Retreat, Detour or Both?

Retreat, Detour or Both?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 38

 

Someone asked if I “practiced” what I preached”.  In other words, they explained, did I pray?  The answer is a quick and resounding YES!!!  In fact, because I was engaged in a prayer retreat, this post is four days late and will be followed later today by two others… or possibly three.

 

The first definition of the word “retreat” is usually how it is used in a military setting.  By that I mean it is defined as a withdrawal or, to many, a running away.  Often such an action is seen as a sign of cowardice or a means of giving up.

 

Spiritual retreats decry that connotation.  Sometimes the most strategic moves we can make are those that require us to take a step back in order to gain a new perspective or to perhaps confirm and solidify what we already know. 

 

The musical retreat is played to alert troops that it is time to withdraw.  It is usually played once new information has been received and does not always signal a definite leaving or giving up.  It simply is an effective way to reach many and make them vigilant that conditions have changed which will require a new approach.

 

We often get such “alerts” ourselves.  Sometimes it is life that is preparing us for new things and sometimes it is our own body telling us to be vigilant to how we are responding to events we are encountering.  Often we ignore these but this time, I paid attention.  I try to plan a retreat during Advent because it is a very hectic time of year.  My purpose is not to withdraw from the festivities but to make certain I am celebrating for the right reasons in appropriate fashion.

 

A retreat in a spiritual sense means finding a place where one can get in touch with one’s inner being.  For the religious it is a way of affirming their faith and getting a chance for some stillness to listen.  In the midst of frivolity and the joyous noise of the season it can sometimes be hard to connect to our deity.  It is very easy to get caught up in the consumerism of the times rather than the spirit of benevolence that the holiday celebrates.

 

The University of Kansas includes steps for a group retreat on its online Community Tool Box page.  “Retreats can be useful for your staff, members, volunteers, or board of directors. Some of the benefits of retreats are that they can eliminate the outside distractions of your usual daily setting, build enthusiasm and commitment among your staff or members, cultivate an unceremonious, casual, unpressured mood, create a sense of shared experience and bonding to help people better work together, set aside some uninterrupted time to solve key problems, and allow you to step back and re-examine goals, objectives, and activities.”

 

These same goals can be achieved with an individual retreat.  Embarking on an individual retreat or taking part in such a retreat even with a group of friends can be very beneficial.  Generally, they involve a great deal of meditation.   With a major focus on intense meditation, mindfulness becomes the end result, a mindfulness that allows one to see without interruption how one responds to living.  By participating in such a retreat, we are able to realize how we respond and perhaps create difficulties in our living as well as experience a sense of freedom as we also celebrate our strengths and joys.

 

Franciscan Retreats are found worldwide and they have broken the practice of a retreat into several easy steps.  They have also made retreats an art form, simple and available to all.  Many retreat centers are free of charge, letting participants pay what they can as a donation.  No religious affiliation is necessary and all are welcome.

 

The Franciscan retreat format follows these basic steps.  The first is surrender, the surrendering of time, your busy life, and most of all, your own thoughts so that you are open to new revelations.  The next step is prayer.  It is this conversation of sorts that opens the door for everything that follows and so, the next step after prayer is silence.  After all, if we are doing all the talking, mentally and perhaps verbally, then we cannot fully listen.  The next two steps may seem unusual but they open the door for greater knowledge.  They are to read and then to write or journal your experiences.  The retreat centers also encourage the exploring of their grounds, communing with both nature and other people going through similar retreats.  The retreat concludes with a plan to return.  After all, life gives us each a new opportunity with the rising of each new day.  The knowledge we gained last year was important but the upcoming New Year will give us new chances for greater insight.  Making plans to return for another retreat is being prudent and planning for the future.

 

Sara Avant Stover is a female yogini who also teaches spiritual retreats.  On her website she explains how to do a personal retreat at home and you can reach that page with this link:   http://www.thewayofthehappywoman.com/my-journal/2014/07/stay-home-retreat.  Chances are, though, you might already have done a mini personal retreat at home without even knowing it.

 

Finding a special place or time for some personal time is important as we go through life.  We need to reconnect with ourselves, touch base with our own inner being.  Maybe you awaken a few minutes earlier than everyone and take that time for some relaxation before entering the hectic chaos of your busy day.  Many choose to read in the stillness of the night and then journal about their day.  Still others take a few minutes from their lunch hour to have a few minutes of prayer and meditation.

 

Quite a few years ago my day was scheduled down to the last second it seemed.  I was not only worn out, I was burned out.  Then a traffic snarl resulted in my taking a detour through a drive-in restaurant.  Realizing that none of us were going to get where we were going on time and that I was thirsty, I pulled into one of the ordering stalls and ordered some ice tea.  I spent fifteen minutes reading a paperback I found that had fallen out of my library book bag and was stuck partially under the passenger seat.  I finished the tea and the book’s chapter and realized I was much calmer.  I began to schedule fifteen minutes for going through the restaurant and having my tea as I read.  Life suddenly seemed much more manageable and I’m sure I was much more pleasant to be around.  I had thought I didn’t have a minute to spare but I found I did – fifteen minutes in fact every day.  Projects got done and were actually done easier and better.  Nothing was sacrificed and everything was gained.

 

If you have missed the blog posts the past four days, I do apologize.  Hopefully, we you reread some prior ones or maybe, you found your own fifteen minute retreat.  There is no point in having a season of good will if it makes us lose our own. 

 

I trained my puppy that whenever I am engaged in fiber arts, I will have to put things down before I can take him outside to do his business.  The code phrase to tell him I saw his signal but he needs to let me put my work down is this:  “Let me park my needle.”  Earlier this week I received an alert from my body telling me I was overworked and overstressed by life happenings.  So I gave myself permission to “park my post” and engage in a retreat of sorts. 

 

Today many are detouring their lives because of a natural disaster.  They are taking a nature- imposed retreat.  People have retreated to the homes of family or friends.  One group of friends is enjoying a reunion of sorts as a result of this detour called Hurricane Irma.  Several evacuated their home and accepted the hospitality of former college friends to visit.

 

All too often we think we having nothing else to give or time to take.  Just when we think we can’t spare anything, we can sometimes find everything.  All we have to do is retreat and then, in that retreat, we find that which we’ve been searching for and that which makes it all worth living.  Is a retreat a detour?  Yes it is, perhaps the most important type of detour we can ever take.  We think of detours as cumbersome and time-consuming.  Sometimes they show us what is really the most important aspects of our living.  After all, we need to enjoy the scenery as well as the destination in our living.

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Color Blind

Color Blind

Detours in Life

Pentecost 29

 

A friend on Facebook asked how in the world the American Civil Liberties Union could have sanctioned the white supremacist rally scheduled for August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am neither an attorney nor a member so I certainly and most definitely do not speak for the ACLU.  However, knowing their mission, I do think perhaps they felt it was an opportunity for the conveyance of civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

 

The melee that became this event, the murderous action that resulted in injury to almost twenty people and the deaths of three was not civil.  It was, most definitely, an excuse to be everything except civil.  The right to free speech is not a guaranteed right to hate nor does it give one the right to inflict bodily harm or the spewing of insults.

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not something designed to detract from one’s unalienable rights given by God/the Creator/Allah/ science and pertinent laws.  There are no scientific bases for discrimination and I will discuss that more in detail in tomorrow’s post.

 

Today I simply ask that you go about your daily living color blind.  If you cannot appreciate all colors, including those of the epidermis of mankind, then disregard all color.  Perhaps that will afford you the opportunity to appreciate diversity.  It is a most interesting and beautiful world because of that diversity.  I hope and pray that today you realize that.  Detour from your usual thinking and simply breathe in the diversity that the world has to offer.  Allow yourself the freedom to let others be just that – beautiful, different, and free.

What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 16

 

We each are born and in that birthing, expectations are formed.  Sometimes it is because members of a family all tend to follow the same career path.  Sometimes it is because of specific gender roles within a culture.  Often, though, it is merely the stereotype that makes everyone comfortable.  The problem is that non e are based upon the individual or their talents.

 

Last year American Eagle Company released a commercial that seemed to celebrate men having a positive self-image.  The male models were not the typical male model.  Many would have shopped in the “husky” department and most seemed to go against the standard image types.  The advertisement seemed to emulate recent similar ads focusing on women… with one very big difference.  The American Eagle commercials were an April Fool’s Day joke.

 

Stereotyping is a dangerous although sometimes comical practice.  Comedians have relied on stereotypes for over a hundred years in telling a joke.  While they may seem funny to many, the subjects of the stereotypes are often deeply hurt.  Discrimination is not a laughing matter.  To ignore the vaule of each of our individualities is to deprive a person of their very being.

 

Women are one of the oldest targets for such stereotyping and low expectations.  Even though no one is ever born without a woman being intricately involved in the process, society has for centuries and eons failed to properly respect the potential of the average female of the species.

 

Barbara Askins was born in the late 1930’s and subject to the expectations of the times.  Women were supposed to get married, have children, and be content.  Professions deemed acceptable for women were generally nursing and teaching.  Born in the state of Tennessee, Barbara Askins complied with the stereotype for women of her time.  She grew up married, and had children.

 

Then Barbara did something a bit out of the ordinary.  Barbara created her own detour of life.  She went back to school, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s of science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Located in the mountainous beginnings of the Appalachian Mountains on the banks of the Tennessee River, Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center.  It was at Marshall that the Saturn V Rocket that propelled the USA into outer space was developed as a part of NASA.  It is also at UAH that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has advanced weather labs for studying severe weather. 

 

As a physical chemist, Barbara Askins was in a great location to work, a location that did not try to conform her into an age-old stereotype.  It was at Marshall Space Flight Center that Barbara did some groundbreaking work.  Her invention is one that has benefitted most of our lives although we probably do not know it.  Barbara Askins is the inventor of the autoradiograph, a process in which “images on developed photographic emulsions can be significantly intensified by making the image silver radioactive and exposing a second emulsion to this radiation.”  

 

If you have ever had an x-ray, and the doctor then told you something based upon that x-ray, then you should really thank Barbara Askins.  Ever since 1978 when she received her patent, the ability to read an x-ray has been greatly enhanced –  all because one woman decided to detour around the basic expectations for her living and create a new life for herself.

 

The value of any x-ray and the ability to see what is covered by skin is determined in a large part to the development of the x-ray film.  Over exposure is seldom the problem; underexposure is quite common.  With Barbara Askin’s technique, over ninety-six percent of x-rays that were previously considered to be under-exposed were now readable.  This prevented the need for additional x-rays and radiation exposure via the x-ray to patients.  Her process has also been used in the restoration of old photographs.

 

Maybe you are not someone who does scrapbooking or collects old pictures.  If you are reading this, however, odds are you are alive and either have or will need an x-ray at some point.  You may not have heard of Barbara Askins but you have benefitted from her work.  We all have.  Her technique was originally designed to restore photographs taken by satellites and astronauts.  We have a better understanding of our bodies, our world, and outer space because of her and her detour.

 

Bringing things into focus is a part of education and living.  Time often changes our perspective and that can be a very good thing.  When she was first tasked with trying to salvage a group of photographs and negatives, no one expected Barbara Askins to become an inventor.  We all are inventors.    We invent our lives each and every day.  We need to use our living to bring into focus a brighter and clearer tomorrow.  Together we can change the world.  We just need to forget stereotypes and focus on making a better landscape of our lives, sometimes following or creating a detour in our life.

Twelve Steps Forward

Twelve Steps Forward

Easter 8 – 19

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I do not know Charles Francis and this really is not an advertisement for his book.  I do recommend reading his explanation of each step, however, and perhaps trying one a day for the next twelve days.  Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further, and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from your practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

This series topic of mindfulness is not designed to create more things to do in your daily schedule.  Once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.

Sanctuary

Refugees and Sanctuary

 

Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”

 

In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.

 

The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

Goodness

Goodness

Lent 1

 

During Lent our series will focus on the Beatitudes, those eight to ten, and in one location, four saying about goodness, happiness and spirituality.  While the basis for this series will be taken from the New Testament, this will not be a purely religious series.  It is a series about goodness and our search for it in an overall sense – goodness of living, of health, of being.  We will delve into such distinction as the difference between a happy person and an optimistic person and there will be, hopefully, a vignette to explain and explore our discussion each day.

 

Most Creation stories open with “In the beginning” and the world seems to have been complete, whole, and happy.  Then something happens and chaos ensues.  While it may seem hard to relate to something like that, most of us experience it every day when we go to check social media.  The science of happiness would tell us that while the caveman did not have a Facebook account and the only twitters he heard or saw were from birds in the trees, he did fall victim to the same social pressures that we do when reading about a friend’s seemingly perfect life.

 

We are all connected and the people in our lives play an important role in the basic goodness we experience and the happiness we feel.  Both of these are contributing factors to our sense of well-being and our actual physical health.  Skeptics argue that optimistic people may not necessarily live longer and we certainly have discussed that topic before.  However, recent scientific research and the resulting evidence indicate that there is a strong link between happiness and health and it goes both ways.

 

Our approach to living is key in our trying to improve our lives and the world.  Being happy will never be as simply as taking a pill and seeing the goodness in life will not be accomplished with an increased prescription for a new pair of glasses.  We can, though, take the wisdom of the ages and look at our own approach to living. 

 

Lent is traditionally a time of introspection and, let’s face it, dreary feelings of guilt and shame.  Our source material is a wonderful way to change that and improve ourselves without beating ourselves up – figuratively or psychologically.  Let’s replace those pounds of guilt with feelings of goodness and happiness!  Life will always be a work in progress.  I hope you join me for this series in making lemonade out of lemons.  Who knows?  We might even find a way to make a lemon tart or pie without fewer calories!

Find

Find

Epiphany 39

 

It is a popular childhood game called hidden pictures.  I myself belong to a coloring page on Facebook and once or twice a month the page administrator will post a picture with things hidden within it.  Could you spot a fork hidden in the handle of a broom or a comb hidden in a picture of a cob of corn?  Better yet, could you spot the virtuoso playing in a subway station?

 

According to Snopes.com, the go-to site for all unearthing the truth hiding amongst Internet pages, no one did – either ten years ago or in 1930.  “Many a marketing survey has been conducted to gauge how presentation affects consumer perceptions of quality, and quite a few such surveys have found that people will frequently designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply because it is packaged or presented more attractively. Might this same concept apply to fields outside of consumer products, such as the arts? Would, for example, people distinguish between a world-class instrumental virtuoso and an ordinary street musician if the only difference between them were the setting? These were questions tackled by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten in 2007 when he enlisted renowned violinist Joshua Bell, a winner of the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music who regularly undertakes over 200 international engagements a year, to spend part of a morning playing incognito at the entrance to a Washington Metro station during a morning rush hour. Weingarten set up the event “as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

 

Snopes continued:  “On 12 January 2007, about a thousand morning commuters passing through the L’Enfant Plaza Station of the subway line in Washington, D.C. were, without publicity, treated to a free mini-concert performed by violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, who played for approximately 45 minutes, performing six classical pieces (two of which were by Bach) during that span on his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin (for which Bell reportedly paid $3.5 million). Weingarten described the crux of the experiment: “Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”

 

Weingarten ended up winning for the Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize for his category, the award being given in part for the originality of the ruse.  However, it was not that original.  Seventy-seven years earlier another periodical named the Post, The Chicago Evening Post had done something quite similar.  In fact, several aspects of this story, the hiding in plain sight of a concert violinist were eerily similar.  In May 1930 Milton Fairman wrote a story titled “Famous Fiddler in Disguise Gets $5.61 in Curb Concerts.”   Violin virtuoso Jacques Gordon, a onetime child prodigy, performed for spare change on his priceless Stradivarius, incognito, for three-quarters of an hour outside a subway station. Most people hurried past, unheeding. The violinist made a few measly bucks and change. It was a story about artistic context, priorities and the soul-numbing gallop of modernity.  Fairman’s story began: “A tattered beggar in an ancient frock coat, its color rusted by the years, gave a curbstone concert yesterday noon on windswept Michigan Avenue. Hundreds passed him by without a glance, and the golden notes that rose from his fiddle were swept by the breeze into unlistening ears …”

 

Both Jacques Gordon and Joshua Bell played Massenet’s “Meditation” from “Thais” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Of the hundreds of people who walked by Gordon, only one recognized him for whom he was. Of the hundreds of people who walked by Bell, only one recognized him for whom he was.  Gordon died twenty years before Bell was born but the younger man had heard of him.  In fact, for ten years Bell played the same Strad that Gordon had once owned, the same one Gordon had played on the Chicago streets that day in 1930. By the way, Gordon earned $5.61 that day – the equivalent of $59.73 in today’s economy.  Bell earned $32.17 which would be worth $32.35 today.  AS the nation was recovering from the Great Depression, Gordon had earned more playing than Bell did playing in one of the more heavily traveled subway systems in the country.

 

How many hidden gems do we pass each and every day without noticing them?  It may not be a concert violinist you hear but that young child singing while waiting for the school bus might someday become an opera star or pop sensation.  I assure you that in your daily commute you pass by someone in need as well as someone helping others.  The beauty of life is all around us.  We just need to really open our living, take a moment and find it.