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Embracing Lent


Affirmation: Lent is a time dedicated to strengthening my faith. 
Today, February 14th, is not only Valentines Day it’s Ash Wednesday.  For Catholics it marks the beginning of one of the holiest seasons of the church year.  Practicing Catholics go to Mass or at least to a Lenten service and have a thumbprint of ashes smeared on their forehead.  The words accompanying the ritual are “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19) The ashes normally come from the palms that were blessed for the previous Easter season.  At my church, St. Michael the Archangel, here in Cary, NC, the practice includes sprinkling holy water into the dishes holding the ashes.  That makes them pastier and then the priest or the minister can really smear them on.  I don’t remember them being so black and pronounced when I was a child.  We are then encouraged not to rub or wash them off until we would normally cleanse our faces.  I found myself eating lunch today at a local cafe and was charmed by the number of Catholics who proudly proclaimed their faith that day.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to miss a big black smudge on someone’s forehead and it’s the perfect opportunity to share your faith without saying a word. 
I live in the Bible Belt which I understand to mean we have a lot of practicing Christians in this area, many of whom are evangelical.  They have a mission to convert the world, the whole world to Christianity.  This is not the place to live if you are wishy-washy about your faith, unless you’re living in Chapel Hill.  (That’s a little hint for anyone reading this who is thinking of moving to our beautiful state.) I’ve lived in the Bible Belt now since 1976.  First, I was in Cincinnati, Ohio for ten years and now, I’m here.  How is that different from other parts of the United States?  If you look at one of USA Today’s graphs, you will see that the south-east and mid-west areas are shaded darker when the shading represents the number of people calling themselves Christians.  As the map expands to the west, California, Oregon etc., the shading becomes lighter and lighter.  My experience with this part of the world has been wonderful.  I have noticed that the people here who are working to be faith filled are kind, caring and compassionate.  I don’t think one need be religious or perhaps even spiritual to have those qualities but when your faith is an integral part of your life, I believe you are enjoined to raise yourself up to a higher level of responsibility to lead a more exemplary life. 
I know all about the hypocrites, those who show up at services all holy and righteous only to lead small, mean lives.  My experience has not led me to be surrounded by that type of practitioner.  My experience, especially that of living here in NC, has been one of support and kindness and compassion from the people who are actively participating in their faith.  Perhaps, I’ve just been lucky because even some of my friends who don’t belong to an established religion are loving and compassionate. Could it be, however, that the God energy of this area has permeated more souls than elsewhere?  It’s a nice thought.  It brings me comfort and hope.  Maybe mindfulness in itself encourages people to live lives of caring and service.  Supposedly there was a study done many years ago that showed when a Transcendental Meditation seminar was being held, that section of the country had less crime.   
Lent is my favorite time of the year. My part of the world is gray and wet and soft right now but I know that in just a few weeks everything will be in full bloom, the Dogwoods, Azaleas, and Daffodils to name a few will come forth and brighten and color our entire area.  It goes from dreary to delightful.  It’s slow and deliberate and if you pay close attention, you can see the metamorphosis taking place.  That’s what I like to imagine is happening to my inner life too.  Lent offers me the opportunity to grow and blossom, to go from dreary to colorful.  It’s up to me how I use the time.  For me, it’s a more deliberate time, an opportunity to be even more mindful, than any other time of the year.  I always hope the changes I’m making stay with me, as I move into the rest of the year, and hopefully some of my Lenten practices do just that and that’s exactly the reason we are called upon to set aside this time to develop more self-discipline and to be of greater service.  We are called to pray more, give alms and to practice acts of denial.  We are called to be more mindful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s a practice we could use every day not just during Lent but with Lent comes the deliberate intention to grow our inner lives, to make us and our world kinder, gentler and more compassionate. 
The main question at Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  I know I could give up wine or chocolate or some such food item and have the added benefit of reducing my waistline. In 2014, however, I chose a more difficult practice. I decided to give up doubt and now, in 2018,  I confess I still have “work” to do.  I must say, I feel I am now stronger in my faith than in the past but for me, it seems to be the work of a lifetime. When Oprah interviewed the famed televangelist, Joel Osteen, she asked him if he had ever doubted his belief in Jesus Christ.  He emphatically answered, “No.”  I am still not a Joel Osteen.  I am more of a Thomas.  After all these many years of practicing my faith I still have my doubts.  Let’s face it, it’s quite a story! That however, is not how I want to live my faith, the promises are too great.  I want to believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and that I can have a personal relationship with Him that will enhance my life and lead me to a place where I reach out to others with pure love.  I want to believe that with Him, not only will I and my loved ones have eternal rest and peace, but that this life will be a more rewarding experience.  I haven’t yet had any direct messages from the spirit world that would allay my doubts but I don’t care.  This is how I want to live my life and for me it seems to require practice and Lent, my favorite time of the year, offers me that perfect opportunity.  “Loving Father, help me to better know and love Your Son.  Amen.”

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.  

Do you pray?  How do you pray?  Are your prayers silent or out loud?  Do you only pray when you go to church?  How about before meals?  Maybe you only pray before meals in your home, never out in public?  Maybe your prayers are only in the evening before bedtime, like many of us were trained to do as a child.  Maybe you make up your own words, or maybe you only use the rote prayers of your faith.  As you can see there are many forms of prayers, some might even say their best prayer is when they are on the golf course or watching a football game.  “God, help me get over this water!”  “Lord, please be with our team today.”  Some wouldn’t even use the name of God.  Perhaps, their faith won’t allow that or perhaps their faith leads them to only a universal concept like, the Divine or the Universe.  Of course, we also have those people who don’t believe in prayer at all and think it a waist their time.  This may not be the blog they will want to read.  That’s ok.  I think they are praying every time they send their energy out into the world with their thoughts, or into their bodies with their intentions.  
Recently, I read, “Ron DelBene’s Breath of Life Series: A Simple Way to Pray (The Jesus Prayer). To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to learn much from this tiny book but I am presently in the midst of training to become a certified spiritual director at the Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC (I mentioned it In my last blog, Walking the Camino.) and I have a list of monthly assignments.  This was one of the suggested.  As usual, I was wrong; wrong, wrong, and wrong!  
If you’ve been following this blog, you already know I am a prayer warrior.  I pray all day and I have lots of tools to help me with that.  I have all those memorized prayers most Catholics learn as children and several I’ve memorized as an adult.  I have the one I wrote myself that I occasionally use before I journal.  I have the Rosary which I always say as I walk the lake and if not then, during some quiet time in the afternoon.  I have Sunday Mass.  There’s grace and my ujjayi yoga breath to which I add the name of Jesus.  So you see, I’m pretty immersed in a prayer life but I know there is always lots of room for me to improve my relationship with the Lord.  It’s my life’s primary focus, especially now as I move closer to meeting Him. 
  

In fact at the Haden training this last weekend we were handed a picture of a tree and the title was “Contemplative Practices.”  There are several branches: stillness, generative, creative, activist, relational, movement and ritual/cyclical.  It would appear according to this diagram that almost any form of activity can fall into a contemplative category as long as one is wholly present to their actions.  I’m sure that’s true but I still feel most of us will benefit from finding a way to silence and stillness.  It’s a busy noisy world out there and “in here” and to take some time and just be, can be life changing.  In fact, it has now been scientifically proven that the part of brain that deals with stress changes with meditation and we respond with less tension and anxiety. 

Ron DelBrene’s book was for me like discovering a magic lamp, with a genie inside.  The genie popped out and I was asked to make a wish, only one.  Oh, what was so important to me that I would want to focus on it all the time?  Ron suggests you find a short phrase that you use as an all-day prayer.  He recommends it be around six words or so.  You then repeat it throughout your entire day.  You can say it at a red light, standing in line, waiting in a doctor’s office, walking to you employment, in the shower.  Anywhere, anytime is the perfect time.  You “rub the magic lamp” and you actually ask, “God, what prayer would best serve our relationship?”  You take some of that quiet time I just mentioned and you listen.  What phrase comes to mind?  For now, that’s the prayer.  Sure, you can change it.  You can tweek it but for now, own the words that you have been gifted.  Breathe in, deep breath and let them settle into your heart and your spirit.  Give the prayer a few days to take root and then be prepared for when it begins to blossom.  That’s when you’ll know the “genie” has heard your one wish and it is being manifested.  The prayer isn’t for anyone or anything other than yourself.  Selfish, you think?  Remember the Prayer of Saint Francis?  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  Until we change ourselves to be centered in the gifts of the Sprit; love, joy, peace, hope, compassion and generosity, nothing outside of us will ever change.  Let God take up full time residence within, you only need ask, and then throw away that lamp because now the miracle of finding God within will bring about the miracle of revealing God without and I believe life will never again be the same.  

Give it a try.  If you like, write me and share your prayer and anything else that manifests from your newest practice.

“Holy Spirit, fill me with Your pure love.”


Walking the Camino

Susan & I beginning the journey

Affirmation: Even though the walk along the Camino has ended, the journey continues.

It’s said that the Camino journey continues even when you’ve finished walking the path.  Perhaps that was the whole theme behind the movie, The Way.  A few days after walking the Camino, my friend Susan Auman and I re-watched the movie together.  Have you had that goose-bump feeling of watching a film and remembering the places you’ve visited?  That was our experience as we watched the film a second time.  I have been hesitant to write this blog summarizing my Spain adventure.  I can’t find all the words I would like to use to tell you about it.  People ask me and I find myself stuttering, smiling, shrugging.  The feelings are still here with me and we came off the path over a month ago and to be honest, I don’t want the feelings to go away.  I’m thoroughly enjoying being in a state of awe and wonder and gratitude.  

Roads Scholar Camino Tribe, May 2017


I attempted to share a bit of our trip on the local Camino blog site in case someone else was interested in going with Roads Scholar but the conversation quickly turned to how much more it cost to go with a tour than it would cost to go on one’s own.  I don’t think the people who commented had a clue; I don’t believe I would have ever gone “on my own.”  I almost didn’t go with the group. Yes, it cost more than a solo hike but for me, it was worth the expense. I had many moments beforehand of wondering what the heck I had signed up for.  We walked 60 miles in 10 days.  We walked up mountains, through forests, through small villages and in the 
rain and through the mud. We didn’t get a certificate and we had a lot of guidance, thank God!  But I left with a wonderful sense of accomplishment and an amazing storehouse full of memories that will last me a life-time. 

One of the many highlights was when we attended the pilgrims’ mass on our first day in Santiago.  We had just finished a guided tour and we were told that the swinging of the incense, the Botafumeiro, was only done periodically and no one knew when that would happen.  I know I was very disappointed by that news and so was Susan.  We decided to get to the mass early so we were assured of a seat.  When we arrived there was a special ceremony going on and we were delayed admission.  Finally, they let us into the church and as we began to take our seat, five robed men moved into the center of the sanctuary and filled the Botafumeiro with incense and began the swinging.  If you’ve ever seen this done, you will know how goose-bumpy it is.  It moved me to tears.  Then the mass began and when it ended they again swung the Botafumeiro.  Twice!  We experienced this rare, unique blessing twice in one day.  We then discovered it was the one-hundredth anniversary of the miracle of Lourdes and not only did they honor it with the incense swinging but with a procession through the streets honoring the Virgin Mary.
St. James Cathedral, Santiago

Other highlights included stopping at several churches along the way where we were blessed by the local priests and in one of the churches, a visiting Italian choir broke out in melodic song but for me, the most moving event took place, once again in Santiago.  After the pilgrims’ mass, one of my fellow walkers shared with me that she had just come back into the Catholic church.  Her adult son had died with ALS and before he died he had asked her to return to the church but she hadn’t felt moved to do so until she walked into Saint James Cathedral in Santiago de Compestella.  She had actually gone to confession there (the priest didn’t speak English, so he took out a little book of “sins” and had her point to the ones for which she wanted forgiveness) and she had received communion.  She glowed from her experience and I glowed with the honor of her sharing with me her amazing act of courage.  These are just a few of my favorite memories.  Of course I kept a journal and if I were to share all the highlights, I’d have a book written, not just one of my longest blogs.

I’d tell anyone who had this opportunity to grab it and go.  Don’t miss this pilgrimage.  I think it’s life-changing. I know it’s been life changing for me and I’ve only been off the path a very short time.  How, you may ask?
The Rosaries in Finisterra

Remember the blessed Rosaries I collected?  I mentioned them in the last blog.  My first night with the group, I explained that I had been given a “message” to bring Rosaries and I knew that sounded weird but I had collected about fifty of them from a lot of different people.  “Please take one or two if you like.  If you don’t want one, that’s fine too.”  The rest of the Rosaries walked the Camino with me.  When I was finished, I again passed the bag around with the same instructions.  Between our group of twenty-three and the other people I met on my trip, I came home with 5 Rosaries.  I was in awe of how many people I met who wanted to talk about their faith. If that happened, I eventually offered them a finger Rosary and everyone accepted; the tapas tour leader, the taxi driver, the hotel receptionist, the German pilgrim in Finisterra. I didn’t feel any pressure to give away the Rosaries.  I just let it happen, and so it did, and it was so rewarding to share this small gift of my faith.  

The journey didn’t end in Spain.  The journey hasn’t ended yet.  The first Camino synchronicity that took place was about a week later when I arrived at my daughter’s home in London.  When I had visited her in March I walked to mass at the local church as is my practice.  As I was leaving mass a very nice lady introduced herself and proceeded to walk along next to me.  She was very gracious and said the next time I was in London, perhaps I’d like to come to her home for tea; she lived close by.  I contacted her when I arrived at my daughter’s and made arrangements to meet up.  I mentioned in my email that I had just come off the Camino.  As we walked along, I asked her if she’d ever walked the Camino.  “I have walked the Camino for three weeks every year for the last eighteen years.”  I had goose-bumps.  When we arrived at her home, she had all the original tour books for the path, before one had access to cell phones or computers.  She had them in English, German and French.  She also had a walking stick engraved with El Camino.  My new friend worked for the non-profit, L’Arche.  An organization that helped mentally disabled adults transition to independent living.  It’s a world-wide organization.  She then went on to tell me she had two American Gurus, Richard Rohr and Marshall Rosenberg.  As you may already know, Richard Rohr is someone I follow very closely.  He’s appeared in my writing quite a bit.  I didn’t know about M. Rosenberg but I downloaded one of his books and read it on my eight hour flight home.  He is the developer of the Non Violent Communication process. If that wasn’t enough of a synchronicity,  when we went to a communication session to help our grandson, one of the five recommended books was….you probably guessed it, Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC. 

I now carried a vision of the Camino path continuing along mosaic stepping stones.  Where would the next stepping stone be found?  Many months before I left for Spain, I had a trusted friend tell me about a local woman, Sherrie Dillard, who might offer some spiritual guidance.  My appointment with Sherrie was the week after I came home from Europe.  During my visit she told me it appeared I would be presented with an “opportunity “ sometime in the coming fall, a very intriguing prediction!  Was this another mosaic stepping stone?  Would I only know them after I had walked on them?

The very next day after visiting Sherrie, I was invited to attend a Soul Collage workshop.  Over the years, I had done a lot of collaging.  Our yoga-off-the-mat art activity at our annual Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat (.org) has often focused on meaningful art work, many of our projects were guided to help us create wonderful memorable pieces.  This workshop, however, took this art form to a whole different level.  It was designed to help one tap into those innermost places that are usually well hidden from ourselves.  When my two collage cards were complete, I noticed one part of one of the cards had a picture of a stone pathway.  The woman, Becky Hambrick, who led the workshop was certified in this process and was also a spiritual director.  She mentioned she trained at the Hayden Institute in North Carolina.  I invited her to dinner.  I was very interested.   
I’d seen Sister Judy Hallock at A Place for Women to Gather over the years for spiritual direction and I had a few friends who were also certified in this field.  I’d looked into the certification several times but the programs and the timing were never right.  I decided I’d take a few baby steps and see where this path might lead.  

It led me straight to an available slot in the fall session at the Hayden Institute for training as a spiritual director.  Yes, even when I’ve finished walking the path, the Camino journey continues.  This image that I now carry in my mind and heart leave me feeling excited, hopeful and awed.  It’s such a marvelous gift and I feel so blessed to have received it.  Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you!


Additional Photos:

Unmet Expectations

Affirmation: I let go of affection, security and power.

Lee Smith, one of our beloved North Carolina writers spoke at the Olli program at NC State University this April. Her topic was, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool. She spoke for one and half hours and never missed a beat. She was funny and clever and very entertaining. I took out my phone at one point, not to check my messages, I hope she knew that, but to write down one of her shared quotes, “Expectations are the breeding ground of resentment.” This, I felt, deserved some reflection.

I’m preparing for a walk along the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’m going with my friend, Susan Auman. We are going with Roads Scholar.
We are not walking the whole 500 plus miles. We are “only” walking about 50 miles or so, the last part of the famous pilgrimage. After my adventure last year with Isabelle to Alaska I realized how important it was to me to step outside of my comfort zone. This is way outside of my zone and it’s been an interesting journey before I’ve even packed the suitcase. (More about that later.)

I’ve read the information packet and I’ve watched the movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen. I’ve got my plane tickets, hiking boots and hiking poles. I’ve got new walking pants that roll up and my old Outward Bound hat. I have sunscreen and Biofreeze. I’ve spent the last few weeks dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s.” I have had moments of complete panic and moments of total calm. At one point, I called Roads and spoke to a woman named Gale. I told her how anxious I felt and that I wanted to speak to the guide; that was not going to happen, she told me. Then she asked me what I was anxious about. “Everything!” I replied. At some point in the conversation she reminded me that millions of people have already done this. They’ve walked the entire path. She also reminded me that this is a pilgrimage and “a spiritual journey.” With those words, the anxiety seeped out of me. It was like I had been in the dark and she came in and flipped on the light switch. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been calm ever since but that would not be true, although I have been calmer and that’s been nice.

After listening to Lee Smith, I’ve tried very hard not to have any expectations for my trip. I have prayed that it be “uneventful.” I think that’s what people mean when they speak of “traveling mercies.” If you’ve been watching the news lately, it appears travel is filled with situations that are far from pleasant and may even be life threatening, or deadly. Of course, that describes most of life, don’t you think? I however, once again, get to choose on what I want to focus. I have asked my Guardian Angel to go ahead and pave the path with grace and ease. That practice brings me peace. I expect this to be an adventure, perhaps one of my life’s most daring after breast cancer. This adventure however, I’ve chosen.

As I sat quietly one morning trying not to mentally pack (again) and to stay in the moment, I received a message, “Bring Rosaries.”  I haven’t had a lot of direct communication with God or in this case, Mother Mary, but I was very sure this wasn’t my idea. When I rose from my sitting, I sent a note to all my Catholic friends asking for Rosary donations.  I felt I wasn’t supposed to buy them.  I believe I am to bring the prayers and energy of my dear ones from home onto and into the walk.  What a wonderful response I’ve gotten.  Some came with notes wishing us well.  Some are from the Vatican, recently blessed by Pope Francis.  Some are homemade by the ladies of St. Michael the Archangel.  Others belonged to loved ones who have passed away.  There are even finger Rosaries.  Who knew there was such a thing?  I’ve already given a few away.  I know the dear ones I gifted will be holding us in their prayers as we walk along.  I like knowing that.  It makes me smile.

When I heard Lee Smith’s quote, however, it was not travel that first came into my mind. The reason I believe it resonated so loudly with me is because I recognized the frustration I’ve experienced over the years with several important relationships. I’m guilty of expecting people to behave in a certain way or to respond to me in a certain manner and they don’t always meet my expectations. I’ve got some amazing people in my life and I’m not proud of judging them as wanting because they didn’t live up to my expectations and perhaps because I didn’t even let them know what I wanted. I’ve been on the other side of this also and it’s a very exhausting experience to try and meet someone’s expectations whose needs are quite extensive but who doesn’t want to appear needy and so doesn’t tell you what they are.

The phrase I have adopted this year to begin my meditation with is, “I let go of affection, security and power and accept this moment exactly as it is.” I say it before I begin meditating and have to say it several times during my quiet time. “I let go.” How powerful is that? When I stop attaching my wants and desires on my loved ones, I give them permission to be whoever they are and I am then called upon to love them and accept them exactly as they are. Perhaps, once I can achieve that state, I can also allow myself to be the best I can be and not feel an obligation to create someone else’s happiness, or even comfort. As I examine this new phrase, I wonder how much of my life has revolved around my expectations and if that’s served me well or not? I think there’s a difference between expectation and hope. The first is about the destination and the later is about the journey. I can be guilty of focusing on the destination when It comes to every aspect of my life not just my relationships or my travel but my faith, my material possessions, my health, my social life. None of that has brought me happiness or contentment. It’s time to let go.

Maybe by letting go I will make more room for God in my life. Perhaps by letting go over and over again, just like I do in my mediation, I will finally be content and peaceful. I think my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella began the day I signed up for this journey and the lessons I am to learn and share started showing up almost immediately, including in Lee Smith’s talk. Although one of my affirmations is, “The best is yet to come.” Well, who is responsible for that? Perhaps that too can refer to the journey and not the destination. I’ll let you know as I walk along. Look for an update or two but don’t expect too much!

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
An Irish Blessing

My Rosary Collection