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@Home Retreat, March 2020 – Creating Sacred Time

Affirmation:  Sacred time is an integral part of my spiritual well-being.    

In February of this year a group of four women gathered to talk about holding a woman’s monthly morning retreat at our church, St. Michael the Archangel.  The process actually began after Christmas during my stay in the North Carolina mountains.  For me, it is a very spiritual place and during my week there, God spoke to me.  Actually, I think it may have been Mother Mary but whoever wanted my attention, they got it.  Oh, not at first.  “No No No,” I answered but after the third morning of no, I gave up and said, “OK, if you want this to happen, send help.”  Here’s the story.

I awoke the first morning and as I journaled, I got the inspiration to create a woman’s monthly morning retreat.  ”NO!  I do not have time.  I don’t want to spread myself so thin.”  There!!  The second morning, the message arrived even before I sat for my quiet time.  “NO!  I cannot commit to a monthly engagement.  I like to travel.  I couldn’t possibly be available.”  The third morning, I woke up with the same message.  Again, I refused.  “No!  I couldn’t do this on my own.  I would need help.”  That was all the spirit needed, that tiny, “maybe.”  I imagined the person I would like to help with such a project and within an hour, I received an email from that lady, even though we did not communicate regularly.  The rest is history.  I contacted her and she immediately answered, “Yes.”  I think she has a more willing spirit than I.  We asked a few other women and two more agreed to help.  Then I contacted the church.  It seemed like a good idea since we wanted to use their space.  They agreed.  We put a few notices in the bulletin and on February 15th, eighteen women showed up.  It ran for two hours and the feedback was very positive.  We scheduled four more sessions.  The next one for March 21st.  

As all of you know, the world has stopped turning.  We will not be gathering for a morning retreat or for lunch or to play.  We are all doing our best to follow the recent National guidelines for stopping the spread of the corona virus and yet, it seems even more important, more relevant to bring our intentions together and to invite the Holy to bless our lives, our country and the world.  With that in mind, I am presenting a @Home Retreat. As of this writing, there are about two dozen of us who will take an hour and a half to pray and to listen to the Divine.  I’m sharing the format in case anyone who reads this is interested in joining us.  If you know me personally, you are welcome to email me for more information, otherwise all you need to know is below.  

The agenda is below but I want to emphasize that it is only a model and it is not written in stone.  Please feel free to adjust it to your needs and perhaps the guidance of your guardian angel.  

It is very important to recognize that you cannot do this “wrong.”  If you finish early or late, that’s just fine.  If you decide to read something you prefer over the suggestions, that’s fine.  This is a time of NO JUDGEMENT.  It cannot be viewed as, “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” or “successful or unsuccessful.”  It is simply time you have carved out for yourself to develop a closer relationship with Our Lord, with the Divine.  It will be different for each person and that’s just fine.  

There is a great power in silence. 

Triangle Women’s Monthly Morning Retreat 

Home Program: Saturday 3/21/2020 9:30-11:00am

*Prepare your space:  Find an area where hopefully you will not be disturbed for your quiet time.  Perhaps you want a  blanket for yourself (or a teddy bear?). 

*Gather your supplies: Timer (preferably not a phone, try to make your space – media free), note paper and/or journal, pen.

*Create an “altar”: Put a few meaningful items out, include a candle.

*Opening Song – Your Choice, sing one or listen to one.

Lyrics for Amazing Grace:  

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

T’was blind but now I see

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear

And Grace, my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares

We have already come.

T’was grace that brought us safe thus far

And grace will lead us home

*Opening Prayers – The Sign of the Cross/Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be or your choice.

*Intention:  This is a reflective, healing time and we ask that it be filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, the care of Mother Mary and the guidance of all our guardian angels.  We are here to learn from one another and to support each other on our journey towards a closer, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.

*Write out a prayer request or a few and add them to your “altar.”

*Reflection – Think of one thing you’ve added or deleted from your life for Lent.  

*Scripture Reading – Lectio Divinia – Slowly read the following daily scripture three times.  Read the passage slowly and carefully.

        

       

Gospel for this day, March 21st:  LK 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness

and despised everyone else.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;

one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,

‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —

greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance

and would not even raise his eyes to heaven

but beat his breast and prayed,

‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;

for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,

and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

*Journaling Time – What did you hear God sharing with you?  What do you want to share with God? (10-15 minutes)

*Centering Prayer – 10 to 20 (recommended) minutes of silent time (you decide.)

*Centering Prayer – Guidelines 

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Choose a sacred word on which to focus.
  3. Set a timer.
  4. Don’t judge, just observe.
  5. Take a few breaths at the end to return to the present moment and to reflect on the experience.

*Closing Prayer – 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  

Amen.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

 *Sharing a Word Exercise – choose a word from your reading or your quiet time (your sacred word?) and share it here.  Feel free to share any other thoughts or insights you have gained from this sacred time. 

Finding the Can in Cancer

Affirmation: I find the can in cancer.

In 2007 Nancy Emerson, Susan Moonan, and Terri wrote, Finding the Can in Cancer. They were a group of women who were influential in the early stages of what was then called, The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Nancy Emerson was a woman with a mission. Her mission was not to let cancer become her identity. It was a part of her life’s quilt but not the primary thread. She and her co-authors shared a vision of hope and presented a message of living life to the fullest, not sitting back and waiting to die. They already knew what Jimmy Buffet sings about when he croons, “I want to die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

Recently cancer has been even more present in my life than usual. My hubby was diagnosed with an aggressive-rare form of neck cancer (two words no one wants to hear when cancer is being described.) My dear traveling buddy also is presently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my young, sweet neighbor is being treated for stage four lung cancer. Along with them my friend, Dr. Carmen Wagner is also being treated for lung cancer.

Carmen, is a brilliant business woman who has been involved with the health industry for most of her career. She has decided to use her organizational skills to create a cancer support group here in Cary, North Carolina. She too wants to focus on living life to the fullest and gathering and sharing information that will help people be the healthiest they can possible be. Her goal is to look at the whole person. One cannot heal the body without addressing the issues of the mind and the spirit. There’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic that says, “Three fourth of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and souls to their bodies.” How is that for a wake-up call?

How many of us have the power to control our minds to overcome disease? Even the holiest of holy die. Life has a way of bringing us to our knees and maybe that’s one of the most important “tools” we can sharpen; our ability to connect to the Divine, our ability and desire to find The Holy and to fully understand that we are, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” Perhaps, our greatest tool is to grow our faith in a power greater than ourselves, greater than anything we can even imagine. A power that can create a galaxy and a flower, a human and a microcosm.

After the initial diagnosis of cancer, what I found to be the second scariest event was the day I was released from treatment. I know I am not alone. I know too in many ways I was one of the lucky ones, to be released at all. However, a few years back, Duke changed the name of the DCPSP to the Duke Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic. They finally recognized the need for cancer patients to receive care that addressed all the issues they had gone through during their treatment and perhaps with which they would continue to deal. For example, people who had undergone the type of chemotherapy I had undergone, needed an Echocardiogram every five years. I had been out of treatment (yes, luckily) for over 15 years and had never had an Echo! There’s a thread of cancer that is always with you even after you’ve been told you are “cancer free.” Ask any cancer survivor what come first to their minds when they have a headache, a backache or a shoulder pain? These concerns and fears need to addressed and alleviated. Education and support are essential to continued healing and that’s exactly what Carmen is focusing on, as is the Survivorship Clinic at Duke.

The basic health care rules apply whether or not you’re in or out of cancer. Exercise, eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep and stay connected to friends and family. These are proven ways of maintaining optimal health. The way you approach them really depends on the individual. People go crazy trying to figure out the best approach to their diet. In today’s world there are so many options and every one of them is touted as the “best” diet.” You’ve seen them. You’ve read about them. I don’t have to list them. The only way to know if they’re for you is to try one for a time and see how you feel and how your body responds. It’s not an easy path. What is good for one, really is not good for all. But is there any one thing that’s good to help cure the sickness of our minds and souls?

It’s Lent, 2020 as I write this missive. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time to focus on prayer, fasting and alms giving according to the tradition of my Catholic faith. It’s forty days to broaden our perspectives, to learn more about ourselves, to grow closer to our God and perhaps change our relationship to ourselves, the world and Our Lord. It’s really all up to us and our intentions and that, I believe is the cure. Oh, you may not heal yourself of every ailment you have and yes, you will still die. Let’s face it, no one gets out of this life alive. We do, however, get to choose how we live. We get to choose how we perceive what we are experiencing. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us, this gift of freedom of will and thought. Dr. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen writes that sometimes in our pursuit of becoming whole, we still may not be cured but be assured, we will be healed.

What choices can one make to assure they will be healed? There are many just like a diet but two of the most important one can learn are to forgive and to love. Don’t hold onto that hot coal of resentment expecting it to harm anyone other than yourself. Do whatever it takes to heal your heart of hurt, anger and bitterness. Write about it, paint about it, meditate on it, pray. Don’t give up until you are whole once more, until that wound in your heart and soul has scared over. It’s hard work but it’s so worth it and don’t expect it to happen like a one and done. It may appear over and over. You may need to make a conscious decision maybe many times before you find peace. Forgiveness and love, the two cornerstones of a healthy, full, enriched life. Truly, if your life is full of peace and love what else could you possibly want or need to live it to the fullest?

Dr. Wagner, The Duke Survivorship Clinic, and the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat that I have been leading for the last fifteen years all focus on finding the positive outlook in life. We recognize the pain and challenge and then we choose to look for the, “can in cancer.” It’s there. It may take the help of others seen and unseen to discover it, but even in the most difficult of times, one can find a way to see the blessings. They are there in the faces of our loved ones, in the calls and cards from our friends and neighbors, in the prayers than encircle our whole being; mind, body and spirit. May your cancer journey help you to see the “can”, the blessings and may they lift you up to a place of gratitude and possibility.

A Safer World

Affirmation:  The world is safer than we believe it to be.
She didn’t phrase the affirmation in the positive, so I had to re-wright it.  She actually said, “The world is not as dangerous as we imagine it to be.”  She was backpacking through So. Africa.  She was crossing the border from Zimbabwe into Botswana.  She was all alone, no travel buddy along and she would be spending the night in a camp site, somewhere about which she knew very little.  “Will you be in a tent?” I asked.  She didn’t know.  She appeared to be in her early thirties and while I was dressed to be sure the mosquitos didn’t find a free square inch on me, she was in a tank top and shorts.  Her name was Anya.  I told her she was one of my newest heroines.  I have many but she was definitely the latest and I was so pleased to meet her, to share a little time with her and to learn from her.  “The world is not as dangerous as we imagine it to be.”  I felt like someone had opened a door in a stuffy, small room,  Yes, I was in So. Africa too.  I had only been here a few days when we were traveled to Chobe to cruise the river and ride through the jungle to see lions and giraffes and elephants and whatever other exotic creatures chose to show themselves.  I, however was with a buddy, Susan Auman and we had hired a guide to help facilitate the transfer across the border.  I was in awe of Anya.  
This was towards the end of our trip.  

It can be hard to imagine the world as safe.  The news is so gruesome most days.  It is the focus of the media and it leaves many feeling anxious and afraid.  Fear can be useful.  We are genetically wired to use fear as a warning system but when we always are in a “flight or fight” response, it becomes debilitating, cortisol levels rise and our systems are overloaded.  

Susan and I had already visited Cairo.  We had seen the pyramids, the Sphinx and visited mosques and several holy sites where the Holy Family had lived, according to the legends told.  We had also sailed the Nile and visited temples as old as three thousand plus years old.  (We had used some toilets that we were sure were just as old. Toilette paper was handed out by the sheet and that only with the payment of a dollar or more.) We had danced and hiked and rode in a hot air balloon over the desert but I still wasn’t sure if the world was more or less dangerous than I imagined but I was beginning to see the world differently, more like Anya.  

We were traveling during Lent and finishing our Egypt segment at the end of Holy Week.  Egypt is 80 percent Muslim and I was feeling very unsure about our journey.  I always wear a small cross necklace and I just wasn’t sure how advisable that was.  I took the cross off for a few days but I felt very uncomfortable without it and so, I put it back on.  I once read a story about a man who decided to wear a large (I don’t know how large.) wooden cross around his neck for Lent.  He was fairly sure people would react to his new pendant, he just didn’t know how they would react.  Imagine his surprise when no one reacted at all.  His decision to wear the cross was a very brave statement.  The only thing that mattered was how it made him feel.  That’s how I felt about wearing my little necklace.  The good news is no one reacted to it, positively or negatively but it was very important to me to openly claim my faith.  I felt very brave. 

So. Africa was a very different environment than Egypt.  I fell in love with the people.  We arrived and were eventually met by Sindy.  He was definitely one of the highlights of our travel.  Actually, for me, meeting the people wherever we went was the most fun.  Whoever we met, we were greeted warmly and courteously.  Susan and I did always present with a smile and I think that’s a universal language.  Very seldom was there not a response in kind.  

We had both prayed that God would send his angels ahead to pave the path with grace, ease, compassion and love and I must say, we were in awe of how well our travels went.  When met by our last tour representative we knew our prayers had definitely been answered.  His name was Blessing.  The names of the people we met in Victoria Falls were inspiring.  One of our waiters was named Tadiwa. He told us it meant, “We are loved.”  I asked him if it were true and he said, “yes” he was loved.  Sindy’s wife’s name is Simangaliso.  Her name means, “Great wonder” and according to Sindy, she is.  

Sindy had stories galore for us.  His enthusiasm for the falls was contagious.  As we walked the path to the Danger Point and the Devil’s Pool, he quoted Livingston.  “These are signs so wonderful that the angels must have gazed upon them in their flight.”  As we were leaving, this unassuming, gentle man he told us one last tale about being invited to speak in 2015 at the “Be the Change Conference” in Atlanta, GA.  It was his first time to fly and when he arrived, he spoke to five thousand people about helping women develop their own businesses because they are the mothers who nurture our future. 

The quality of the So. African people I found most striking was how they looked you right in the eye.  When you asked them how they were, they would always smile and engage you in a way that I found to be endearing and unusual.  


“The world is not as dangerous a place as we imagine it to be.” I am so grateful to my friend, Susan, for inviting me to join her on this pilgrimage.  Her desire to see and experience the world and her willingness to share it with me, dragged me out of fear and into love.  It’s not the first time she has led me this way.  It was she who led me to walk the Camino in 2017.  I can fall into fear very easily but she reminds me that “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”  We said our prayers and then stepped out into a whole new world.  She would tell me periodically that “You knew you weren’t in Kansas any longer,” when you had warthogs on the front lawn, elephants crossing the road, baboons climbing out of inn windows and monkeys waiting to steal your breakfast.  We were in a different world and I had conquered my fears, again.  It’s a gift I gave myself. It’s keeping me excited and enthusiastic about life, about the future, about our future.  It’s a reminder of a phrase I heard while at the Haden Institute, “God loves me exactly as I am but She loves me too much to leave me there.”  Thank you, God!  Thank you, Susan.  

Embracing Lent


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