Jesus Christ
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The Holy Plan

Affirmation: I trust and rest in God’s Holy Plan.

What if we believed, truly believed with every fiber of our being, that we were here for a purpose, that we had a role to play in the creation of life? What if we knew that we were here on earth, living this life because a greater power needs us to serve His or Her mission for the betterment of mankind? How would that change what we do, what we think and what we say?

I would imagine that sounds like a sci-fi story. If not, it might sound crazy or irrational. If not that, perhaps it simply sounds like too much work and responsibility. I, however, have reached a stage in my life when I am ready to believe I am here for a purpose and I am ready to release myself to that purpose and let God take me where She wants me to go or perhaps, to stay.

My intention this year, as you may recall, has been to be “connected to the Divine.” Once again, I didn’t know what that meant but I loved the sound of it; I loved the feeling of it. It’s been at the top of my journal page everyday now since January 1st. I know it’s a mediation. I might feel connected or simply be aware of my intention for a short time or even just a moment, and then I leave. I head out into the “world” or even more often, simply into my world.

Recently, I read the phrase “Holy Plan.” As soon as I saw the words, I knew that was my next intention. For some reason those two worlds brought me great peace. I felt my whole body relax, I was breathing deeper and easier. I began to carry the phrase with me all day long. It’s there as I sit quietly wondering what and whom the day will invite and it’s been there as I roam around participating in the many activities of my life. I fully recognize this does not mean nothing difficult will enter into my life or the lives of my loved ones but I still feel peaceful. I have this sense that all will work to my good, even the “bad.” It’s so comforting to me. Joel Osteen says, “With faith, what man has meant for our bad, God will make good.” Maybe yes, maybe no but I sure feel better when I trust that Joel is right.

Other than a sense of calm and peace and even excitement, what results have I discovered from this new affirmation? I have been watching life more closely for opportunities to rest in the Lord and also to be His tool. I know that sounds a little weird and perhaps even obnoxious, believing that I can connect to The Divine and She will use me, me little Jean Anne Costa, to do some sort of life giving work for the world. Yes, there have been others who believed this and they were crazy! I don’t think, however, that I’ve “lost it.” Somehow, I feel I’ve found that for which I’ve been searching. I don’t have visions of grandeur. I simply want to walk though the day and my life, bringing hope, peace, love, joy, and compassion wherever I can and not add to the fear and pain that is so prevalent in our world today. Does that sound unreasonable? When I carry that hope with me into every day, won’t that make a positive difference?

I’ve been reading Mathew Kelly’s, Rediscovering Catholicism and finding it to be very supportive of my faith and my general spirituality. I had two copies at my home and as I left the house the other morning I decided to take the extra copy with me. I had the thought that maybe someone would like to have it. I couldn’t imagine who but I grabbed it and threw it in the back of the car. I had an appointment for a pedicure (Yea!) and before I headed into the shop I went to the trunk of the car to put on my flip-flops and there was the book. I already had the newspaper in my hand but I grabbed the book too. I didn’t get to it. I fell asleep but I had laid it on the table next to me. Another patron looked at it and began to ask me about it. She too was a Catholic and really struggling with her faith and asked me about it. I told her I knew this sounded weird but I had it with me because I felt I was supposed to give it away. Would she like it? Yes, she would love to read it. I was awed. I felt like I had closely listened. I felt well “used.” I felt Divinely used. I felt quite right. I knew that this was how I always wanted to feel and believed my 2014 intention had definitely clicked in. Wow, I thought, “I might actually be in the midst of the Holy Plan. How cool!”

No, the book episode has not been the only serendipitous event this year. There have been many and each one has left me feeling the same way, peaceful and awed. In an effort to increase my faith and strengthen my understanding and relationship with Jesus Christ, I developed an affirmation many years ago that is close to the top of my affirmation list. I know by meditating on Jesus throughout my day, I am in union with the Divine, miracles are created and without struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination. That’s how I feel about life today. I’m 68 years old and there’s a peace and a sense of excitement I can never before recall experiencing.

I share these affirmations and this revelation I’m in the midst of with you with the hope that a few of these sentences or words will resonate with you and you too, if you’re searching, will find this same sense of peace and exhilaration, at least for right now and perhaps

The Bigger Picture

Affirmation:  Because of my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, I let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving care for me

Have you heard the story about the farmer who lived in ancient times?  He had a lovely farm and one son and one horse.  One day they found the gate to the corral open and the horse was missing.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  You’ve lost your only horse, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son then borrowed a horse and went to look for their missing animal.  In
a while, his father looked up and saw his son coming towards him riding
the missing horse and behind him was a whole heard of horses.  He opened the gate and all the horses ran into the corral.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  You’ve not only found your horse. You now have a whole heard of horses, how wonderful!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son began taming the wild horses and one day he fell off and broke his leg.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  Your only son has broken his leg and now he cannot help you with all the work on your farm, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  While his son was recuperating, the local war lord and his men showed up.  They were conscripting all the eligible young men to fight in their war.  Of course, they could not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.  Once again, all his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  Your only son has been saved from fighting for the local war lord, how wonderful!”  I’m not going to tell you his answer.  I think you already know it.  

How
many times have you had something happen to you and you judged the
quality of the experience as good or bad and then, later, sometimes much
later, you saw it in a different light and realized you didn’t have a
clue at the time it occurred about how it was going to affect your life?  It’s so easy to fall into the pit of despair, anxiety and depression.  According to quantum physics negative energy resonates at a lower level than positive energy.  That makes it easier for us to connect with it and more difficult to tap into the positive.  We have to work harder to find the positive.  I’m sure you have many examples of events that created openings into opportunities of which you never dreamed.  In our family alone, we have experienced job loss that led to a new and better opportunity.  We’ve witnessed the sad disillusionment of a marriage that later led to a new, healthier, happier family unit.  We’ve seen so much suffering and struggle that in time brought reward and accomplishment.   Of course, that’s not always true.  But, doesn’t it bring comfort that it can work out for the better?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t allow ourselves our feelings.  Not only should we allow them, we need to experience them.  There is no short cut through grief; there is only the direct path through it.  If you try to skirt around it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  And, grief comes from many different types of loses, not just from death.  One
can experience grief over the loss of a dream; perhaps the dream of a
perfect marriage, a perfect job, what one thought a perfect career
should look like.  One can
experience grief over the loss of health, money, youth and even less
recognized events like that of thinning hair or a thickening middle.  It’s all part of our lives.  It’s important to acknowledge how we feel about loss and then move towards recovery.  But, it’s also important to realize nothing is stagnant.  Life
is always changing and whatever is causing you distress will change too
and it might just be the one thing to open a door to something
marvelous.  Why not simply watch and see how it works itself out?
We are only capable of seeing a small part of the picture.  Only God can see the big picture.  The
question is can you trust enough to believe He/She has your best
interest at heart; that that which was meant for your harm, God will use
for your good?   Garth Brooks has a country song entitled “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.”  In it he tells the story of a man who meets an old flame, the one woman he prayed to God to make his wife.  It didn’t work out and now as he walks away from her, he realizes how lucky he was.  He’s married to the real love of his life and so he remembers to “thank God for unanswered prayer.”  It’s another example of loss and grief and an experience that led to something better.  I’m sure he couldn’t see it when it happened.  He had to wait to recognize the blessing that came from the breakup with his first love. 

For me, this is why I practice my faith.  I don’t want it to be all about life after death.  I
want to live this life with the trust that God really does want only my
best and that if I practice that, if I trust, all will be well.  It may not be the way I expected.  It
may not be anything like what I had asked for but if I believe that
whatever is happening is exactly what should be happening, think of the
peace I experience.  I must confess it’s not an easy process, simple maybe, but not easy.  It takes work.  It takes staying connected to the Divine at every possible moment.  I have a wonderful meditation tape by Belleruth Naparstak.  At
one point in the tape she speaks about all the angels and guides who
are surrounding the listener and then as they begin to fade away they
say, “Remember, we are always with you.  It is you who comes and goes.”  What comfort that brings me.  If I can stay focused, if I choose to stay in the presence of God, God will always be with me.  That’s
my choice; that’s my meditation; to remain in the presence of God and
with all my angels and helpers as often as possible and to trust in
their divine protection.  Then,
when faced with a challenging situation instead of labeling it ‘good or
bad, lucky or unlucky” I can simply watch it and think “maybe yes, maybe
no.”

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!

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

On
Belleruth Naparstek’s chemo tape she has a phrase she uses about getting a
sensation that something wonderful is about to happen and about how you may
have not felt this sensation in quite a while but right now you do.  Have you ever had a sensation like that?  That sense that something marvelous is coming
your way?  I wonder if that happens when
we are preparing for an event or a trip or maybe a change in our career.  Perhaps, it’s that feeling when a loved one
and you are to be reunited.  I know a
change and new things can also bring with them a feeling of anxiety and maybe
we get anxiety and excitement mixed up. 
But, when Belleruth describes this marvelous feeling of expectation, I
know it; I feel it. I fully recognize it even though I can’t remember when I
last felt that way and it feels good!

For
the past several months I have had a growth in my faith experiences.  As I’ve shared before I have been
“working” on my faith for many years ever since I met my evangelical
neighbor, Shaun McLean in Cincinnati, Ohio and when shortly thereafter my
father died.  When Shaun showed up at the
back gate of my new home she proceeded to become a constant thorn in my
faith.  I am so grateful to her for that
nudging. She was so certain about her relationship with God and with Jesus
Christ and I was a cradle Catholic who didn’t feel sure about anything. I
didn’t envy her but I did find myself questioning, questioning, and questioning
even more.  What did I truly
believe? 

Let’s
admit it, the story of Jesus Christ, his birth death and resurrection is quite
unbelievable.  It defies natural
law.  I for one have had my doubts.  I have not been a compliant subservient
faith- filled follower.  I wanted
proof.  I’m sure if one searches for
proof that the “Good News” is not factual, one will find answers
supporting that premise but I chose to go the other way.  I’ve chosen to seek out reasons to
believe.  I have also found that at some
point if one is to truly have faith, one must set aside disbelief and just
decide to have faith in the mystery.  I
decided to believe. 

I’ve
watched movies about the “facts” of His life and ministry.  I’ve read the bible and listened to lectures
and homilies.  But, the reason I believe
is because I want to believe.  I want to
believe He came to change the world.  He
came to teach us to love.  He came to
eradicate sin and evil.  He came to show
us, to show me unconditional love.  He
came to prepare a place for me in the afterworld and to show me that this life
is not the end.  This life is simply a
transition before the next, before I can finally rest in a place of peace and
pure love.  I want to believe this and so
I do and once I made up my mind to accept this belief system amazing events
have taken place to support my journey.   

My
faith journey has led me many places.  It
is not just about things related to my church. 
I was reminded this week by Sister Judy Hallock one of the women who
facilitate A Place for Women to Gather that our lives are interconnected with
our faith.  If we are truly faith-filled
people we cannot separate our mind, body and spirit.  Every aspect of our lives, every single one
of them, is affected by our faith. 

 
I
am on a continual search for a deeper, richer relationship with God.  I want to feel that peace that I believe
comes when one connects to spirit but even more importantly when one develops a
relationship with a personal God, not just some ethereal concept.  This last week I have been feeling that sense
of expectation that I have not felt for a very long time.  Something wonderful is about to be
manifested.  I haven’t a clue what it is
or how it will come or from whom but I can feel it.  The feeling is palatable and I am simply enjoying
it and waiting to see what or who appears.

My
faith journey this year has taken me to some amazing destinations.  I’ve shared some of them with you here in
this blog but as the holidays approach and the end of the year comes closer, I
find myself thinking about all that has taken place.  One of my affirmations is, “When I stay
connected to the Divine, miracles occur and without struggle my life is
transformed.”  I think that’s
exactly what’s been happening.  I don’t
know why I’m so surprised.  I’ve never
created an affirmation and focused on it where it hasn’t worked.  Never! 

 
Several
months ago I discovered a new prayer that I’ve incorporated into my nightly
prayers.  “Come Holy Spirit, fill
the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in
me the fire of Your love.”  I found
it to be a comforting prayer and truly the desire of my heart.  I think the Holy Spirit has accepted my
invitation.  I’m always a little curious
about where my faith journey will take me. 
It shouldn’t surprise me that it has brought me further into the fold of
the Catholic Church.  I’ve gone off
looking for alternatives many times but I’m always led back to the church of my
birth.  Certainly, I have kept an open
acceptance of other modalities. I’ve studied Reiki.  I practice yoga and I love the insights
afforded me with the Enneagram.  I
facilitate Artist Way programs and have attended many mediation sessions with
leaders of different faiths.  I read many
different books about different spiritual concepts.  All of these experiences have led me to a
deeper faith and a greater awareness of a personal god. 

This
year, however, has brought with it the additional gift of several new female
friends who are practicing Catholics and it has been a wonderful, heartwarming
experience.  We certainly are not all in
the “same place” in our faith journey but there’s no judgment.  We simply are accepting of our different
stages, accepting and yet still supportive. There are many studies showing the
healing qualities associated with belonging to a support group.  I feel like I’ve discovered a gift with the
friendship of these women, the gift of being supported in my faith journey and
I am grateful that this new community has added to this feeling that something
wonderful is about to happen.  Now,
there’s an affirmation I can focus on and wait for it to come to fruition,
“Something wonderful is about to happen.”  The really cool part of this affirmation is I
have discovered that that Something Wonderful is having this feeling of blessed
expectation and that that in itself is just marvelous.

Savoring Life

Affirmation:  I eat mindfully
Mindfulness
is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment without
judging.  John Kabat-Zinn brought a
greater awareness to the practice back in 1970’s when he began teaching
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It is still taught worldwide. I
studies MBSR at Duke Integrative Medicine, NC several years ago. It’s a gift we
give ourselves when we develop the ability to be in the present moment.  It’s also the practice of a lifetime.  Most of here in the West don’t sit in a lotus
position for several hours a day chanting or focusing on a mantra (a single
word or phrase).  Most Americans are more
concerned about the past or the future and are missing whatever is happening in
the present.  In general we are a busy,
pre-occupied population.  But, most of us
are also looking for ways to improve the quality of our lives.  We are searching for that which will enhance
our daily experiences and not leave us feeling so worn out and tired.  Tools, we are looking for the tools we can
use to fix or to shape or to color our lives so that we are able to take deeper
breaths, appreciate the beauty of nature and relish the precious moments of
connection with those we love.
For many,
prayer is a powerful tool.  It’s my first
choice.  Time to communicate with my God,
time to tell Her my concerns, to offer up thanksgiving for all my blessings and
time to simply sit and listen.  It
doesn’t have to be formal prayer.  My day
is lifted up and given over to God, Jesus Christ, before I even rise from the
bed.  Then, if it’s a day of unending
activity which I must confess is not unusual, I still know that I am in prayer
mode throughout all the business. 
In yoga
the practitioner is called upon to focus on his or her breath.  Sometimes a yoga practice may only involve
pranayama, breathing techniques.  There
are many, some more elaborate than others. 
The simplest one involves watching one’s breath.  I encourage my students at the very beginning
of practice to simply notice their breath. 
“Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath, the in and the
out, the up and the down, the rise and the fall.”  After years of beginning practice this way, I
simply need to think the words and I feel calmer.  When a group of us are all focusing on our
breath at the same time, the entire energy level in the room changes from
charged to serene. 
Another
breathing technique that can be used anywhere anytime is to simply take a deep
breath.  Breathe all the way down into
your belly and then release it.  Want to
make it even more effective, sigh it out. 
Oh, not just a little sigh, make it a full “haaaaa!”  Don’t believe it’ll make a difference?  Try it right now, do it a few times and then
just notice.  Don’t judge, just observe
if you feel any different.  I attach the
name of Jesus to my deep breaths.  It’s a
mini-prayer that I can do anywhere, anytime. 
Journaling
is also an opportunity for me to practice mindfulness.  I like to have a large mug of tea next to me;
my favorite spiral bound journal, an easy flowing ballpoint pen and a pleasant
space.  I usually write in my sun
room.  I have a nice chair and ottoman
and the room faces my garden, the bird feeders and a small waterfall.  It’s a yellow room with much of my favorite
memorabilia on the shelves.  I begin with
a prayer and then write my three pages. 
I am fully there in the time and space. 
It centers me for the day.  It
leaves me feeling grounded and calm. 
Another
way for me to practice mindfulness is when I am eating.  It’s a reciprocal process in that when I
focus on the process of eating, my eating becomes healthier.  I’m always fine tuning my diet.  I’m a moderate person, meaning I don’t usually
go overboard when I’m making changes. 
I’m a sure and steady kind of gal. I share this with you because while I
know a lot about vegan diets and vegetarian diets, I have not fully embraced
any restrictive form of eating.  I avoid
certain foods that I think aren’t my best choices, like things with sugar,
artificial colors or flavorings, foods that are heavily salted or have
preservatives.  I try to eat mostly fresh
vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and chicken.  I love a glass of wine periodically and
sharing an ice cream with friends or especially with a grandchild, is a real
treat for me.  I know how important it is
to eat a “good” diet.  I’m also
aware of the global impact my choices have on the rest of the world. 
When I
trained at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, breakfast was always
silent.  It was a very educational
experience for me. I am a social eater. 
I love to sit with family and friends and share a meal and conversation.
If there’s no one around, I don’t really care if I eat or not. I’m an
“eat-to-live” person, not a “live-to-eat” person.  In order to make the best food choices for me
I decided to simply pay close attention to the eating experience.  Have you ever tried the “raisin”
experiment?  You place a single raisin in
your mouth and you don’t chew it.  You
allow it to dissolve very very slowly. 
You notice the texture, the sweetness. 
You think about how it came to become a raisin, where it was grown, who
harvested it.  It can take 10 or even 15
minutes to eat that one raisin.  It can
bring you to a whole new appreciation for every bit you take.
What is
your eating environment like?  Do you
take your time and savor each bite or have you just gone through the drive-thru
and are eating as you go?  What’s dinner
like?  Is the TV on or is the computer in
front of you?  What if you simply sat at
the table and focused on the food you are putting into your mouth and your
body?  If you ate mindfully would your
choices be different?  Mine are. We are
what we eat.  What and how we feed our
bodies, our minds and our spirits determines every cell of our being.  Slow down, breathe deeply, say grace before your meal and
savor each bite and especially each moment of your life. 
 

Is God is a Feminist?

Affirmation: I
believe that when the gifts of women are recognized and honored, the world is a
better place. 

This week, the
second week of March, 2013 the Catholic Church elected a new pope, Cardinal
Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis. 
It didn’t seem to matter if you were a Catholic or not, the event
dominated the headlines around the world. 
World headlines are normally dominated by some dreadful disaster or
horrible tragedy.  I found this focus on
the election of a new the pope to be more uplifting and inspirational. The
election only took two days and five votes before white smoke, the symbol
announcing a new pope, rose above the Sistine Chapel.  Tens of thousands were there waiting in the
rain for the news.  Curiosity was
abundant.  There had been much
speculation about who the new pope would be and now, we were to finally find
out.  The questions were about whether or
not he would be a Vatican “insider.” 
Would he be from Europe as were most of the former popes or would he be
from another continent?  Would he be
younger than popes of the past?  Would he
possess a conservative or a more liberal theological perspective?  The questions and speculation were endless
and went on for weeks.  There was only
one question no one was asking.  Would
the new pope be a man?

This same week of
March there were at least two specials, one on 60 Minutes and one on Good
Morning America about a new book that had just been released by the COO of
Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  When asked if she was trying to reignite the
feminist movement she said “yes.” 
She gave the statistic that only 4% of the Fortune 500 companies were
led by women and that women still only made 70 cents to the dollar that men
make.  “The woman’s movement has
stalled.” she said.

This year is also
the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, her
book being the reason many attribute to the beginning of the woman’s
movement. 

Whether or not you
consider yourself a feminist you cannot deny that the role of women here in the
United States and in many civilized parts of the world, has changed.  Many would argue it has not been for the
better.  Many would argue women have only
begun to make inroads into being the dynamic influential presence they need to
be in order to bring more balance and compassion into our universe.  It seems to be a topic with many emotional
ties and not a simple one.  Women’s roles
in the Catholic Church have always been a topic of discussion and
controversy.  Change comes very slowly to
my church but with the election of Pope Francis, I have renewed hope. 

In the short time
he has been pope, the one word that is repeated most often is
“humility.”  His first act
after being elected was to ask the throngs waiting in the rain to see him and
to hear him was to ask for their prayers. 
Stories abound about his association with the poor, not just in name but
in deed.  He cares deeply about his
people, us the church.  His theology is
conservative. There will not be any
changes made to the church’s stand on the sacredness of life from the womb to
the tomb.  I can guarantee that.  But, perhaps with his humility he will be
more encompassing of the role of women in our church and see them as not just
holding a place of service but also deserving a place of leadership. I once
heard someone say that Jesus Christ was one of the earliest feminists.  He promoted the ethical treatment of all
people without regard to their status, race or sex. 

My thirteen year
old grandson asked his mom if I was a feminist. 
The word feminist was said with a tone of derision.  “Why” she asked. He told her it had
been explained to him that feminists hate men. 
Thank heavens for the wisdom of my daughter.  “Yes” she answered, “grandma
is a feminist.  I am a feminist.  Your step-father and your grandfather are
feminists.”  She went on to explain
that a feminist doesn’t hate men.  A
feminist promotes the well being of all people regardless of their gender.

I received the message
at an early age that I needed to be responsible for myself.  I needed to be independent.  It was before the feminist movement but it
was clear to me that I needed to find a way to care for myself. A married life,
if I married, of total domesticity would tie me to the success or failure of
another and of that relationship.  Many
women have suffered devastating losses because they did not take any steps to
create a life whereby they could care not only for themselves but perhaps for
others that might come to depend on
them. 

I clearly
remember reading The Feminine Mystique. 
It was a time before the Internet, before Oprah Winfrey and Doctor Phil.
I had just had a baby and quit my teaching job (not in that order) when we
moved to Norwich, NY, a town of 7000 people. 
I knew no one and I was lonely. I was lonely and I couldn’t figure out
why I was struggling.  I had, I believed,
everything I needed.  The baby was
healthy, I was healthy.  My husband was
kind and generous and we were beginning a whole new life.  Help! 
I think if I had already read Ms. Friedan’s book, I would have wondered
if my sense of frustration was created because of it but I had not.  When I read it, I knew she had written some
of it just for me.  I was not alone.  It gave me some comfort and a sense of
hope. 

I read that most
men today want their wives to work.  They
want them to bring in another income. 
The days of Leave it to Beaver, Dick VanDyke or even the more recent,
Raymond are gone.  The main issue however
is that women are still the main caregivers for the children and the home.  It’s a heavy load and I don’t have any easy
answers for how to lighten the burden other than to choose a partner who will
willingly do their share.  I am in awe of
any single parent who manages not only to balance all their responsibilities
but guides their children to successful, productive lives. 

I know there are
young women out there who never think about the opportunities they now have as
being hard won by women and men before them but they were hard won.  If it weren’t for their efforts, we wouldn’t
have women physicians, scientists, politicians, and attorneys.  It needs to be remembered there are women in
third world countries who are very aware of the opportunities available to
women in other parts of the world and they can only dream about them.   

Sheryl Sandberg’s
book and Betty Friedan’s book lead women to believe they can have it all.  I hope that’s true.  I hope it’s true too that with the
installation of Pope Francis my church, the Catholic Church will finally
recognize what it has been missing all these centuries.  They haven’t uplifted at least half of their
population, the women of their church so many of whom are keeping the faith
alive and vibrant.  Yes, I am a
feminist.  I’d like to see women
priests.  Id like to see a woman
pope.  I’d like to see women being
treated with respect and dignity and women having the same opportunities as
anyone else.  Who knows, if my wishes are
granted maybe I’ll even get to one day see a woman become president of the
United States.

Attachment-The Third Klesha

Affirmation:  I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.
The homily was from John 12:20-33, “(25) whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  I must say I was a little worried by this scripture.  I love my life.  Does that mean I am destined to eternal hell?  I’ve worked really hard to reach a place where I can claim that.  I haven’t always felt that way and personally, it feels great.  According to the priest I was in deep trouble.  I really wanted to put my hand up and say, “Father, I don’t believe that.  Can we discuss this a little further?  I have a few ideas and I’d like to open this whole concept up for more discussion.”  Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, that is not an option that I’ve ever seen claimed in the middle of mass.  Oh, I’ve seen people get up and walk out when they disagreed with what was being said but I’ve never (and I’ve been going to church for well over half a century) seen anyone ask for clarification during a sermon. But, that gave me the opportunity to look at this closer and to examine what I think Christ was telling us.  Most of His message is about one thing, Love.  So, how would this scripture be interpreted in the light of love? 

Have you noticed that we are creatures of habit?  Speaking of church, have you noticed that people always tend to sit in the same section, some in the same pew and others only in one specific seat?  Someone sat behind me one day and I heard her say in exasperation, “Someone is in my seat.”  Now, I’m not familiar with all the places of worship in the world but in the churches and synagogues I’ve been in, I’ve never seen a nameplate on the seat of a bench.  I am fascinated by this desire for certainty.  The gym I belong to has several types of fitness classes and there too people seem to need to be in the same place every time they attend a class.  One day, I watched a gentleman set up his equipment in an area he wasn’t aware “belonged” to another lady.  She came into the class and went over to him to tell him he was in her spot.  I was dumbfounded and I must confess I judged harshly even though it had nothing to do with me.  I was curious how this interaction would go and was charmed when the usurper apologized for not paying closer attention, thanked her for informing him and picked up his stuff and moved over.  I’ve also been in a similar situation in a dance class and couldn’t figure out why this woman who came in late kept stepping on my toes as we bounced across the gym floor until I finally realized I was in her spot. 

My main concern with this type of attachment is for my own well-being.  I’m afraid if I stay in the same place whenever I’m in a familiar locale, my mind will stop expanding, my neurotransmitters will get smaller and smaller and so will my whole world.  I know the importance of stepping outside of my comfort zone.  If I’m aware of my desire for routine, even small ones, like eating at the same place in the kitchen every morning or choosing the same food for lunch every day, and choose differently periodically, I know that adjusting to larger challenges will be easier and not only will my mind not shrink but my world won’t shrink.  I don’t want to live in a small world;  I’m all into keeping “green.”
There is a tale about a Buddhist monk who was being threatened by a civilian soldier.  The soldier shouted at him, “Don’t you know who I am?  Don’t you know I can take your life?”  The monk looked at him calmly and said, “Don’t you know who I am?  Don’t you know that I don’t care?” and then he slowly walked away.  That is not being attached.

Patanjali, the grandfather of Yoga claimed that by practicing the eight limbs of yoga one would be helped with conquering the five human afflictions that cause suffering (kleshas):  ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and possessiveness.  The third klesha, raga, attraction, creates in us a pattern of acquisition: we began to pursue human relationships, knowledge, wealth, status, power-anything which might be capable of enlarging and protecting our fragile individualized existence. But because change is the nature of creation, all objects within it are impermanent, and thus subject to loss at any moment.   (http://www.physics.udel.edu/~bnikolic/klesa.html)

In the March 1993 issue of Guideposts Magazine there was a short article by Catherine Marshall called Prayer of Relinquishment.  In it, she tells the story of Mrs. Nathanial Hawthorne, wife of the famous American author. Mrs. Hawthorne wrestled in prayer in the city of Rome one day in 1860.  Their oldest daughter, Una was dying.  As she urgently prayed for thier daughter’s healing a strange thought arose in her, she decided to let her go.  She prayed to God to take Una, if that was best. “I give her to Him.  No, I won’t fight against Him anymore.” According to the story, an even stranger thing then happened, minutes later she went back to their daughter’s bedside and found the girl sleeping naturally, without temperature or restlessness.  She was healed.

When I begin my yoga practice, I do three sun salutations.  In the first one I thank God, out loud, “for the beautiful new day” and as I reach for the ground, (uttanassana) I say “and I relinquish it to You.”  In the second one, I thank God for “this amazing life and I relinquish it to You” and in the third salutation I pray, “Thank You, Lord Jesus for this amazing, healthy, healing body and I relinquish it to You.”  Oh, yes I take it back over and over during the day but each morning I begin anew. 
This is the message I believe Christ was sharing with us.  We must die to self.  We must let go of all the stuff that we think we possess, because in reality it possesses us.  We are being called upon to believe in the goodness and ultimate care of a loving God, someone whom we can trust will care for all of our needs.  We don’t need to be in charge.  We don’t need to hold on tight.  We are being called upon to recognize that everything in our life, except God, is temporary and we are being told that when we can recognize and accept that principle, life will be more meaningful, we will be lighter and freer.   

Ingratitude

Affirmation:  I let go of ingratitude.
Lent is almost upon us.  Ash Wednesday is next week.  Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Wow!  What a story!  And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey.  We are called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth.  It’s a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the fullness of “spring.” 
One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a time of Sacrifice.  We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of mercy.  Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do something so that we are more aware of the 40 days; so we stay more present to the Lenten season.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.

How can denial and service be a gift?  Well, it takes 40 days to develop a habit and this type of exercise can be seen as an opportunity.  I know many people who use the Lenten sacrifice as a time to diet.  I can’t count the number of people who have shared with me that they have given up chocolate or sugar.  Maybe that’s worked well for them.  Perhaps every time they have that craving, they find themselves more present to Christ and his sacrifice.  But, besides a restrictive diet, we need to take up the badge of service, find something we can do for another.  There are so many in such dire straits right now.  How can I be of more service than I already am?  Maybe I need to go through the house and give up a few coats and other items of clothing.  One of my dear friends is always reminding me that someone else could be using the items I have left untouched for months and in some cases, years.  Perhaps, it’s a time for me to be a prayer warrior.  How can I add more prayer to my daily practice especially for those most in need?  Maybe I can send a note or make a call once or twice a week to friends I haven’t touched base with in a while?  I can pray for them, offer up a day for them, send them a visible sign of my love, like a note or a care, even an email might work.  I’m sure you can think of many other ways you can give back.

And, what can I give up?  What new habit cans I develop over the Lenten season that won’t simply reduce my waistline but will add to the quality of my life, my life and hopefully the lives of all those I touch?  I have decided to give up ingratitude.  Ingratitude is defined in the dictionary as “forgetfulness or poor return for kindness received.”  A synonym is “thanklessness.” 

I live a life full of abundant blessings.  I am a very lucky woman.  I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends.  I need and want nothing.  I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful.  I have hit the jackpot of life.  I am safe, secure, and healthy.  But, every so often envy slips into my psyche.  I’m admitting it.  I can still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong.  Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their lives appear so easy, so full?  Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issues.  But, that doesn’t serve me or anyone else.  Whether I credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong.  With my newest affirmation; “I let go of ingratitude” I find myself noticing when I am undermining my own happiness and I stop and let it go.  Perhaps by practicing letting go of ingratitude for 40 days, I’ll develop a new habit.  Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

The Big Picture

Affirmation:  Because of my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, I let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving care for me

Have you heard the story about the farmer who lived in ancient times?  He had a lovely farm and one son and one horse.  One day they found the gate to the corral open and the horse was missing.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  You’ve lost your only horse, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son then borrowed a horse and went to look for their missing animal.  In a while, his father looked up and saw his son coming towards him riding the missing horse and behind him was a whole heard of horses.  He opened the gate and all the horses ran into the corral.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  You’ve not only found your horse. You now have a whole heard of horses, how wonderful!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son began taming the wild horses and one day he fell off and broke his leg.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  Your only son has broken his leg and now he cannot help you with all the work on your farm, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  While his son was recuperating, the local war lord and his men showed up.  They were conscripting all the eligible young men to fight in their war.  Of course, they could not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.  Once again, all his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  Your only son has been saved from fighting for the local war lord, how wonderful!”  I’m not going to tell you his answer.  I think you already know it.  

How many times have you had something happen to you and you judged the quality of the experience as good or bad and then, later, sometimes much later, you saw it in a different light and realized you didn’t have a clue at the time it occurred about how it was going to affect your life?  It’s so easy to fall into the pit of despair, anxiety and depression.  According to quantum physics negative energy resonates at a lower level than positive energy.  That makes it easier for us to connect with it and more difficult to tap into the positive.  We have to work harder to find the positive.  I’m sure you have many examples of events that created openings into opportunities of which you never dreamed.  In our family alone, we have experienced job loss that led to a new and better opportunity.  We’ve witnessed the sad disillusionment of a marriage that later led to a new, healthier, happier family unit.  We’ve seen so much suffering and struggle that in time brought reward and accomplishment.   Of course, that’s not always true.  But, doesn’t it bring comfort that it can work out for the better?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t allow ourselves our feelings.  Not only should we allow them, we need to experience them.  There is no short cut through grief; there is only the direct path through it.  If you try to skirt around it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  And, grief comes from many different types of loses, not just from death.  One can experience grief over the loss of a dream; perhaps the dream of a perfect marriage, a perfect job, what one thought a perfect career should look like.  One can experience grief over the loss of health, money, youth and even less recognized events like that of thinning hair or a thickening middle.  It’s all part of our lives.  It’s important to acknowledge how we feel about loss and then move towards recovery.  But, it’s also important to realize nothing is stagnant.  Life is always changing and whatever is causing you distress will change too and it might just be the one thing to open a door to something marvelous.  Why not simply watch and see how it works itself out?
We are only capable of seeing a small part of the picture.  Only God can see the big picture.  The question is can you trust enough to believe He/She has your best interest at heart; that that which was meant for your harm, God will use for your good?   Garth Brooks has a country song entitled “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.”  In it he tells the story of a man who meets an old flame, the one woman he prayed to God to make his wife.  It didn’t work out and now as he walks away from her, he realizes how lucky he was.  He’s married to the real love of his life and so he remembers to “thank God for unanswered prayer.”  It’s another example of loss and grief and an experience that led to something better.  I’m sure he couldn’t see it when it happened.  He had to wait to recognize the blessing that came from the breakup with his first love. 

For me, this is why I practice my faith.  I don’t want it to be all about life after death.  I want to live this life with the trust that God really does want only my best and that if I practice that, if I trust, all will be well.  It may not be the way I expected.  It may not be anything like what I had asked for but if I believe that whatever is happening is exactly what should be happening, think of the peace I experience.  I must confess it’s not an easy process, simple maybe, but not easy.  It takes work.  It takes staying connected to the Divine at every possible moment.  I have a wonderful meditation tape by Belleruth Naparstak.  At one point in the tape she speaks about all the angels and guides who are surrounding the listener and then as they begin to fade away they say, “Remember, we are always with you.  It is you who comes and goes.”  What comfort that brings me.  If I can stay focused, if I choose to stay in the presence of God, God will always be with me.  That’s my choice; that’s my meditation; to remain in the presence of God and with all my angels and helpers as often as possible and to trust in their divine protection.  Then, when faced with a challenging situation instead of labeling it ‘good or bad, lucky or unlucky” I can simply watch it and think “maybe yes, maybe no.”