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Transforming Suffering

Affirmation: I choose to find the blessings that arise from my suffering.

 

2015-Predictions-World-War-3-Fears-Tick-The-Doomsday-Clock-Close-To-The-End-Of-The-World-665x385-2The newspaper article explained that the Doomsday Clock has been moved forward to two minutes before midnight. It is closer now to the bewitching hour than it has ever been since the end of World War II and the creation of the atomic bomb. The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cyber technology that could inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation, or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet. (http://thebulletin.org/overview#sthash.KlhM9quB.dpuf.)

I wasn’t surprised. The world as we know it will end. I’ve seen all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies and the ones about the meteors and the aliens. How about a worldwide virus or the bird flu? Hollywood and fiction writers have been predicting our demise since its inception. How about the Walking Dead or the movies about the Rapture? Yes, the destruction of our lives as we know them can happen in many different ways and any day now. If the world doesn’t blow up, it’s also true that our own personal world may implode or explode.

BePrepared-2Recently the magazine Cincinnati had an article about being prepared for the challenges of life, especially as we age or as our loved ones age. It was about being aware and taking steps to bolster our resources. As you probably know if you read this blog I am the ultimate Girl Scout. “Be prepared” is their motto. I am the queen of preparation and while it’s true I see the changes taking place in my life and the lives of my family and friends, I don’t want to walk around always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” It is so very easy to await the next mishap or disaster. It’s so easy to allow my mind and imagination to go to the difficulties that might arise, to enter into “the cave of phantoms.” So, I’m working on finding a balance between being overly prepared and letting go of the probability of pain and suffering.

The word “transform” keeps showing up as I search for an answer to this question. The first time it appeared was in Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. He talked about developing the ability to transform our suffering because everyone does suffer and the longer one lives the more suffering one will experience. Oh my! Therefore, you need to find a way to transform it or it will transform you into a sad, mean, worn out human. The second time the word appeared was in Father Ryan’s sermon at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. He used it to describe what happens to someone who finds themselves connected to the Divine, either through prayer or when they receive the Sacraments.

TheArtofLettingGoThe secular approach to pain and suffering is to simply be the obverse of whatever is, not to judge it, not to get caught up in the dualistic mind of good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. It’s one of life’s simple concepts that is without a doubt one of life’s most difficult to practice, impossible to master. The Christian faith, however, takes the simply observing concept to a whole other level. That which we judge as pain and suffering, if laid at the foot of the Cross or placed in the arms of The Christ is transformed into blessings beyond our wildest imaginings. The naked, tortured body of God, nailed to wooden beams over two thousand years ago was the ultimate gift. His message was not clear as he was going thorough His persecution. Once He had given up His spirit, however, this poor, itinerant, misunderstood preacher turned our civilization inside out and upside down.

Station-12-Jesus-Dies-Upon-the-Cross-2Many can’t and don’t fully appreciate how he changed the value of human life and dignity. If we lived in some of the third world, repressed regimes today we might better appreciate the impact of Christ’s teachings. He came to teach us that no matter what happens to us it is all redeemable and we get to choose how we perceive our lives. We can see ourselves as victims or as victors. His message was that we are all children of the Divine and we are loved. Our afflictions are not punishments.

I once heard someone say, “Suffering is one of our common denominators.” We all suffer. Some suffer more than others, of that I have no doubt. It doesn’t take too much awareness to know of the horrors that have taken place or are taking place in our world today. Once we head out into the world figuratively or in reality and listen to the ailments with which so many of our fellow humans are dealing, we are faced with story after story of sadness and challenge. If one has not developed the ability to simply be an observer of one’s suffering, how is it to be transformed?

1-Finding-the-Answers1

I don’t know. I want to place an answer here for everyone who is suffering and I know there are the wise, learned people out there who might be able to do that but I’ve decided I am not one of them. In bringing this topic to several of my friends and guides the only “answer” that has presented itself is for me to look at how I personally can and do transform my pain and suffering. What has worked for me in the past? How will that work for me in the future?

My personality lends itself to looking at the bright side of most situations. It can be quite obnoxious for others but it sure has helped me get through some really tough experiences. I’ve studied what is recommended to help one deal with life altering challenges and have taken note of those skills, which I believe will strengthen me when I am again faced with those issues. Simply writing that last sentence out gives me a sense of strength and hope. Hope. I carry hope in my heart. I believe, truly believe that every event I label “daunting or miserable” I will eventually see as a blessing. I believe each challenge no matter how sad it makes me is an opportunity for something amazing. I know on my own, I may not be able to transform all the difficult happenings in my life into something wonderful. There will be many times I need the support of my family and friends. Let them come! I accept. And I know I will also need my faith.

What has worked for me has been to trust God, not that nothing difficult or unpleasant will happen to me but that I will be able to transform what happens to me into something that will give glory to God, or at least peace to myself. Even if I’m faced with the end of the world, I am hopeful that with my trust in Christ, His Blessed Mother and all my Angels and guides that whatever comes my way, I will be that person who sees the good, who rises to the high ground and if I can’t, I am trusting that someone will come along who will help me overcome my grief or my despair.

How have you dealt with your pain and suffering? Have you developed a philosophy that will support you in the future? What can you do today to “be prepared” for the adversities that life will surely present to you? Be a light for others. Share your coping mechanisms. Perhaps one of your pearls of wisdom will be exactly what someone needs to help them turn their suffering into a blessing.

God-always-has-something-for-you-a-key-for-every-problem-a-light-for-every-shadow-a-relief-for-every-sorrow-2

Trusting in Christ

Affirmation:  I dedicate this year of 2015 to
trusting in Christ.
It’s January 1st, 2015 and that can be a time for
reflection and retrospection.  I know
many people make some sort of New Year’s
resolution.  It can be a very common
topic during the first few days of January; “Have
you set any New Year’s resolutions?”  We all
know how they usually go.  Most people
are lucky if they hold onto those resolutions for more than a day.  You know the usuals: lose weight, stop
smoking, begin exercising, eat healthy, spend more time in prayer and or
mediation, etc. and then life takes over. 
The holidays are finished and most of us head back to work or to our
normal routine and that routine doesn’t
include those good intentions.  There is
however, ways to make permanent changes in our life.  Some changes we choose, those can be a gift
we give ourselves.  Other changes are
thrust upon us, and depending upon how we approach those, they can also be a
gift we give ourselves.  
I’m
very excited about this New Year.  I must
admit coming out of Christmas and looking towards the New Year, I didn’t feel excited. 
I felt anxious but I’ve been consistently
journaling and reading as much inspirational and motivational writings as are available to me and I’ve decided that this is my
year to simply go with the flow, to let go of the struggle and the challenges
that I’ve always created for myself.  My study group, The Seekers, is presently
reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North
Star.
  I really had a difficult time
relating to the beginning of the book but midway through it took on new
meaning.  The section we are presently
studying is about The Change Cycle. 
Change, one of those elements that every human being experiences and
experiences all the time.  Sometimes we
are aware of the changes, they are dramatic and potent but most change is
subtle and insidious.  We go through life
not paying much attention to it.  It hasn’t really commanded our attention but it’s always there and how we deal with small changes is a
precursor to how we deal with large changes. 

My Enneagram type, Type 7, is
prone to anticipation.  It’s part two of Martha Beck’s Change Cycle. 
That may sound exciting but the truth is it can be exhausting and it
takes me “out of the moment,” out of
the experience of the present.  I miss
too much by not paying attention to the Now. 
Between Martha and the information about my personality type in the
Enneagram, I decided not to live like that this year.  This year my intention is to allow life to
unfold.  I want to live in the movement
of the spirit.  I can’t tell you what that will look like and I will tell
you I have prayed that I am not called to be a martyr but I’m still going to go with it. 

I owe this year’s intention to one of my dear friends and study group
traveler.  She gifted me with the book, One
Word That Will Change Your Life
by Jon Gordon and she has shared with me
over the year the impact of focusing on one word, like taking a mantra.  I know my intention is more than one word but
the word I’ve chosen to focus on is Trust.  It’s been
here now for a few years, floating in and out of my consciousness and my
affirmations.  A while back I developed
the RTR principle: I fully Rest in God’s care,
I Trust in God’s love and I Release myself from any struggle.  It was helpful but it was a little like a
resolution; I didn’t hold onto it for very
long.  I have discovered that when I take
an intention for the year, miraculous things, subtle and not so subtle take
place and without a lot of effort my life takes on new meaning and color. 
This is the third year of taking
an intention, declaring the year a “year
of.”  This
last year you might recall was “The year of connecting to the
Divine.”  It’s been a wild roller coaster
ride with the publishing of my book in February, the death of my mother,
Margaret Grolimund in March and the marriage of my daughter, Ellen, to Adam O’Sullivan in May but through it all there’s been a peace and a sense of being in the presence of
a greater power.  Each morning my journal
had the year’s intention written at the top of the page and even
though I mostly left the thought as I went throughout my day, I still carried
it with me in my inner being.  As with
all affirmations I believe they first enter your consciousness, then our
subconsciousness and then they permeate our cellular being and we are
different, different in ways we might never even imagined but different in ways
that enhance our lives. 

I’m
ready!  I’m
excited about this year’s intention.  I am expecting amazing, miraculous
things.  I know life will still hold all
the challenges life normally holds and maybe a few I can’t even imagine and for which I would never ask but I’ll be good.  I’ll let this new intention seep deep within me and
whatever the world throws at me, I’ll be
breathing deeply and knowing that since I’ve made
a conscious choice, every day to trust in Christ, I’ll look back on this year, just as I did on 2014 and
see the miracles and the blessings in all the hills and the valleys that is the
ride of my life. 

Christmas Miracles

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.  
Miracle on 34th Street was released in May of 1947.  It originally had the word Christmas in the title but because of the release date it was removed.  How do I know this?  My husband, Sandy and I went to visit his mom, Yolanda, this last weekend.  She lives in Savannah, GA and they were having a fund raiser at the local original Savannah theatre showing Miracle on 34th Street.  We had all seen it many times and we knew it was delightful but we went simply to share the afternoon together and to support the Humans Society.  Once again, I was wrong!  Watching this classic, corny movie in the midst of a crowded theatre was a remarkably different experience than watching it at home alone or in a small group.  We laughed, sighed, applauded and shared all the clever and tender moments that has kept this film so meaningful.  
It’s definitely a secular film.  There is no mention of a God or Christ, other than in the frequently used word “Christmas” but what I consider to be the spirit of Christmas permeates every scene.  Kris Kringle, The real Santa Claus only cares about making others feel valued, loved and important.  It’s not about the physical gifts he’s been told to promote, it’s what they represent to the child or adult that is asking for them.  He brings people together for their betterment and the betterment of all.  He spreads his charm and good will like a net over everyone with whom he comes into contact.  He converts the unbelieving, skeptical Maureen O’Hara and her disenchanted child, Natalie Wood into people with imagination and faith.  He even converts the USPS.  
I saw a cartoon this second week of December, 2014 in the USA Today where two children were standing in front of Santa and asking for world peace and good will towards men.  He asked them if they’d consider an Xbox instead.  The news this week was so sad and tragic that I couldn’t listen.  It only took a glance at the headlines to see the horror that we are perpetuating on our fellow human being.  Has the devil won?  Has “Satan” truly become the ruler of this world?  It would be so easy to believe we are at the end of times but it is Christmas.  It’s a time to promote hope, peace and love for everyone whether one is or is not labeled “Christian.”  We know what He came to do.  He came to show the world that we were put here to love and to serve and that I believe, is the one true truth.  He was here to raise our level of awareness to a higher purpose.  He wasn’t concerned with the rules and regulations.  He was only concerned with the person and their well-being.  He was here to bring comfort to those who most needed it and to make uncomfortable those who are able to be of comfort.
I know there are many believers who believe theirs is the only way.  There’s the joke about the Catholic, Baptists, Mormon, you choose, who arrive in heaven and ask St. Peter why he whispers every time he gets close to this huge wall that is there.  Why is there a wall at all?  He tells them that the Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, you choose, are on the other side of the wall and “they believe they are the only ones up here.”  Oh, to be so sure.  To know that because you are right, you are saved and the rest of the world is damned and how truly sad.  I read a wonderful quote recently, “You can be right or you can love.”   
One of my greatest strengths is my gift of perseverance.  I believe it’s the reason I have accomplished most things in my life.  I truly believe if I simply “hang in there” I will learn or finish whatever it is I’m working upon.  The other side of perseverance is stubbornness and I am as guilty of that as I am proud of my determination.  Just ask my hubby.  This summer, for example, I wanted to walk a new path around Bass Lake in the NC mountains.  We headed out and after an hour we hadn’t reached the lake yet.  Sandy reasonably wanted to turn around.  Turn around!  I couldn’t even imagine it.  We hadn’t even seen the lake yet.  Finally, a few minutes later we arrived.  I knew we were close.  I was right!  Now he reasonably wanted to go back the way we had come.  Go back the same way!  No no no!  We needed to follow the path and head up the other way.  I had been told it was the same distance.  I knew I was right!  He agreed and we got lost and four hours later, we finally found our way to our starting point.  

Sandy not only didn’t leave me, he barely scolded me.  He lives a life of love, not right.  It wasn’t the first time he’s had to put up with my set thinking and I am here to confess he is not the only person in my life with whom I’ve exhibited this trait.  It’s one of those personality shadows that interferes with the quality of my relationships and which I have only recently begun to understand.  Perhaps, this is why I’ve been granted these sixty eight years of life so I can continue to recognize how flawed I truly am.  What was Pope Francis’ first message?  “I am a sinner, pray for me.”  Oh, yes, we are all flawed but as long as we don’t believe we are above or beyond anyone else, we can embrace our humanness and know that God created us just as we are.  She/He created the the miracles of this universe and we are, each one of us, one of those miracles.

Christmas is not an easy holiday for many many people but perhaps it’s because the true meaning has been lost.  Christ is coming, God.  He comes again and again every year and I believe he remains with all those who choose to love, care and be of service to the world.  The Christ, the Savior is here in the hearts of all who know the importance of spreading the net of compassion and love over everyone whose lives they touch.  That miracle on 34th street is the miracle that can be ours should we choose to open our minds and our hearts to The Christ.

May you have a Blessed Holiday Season and a life filled with the awareness of God’s love.

  

Choosing Your Words, Creating Your Thoughts

Affirmation:  The words I choose affect every aspect of my
life.  I choose mindfully.

The question I’ve been asking myself while preparing
for the September 9, 2014 Barnes and Noble signing has been, “What makes
you think you’re someone who can inspire or motivate another to live an
intentional life?”
Truth to tell, I am simply another human being
probably a lot like you who is trying to live a rich, giving, compassionate
life.  My mission statement for my life
is, “I live a Christ centered life of love, peace, joy, hope, gratitude
and compassion.”  And, everyday I
have to remind myself of it and of how I want to live.  I’ve written before of my desire to be loving,
forgiving, nonjudgmental, non-grasping and compassionate.  It’s a meditation.  It’s something I have to keep in mind
everyday, sometimes every moment.  Do
I?  Of course I don’t. 
I know I’m not an expert on human behavior.  I have studied it for many years and I’ve
worked with a lot of people in many different capacities.  One of my first loves is a study group.  I facilitated my first study group at Barnes
and Noble in Cary, NC around 20 years ago with another MSW, Jane Cook.  We presented the book The Artist’s Way
by Julia Cameron.  We had around 35
people participate for the twelve-week session. 
I’ve either facilitated or participated in hundreds of groups since
then.  From my observation I would
propose that most people are trying to find a way to live a more fulfilled
life.  What that takes is of course
different for different people so I don’t claim that I can offer everyone that
opportunity but there are some basic skills available to most of us and using
our words to shape our thoughts and therefore our lives, is a very powerful
one.
I recently had a women ask me if I’d read Ten
Percent Happier
.  I have not.  She explained to me that the author’s secret
to a happier life was meditation and he shared that approach in his book.  He felt he became at least 10% happier
because of his practice.  I believe
it.  He therefore, felt a desire to help
others find this same sense of well being. 
I think we can definitely improve the quality of our lives by meditating
but while it’s simple, it’s not easy. 
It’s takes practice.  It takes
discipline.  It’s no different than
exercising the body.  It’s exercising the
mind.  In fact it’s easier to exercise
the body than it is to quiet the mind. 
What I am proposing, however, is something that almost anyone can easily
put into practice.  I don’t mean for it
to be a substitute for meditation, certainly not a substitute for prayer, but
another tool to be utilized in the search for a better existence.

We are all talking to each other and ourselves all the
time. With just a little effort we can start carefully choosing the worlds we
use.  You know what I’m saying.  In fact, it’s probably easier to shape the
words we use to describe events and others than it is to shape those we use for
ourselves.  We can be our own worst enemies.  I have a long list that I’ve collected of
negative self-talk phrases.  Things I’ve
heard people say to themselves or perhaps I read somewhere.  For example: 
“I am so stupid!”  “I am such a
klutz!”   “I just never seem to get it
right.”  “I just can’t make any
friends.”  “I never have enough money,
time, energy, etc.”  “My right leg, arm, hip,
etc. is my bad one.”  The
list I’ve compiled has about one hundred negative phrases.  Two others that don’t sound negative but have
that effect are, “I am right!” and “I can do that
better.”  Those two statements may
be vey true but I’m here to tell you (and I know I’m right!) most people don’t
want to be around someone who has all the answers and who willingly will tell
them how to do something better, even if they’ve been asked. 
So, I’m not here to give you any answers.  I am here to propose questions and to tell
you what has worked for me with the same hope as the author of Ten Percent
Happier
.  I want to share the
practice and the words that have made my life better, not perfect, but
definitely better.  The positive
affirmations I have created for myself and that I write about here and in my
book, Creating Positive Affirmations, Living An Intentional Life, have improved
the quality of my relationships, my health, my work and perhaps, most
importantly, my faith.  They aren’t
designed to improve your life.  They
simply serve as an example of what has worked for me and in case your
searching, what may work for you.

My dear friend, Joanne Dawe shared her wisdom with me
many years ago when we spoke about using positive affirmations.  “They have to work,” she said,
“I’ve been using negative affirmations for years and they’ve always
worked.”

Christmas All Year Long

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.

My favorite holiday movie is The Bishop’s Wife with Cary
Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young.  It
was made in 1947.  I know many people
have a favorite holiday movie.  My nieces
and nephews like A Christmas Story
Many people watch the classic It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy
Stewart.  Then to name a few others
there’s the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street.  Recently, the AMC channel did a whole special
about all the different Christmas movies. 
Even watching the small clips they showed warmed my heart and made me
smile. I love a corny movie, especially the Christmas movies.

Do you have a favorite?  Do
you have something that you and your family like to sit down and watch once a
year during the holidays?  Why?  What is your choice?  What appeals to you?  Is it something funny or touching?  Is it a classic or is it something new?  In The Bishops Wife Cary Grant is an
angel.  The bishop doesn’t believe it but
he’s so desperate for help that he withholds judgement and so for a brief
period of time Cary Grant settles into their lives.  Henry, the bishop is very consumed with trying
to raise the funds for a cathedral and he thinks Dudley, the angel is there to
help him with that project but he’s so wrong. 
Dudley has come to help Henry rediscover what’s really important to
him.  It’s a similar theme as the one in It’s
a Wonderful Life
.  An angel has been
sent to earth to guide the suffering hero to value those aspects of his life
that he has failed to treasure, his friends and family.  It’s something we’d probably all like to have
an angel come and remind us of periodically.


There are a lot of expectations around the holiday season, those
we believe others have of us and those we take on ourselves.  I want to remember, no I want to luxuriate in
the season.  I want the tree and the red ornaments
and the twinkle lights to stay on always, not just for the few weeks labeled
“the holidays.”  I want to have
every day include the word “Christ” not just those days when I get to
say and write and hear “Merry Christmas.”  I want to possess the Christmas spirit of
love and joy all year long.

This year, as for the past three years, my Small Christian
Community adopted two families for Christmas. 
We do this with the help of Rachel Monteverdi.  Rachel is responsible for the North Carolina
Cooperative Extension Franklin County Family & Consumer Sciences program.  I have tried adopting a family on my own and
found it to be a very daunting experience but once I discovered that I could
bring together a group to make a difference for another family I was excited
and motivated and what a group we are! 
My SCC has been together for over 25 years.  We have a core group who has been there all
along and then we have about twenty five other people who have joined us over
the years.  Like all groups we have
different levels of commitment but the one constant is their generous,
compassionate nature.  We are connected
by a very strong common bond.  We all
believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and we all believe in answered prayer.  We have an ongoing prayer list that everyone
covers in prayer at all times and if there’s a special request, it can go out
to the group and I for one find comfort knowing I have this group of Prayer
Warriors lifting my concerns up to God.

We had two families this year. 
The first one was a grandmother and a seventeen year old girl who had
been homeless last year and didn’t have any Christmas.  The other family was a widower and his three
young sons.  They needed shoes and
gloves, blankets and cleaning supplies. 
They wanted some games, perhaps a CD or a few books.  Our list includes their first names and ages
and I simply send out the list to the SCC and to my daughter and son and ask
for whom they’d like to buy.  After all
the gifts arrive I fill in anything that is missing from the list, divide the
gifts by family and put the gifts into black garbage bags (for safety
reasons.) The people in the SCC went over and above in making this holiday
special for these families.  They wrapped
everything and made sure there was not only the needed items on the list but
the wanted items too and if they thought of something special, like a bracelet
with a little “bling” or a remote control car for the boys, that was
in there too.  This year my car held ten
bags.  It was filled to the brim.  My heart was filled to the brim.  I am so very grateful to be a part of a group
that so willingly and generously reaches out to help others.

We won’t know how our efforts affect the families.  We won’t hear anything.  We have to trust that our efforts have made
their holiday and their lives richer and more joyful, perhaps even more hopeful
about their futures and about how they see the world.  I know in our giving efforts it made me feel
more joyful and more hopeful.   It made
me feel the same way those corny Christmas movies make me feel.  It made me feel like the world can be a
kinder, gentler, more compassionate place. 
The world can be a place filled with peace and love.  Jesus Christ was born over 2000 years ago for
just this reason, to guide us to creating a world of peace and love.  If we can hold that concept in our hearts and
minds not only during this holiday season but for the whole year, Christmas
won’t end.  I may have to take down the
tree and the red ornaments and the lights but I don’t have to put away the love
and the peace that makes our lives and the lives of all those we care about,
richer and blessed and neither do you. 

Merry Christmas!

What Do You Live For?

Affirmation:
Every day I invite God into my life.
In Rediscover
Catholicism
, Matthew Kelly asks many interesting questions and he presents
many topics for contemplation.  One of
the questions is “What do you live for?” He tells the story of
Abraham Lincoln calling in a soldier and asking the soldier to deliver an
important message.  The soldier tells
Lincoln, “Sir, I would die for our cause.”  Lincoln says, “Son, I have thousands of
men who will die for our cause.  What I
need is one man who will live for it.” 
I love that story.  It made me
question myself.  What do I live for?  Where do I spend my time, talent and
treasure? 

Rediscover
Catholicism
is a
three hundred page book which is distributed for free.  I received it at my church in Cary N.C., St
Michael the Archangel.  I think we were
encouraged to give it to someone who has “fallen away” from the
church but I felt I could use something to reenergize my faith and so I brought
it home and promptly put it on my shelf. 
There it sat for several months along with a whole stack of other
“mean to read” books.  Do you
have any like that? 

One day a fairly
new friend and I were discussing the Church and she began to tell me about
Matthew Kelly and his book, The Dynamic Catholic.  She’s seems more sure of our Church than I
and I was interested in what she had to share and quite taken with her
enthusiasm for this author and his passion. 
I then realized his book was sitting right there with us.  It felt like I was being directed by Spirit,
by God, to read this book.  I began using
it as a prelude to my journaling in the morning, as I like to do with different
reading material.  My intention is to read
something inspirational at night, I have recently been focusing on the New
Testament, and something motivational in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Rediscover
Catholicism
.

It’s very easy to
focus on the faults of the Catholic Church. 
It’s no different than focusing on the faults of the world, the government,
any organization, friends or family. 
It’s very easy to sink to the level of non constructive criticism.  It’s easier to go to a negative place than to
a positive one and the Church is a magnet for that criticism.  It has had many serious problems as an
organization, devastating behavior that cannot be justified. When I refer to
the Church, I am referring to the hierarchy. 
The patriarchal leaders who determine the philosophy and tenor of
Catholicism. Even with all its blemishes the Catholic faith has provided me with the
tools to help me deepen my faith and to grow in my relationship with God.  Matthew Kelly’s book has helped me, my Small Christian Community
study group, another study group called the Women of Grace and recently a few
new friends.

One of the
concepts presented in the book The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield
is that there are no coincidences; everything that happens is
“supposed” to happen.  We are
always in exactly the place and time within which we are created to be.  The choice of what we do and how we choose to
perceive the situation, however, at that moment is completely ours.  One  of
my daily prayers is “Come Holy Spirit fill the heart of Your
faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of
Your love.” It warms my soul to say that prayer.  It truly is the desire of my heart.  I want to live a Christ centered life of love
and forgiveness and service and when I say that prayer and invite God to fill
me with Divine Presence, I feel hopeful. 
“Ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened.”  In my quest to unite my will to the will of
God I have been drawn to activities and people who are guiding me, inspiring
me.  I once had a friend who always
seemed to be running into people, even strangers, who needed her help.  I asked her about her propensity towards this
mission and she told me she asked God everyday to send her people she could
help.  It seems so simple, doesn’t it, if
we can just remember to ask?  I’m a great
believer in answered prayer.

My faith is
growing.  My relationship with my God is
becoming stronger.  Thank heavens because
it makes my life richer and more peaceful. 
I find more and more opportunities to learn about my faith and to sink
deeper and deeper into its comfort. 
Looking back on the last year alone, I can see several invitations I’ve
said “yes” to which have led me to a more appreciative attitude
towards Catholicism.  The strongest
influence has been the newer friends who have entered my life and have chosen
to reach out to me and include me in their lives.  It’s been a tremendous joy, an honor and a
privilege to become their friend.  Each
presents their faith in a different but vibrant, loving way and I am inspired
by it.  Recently, one of the women said,
“I love my Church.”  I love my
Church!  It was wonderful to hear someone
say that.  I too am guilty of focusing on
the faults and not the beauty of my faith. 
“I love my Church.”  I’m
not there yet but perhaps with my daily prayer the Holy Spirit will lead me to
fall in love with it too.  I know I’ve
fallen in love with the men and women of my church who are in my life and who
with each encounter lead me into that rich, deep relationship with God I so
desperately desire. 

   

Why God Allows Evil

Affirmation:
 I fully trust in God’s loving care for me and for all those who ask for
it even in times of unbelievable tragedy.

The answer to “why” do such horrific
events happen will never be within our grasp here on this earth.  I did
find Brian Stiller’s enlightened view, however, into the Christian theology of
the presence of evil in our society and especially about the evil present this
week in Newtown, CN. to be very insightful. Therefore, this week I share his
essay on “Why God Allows Evil.”

Why God
Allows Evil?
“The Cry,” Munich’s
painting of a young woman’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit
day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the
unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in
Newtown Connecticut to find their children.
Questions about “who”
died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child?
Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia
wonder, “Why does God allow evil?”
I know attempts to
answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at
little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a
possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion
(called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in
Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.
There are two paths down
this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is it that God who
is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow
the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through
generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is
humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The
second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a
lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos.
The first path is logic:
Why doesn’t God who is loving and all powerful eliminate evil? Hume (18th
century philosopher) asked, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then
he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both
able and willing? Whence then is evil?” On neither score God wins. But what if
we explore beyond Hume’s two options (if he is willing, but unable he is weak;
if able but not willing, he is not good) with another: He wills to allow
choice, and thus is both sovereign and good.
Or what if we posed
this: Could God create a world in which there is free choice but only one
choice and that to do good? The counter argument would be, “But that’s hardly
an exercise of free will. It sounds more like angels.” Which in turn begs the
question, is there something God cannot do? Can he make a world in which humans
have the freedom to choose for themselves, but only allow one choice in their
choosing? Logic disagrees. So there is something God cannot do which is to be
self-contradictory.
We do know that being
made in his image – imago Dei – we are wired with choice. Augustine, 4th
Century theologian put it this way:
“Such is the generosity
of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature
which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a
runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks
self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which
sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free
will.”
God, who is both
all-powerful and good, gave human will space to choose good or evil. Keep in
mind that the biblical story describes our human parents in a state of
innocence, not perfection, and it is within their innocence they made their
choice to obey either their Creator or evil. Philosopher Alvin Planting sums up
the heart of the argument: “God can create a more perfect universe by
permitting evil.”
A second path of this
theodicy begins with the Hebrew Scriptures as we search for an explanation of
God’s dealing with evil. Here a narrative of people, events, choices,
interventions and consequences answer to evil. Beginning with creation we learn
of the Divine and human, its subsequent unraveling of relationship and
generations of disasters interspersed occasionally with flashes of brilliance
and goodness.
Here, let me insert a
comment on the notion of evil itself. 20th century wisdom tended to discount
evil as real and substantive, making it an effect (what happens to someone)
rather than its own reality (what causes something to happen). Instead
dysfunction and brokenness in life and society, it was reasoned, was due to
many factors – social decay, chemical imbalances, genetic malfunctions,
hormonal roller coasters, and the explanations go on. Surely much of what we
know today as medical and psychological was in the past categorized as evil.
Even so, American psychotherapist, Scott Peck, an atheist came to Christian
faith in part because he saw a larger force at work in some patients, a factor
he called “evil” which he outlines in People of the Lie. 
 We feel the
tension in the Divine’s offering of freedom, sometimes taken and creatively
managed, but most often dissipated by greed, anger and lust. Abraham, father of
both Jews and Arabs, accepted the promise to beget a nation, yet lied about his
wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh and distrusting the promise of a son, bred another
and in the end was called on to sacrifice his son, ending with two people
forever at loggerheads with each other, as Israel and Gaza demonstrate.
We see in many stories a
maneuvering of human will to exercise freedom, at times leading to doing good
but often exploring the deep places of moral depravity, all the while wrapped
in fig leaves to camouflage the Divine from knowing.
How then does God
wrestle with his choice to give humans freedom to be good or bad? The constant
double thread woven through the old and new Testaments promise presence – God
is with you – and promises of future – the coming Redeemer who will recompose
the human heart and destroy cosmic forces of evil.
Jesus of Nazareth fills
out that narrative – he enters as king of creation and child in a stable. The
fusion of Divine and Human – we call it “incarnation” – brings together the two
and in course of his mandate in death asks what parents of Newtown asked last
week: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And his answer? I’ve
come so you might have life, with abundance. Evil – the prince of this world
(John 16:11) – is defeated and will be no more. While the good of God wrestles yet
with evil, the triumphant Easter morning declaration of Jesus rising declares
that evil, an earthly constituent, is defeated. The Christian hope puts the
finality of that defeat in the future, but in faith, that too is assured.
The arguments of logic are
feeble at best. Yet they frame a wider picture of our world in which God gives
us the right to choose. For parents in Connecticut, Syria or Afghanistan, that
won’t fill the emptiness of a child gone. But it reminds us that each has the
right to make choices. The cause(s) of the killing rampage need not go
unaddressed. We can rise the next day and make changes for good.
The promise is thus: in
the midst of suffering, Jesus of Nazareth lived under the strains and burden of
evil. Twenty children in his village
of Bethlehem were killed by a ruling mad man, within months of his birth.
Violence he understands. Then it was through cruelty of death and breaking out
in resurrection that evil was overcome. So in today’s moment, we find comfort
knowing that death is not all there is to dying. One only needs to listen to
the songs and words of the many funerals in Newtown to know that the promise of
life, free from evil, is really, just around the corner.
Brian C Stiller
Global Ambassador
The World Evangelical Alliance
December 2012

Living a Compassionate Life

Affirmation: I
live a Christ centered life of love, peace, hope, gratitude and compassion.

One of the most
compassionate people I know is my mother-in-law, Yolanda. She’s always been one
of my heroines and an amazing role model. 
I have never heard her criticize anyone. 
And, I’ve known her now for well over 43 years. 

Compassion is
defined as co-suffering but that’s not enough. 
For one to be truly compassionate you must try to do something to
alleviate another’s suffering.

One night we were
watching the TV show The Amazing Race.  I
was visiting Yolanda to help her prepare for her move to Savannah.  (She had lived in the same house for over 56
years and now, at the age of 90 she was moving to an independent living facility
in Georgia.  This was her choice.  She made the decision herself.  I keep hoping that when and if, I’m 90 I’ll
get to choose some adventure on which I want to embark and not have the
adventure chosen for me.)  This episode
of The Amazing Race had a young unmarried couple who were racing from country
to country.  They were doing fairly well
and were leading the race when this episode began.  When the episode ended they were in last
place.  They lost because one of the
challenges was to go down a huge water slide through some sharks and into a
pool.  The young woman of the team was
terrified of heights and sharks.  With
two of her greatest fears combined, she chose not to finish the race.  I was amazed and felt very impatient.  “For heaven’s sake” I thought,
“just get on the slide and get it over with!” Really, it would have
been over in 3 minutes.  And, then there
was Yolanda, “Oh, the poor thing! 
What are they doing?  Why don’t
they just let her walk down?  I can’t
stand to see her suffering so much.” I think if Yolanda had been there,
she would have jumped on that slide and gone down it in place of the young
woman, even though she too is afraid of water. 
Me?  I’m sad to tell you I would
have suggested to her partner to just pick her up, put her on his lap and go
for it.  It really was a wonderful lesson
for me to sit there and share this experience with my mother-in-law.  I don’t think I would have seen it any
differently if I hadn’t been exposed to her point of view.  Then, the final lesson came when the emcee
interviewed them and asked her boyfriend how he felt about the whole
episode.  I thought, “Here it
comes!  He’s going to be so angry!”
instead, he was as compassionate about it as Yolanda had been. 

In Al-Anon, one
of the suggestions given is to learn to take care of yourself.  It’s not an easy concept, especially for
someone who has been caring for a loved one with an addiction.  A lot of the time, many people who attend
Al-Anon are enablers.  One of their chief
skills is taking care of others, sometimes with total disregard for
themselves.  In the book, The Courage
to Change, One Day at a Time,
one of the readings tells a story about a
woman who had recently become an Al-Anon member.  Every night when she went to bed, she found
her drunken husband fallen out of bed and lying on the floor.  She’d help him back in bed, cover him up and
then finally get to go to bed too.  After
her Al-Anon session, she decided she’d just step over him and go straight to
bed. When she shared her new approach at a meeting, they gently told her she
had gone to the other extreme. So, the next night she used a different
approach.  She gently placed a blanket on
him, stepped over him and went to bed. 
She managed to find a place where she could both be compassionate and
take care of herself.

My friend works
out with a trainer.  I knew this personal
trainer when he was having terrible back pain and when I saw him again I asked
him how his back was doing.  He said it was
fine.  Then he told me he was pleased
he’d had the bad back experience because it made him a better trainer.  It made him more compassionate.

I know many
people take tragic experiences and use them to better the lives of others.  There is story after story of people who
chose to use their tragedy as a stepping stone not only for their own recovery
but for anyone else who is looking for help with the same type of
situation.  I am sure it wouldn’t take
much for you to recall some of the more well known examples.  How about the Amber Alert program?  I regularly see the signs for missing
children on the freeways.

Twenty five years
ago Rachel and Saul Schanberg lost their young daughter Linda to cancer.  Before Linda died she asked her mom to make a
difference in the Duke Cancer Center.  She
asked her to help people feel cared for and not just cared about.  Rachel began the Duke Cancer Patient Support
Program with herself and four volunteers in an office the size of a
closet.  Today her efforts have created a
program world renown for their care of cancer patients and their loved
ones.  It’s all free.  Most hospitals wouldn’t consider supporting a
program that doesn’t bring in any revenue but because of Rachel’s passion and
compassion, we have over 300 volunteers and the most amazing services you can
imagine.  The impact the program has made
on the new Duke Cancer Center can be seen in the center’s warm, inviting
atmosphere.

Our challenging
life experiences offer us two choices. 
We can become more caring, gentle and compassionate or we can become
bitter, hard and reclusive.  My intention
to be a more compassionate person, to be more Yolanda like, is a quality I
always want to be developing.  Recently,
I read a book to help me better understand and care for an aging parent.  The main lesson in the book encourages the
reader, the caretaker, to try to see life as their parent may see it.  When they rephrased some of the concerns of
the parent using language based on the author’s years of experienced, it
brought me a greater understanding of that which my parent is concerned.  And, with understanding I felt a deeper sense
of compassion. 

I am an ardent
believer in the power of prayer.  I don’t
know how it works but I believe it does. 
I keep a list in the front of my journal of all the people for whom I am
currently praying.  I always add “And,
especially for those who most need Your mercy.” 
Since practicing compassion requires one to “do” something along with
experiencing feelings of empathy, I can pray. 
If there is no other way for me to bring help and solace to those I am
concerned about, it gives me great comfort to know I can offer them up in
prayer and to believe that God is blessing them in ways beyond my
comprehension.  Truly, that’s how I want
to see myself; that’s the person I want to be. 
If when I die my obituary refers to me as compassionate, I will rest
with the satisfaction of a life well lived.