often attend twelve step meetings there started referring to it as the “red door church” because it was easier to say than “Christ Episcopal Church.” From there, the conversation turned to the historical symbolism of “red door.” It was mentioned that historically, in England where Episcopal churches originated, a red door meant the building you were in was marked with red blood over the doorway to protect those within—–as when the angel of death spared a home during Passover. It was also mentioned that a red door is a sign of welcome in England and that perhaps in the United States this may have been misconstrued as also designating a house of “ill repute.” I searched the Internet for symbolism of a red door, and found out it meant “welcome,” sanctuary, good luck, and marked by the blood of Christ.

Obviously, depending on the culture, place, and time in which a “red door” is observed, the meaning can be varied. However, a common denominator seems to be it is a place where you are welcome and safe. So, today, my blog topic is “red door.” For me, I enter a place of welcome and safety whenever I go within to my “secret place” of spirituality—–that place where I meet God and consent to allowing his love to envelop  me. So, it makes sense that in that internal space I would feel welcomed and safe, and near to God. Symbolically speaking, I do not visualize entering a red door when I retreat into my spiritual core; however, I do often see pulsating patterns of varying shades of purple. I do not know why, but that has always been a symbol to me of entering “my spiritual space.”

Perhaps the entrance into one’s spiritual place, and particularly the color of the entrance,  is not what should be important to us. Instead, what should be of most importance to us is the fact that we are consenting to enter that spiritual space.  Period. Entering there, going there, being there, allowing love, wisdom, peace, and serenity to permeate our being———and realizing those qualities are always there in our inner being even when we “leave” that safe place and venture back into the reality of our external world is important. Once I am able to accept that, I am able to relate to my entire existence in a more spiritual manner. It becomes easier to see God in all that is around me and to react in a consenting manner that allows God’s love to exist, hopefully in a way that allows others to experience the love of God.

I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful “spring day” and that the memory of it will carry you through tomorrow when we once again are supposed to experience “snow”——which I heard referred to as the new “four letter word” this morning. God bless and keep you.