A moment of retreat

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Have you had the opportunity to meet someone who even though they are going through a difficult struggle in life seems to not only be joyful but shares their joy with others?  These people who carry the weight of the world with grace and courage inspire us and make us feel as if the world is a kind and loving place.  On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who take their struggles and seem to leak them out on others.  The weight they carry is massive, and so they are continually unloading it and often at inappropriate times.  We recognize them by their anger, bitterness, and pessimism.

In the previous post I shared with you the poem How Can I?  I share these dark moments not to be morose, but to recognize that those moments are authentic and we do best when we can acknowledge and accept them for the gift that they are.  Life will throw us curve balls, and sometimes really hard and fast!  At that moment when we are afraid, empty and have no answers, we have a great deal of space in our heart, mind, and spirit.  We can choose to be active while waiting, filling our time with distractions like television, internet, and projects.  Or we can actively wait.

This month a fantastic team will be putting together the finishing touches on The Joy Retreat.  There is a great deal of actively waiting involved in the preparation.  Actively waiting means just being, being in the place and doing the things that can bring the answers and fill the empty spaces in a healthy and fulfilling way.  This means pushing away the habits of instant gratification and embracing the moment between not knowing and knowing.  What we do in those moments we are calling the Habits of Joy.  

How can we have joy and feel joyful when life is hard and grievous difficulties are close at hand?  How can we feel joy when we cannot see the rainbow at the end of the journey?   The joy in waiting comes when we are actively practicing the habits of joy.

I believe we all have these habits of joy and we exercise them, though, if you are like me, it is not as often as we should and generally at the last moment when we have just had enough.  But the more we exercise these habits, the stronger they become and the joy even in the moments of sorrow can increase.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.                        Hebrews 3:13-14  (NIV)

I invite you to take a moment and participate in the Joy Retreat by sharing here…

What do you do when you are actively waiting?  What are the habits that spark or restore your joy?

Peace to you all,

Alana

 

A moment of uncertainty

How can I share your love,

When I feel such loneliness?

How can I share your peace,

When I feel such unrest?

How can I say rest in you,

When I am full of worry?

How can I say trust in you,

When my heart is full of doubt?

How can I say have courage,

When all I want is to hide?

How can I say have patience,

When there is so much to be done?

How can I do anything,

Without certainty?

How can I wait?

How can I not?

I wait.

For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people, and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places.

Wisdom of Solomon 19:22 (NRSV)

A moment of faith

I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.  
Lamentations 3:17-32 (NIV)

Often faith is the difference between a person who is fearful and miserable, and a person who is hopeful and joyful.

Without faith in ourselves, we struggle to accomplish things. Without faith in others, we struggle to trust, and without faith in something bigger and more loving than ourselves, we fail to have hope for the future.

Faith brings confidence that, in the midst of things that are difficult, we are being challenged, strengthened and upheld. I love the verse that says it is good to bear the yoke when we are young. So true! We will all have difficulties at some point in our lives. But when we are young, we have energy and openness to growth. If we know where to look, we have support from those who have “been there done that.” It also gives me hope that our youth struggling, though painful to see, is building their character and strengthening them so that they will be able to carry on into the future.

I, like the author in Lamentations, remember the struggles of my youth and I also remember the reconciliation of those struggles. In those moments there was growth and I benefit from the faith and resolve that makes today’s difficulties seem lighter and less painful to move through. With faith in the God who loves me, the people who sustain me and the inner strength that guides me I am confident in the impermanence of life’s difficulties. I am confident in the goodness of the world. And, I am most confident in the joy of it all.

With faith, we believe in the positive outcome of all things. With faith, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind, and with faith, we are confident in our potential for growth.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NIV)

HAVE FAITH

A moment in the dark

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Last week, I posted a poem I had written in 2015.  When I came across it in a pile of papers and notes I have written over the years, it struck me that moments of winter come and go, over and over, through the course of our lives.  Finding myself once again in a spiritual winter, I decided to publish the poem.  What I call a moment in winter St. John of the Cross calls ” the dark night of the soul.”

In Paul Murray’s book about Mother Theresa, he references St. John of the Cross when he speaks of the difference between depression and suffering from a “dark night of the soul.”  I feel this distinction is crucial and I would like to share a little of my own personal experience with these often intertwined moments.  In my experience, depression leads to paralysis and inaction.  The “dark night” leads to action.  Though similar in appearance, depression stops you in your tracks and the “dark night” turns you toward.

With depression, there is a great deal of focus on the self, mostly self-loathing, low self-worth and lack of desire.  “Dark night” experiences for me have more to do with an emptiness that leads me to an anxious search for God, in spite of my doubts, at that moment that there is a God.   Because I cannot see God inside myself or around me, I begin to pray more intentionally.  My desire to see and feel God is intensified and I am moved to connect with those whose spiritual foundation is sound, or to those who need love affirmed even more than I do.

Sometimes I embrace the darkness, remembering Jesus, his 40 days in the wilderness and his last moments on the cross.  Contemplation and aligning myself with the human and divine Christ is healing and taking the time for self-care is of great import.

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was was put on earth to offer to others.  Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, 2000, p. 30

In the deep sadness of feeling abandoned by God, I sometimes feel called to action.  I have the desire to offer others who are in suffering comfort and love.  In the faces of others, I often once again see God.  Because without him I am ill-equipped to offer love, and the love of others in return is a deep reflection of God’s presence.

“Nevertheless they know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labours in which they are able to remain in his presence all day long.” Thomas Merton

Merton, 2013, p. 31

In 2006 after Hurrican Katrina I wrote, in the margins of What is Contemplation? By Thomas Mertonthese words, “I would rather be in this place of darkness with my God than in a world of lights without Him.”  Not long after that, I was compelled to start a prayer group which continues to bless my life today. All this to say we are not alone in our suffering, and there are some fantastic stories and writers to guide us in the way to heal ourselves and others.

“For a man of prayer is, in the final analysis, the man who is able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah and make visible what was hidden, make touchable what was unreachable.”  Henri J.M. Nowen

Nouwen, 1979, p. 47

Recommended Readings:

Murray, P. (2016). I loved Jesus in the night: Teresa of Calcutta, a secret revealed. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merton, T. (2013). What is contemplation? Mansfield Centre, CT.: Martino Publishing.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. New York: An Image Book Doubleday.