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Spiritual direction

Forty years ago, when I was considering becoming a religious sister, the Sisters required me to have a spiritual director to help guide my discernment process. That discernment process led me to say “no” to life as a vowed religious and “yes” to ongoing spiritual direction, and I have had a spiritual director ever since.

Whenever I have moved to a new city, finding a spiritual director has been one of my top priorities, right up there with finding a good bakery, a hair stylist and a doctor. Spiritual direction is an integral part of my life.

Perhaps because my spiritual life is so important to me, people have often come to me to talk about their experiences of God or spiritual dilemmas, and I have been an enthusiastic listener. I love hearing how God moves in people’s lives and I also enjoy the challenge of offering suggestions to reframe difficult situations, of inviting people to look from different perspectives.

About fifteen years ago, I took an introductory course to become a spiritual director, but the timing was not right. Now, though, I am enrolled in an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality at a local retreat center, and I am learning about the practice of spiritual direction, which is mostly about listening.

I am reading books written by people who have many years of experience as spiritual directors, and I am learning from their wisdom.

Something that continually surprises me in these books is how many people seem to have an image of God as harsh, demanding and judgmental, something they were taught as children and have carried into adulthood.

It surprises me because I somehow missed that lesson; God has always been loving and forgiving to me.

The image of God I have carried into adulthood is from when I was eight years old and God rescued me, pulling me into a loving embrace and whispering to me, “He can’t hurt you.” My God loves me and wants what is best for me.

When I mess up, God is there to welcome me back, like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God may not always be pleased with my actions (or sometimes my lack of action), but God always loves me as I am, accepts me as I am and forgives my shortcomings. I am much more likely to be critical and demanding of myself than God is.

Most of us have things from childhood we need to reframe as adults, things we learned that were just plain wrong or at least not helpful. Mine tend to be connected to issues of trust and low self-esteem, and I am continually working to change what I was taught that turned out to be false.

What has been your experience of God? Can you recall a time when you felt God’s delight in you? Can you imagine a conversation with God and hear God call you beloved? Do you ever talk with someone about your spiritual life?

Interpretative dancing

I did not know what to call it,

the way my body moved to the music,

first swaying smoothly and then shaking like a rag doll,

speeding up and slowing down,

depending on the song

and the day

and even the time of day,

feet gliding across the polished hardwood floors,

arms raised in protest and

then fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird

faster and faster

my own version of a whirligig.

Interpretative angst dancing someone suggested.

Yes, that’s it.

Rhythm of my heart

(Originally published in Red Tent Living on the theme Woman in Red)

Learning about Spanish culture was one part of my college summer school program in Madrid, Spain, and that meant churches, museums, bullfights, and flamenco dances. There were also many visits to nightclubs—called discotecas—but I don’t think my professors considered those part of my cultural education.

I thoroughly enjoyed every museum and would gladly return to Spain to see more art, but I could have done without the bullfights (they were quite gory) and after about ten churches, I was pretty much churched-out. Flamenco dancing was in its own category though.

Those women in red, flounced dresses, spinning and stomping their feet, touched something deep inside me.

dance-travel-freedom

While I sat still in rapt attention, seemingly quite contained, everything inside me was exploding, and I was joining in the dance. I could imagine myself dressed in a flamboyant red dress, flipping the hem back and forth, creating the impression that I was in perpetual motion.

My love of dance goes back to my childhood when I took tap and ballet classes at the local community center. I was the self-conscious child during recitals whose movements were restrained. On the outside, I was timid and shy, afraid of drawing attention to myself for fear of being criticized. Deep down, I was tapping up a storm and my ballet moves were swanlike, but that movement stayed inside.

Neither tap nor ballet lasted long. I didn’t know how to explain what was happening on the inside, how the dancing was giving me the opportunity to be free, how those tiny movements of my body were amplified on the inside. My mother thought it was a waste of money since I did not seem to be having fun.

In her thirties, a friend took tap dancing lessons, and I went to her recital. She wore a Carmen Miranda hat and danced her heart out. She inspired me to take belly dancing classes, which I did for several years. I thought of it more as exercise than dance, but I did buy a red hip scarf with gold coins dangling from it.

Fortunately, these classes were in a room with no mirrors, so the only image I had was the one in my mind, and in my mind, I was one great belly dancer! The teacher encouraged us to make dramatic movements—hips swaying from side to side with a little oomph for emphasis. It was tremendous fun, and it helped free me to let what was inside out.

A few years ago, I saw Riverdance in Dublin, Ireland, which included flamenco dance. My reaction was the same as it had been thirty-some years ago. I was swept up in the movement and could imagine myself dressed in red, swaying rhythmically.

Dance has always touched something deep inside me. Whether I am distressed, sad, or even happy, I find that dance can help me express my emotions. At home, I often turn on music and dance. It is a great stress reliever, and it helps me get in touch with my body. When I can let go of my inhibitions and let my body move freely, I can also let go of tears. Dance is cathartic.

Hiding

They hid from God,

like children caught in the act of

taking a snack between meals or

reading after lights out,

knowing they broke the rules and

fearful of punishment.

Were they sorry for their lapse in judgment?

Did they wish they could rewind the tape,

have a do-over?

Where are you? God calls out,

seeking us in those places where we hide,

once we discover our weaknesses and

know how easily we give in to temptation

and how much we dread the consequences of our actions

when we have been found out.

In our nakedness and vulnerability,

the voice of God reaches us.

Come here, God says tenderly,

tsk-tsking at our shortcomings.

Open your heart and

let me love you back to wholeness.

The next chapter

“Don’t buy me any green bananas,” my mother likes to say. We are celebrating her 95th birthday tomorrow, and she jokes that she might not live to see green bananas ripen. On the other hand, she bought a new dishwasher this week.

Her optimism is a constant reminder to me to welcome each day, to embrace what life brings and to look forward to whatever is coming down the road.

God-hope-vulnerability

For the most part, my mother does what she wants; she is fiercely independent. When I once called her stubborn, she said, “Don’t call me stubborn. I am not stubborn. I just know what I want.”

And when she knows what she wants, she goes for it with gusto, not caring one whit what others think.

In many ways, I am like my mother (my younger brother likes to point to us and say, tree…apple), but I don’t have her self-assurance in going after what I want; I am easily swayed by the desires and opinions of others.

I am at a crossroads in my life. It is a familiar place because I was basically at the same place a year ago. I made a decision then, announced my decision and then did not follow through because I was dissuaded by what someone else wanted. Ugh.

Again this year, I have come to the same decision about my future, and when I told a friend, she said, “You already made that decision,” sounding like she was speaking to a fickle child. Yes, I make and remake the same decisions. I move toward a new direction and then step back; it is tedious.

I feel stuck at the crossroads. This is one of those ways I wish I was more like my mother—decide and then do it, others’ opinions be damned.

I recently found a note I had written at the beginning of last year, asking, What do I need to do, believe in or allow for myself? It was probably a message to bolster my decision, and it is still relevant.

God-hope-vulnerability

Healing touch

If only I could touch his cloak,

thought the woman

who hoped for a cure.

If only….

She knew her disease,

having lived with it for twelve years,

and she wanted it gone.

Jesus was near enough for her fingers to

graze the tassel at the edge of his garment,

barely skimming the cloth,

her touch like a gentle breeze.

She reached out,

and the disease fled her body.

What joy she must have felt when

something shifted inside her,

and she knew her torment had ended.

That glancing touch had been enough.

If only I could touch his cloak,

I could be cured of my dis-ease,

the uncertainty that causes me to second-guess my decisions,

the insecurities and fears that can overshadow me

like the gray clouds of a winter day.

If only…

I want to trust enough to reach out and

touch the tassel of his cloak and

for him to turn toward me and ask,

Who touched me?

Turning the page

I was convicted the other day by Jake Owensby’s post about unity.

Full disclosure: I don’t watch the news or read a newspaper or listen to the news (other than if I happen to be in my car and it comes on). I am an ostrich when it comes current events. I know the headlines, but not much else.

Friends fill me in when something monumental happens, but for the most part, the divisiveness and aggression in our country burdens me, and I choose to opt out.

It all started when my friend Jim got brain cancer and there was no room in my psyche for what was happening in the world. All my energy went into taking care of Jim and holding onto my job. Jim watched the news and would brief me on what was happening, and I found that this system worked for me. I became a news dabbler.

After Jim died, I grieved, and my pain was enough; I did not need to hear about crime, war or political spats.

Then I just got used to living shallow when it came to the news. It all just seemed like “different day, same story” and I did not find it helpful to my mental health to tune in.

I don’t like being angry, and that is mainly how I feel when I hear the news. I am tired of how little progress we make as a society.

For example, in the 1960’s and 1970’s many women campaigned to change language that excluded them. It was common for “men” to be used as the word for “people,” and men would say women were included in that word, which never made sense to me. By that argument, the word “women” should have been used because it does include “men.”

Over time, the use of “men” to mean everyone changed. In church, we went from saying “brothers” to “brothers and sisters” and from “brethren” to “people.”

But here we are, fifty years on, and “men” has been replaced by “guys” which is just another word for “men.”

God-unity-kindness

There are no female guys, but I cannot tell you how many times restaurant servers have called me a guy. It infuriates me, and it infuriates me that women are complicit in it, that women exclude themselves by calling other women “guys.”

It is no mystery that we still have a gender wage gap and that women are excluded from many positions of leadership in our society. Words matter, and calling women “guys” reinforces the message that men are the top dogs.

And don’t get me started on racial injustice or the demeaning treatment of people who have disabilities or who are elderly or any number of issues I have cared about for the past fifty years.

So please forgive me if I am impatient, but my impatience does not excuse using words that tear down rather than build up. I will try harder to seek unity in what I say and do.

Breakthrough

I recently did a “the first four words you see will be your words for 2021” game on Facebook. My words were connection, self-care, money and breakthrough. Self-care is the one that resonated most strongly with me, because it is an area that challenges me.

God-mindfulness-spirituality

The other three, though, who knows what they might mean?

Then this week in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, I had a breakthrough.

We are doing a mini-course on Jesus and because of the pandemic, the presentations have been videotaped and we are watching them on our own. The first session was an overview of the Bible.

The priest who did the presentation shared that his favorite Bible is the Harper Collins Study Bible, which was a new one to me, and I made a note to check it out. The session ended with a Lectio Divina prayer time using Isaiah 40:1-2: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and…

This reading is very familiar to me, and my mind started filling in the next words. But this was a different translation, one I had never heard before, and after those first few words, I had to stop the video and go back to listen to what was being read, rather than listening to the words in my head. This translation read:

…cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins….

I actually laughed out loud because I almost missed this message by filling in what was familiar.

God-mindfulness-spirituality

Plus, these words are similar to what friends have been telling me for years, things like, you have done more than your share and you have atoned.

I stopped the video to spend more time listening to God telling me that I can let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and to thank God for all I have received.

I am a loved sinner, I reminded myself.

Then I personalized the words:

I have served my term. My penalty is paid. I have received double from the Lord’s hands for all my sins.

On Wednesday of this week, I had cataract surgery, and the pre-op nurse and I chatted as she administered a series of eye drops. Her husband is from Italy, which led to us talking about our trips to Italy and my plans to return next year. She asked where I worked and when I said Gilda’s Club, she placed her hand on my hand and said, “Thank you for your work.” I could tell she knew the importance of support on the cancer journey.

I entered the operating room feeling blessed by my life. I have been fortunate to have meaningful work that touches the lives of vulnerable people, to have dear friends who love and support me, and adventures that broaden my life. I have received double and even triple blessings from God.

Now onto connection and money.