Monday, January 19, 2015

For 2015, Three "Generous Promises"

Yeah, I know . . . I really should take down my Christmas tree.

But with this cold wintry weather we're experiencing, my colorful and glittery little tree definitely adds a lovely warmth to my home, don't you think? So maybe I'll wait another couple of days or so.

Actually, my friend Kathleen said it's quite okay to wait a bit longer before taking down my tree. She reminded me that in some older Catholic Christian traditions, Christmas lasted until February 2. This date marks the end of the 40 day-long "Christmastide," which corresponds to the 40 days of Lent. As I'm sure many of you reading this would know, on February 2 the Church celebrates the day that Mary entered the temple when her days of "purification" (as defined by the patriarchal Mosaic law) were fulfilled after giving birth. It's also the occasion when Simeon and Anna made their well-known pronouncements about Mary and Jesus. The day is known as "Candle-mas" because of Simeon's prophecy that Jesus would be a light for all people.

Stirring the fire

Speaking of light, on Saturday, January 3 I participated in "Stirring the Fire," the annual spiritual retreat for and by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates – St. Paul Province. As I think most of you know, I'm a consociate member of this particular Catholic order.

This year's day of reflection focused on "inner stability and outer mobility," and although these particular words are not ones I would chose to use, what they signify is nevertheless very meaningful and important to me. That's because in terms of both the physical and spiritual dimensions of life, "inner stability" is all about balance, groundedness, harmony, and a strength of core cultivated and maintained by mindfulness and a listening heart. All these things require time, dedication, and discipline. "Outward mobility," as explained at the retreat, speaks to me of journeying and of outreach to and compassionate engagement with others. It involves openness, flexibility, and a prayerfully discerned sense of focus and direction.

At one point during the retreat, it was noted that inner stability and outer mobility are the defining characteristics of a mystic, of one desiring transformation via union with the Sacred Presence that dwells both within and beyond us. I appreciate and resonate with this insight.

An intentional and mindful practice

Another important component of the Stirring the Fire retreat was its focus on the Examen or examination of conscience, the ancient practice of thoughtfully reviewing our actions, thoughts, and experiences of the day. It's a practice that can help us in our relationship with God through its invitation to discern the things we are grateful for, the things that feed and replenish us; the things that drain us; the things we want to change; and the things we need to work on.

One of the retreat facilitators reminded us that the way to start the Examen is by visualizing and feeling oneself embraced by God's unconditional love. We then begin reflecting upon our day, identifying when and where we felt connected to others and God, and when we felt disconnected. Such mindful reflection invites us to name our struggles and fears; the resources we possess and/or have access to that can guide, strengthen and calm us; our gifts; and the various pathways that are open to us. The Examen also provides us with an opportunity to discern the value of our various commitments. Over time, we can also begin to discern patterns in our lives and our spiritual journey. In short, the Examen helps us be in communion with the totality of our being – our strengths and weaknesses; our gains and losses; our hopes and dreams; and our frustrations and disappointments. Through such an intentional and mindful practice we place ourselves in communion with our deepest self and thus the Sacred Presence within us.

I found the retreat's focus on the Examen very helpful. It confirmed for me something I've known for quite some time: I lack discipline in a number areas of my life, including my inner spiritual life, and, perhaps no doubt related to this, I lack direction in my outer life in the world.

In some ways, a good visual representation of this lack of discipline and direction is the following photo of my room, taken at around the time of my participation in the Stirring the Fire retreat. As you can see, it's a mess!

True, I was working at the time on the first installment in my series of posts documenting my twenty years in the U.S., and so I had been shifting and sorting through several boxes of old files, photos, and papers.

The need for discipline in my spiritual practices and clarity and direction in my vocation/career has been somewhat of a recurring theme in my life throughout the past four years or so. (See for instance, here, here, here, here and here.) Indeed, it would probably be more accurate to say that rather than discerning this need, I was reminded of it at the retreat on January 3. For when we were invited to write down what it was we hoped for in 2015 in relation to the theme of inner stability and outer mobility, I wrote: Spiralling forward with focus, direction, and energy.

I very consciously chose spiralling as I think it describes well the nature and trajectory of my spiritual journey. There's often something circular, cyclical about it; yet I nevertheless discern and experience progress, a forward momentum.

I also appreciate how spiralling brings to mind the graceful and focused movements of the whirling dervishes of the Sufi tradition, a tradition with which I deeply resonate.

Three generous promises

We were also asked on January 3 to generate "generous promises" for ourselves, promises that reflect God's generous love and which would help and guide us in embodying the hopes we have for 2015. I came up with three:

• To stay open and responsive to the invitations all around me to spiral forward with focus, direction, and energy.

• To create sacred time and space to experience the Divine Presence as together we spiral forward with focus, direction, and energy.

• To trust that even when I feel it's not happening, I am in some beautiful and mysterious way spiralling forward with focus, direction, and energy.

Since the Stirring the Fire retreat I've slowly been putting into practice the many wise and helpful insights shared and the "generous promises" I made to myself. I've started doing an Examen every night, in unison with the practice of keeping a journal. Tomorrow evening a commence a yoga class, something I've been wanting to do for some time. Oh, and I've started getting my room back in order . . .

If you have decided to make the new year a time of renewal and recommitment in some way, then my thoughts and prayers of loving support are with you. May we all, in our own unique and beautiful ways, spiral forward in making our lives, relationships, communities, and the world an ever-radiant manifestation of God's transforming spirit of justice and compassion.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
All 'Round Me Burdens Seem to Fall
A Guidepost on the Journey
Threshold Musings
Seeking Balance
May Balance and Harmony Be Your Aim
Memet Bilgin and the Art of Restoring Balance
Clarity, Hope and Courage
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
There Must Be Balance
"Then I Shall Leap Into Love"
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible
Prayer of the Week – November 24, 2014
A Discerning Balance Between Holiness and Wholeness: A Hallmark of the Resurrected Life
Sufism: The Way of Love, a Tradition of Enlightenment, and an Antidote to Fanaticism
Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life
In the Garden of Spirituality – Parker Palmer
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All
The Source is Within You


Rita Quigley said...

Michael, what a truly profound meditation on our retreat day. As one of the planners, I couldn't be more pleased and inspired by your openness and receptivity to the breath of the Spirit which the community experiences in each and in all. Your generous promises enliven me.

Kathleen Olsen said...

Michael, you really captured the heart of the "Stirring the Fire" retreat. It is very inspiring.

Thanks for the mention. Guess Feb. 2 means a lot to me since it holds an extra significance . . . my birthday!