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.

Advertisements

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.

Hands On: Bah Humbug

Hands On – Bah Humbug

Detours in Life

Pentecost 7

 

“When we feel compassion, we feel the sufferings of others and feel motivated to help relieve them.  But compassionate prayer also calls for compassionate action.” (Br David Vryhof, Society of St John the Evangelist)

 

Four years ago Dr. Temple Grandin wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post about the values of hands-on learning.  I have quoted Dr. Grandin before and if you follow this blog, her story if familiar to you.  Considered an unusual child, Temple Grandin has achieved stature as a well-respected veterinarian but also for her innovations and accomplishments regarding livestock handling and transport as well as being a professor at Colorado State University.

 

Besides all of the above, Temple Grandin was one of the first and remains one of the most visible to announce being autistic.  Rather than use her diagnosis as a reason to withdraw, she embraced it and lives with it, having a full life and successful career.

 

I completely agree with Dr. Grandin’s assessment of hands-on learning.  Please do not interpret the title of this post as my disagreeing with her or the concept of hands-on learning.  In this post today, however, I am referring to hands-on living and the resulting compassion that follows such.

 

Many of us have had the opportunity to pass a car wash or see a telethon trying to raise for funds for a family in crisis or a particular health condition.  Of course you cannot be expected to give away all your paycheck to such causes but many of us never even consider donating.  We are simply too busy living to stop and be compassionate.  In 2016 there were 324,129,511 people living in the USA.  If each person donated one dollar to the top five causes they supported, each cause were get over three hundred and twenty-four million dollars.  In total 1,620,647,555 or over 1.5 billion dollars would have been donated.  That amount of money could go quite far in finding cures or feeding the starving.  Ten dollars could buy a mosquito net for an African family and save lives… if we were stop saying “Bah Humbug!”

 

Too many of us have forgotten in our busy hands-on living to be compassionate and really live our faith.  It is time to take a second and think of others.  You can make a difference if you will just do it hands-on.

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Easter 24

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.

 

“This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.

Negotiate/Deliberate

Negotiate/Deliberate

Epiphany 53

 

“Engage brain before mouth in gear.”  Popular in the 60’s and 70’s, this piece of advice seems to have been forgotten in the fine art of conversation and public speaking.  And lest you think I am specifically referring to politicians, I am not.  I am referring to all of us.

 

Negotiation and compromise is a part of everyday life and if it is not a part of yours, then you are doing something wrong.  No one gets a free ride from the responsibility of negotiating.  We live on a planet with many others and whether it be nature or humanity, we have to learn to get along together.  That requires negotiation. 

 

The farmer who is successful does not simply tear up the ground and drop whatever seeds he/she wishes wherever and whenever.   Compromise is essential to insure the best yield of a crop.  Rotation of seeds planted, paying attention to the weather and available water supply, Crops which will grow in the given climate, availability of manpower/womanpower to harvest and process said crops – all of these things must be considered, compromises made, and negotiations scheduled.  Otherwise, we would not have food to eat.  Human beings would perish.

 

Words have power and the words we speak have consequences.  All too often it is the word we do not say that carries the most impact.  Parents play a vital role in the life of a child but it is the absentee parent that often plays the biggest role and whose presence or lack thereof carries the most weight.

 

Just as our actions are important, so are the words we utter.  AS we draw this series of Epiphany and words of action to a close, this being the next to last post about such verbs, I hope you take a moment to think before you speak.  Is what you are about to say really necessary?  Are you saying it effectively so as to be fully and completely understood?  Is it kind and most importantly, is it completely true?  If the answer to any of these is no, then please remember this adage:  Silence is golden.

Embrace

Embrace

Epiphany 47

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team once again competed recently for the national number one slot in collegiate football, is only forty-nine minutes away.  The bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away.  Yet, for the children of Hale County, Alabama, they might as well live on the other side of the country.  They live in one of the most rural and impoverished areas of Alabama in what is known as the Blackbelt region of the state. Residents of this are at an economic disadvantage with very limited resources. The high school graduation rate is only 34% with 74% of households earning less than $30,000 per year. Almost 200 families live without plumbing and healthcare is nonexistent for most.

 

According to the United Way of West Alabama, one out of every  four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, unable to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60% of K-12 school children read below the level needed to proficiently process the written materials used in their grade levels.  Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school.

 

According to the 2014 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 26% of Alabama children are living in poverty; 9.7% of Alabama teens are not in school and not employed; 25.8% of Alabama children are food insecure; 40.1% of Alabama fourth graders are not proficient in reading; 20% of Alabama’s students do not graduate from high school.

 

The Sawyerville Work Project is, on paper, a day camp and because of that, recently changed its name to Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is an outreach project sponsored by the Youth Department of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama & local community volunteers.  It takes place in the summer for just a few weeks, and for that camp session, the children that attend the camp are not framed in the light of the region’s poverty.  They are simply kids, having fun, in a place created solely for them.

 

The Sawyerville Day Camp’s location originated at the Head Start Center in the small town of Sawyerville, hence the name. Within a few years of hosting the camp, the Center could no longer accommodate the increased numbers of campers and staff volunteers. The elementary school in nearby Greensboro welcomed this project and the partnership has continued for a successful thirteen years.

Sawyerville Day Camp ministry began in 1993.  The Blackbelt Convocation knew they needed to embrace the residents of the area, not just those in their church pews and the Diocese of Alabama Youth Department needed an outreach program for senior high students.  The answer to both problems became the Sawyerville Work Project, now known as the Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is supported by many people.

 

People serve as prayer partners, staff members, organize book drives, gather paper products, provide meals and make financial gifts.  The Episcopal Diocese has committed substantial funds to this ministry.  The generous people of the Black Belt have opened up their homes and churches for staff housing and meals.  Volunteers from within and outside of the Episcopal circle lend time and talent.  High school, college, and adult staff come from all over the state to serve as counselors.  The Hale County School Board permits use of school facilities and buses.  This project is woven together by hundreds of different supporters, all working together to form the Sawyerville experience.

 

The mission of the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, born out of the Sawyerville Day Camp, is to help close the achievement gap and prevent summer learning loss in Greensboro, Alabama. The YLP works toward this mission by hosting a multi-week summer academic program in which students will participate in reading intervention, engage in creative writing, and strengthen their literacy skills. Additionally, the YLP is invested in helping students grow as scholars and citizens through participation in academic field trips, community engagement, and other enrichment opportunities.

 

Summer 2015 was a huge success for the Yellowhammer Literacy Project! When we first assessed the students in April, 58% were performing below grade level. By the end of this program, 88% of students grew by at least one reading level. Of that 88%, 66% grew by at least two levels. Nine students saw growth by three to five levels in a mere three weeks!  The Summer of 2016 yielded even better outcomes.  Not only did these students grow academically, but what cannot be tested or shown through the results is that these kids were encouraged to enjoy reading, were praised for their efforts, and became more confident in their own abilities by the end of the program. One child said it best in his final reflection, “I really am smart.”

 

The humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are led by two coordinators although the success is due to the project being embraced by many.  All successes of this camp include the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child receives a swimsuit, towel, and book as well as a backpack.  For many this is the first time they have owned any of these items which serve as outward, visible signs of the larger community of caring that supports them and embraces them.

 

Now over twenty years old, this day camp has counselors who were once campers.  They believed in the promise shown by the Sawyerville Day Camp of a brighter future and by those who embraced them and they have succeeded.  Kids who once had never heard of a college are now college graduates, having learned to believe in themselves to make a better world for themselves.  People of all ages, races, and stages of life create the humanitarian efforts that result in Sawyerville Day Camp.  They come together and embrace each other.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, we make the world a better place.  Sawyerville Day Camp is but one example.  For more information, they can be reached at www.sawyervilledaycamp.org.