Not my message today, but one that is very important.

7 Edith Stein quotes every woman should read

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Offering Respect by Taking a Step Backwards

I find myself in the position of many faithful Christians. My adult children have concluded that organized religion and belief in the Triune God as “The One” is not for them. I thought that I had dealt with this issue and concluded that my children are good people, with good values. They possess virtues that I find desirable and helpful to the world around us. They treat others with respect, and most importantly they are raising children with respect. But there is a piece of me that cannot let go of my dreams for them and me.
I noticed over the Lenten season that my heart grew heavy with my desire to have my children and their children celebrate the Sacrifice of Jesus the Christ and the Joy of the Resurrection. I miss them in Mass; I miss their light with me in Church and I miss them in my community. As we began to plan our family Easter celebration, the ache washed over me to have them join us in our celebration of faith. After discovering my difficulty in understanding that Easter was just another Sunday for them, they rallied and came up with a reasonable compromise for our family time together. While I appreciate their respect, and love them for altering the plans, my heart still hurt.
You see I truly believe that God is good and that God is real. I truly believe Jesus of Nazareth‘s sacrifice revealed God’s love in an unprecedented way. I believe in the resurrection and the eternal life to come. I truly believe that I am called to live my life improving the world for Christ. I do not believe that all people who do not profess belief in Christ will be damned. I believe that God loves all his creation with an unconditional love. In the Gospel of John, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16). It is not for me to see the place of my children; I am called to see the light of Christ in them as a creation of God. How God will bring us all together is not for me to know.
So why do I struggle so if I truly believe that my children are able to live out their lives with their own convictions. I struggle because I miss the joy of knowing them through the lens of faith. I struggle because I believe that they miss out on the joy, the fun, and community of Christ. I struggle because I am their mother; I have woven a blanket to protect them. But the truth is that I cannot protect my children with my faith choices. God never intended for me to circumvent their freedom of choice. The freedom to choose our own path is one of the greatest gifts that God gives to all humans. It is not my place to choose for them.
I once had a conversation with a community member after a daily Mass. The conversation revolved around her daughter’s wedding. Her daughter had decided to be married outside of the Church. She was struggling to decide if attending her daughter’s wedding was sinful. I told her that my daughter got married outside of the Church that we had not only attended, but that my husband, her father, had walked her down the aisle and we paid for the wedding. She was aghast that we could commit such a sin. I did not see this as a sin; I saw this as offering my love to my child. You see I too had once walked away and Christ never stopped loving me. I am sad that my children do not know the love of Christ each day and with each breath, but I understand that their path in life is their path. My place in their path is to be steadfast in my love of them and my love of Christ. In retrospect, I found this loving response to be true in my life with my parents and their unconditional acceptance. They offered me love and acceptance as I found my way.
My spiritual director once said the threads that we weave into our children are always present, including faith. Bruce Springsteen stated on Story Tellers that if you are raised Catholic there are pieces that cannot be cut out of you; they will always be there (VH-1 Story Tellers, 2005). I believe that as well, and I see it in my children. I see light and positive decisions. Whenever I feel sad by what we do not share, I try to take a step backward, to be respectful of who my children are and give them space. I am also giving myself space to adjust to my call to be steadfast in my faith. I believe God is love and that love begets more love. God is pleased when we love, when we treat each other with respect. He would not have given us the parable of the Good Samaritan if we were not supposed to love as the Samaritan did. I am unsure that the sadness will ever disappear, but I am sure that loving is the light that guides me to my path in life.

Scripture for Thought:
Luke 10:25-37

The Greatest Commandment.
25There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? 26Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” 27 He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
29 But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. 31A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 32Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 33But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. 34He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ 36Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 37He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Anger and a Spider Web

       Anger is a very powerful emotion that blocks the natural light that I see in others. I pray each day that I bring the light of Christ to others through the light that I emit. In Mass before Eucharist, and after the penitential prayer, I pray, “Lord make me a worthy temple so that I may see your light in each person I encounter and be your light to each person in need”. When I am angry, I am blocked from light, either seeing it or being it. I find it hard to pray when I am angry and even harder to function in relationship with others and God. My heart does not hurt because it is blocked from feeling anything but anger.

     I was trying to find a way to clear the anger out of my body, a cleansing so to speak. The image of a spider and a spider’s web formed. A spider weaves their web with one purpose in mind – a means of attracting a tasty morsel. Some spiders build their webs each night and take them down by day; other spiders build a permanent web, only rebuilding or repairing it out of necessity. Spiders are clever as they produce threads of their webs for capture and others for safety. They can navigate the web without peril. A spider will quickly move to wrap up the prey, without concern for becoming caught in their own web. Web properties preserve the blood of their victim as food for later, if necessary. When the time is right they will suck the blood for a scrumptious meal.

      This imagery is natural and beautiful, part of the cosmic order of life. However, when applying the same imagery to human anger, the beauty of nature takes on an ugly and unappealing form. I found myself to be a spider, but instead of weaving a web for nourishment, I was weaving it to capture and feed my anger. Each time I tried to take down my web of anger, I found a reason to rebuild it or repair it. I was destroying the natural light that emanates from me. Survival was not even a thought, nor was destruction. Anger was my only thought. Each day as I would rebuild my web, I would seek out any tiny incident, a tasty morsel to fed my wrath. I would wrap it up in my web and suck the blood right out of my prey. I became far too successful at hunting down each meal, nourishing and encouraging my need for blood. This need to suck the life from others was also sucking the life from me. The range of things that made me angry included interactions with my spouse, traffic, and politics, even inanimate objects. Nothing was outside of my sticky web, navigating was easy. Blame everyone else while refusing to take responsibility for hunting and capturing my prey, without regard to the insignificance of the prey. My web made life unbearable as my anger continued to grow with the need for a new victim.

     Light, like anger, takes on a life that seeks more light. The wounds of Christ are always before me and I have responsibility for the bloody mess I have created. I was deepening each wound of Christ and of my spirit as I wrapped up my prey. I needed to find a way out of my own web. I needed to stop rebuilding every day and find a gentle spot to reset and rest. I am an instrument of love, of God’s love. I had abused my friends, my spouse, and my God. How was I going to reconcile this behavior? I am a good person, thoughtful and loving. How was I going to stop so that I could be in relationship with God, my spouse, and friends. I kept going over this imagery in my mind, and trying to pray. Each time I turned toward what I know to be truth, prayer came easy. Each time I placed the real needs of others before me, I could set my prey free.

      My spouse, in his infinite wisdom, relayed my struggle to a few close friends. A friend called me offering her love and devotion as an agent for God’s love. Immediately I found myself on the cusp of giving over my anger. When alone, I talked to the Holy Spirit. I decided that if I love, then while there may be pain sometimes, there would never be a bloodletting. I do not presently have a relationship with my earthly shepherd. I am sure that he does not know my smell, but I have a community that does know me. My spirit has been lifted from darkness to light. My focus is clear and my love is returning in abundance. It is my prayer that my imagery and light may help others, lost in the milieu of earthy life, to seek their connection to the spirit and help them to let go of anger. Suffering because of anger is unnecessary and counter-productive to love.
(For a psychological approach in dispelling one from anger check out this article by Gary Trosclair – Transforming Anger Addiction: How to Use Political Anger Constructively )

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Muscle Memory and Empathy


Muscle Memory and Empathy

The other night my husband and I were sitting in our bedroom looking out the window star gazing. Our discussion revolved around empathy. We were discussing the development  of our empathetic responses to one another. We were tussling with the question of why some persons have seemingly more empathy than others. My conclusion without research was that empathy is much like a muscle. Muscles have memory; this concept of memory is a procedural development connecting the cognitive ability to improve through practice of a particular activity using certain muscles (Lifehacker n.d.). These muscles strive to make the most efficient use of motion in order to help proficiency and perfection of the intended activity. The brain, as I understand, will naturally make the most efficient pathways to process, use, and improve as one practices a particular activity. I propose that empathy, or the act of empathizing happens regardless of practice, but that one acquires proficiency in empathy through the practice of empathizing.

As a hospital Chaplain my job required a highly developed since of empathy. Bracketing my own emotions and judgments allowed me to exercise and practice my ability to empathize regardless of my own state. I began a four-month externship[1] as a hospital chaplain, believing that I possessed the necessary virtues to be empathetic. While the statement is true, I do possess spiritual virtues of kindness, gentleness, courage, and fortitude. I did not possess the knowledge that the needs of others trigger empathy first. The process of practice in empathy generates my ability to offer compassionately any of the spiritual gifts given to me to another in need. Each time I walked into a hospital room, or hung out charting at a nurses station, I was practicing. I contend that this muscle in empathy experienced many changes, both growing and straining. There were moments when the muscle was to thick to bracket my own vision. I quickly learned that the practice thinned and elongated the muscle.  I begin the dissection of this method by first acknowledging that empathy is a thin-skinned muscle.

Empathy as a muscle initiates a tickling inside your brain, an experiential tickle alerting one to connect the present experience to a previous experience. The brainy academic character Sheldon Cooper of the television show “Big Bang Theory” offers a hyperbole as a present example of empathetic response and compassionate behavior upon recognizing the  discomforts or pain of others . Here is a pretend dialogue between Sheldon and his roommate Leonard.

Sheldon, “I will fix you a warm beverage”.

Leonard, “Why”?

Sheldon, “That is what one does when a friend is distressed”.

There are a distinct set of rules for Sheldon that apply to varied situations regardless of any subtle changes in each experience. Sheldon is addressing the need of his friends through a practiced ritual of compassion. Something in the prior conversation or actions with Leonard, tickled the empathy muscle causing Sheldon to begin a compassionate ritual of comfort. His comforting response, although stilted, promotes the care that helps others to work on their discomfort or pain. Each encounter that generates a tickle deepens one’s ability to recognize the need for empathy and stretches the muscle. As the muscle lengthens, the proficiency in pathways lead one to experience empathetic vision. The pathway for this muscle alters  vision causing the focus to center through the lens of someone in need.

A tickle is hard to ignore; recognition is the key to feeling and knowing when to respond with empathy. Empathy by definition and action may be taught, such as with Sheldon.  However, for most of us the internal response to an empathetic tickle leads to practice empathy stretching the muscle in practice and discovering that with practice empathy is waiting to lead compassion to action.

[1] Externship is similar to an internship. It is a short training in a particular field of study.

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My Thoughts in CPE

I speak confidently when I pray to God for guidance in my ministry. I am for almost all purposes a caregiver, seeking guidance from God, my CPE supervisor, CFP supervisor, and my extern team, as a care-seeker. I find this situation somehow very comforting. For most of my life, I have not recognized the importance of care giving and care seeking. The definition of importance has evolved for me; I have grown in recognizing important to mean working in relationship with others to address the spiritual and inter-relational reasons placing me in a position to visit, listen, and emphatically respond. I think it is important to recognize that I have a gift, a beautiful God given gift, which shines light from my relationship with God and God’s existence in me. If I truly believe that my relationship with God guided me to this ministry in Chaplaincy, then I must believe that God would not abandon me in this ministry. Knowledge that God is with me opens up the possibility of forming a reality that this ministry is joy fulfilling.

I have spent my time wisely these past four months reflecting about my formation as a Catholic, Christian, academic, and chaplain. I was confident from the beginning of my natural ability to establish rapport; however, I did know I might have some difficulty with assessing my own bias, and the wordless expressions in body language that telegraph these feelings. My complete attention and presence to a care seeker has been enhanced through my opportunity to reflect on my own theological process, biases, and the twirling wheel of emotions that accompany loss. This has revealed many stabilizing supports in the tools that I am gathering and developing in methods of communication. I have empathy that emerges through my natural existence and state. Compassion, I have learned, goes hand in hand with my ability to relate to others. Because of CPE, I have a vocabulary to put with ideas and interactions. My compassionate actions are a gift that I am learning to use quietly, with reverence for others, so that I may assess their feelings. A paradigm shift has occurred in my thinking and behavior.

Regardless of the paradigm shift, other truths must be at work in order for me to feel the connection with God through ministering in a medical setting. What I have come to know (epignosis) is that I am to be myself in this ministry. I am a faulted individual with a few idiosyncratic behaviors and thoughts. But, it is those very thoughts that allow me to be me. My uniqueness shapes the way in which I am able to respond. Each individual that I am to be present to and possibly minister to offers a challenge for me. My need is to overcome my fear, and trust that I fulfill my promise to the Holy Spirit of passing along the Lord’s compassion in gifts given. I choose to be a Chaplain that has the personal authority to listen, to reflect, and to respond with compassion. It is the compassionate choice to be with patients, family, and staff. The compassion, however, does not end with what I give, but it is truly in the receiving that my gift given in fullness to others and theirs to me is an offering in glory to God. The fullness of giving and receiving fills my need for joy in living out my mission in ministry. As academically lofty as that sounds, it is just the systematic way that I process relationship in theology. Practical theology tells me that this is a reality, that an imperfect minister is capable of bringing perfect love through emphatic and compassionate conversation. I like the reality of this theological process.

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My Vision Statement for my Mission in Ministry

     My mission is to help heal others and myself. I drew my vision statement because I was unable to interpret my thoughts into sentences. It evolved as I practiced on index cards sketching the rooster and pelican. Both are signs of God’s prominence in the world. Truly, our God understands us, in both forgiveness and need. The rooster’s presence sheds light on my own vulnerability. I am vulnerable to the temptation that minimizes my ability to proclaim my belief in my Lord and Savior, and the promise of eternal life. As I cross the bridge, I am aware that my faith allows me to reconcile my weakness toward what is not good. My own choices separate me from God and community. The Keys of Peter on the bridge remind me that celebration of my faith life happens in community; therefore, my reconciliation is with God on the vertical plane and community on the horizontal plane. I am acutely aware of the rose, which reminds me that the Mother of my Lord rejoiced in his birth, revealed his greatness at Cana, and suffered pains at the foot of the Cross. I have used her example in mercy, humility, and suffering that leads to knowledge and joy. The fish symbolizes my membership among the assembly gathered to celebrate the sacrament of remembrance in the Most Holy Eucharist. The gift of the Eucharistic meal, symbolized by the Pelican plucking her breast and feeding her young, reminds me to be ever cognizant of the meal that sustains me. The three nails symbolize the Sacrifice of my Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, a ransom for my life. The gift of Holy Spirit may be seen in the brilliant reflection on the water; it is the promise of fullness and truth acting within the Church and community.

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Calm on the Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee          I am overwhelmed by responsibility and overburdened by my own hand. But, on the Sea of Galilee at sunset, there is a calm feeling that wraps me in the love of God. It is quiet and peaceful much like the peace I felt when I nursed my children. Comforting sounds surround me as I gently rock back and forth. The water laps up against the boat in a rhythm that is designed to ease. The smell of fresh and clean air fills my senses; joyfully, I take a deep breath. It cleanses my mind and opens my heart, for too often I forget to keep it open. Sunlight shines in beauty through the clouds streaming a warm array of colors in orange, pink, and yellow highlighting the blue sky. As the day slips into night, the warmth penetrates my whole being inviting me to join God and become one in this beauty. Jesus is cooking on the shore; waiting patiently for me to know that he is there. This is a place where I am with Christ, my Lord. I hear his voice and his hand feeds me.
After a long week, I am scattered and often of no use to anyone. When I make the time to rest in him, I feel the promise of his love. With the relief of my daily stress, I refocus my thoughts, and the gifts that I have been given are renewed with vigor. I am ready once again to face my mission. I think of Christ, and desire to walk with him, but I must first place myself in his presence and rest in his mercy and love. I will always return refreshed and collected ready to meet the challenges of my life today.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.

In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;

you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.

Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.

You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

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