Tag Archives: spiritual formation

Come out, come out, wherever you are

gateYash Enclave is a gated community in a new neighborhood. Inside, the streets are clean, homes are well kept, and there is seldom a honk heard from the cars as they cruise through, stopping to make way for kids riding bicycles, gliding by on rollerblades or chasing after balls.

But you probably won’t be buying a new home there because Yash Enclave is located in north Bangalore, India.

According to an article from India Ink in the New York Times, “Beyond Yash Enclave’s manned gates is India’s urban reality: slums, potholed and traffic-choked roads, piles of garbage on street corners, traffic fumes, and a cacophonous din from the revving motors and incessant honking of the cars, buses and motorcycles.” (http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/at-bangalores-gated-enclaves-the-chaos-outside-comes-knocking-at-the-door/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0)

Ah, the legacy of the Western world. Continue reading Come out, come out, wherever you are

Regrets

bad idea 

by Marjorie George

To everyone who received a “test” message from this site this past Tuesday – I am sorry.  The truth is, I was working on a new design for the site and thought I was on the practice page. I was not.  

Even as I hit the “activate” button, my mind clicked in and I grabbed the air –  “nooooooooo.” But it was too late.  I was hoping most of you would think it was a system-generated test. But I must confess my mistake. 

And you were so gracious – you replied that you had received the test, and you tried to click on the link, but it went nowhere. The management regrets the error. 

The management regrets . . . We spend a good deal of our lives – probably more than we should – regretting our mistakes.  Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had stayed in school. I should have listened to my father. I should not have spent that money. I should not have said that. I should not have eaten the cookie. 

Regret lurks in the soul, says Joan Chittester, especially among the aging. She reminds her listeners in a video produced by Spirituality and Practice of words from Hindu spiritualist Sivananda: “Do not brood over past mistakes and failures; that will only fill your mind with grief, regret, and depression.”  

Let it go, they say. There is nothing you can do about it, they advise. We all make mistakes, they add. So we let it go – almost.  But often we hang on to it with a little thread of a tether. And we yank on it from time to time to remind ourselves of the awfulness of it all. 

Followers of the 12-step programs understand what to do about regrets: in steps 8 and 9 the recovering person declares that he or she has “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” 

And what of the injury we do to ourselves when we allow mistakes and regrets to rob us of our standing as forgiven children of God.  I said to someone recently, ”I wish I could forgive that person.” And he said, “I wish you could forgive yourself.” 

We allow the regrets of the past to determine the course of our futures. And there is some healthiness in that – we would hope we learn from our mistakes. But there is a deeper learning to be had that is captured in a wise phrase I heard recently – whenever the past comes into the present it is always for healing. 

We call it redemption, and it is that for which God became incarnate in Christ and lived among us. In redemption the old is not just forgiven – as significant as that is – it is turned inside out and given new purpose.  Forgiveness is always about bringing forth new life. Ezekiel saw it when “dem dry bones” put on flesh and blood and danced up out of that valley (37:4-10).

This is much to make out of a simple little mistake of hitting the wrong button on my computer keyboard on a Tuesday evening.  But often our little lives are microcosms of the larger life in which we all participate. In God’s economy nothing is wasted, and every moment is a teachable moment. 

As James Dennis reminds us in this week’s posting of the class he is leading on C S Lewis, that wise man taught that “We learn on the one hand we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and on the other hand that we don’t need to despair in our worst, for our failures are certainly forgiven.” 

Forgiven and available for redemption. May the healing begin. 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at  marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

Opportuities this week

C. S. Lewis on Christian morality. Listen to this week’s class led by James R. Dennis, O.P.

Catch author Ben Morse at Viva Bookstore today, Friday, Oct 18, 4 to 6:30 pm  Join him for workshops on Saturday at Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio. More info here.

Take two hours out of your busy week for a short walk and meditation at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio, Saturday, Oct 26, 9 to 11 a.m. More info here or email Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org

An Offer I Can’t Refuse

by Marjorie George

A ministry opportunity presents itself.  In faithfulness, I enter into the discernment process. I go again to Frederick Buechner’s definition of  “vocation” as “the place where the world’s greatest need meets your greatest passion.”

Is this ministry something I feel passionate about? Yes.

Is this something the world needs to have done? Does it benefit society? Yes.

Is it scriptural? Is it something that resonates with the faith I have been taught? Yep.

What about me. Am I equipped to do this ministry? Do I have the ability needed, the resources that will be called upon, the time to commit? Yes, yes, and really I could make the time.

Then Jesus looked at the rich, young ruler with the eyes of love and said: “Now give it all up and come, follow me” (Mark 10: 21).

Well I didn’t see that coming. I was preparing to offer God my gifts and talents and abilities – the ones that YOU gave me, God, I might add – and God asks for myself instead. 

I can see myself in this ministry and I will take that chair right over there, God, I say. Bless me on my way.

God says, “Right, now go over here.”

But God, I point out, I could do that over there.

“Got it,” says God. “Now go over here.”

Really, I am better working out of my strengths — you know, the ones YOU have given me.

“And I want you to work out of my strength,” he replies.

God is always choosing people, points out Richard Rohr. But “First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be God’s self in this world, each in a unique situation. If they allow themselves to experience being chosen, being a beloved, being somehow God’s presence in the world, they invariably communicate that same chosenness to others.” (Daily meditation for September 16, 2013, find it here http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Richard-Rohr-s-Daily-Meditation–You-Have-to-Be-a-Beloved-to-Know.html?soid=1103098668616&aid=WIKS9hNDLm0 )

Jesus, walking along the seashore, calls Peter, James, and John  –  but not to be better fishermen. He does not choose Matthew for spiritual training in how to become a better tax collector. God equips us and showers us with gifts and teaches us and sets us on a path then says, “Now put that all aside and just show up. And, by the way, nothing has been wasted.”

Christ had a great ministry going. Who knows what else he might have accomplished had his life not been cut short. How many more followers he might have attracted.  How much easier it would have been for his disciples. How many martyrs’ lives might have been spared. Maybe the entire Roman Empire could have been converted on his watch.

But he came to God saying, “Nevertheless, your will be done, not mine.” And that was the offer God wanted (Matthew 26:39).

It is exactly our uniqueness that each of us brings to the Kingdom and that each of us must put second to first being the expression of God in the world.  In Four Elements: Reflections on Nature, John O’Donohue writes, “It is ontologically and spiritually true that each person is privileged and burdened with the gift of uniqueness . . . No one else sees your life in the way that you do. No one else feels your life in the way that you do. Neither can any other stand on the same ground as you . . . You are the unique inhabitant of your own reality and of your own life” (pg 5-6).tree single bare for web

So it is my uniqueness that God asks me to bring to ministry, and it is my uniqueness that God asks me to surrender. My gifts, skills, and talents are not what I have to offer; what I have to offer is being a creature whom God created, Christ redeemed, and the Holy Spirit endows with a certain perspective and a certain experience. Everything else is just details.

Thomas Merton, observing nature, writes “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree” (from New Seeds of Contemplation).

“And thus the Mystery passes on from age to age,” says Rohr. “Yes, we do have roles and tasks in this world, but finally they are all the same—to uniquely be divine love in a way that no one else can or will.”

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org

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Practicing Nature

This week:

Go out into nature and spend 15 minutes thinking about Thomas Merton’s reflection that “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.”

Or try our new 15-Minute Meditationclick here

Take a walk using the Cathedral Park Meditation Walk. Go to the page for more info.

Attend the opening of “Seasons” at Cathedral House Gallery on Sunday, Sept 22, 2 to 4 pm. Go to the page for more info.

See the calendar for more spiritual formation opportunities. Click here.

 

 

 

 

When Way Closes

By Marjorie George 

I have told this story before, so spoiler alert if you have already heard it.

closed doorWhen I was 38 years old, I went back to college. I had spent my adult working life as a free-lance magazine writer and decided I needed a steady job with a stable income. I would go and teach high school English and journalism.

I had finished only two years of college before getting married (oh, foolish girl) and now – with a husband and two middle-school-aged children – was determined to get my degree and teaching certification.  It looked like a long road ahead at the time. And I was not at all sure I could compete in the college-kid arena. But I worked hard, studied harder, pushed through, kept up my determination, made good grades, until I was one semester away from graduation and certification. The end was in sight. 

Now, at the time – it may still be this way – the last thing in the teaching curriculum was the student-teaching semester in which we aspiring teachers were put into the classroom with a supervising faculty-member. Usually it was at a local public school.

I was put into an eighth-grade-English classroom. Eighth grade. Thirteen-year-olds.

It was a disaster. I was awful. I was a horrible eighth-grade teacher. The students knew it. And my supervising teacher knew it. And I knew it.

I got my degree and my certification, but I never again stepped foot into a public school classroom. I was not a teacher. Two years, hard-fought years, down the drain.  I was numb. I was heart-stricken. I screamed and hollered. What the hell happened?

I went back to free-lance writing and a few years later, I don’t even know why, returned to college again to get my master’s degree in communications. I had no plans to teach, but an opportunity arose for an adjunct professor in the evening division at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was to teach Freshman Composition. And I did. And I loved it. And my students, who, in the evening division, were generally in their 30s and 40s, were happy. And I learned the importance of audience. I could teach, I just needed more mature students. I stayed at UTSA, happily teaching Freshman Composition, for several years. Some of the best years of my career.

Parker Palmer, in his extraordinary book Let Your Life Speak, talks about “way closing.” As a Quaker, Palmer had heard all his life that when we seek God, “way will open.” But at age 35, his own life seemed to be a series of mis-starts, doors closing, and bad career decisions. He went, one day, to an older Quaker woman known for her wisdom. “’Ruth,’ he said to her, ‘I sit in silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening . . . I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do.’” The old woman’s reply, says Palmer, was a model of Quaker plain-speaking. “’I’m a birthright friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus years, way has never opened in front of me. But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’”

When I graduated from college at the age of 40, with my shiny new degree and my hard-won teaching certification, I might have stuck it out in eighth-grade-English classrooms. I might have decided this thing was not going to beat me, that I had paid my dues, that I was entitled, or that if I only worked a little harder, thought a little smarter, I could become a good public school teacher. I might have muscled my way through. But there would have been bodies left behind. Including my own.

That way closing behind me was the pivotal event in my beginning to search for who I really was and what I was really called to do with my life. That closed door forced me to find new paths, to strike out on some new ventures, to notice a tiny little article in the diocesan newspaper that said the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas was looking for a newspaper editor, and to apply for that job. Twenty-five glorious years later, I still cannot believe how blessed I have been.

And that, my friends, I am happily sorry to tell you, is how the Holy Spirit works sometimes.  It’s terribly inefficient and often distressing, with the value placed on hindsight.   If I doubted that God was with me during the Great Teaching Debacle, I do not doubt it now.

Poor creatures that we are, our current vision is often clouded, our understanding often limited, by our own finite minds. We don’t even know what to pray for, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” Paul reminds us (Romans 8:26). Trusting that, even when we can’t see the way ahead, when nothing is opening and all seems to be closing must be our guide.

Hmmm. I wonder where I learned that. Must have been from a very wise teacher.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  or leave a comment below.

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.

For your own reflection:

Think back on, and give thanks for, all the closed doors in your life that have brought you to understand that “way will open” sometimes means but only after “way” has closed.

Signs and Wonders

by Marjorie George

I laughed out loud when I saw the sign out front at Western Hills Christian Church:

THIS IS

THE SIGN

YOU HAVE

BEEN ASKING  FOR

Fortunately I was stopped at a red light on my way home from the grocery store. The people in the car next to me now think I am strange.this is the sign

The writers of the Old Testament took seriously the importance of signs:  The sun stood still at Joshua’s command (Joshua 10:12-14); water flowed from a rock when Moses struck it (Exodus 17:5, 7); the Red Sea parted so God’s people could cross (Exodus 14:22).  

By these signs, the people knew that God loved them the best and was on their side.

The followers of John the Baptist wanted a sign. “Are you the one?” they asked Christ. “Go tell John what you see,” replied Jesus: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Luke 7:20-22).

“Give me a sign, Lord,” we plead. “Tell me what to do. Show me which way to go.”

Renee Miller, in her essay A Life of Discernment, says, “Life in its plenitude is always presenting us with new and different options to which we must respond.”  However, she adds, the great challenge of discernment “is that we will reduce it to nothing more than achieving a result – getting a question answered – making a choice – coming to a decision.”

Faced with having to make a decision in her own life, writes Miller, she spent years trying to hone in on the right thing to do.  “But I couldn’t seem to gain any clarity about the way forward,” she says. One day she was lamenting to her son about her frustration in the discernment process. “Why don’t you just keep doing what you’re doing until it’s time to do something else?” he responded.

That’s it, you see. We tend to think of the spiritual journey as a single, discernible path – our task being to find it, pounce on it, and stick to it with dogged determination, no matter how thick the  brush we have to chop our way through or how many the boulders we stumble on.  Get my machete.

But I do not think that is the way of the journey.  The paths to God are many and varied, broad at places and then again narrow, sometimes marked with lovely little signs with which all the plants are named (note to self: study up on what poison ivy looks like) but more often a vast expanse of open field and us not knowing how to get across it or even enter it.

Even Christ, when asked for a sign, replied enigmatically, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” referring to his impending death and resurrection (Mathew 12:39).

When in doubt, go back to square one. In the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of our journeys, one thing beckons us forward – loving God and loving our neighbor. When all that we do, when all of our decisions, when all that we seek is guided by this Great Commandment, we can be sure we are on the right path. At any moment, at any decision, the question to ask is: “Is this the life-giving thing to do? Does this lead me to love God more and serve my neighbor better?”

Will we always get it right? Noooooo. Do we ask the Holy Spirit for help and guidance? We do. Will we make mistakes? Yep. But our God is a loving God, and through his Spirit he will gently guide us back to the right path if we let him. For the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent, will teach us all things (John 14:26).

Thanks for the reminder, Western Hills Christian Church. I needed that sign.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org. We welcome your comments and conversation.

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

Read Renee Miller’s entire essay:

http://episcopalcredo.org/episcopal/assets/File/A_Life_of_Discernment.pdf

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles.

 

The Big Reveal

“I will pour out my spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).

by Marjorie George 

Some young friends are having a baby and have opted out of learning the baby’s gender before its birth.

“Why not?” asked another young mother. hand w plant for web

“Well,” said the mom-to-be, “we kind of like the mystery of not knowing.” 

In an earlier generation (mine), that choice was not even available. Sonograms were reserved for “high risk” moms – those over the age of 30. I’m guessing the market for the neutral colors of yellow and aqua in baby attire has dwindled in recent decades.

I still remember seeing each of my babies for the first time and thinking, “Oh, so that’s who you are.”` I knew this child, but not fully.  I had carried this child, talked to the child, sung to the child, felt the baby’s kick in my womb, but the knowledge was not complete until birth: “Oh, so that’s who you are.”

Even with sonograms, I doubt this element has changed for new parents as they investigate toes, nose, the shape of the chin, the placement of the ears. The new mom begins to see her mother’s smile in the baby’s smile; the new dad sees his father’s fingers in the baby’s fingers.  

A priest friend of mine used to say that in part, this is what heaven will be like: meeting Jesus face to face and saying, “So, it was you all along.”

It is an act of the Holy Spirit. Simeon saw the Messiah, knew the old prophecy had been fulfilled, in the child Jesus because, says Scripture, the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon (Luke 2:25).  Paul sees “through the glass darkly,” but then will “see face to face.” He, like we, “knows only in part,” but then will “know fully” (I Corinthians 13:12).

This is the work of the spirit, to reveal to us that God-thing that waits to be created in us – that seed of God that resides at our core and longs to erupt.  It is the deep “knowing” of God and of our own selves that has been covered over by our human endeavoring. It longs to poke its head up, like the tender green shoot in the earth responding to the first warmth of the spring sun.  

We are helpless to bring it to birth by ourselves.  Not that we don’t try.  If we just work a little harder, we think, if we just study a little more, if we just strive a little longer – but no, that is not the way of God – while the spirit of God hovers around the edges of our lives gently whispering, “Here, let me help.”   

And when we finally, finally – usually exhausted by our own efforts – invite the spirit in, life begins.  God’s spirit recognizes our spirit, that spirit that he implanted in us at our own moment of creation, and we say, “Oh, so that’s who you are. And that’s who I am.” 

Our journey of growing ever closer to God, ever closer to that person he created us to be, begins. The journey is our life’s work, and sometimes, when it seems most solitary, we need to be reminded that we do not make this journey alone. That was the promise of Christ to us as he set his face toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17). 

Call in the midwife, it’s time. And I can’t wait to see who God turns out to be for me, who I turn out to be for him, what my life and your life and our lives together as the people of God turn out to be.

Come holy spirit, and it shall be created.

 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org. We welcome your comments and conversation.

 

for your reflectionMore on the Spirit

The Spring/summer 2013 issue of Reflections magazine is now online with a focus on the Holy Spirit. Click here to read the entire issue or individual articles. 

How many biblical verses that mention the Holy Spirit are you familiar with? Click here for 77 of them.