To Retreat or To Remain

To Retreat or To Remain

Detours in Life

Pentecost 106-115

Mega post #6

 

I have an affection for coffeehouses and the wave of humanity that comes ashore in them.   Although I usually order tea and not coffee, the throng of humanity found at a coffeehouse is delightful.  Add children to that and you have a writer’s mall for thoughts and conversations.  In short, at a recent visit, I found myself in a compositional heaven.  A recent visit solidified my penchant for both coffeehouses and children.

 

I had just sat down when I noticed the table across from me.  The grandparents were at what appeared to be their regular Bible Study/Social meeting and the young boy that had accompanied them was obviously a grandson.  His delight at the large-sized orange juice his grandfather had ordered for him was heart-warming.  “I’m gonna grow big and strong with this!” he exclaimed.  His grandmother offered him a spoonful of her coffee upon his request and the expression on his face made everyone laugh.  “That cannot be good for you.” He advised his grandmother.  “You need to drink more orange juice.”  [Somewhere the Minute Maid Company had just loss a great commercial idea.]

 

Introductions were made to the young lad as others joined their group.  I was impressed with the “adult” way they introduced themselves to him.  After all introductions were made, he then asked if he could repeat their names.  It was clear no one expected him to do so but he did.  Upon saying the name of the last person, his grandfather began to open their meeting.  The young boy politely told the grandfather he was not finished talking.  Chuckles were heard and the grandfather pointed out he had named everyone, correctly. 

 

The young boy looked around the coffeehouse and then leaned over to his grandfather.  “I just learned their names,” he explained.  Now I need to ask them something.”  The group seemed amenable so the grandfather sat back and encouraged his grandson to continue.  The wide young person then looked at the first he had named and asked:  “What are you?”  The gentleman began to say he was s retired teacher when the boy interrupted him.  “No, that is what you did.  What are YOU?”

 

I recently attended a retreat and this week I found myself wondering something similar.  That is the question I hope you ask yourself this week.  What are you?  In past series we delved into the question “Who are you?” in our attempt to improve and grow some self-love.  This week we cannot improve our self-worth without knowing what we are.  More importantly, what do you want to be?

 

Any good gardener knows there are various things that need to be done in the process of growing a garden.  There is the cultivating and tilling of the soil, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil with water and perhaps fertilizer and plant food.  The list might seem endless to a non-gardener but to those who believe in growing things, the list is simply a part of daily life.  Essential to gardening, though, is knowing what one is planting.

 

I have stated here that I do not have a “green thumb”; that is to say, my talents do not include being a master gardener.  The truth is that I can grow a nice garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables.  What hinders my success in gardening is my lack of interest in learning about the plants themselves.  I can bore you to no end about the difference between a xylophone and a marimba because I am interested in those things.  The nutritional needs and their differences between a cauliflower and a bell pepper hold no interest for me at all.  For one thing, I am allergic to bell peppers and mildly so to cauliflower.  Ask me about tomatoes, though, and I am right there with answers.  You see, I adore tomatoes. 

 

Life cannot be lived just eating tomatoes, though.  While they hold great nutritional value for our bodies, we do need other things.  I have come to learn how to grow carrots and cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale, and attempt to grow beans, although pole beans and legumes are still at the “getting to know you” stage with my gardening skills.  Corn and I have an on-again-off-again relationship and I have never attempted fruit trees although I do love to eat their bounty. 

 

Clearly, if I had to grow my own food I could survive but I would have to alter my eating habits and pray for good health and weather.  I rely a great deal on the convenience of shopping at local markets and stores.  I can grow an avocado plant but cannot get it to bear fruit.  Life for me without avocadoes is unthinkable and I am grateful for imports from other states and neighboring countries.  The same is true for olives.  I am something of a cheese-a-holic and yet, having a herd of cattle and goats would not yield me any cheese homemade.  Again, I am grateful for those for whom making cheese is a talent they share.

 

When it comes to growing my soul, I also rely on others.  I myself can only do so much based upon my skills and knowledge.  I reference many things and listen to many people.  Just as with an actual gardening, there needs to be some weeding out of the information we have available.  Not everything is beneficial and unfortunately some people are more interested in creating followers than helping people grow.  Albert Camus once wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”  This past weekend I did just that.  My retreat was in a beautiful country, wooded setting and no cell phones or electronic devices were allowed.  Time was something measured jokingly with a ruler.

 

It may sound funny but I took the time to be on a retreat to make sure that I did not remain, getting stuck in the whirlwind that our lives can become.   I agree with Anna White and this quote from her book “Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith” when she writes “I want my heart to be the thin place. I don’t want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments as they pass. I want to be my own mountain and my own retreat.”

 

Kairos is a Greek word dating back to antiquity and it refers to an opportune moment, that right and critical moment in time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a critical action.   Many times we are so busy reacting to the world that we fail to take the time to deliberate about our actions and what they represent.  We are so busy being that we lose sight of what we are or would like to be.

 

My three days plus seven hours were not a time of hearing but rather a time of listening.  To be sure there were presentations and discussions but there were also times of meditating and truly hearing what all of creation was offering.  The serene setting, fullness of life experienced, and the sharing of emotional, spiritual, and physical gifts were encouragement to move forward, not just remain caught in the busyness of everyday living. 

 

I hope this week you find your own sources of nurturing to help you grow in this endeavor we call living.  Sometimes we must retreat from life to move forward in our living.  Take a detour from your usual path and you might just find yourself.   More importantly, I hope you find and increase your self-worth and are then able to answer to the question:  What am I?

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You Always Had It

You Always Have It

Detours in Life

Pentecost 99-105

Mega Post #5

 

Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”

“You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”

 

If you are a fan of Judy Garland or one of her iconic movies, “The Wizard of Oz”, you probably recognized the lines above.  They are the most notable of all screen lines and yet, they don’t occur in the film until just before the end.  Since it was published in 1900, many have interpreted this story has something more than just a children’s tale.  “The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today” claimed the author L.  Frank Baum.  Still, many believe it is much more. 

 

A high school teacher decided this story was a commentary on the collapse of the Populist movement in the United States.  The green of Emerald City represented the green of currency; the characters represented either ordinary citizens, politicians, or various facets of the workforce.  Even the name “Oz”, the abbreviation for measurements of gold, illustrated by the Yellow Brick Road, became symbolic.  Bankers were portrayed by the Wicked Witch of the East and drought, an enemy of all farmers, was seen in the form of the Wicked Witch of the West who is, conveniently enough, eliminated by water.  This interpretation of Baum’s story by teacher Henry Littlefield is no longer held to be credible but it is an interesting read.

 

Others read this story and see a Glinda the Good Witch conspiracy.    It is her speech that tells Dorothy she can return home and always could have if she had but faith.  Then there are the Jungian believers who see this in light of the philosophies of Carl Jung and still more who see this as a commentary of feminism.

 

Ultimately, for many, this simple children’s tale is either a religious allegory or proof of atheism.  The perspectives for both are interesting and illuminate how two people can see the same thing but believe they saw completely a different thing.

 

Someone asked me recently what the best advice I would give for traversing a detour was.  My answer was one word – prayer.  I think perhaps prayer is like that.  For me it is a very simple thing and something in which I engage daily if not hourly.  For others, however, prayer is much more complex, almost legalistic in its formation and process.  The same could be said about this time of year, a noted holiday period worldwide.  Prayer can be very diverse in format, form, and even function.  That doesn’t make them less powerful or important.  All we really need to do is realize and believe.  When I was a child, it was a custom for the guest to be asked to say grace before we ate.  Many times, the guest would defer, saying they couldn’t possibly do justice.  I always wondered if God graded our prayers.

 

Many times it is the simplest of prayer that we utter:  Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”  Somewhere, a Great Spirit smiles and replies: “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”  There is no special power required to pray.  I suppose one could mentally clap their hands together three times to echo Dorothy clicking her heels.  And by the way, the actual quote is “Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home’.”  All we have to do is pray and think to ourselves “My prayer will be heard”.  For the faithful, they’ve always had the power needed to pray and for the new believer…so have you.

 

Detours tend to give us alarm – whether it is an actual rerouting of our path or just an interruption of our schedule.  A friend traveled recently and found themselves stuck in traffic.  Road construction was causing delays and then an accident put even more strain on everyone’s time.  Could prayer have helped that?  Probably it would, even if only to divert one’s attention for a minute.  Prayer is one of those things that remind us life is not all about us nor are we the only ones living it. 

 

When life throws you a curve ball, all we have to do is take a second, breathe, and then move forward intelligently.  Detours are not instruments of fear.  And while they are inconvenient, it is good to remember the words given to Dorothy:  You’ve always had the power.

 

 

Showing Up

Showing Up
Detours in Life
Pentecost #81-89
Mega Post #3

In my last blog post I quoted Corrie Ten Bloom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Prayer is often synonymous in today’s world with faith. Today’s battle cry of “Take a Stand” and “Take a Knee” is all about showing one’s beliefs and/or patriotism or the lack thereof. Everyone from the NFL’s youngest fan to the President of the United States has an opinion. Everyone, it would seem, firmly believes in freedom of expression… as long as the person expressing is saying or doing what the listener/observer believes in.

I was not around during World War II but a Caucasian Christian had to think they were relatively safe from the witch hunt that the Nazis were conducting in rounding up people of the Jewish faith and sending them to concentration camps for eventual extinction. And before I go any further, let’s address the issue of “Did it really happen?” Yes and the hundreds of thousands who died and are buried are the proof that it did. Six million of the Jewish faith from all ages and walks of life were killed for nothing more than believing. Germany became a killing ground as did the countries invaded by Adolf Hitler. He had promised to make Germany great. Instead it made it a graveyard.

Corrie Ten Bloom was something of a superstar in her chosen field. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to become a licensed watchmaker. Corrie also ran a club for young girls which provided them an opportunity to learn and expand their lives. She believed in these young women and in a bright future for them all. Such actions were considered dangerous by Hitler and when he invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he instituted restrictions that banned Corrie’s club for these girls.

Because of her Christian faith, Corrie and her family helped their neighbors who had been targeted by the Nazis and were in fear of being sent to concentration camps. As father stood up for his faith, different from those he was helping, by stating: “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Word of their actions eventually reached the Nazi authorities and Corrie Ten Bloom and her family were arrested. Her sister and father both died in the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Bloom spent time in two such camps over a span of eleven months. On New Year’s Eve 1944 she was released due to clerical error. The following week everyone in her age group in the unit in the Ravensbrück concentration camp was sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie Ten Bloom returned home and continued to help the disenfranchised, particularly the mentally disabled. She established with her remaining family members a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The refugee houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950, when they accepted anyone in need of care. She returned to Germany in 1946, and met with and forgave two Germans who had been employed at Ravensbruck, one of whom was particularly cruel to her sister.

Corrie Ten Bloom lived her faith, standing up for what she believed and showing up by living it, even when the going got impossibly rough and life-threatening. You might say her faith created the detour her life took by being sent to a concentration camp but really, isn’t that what faith and our beliefs do at times? Life is not all about smooth sailing. Any sailor will tell you that the most exciting times out on the water are not those where everything is calm and bland.

The recent furor over whether one stands or kneels during the playing of the National Anthem is not just about one song. It has become a battle cry to respect those veterans who defend our nation’s ideals every day. But is that really the only way to show such respect?

I would suggest that perhaps we should use our faith as our own personal steering wheel and follow in example of Corrie Ten Bloom. Faith should not be something we pull out only when we get in a tough situation or are scared. Neither should patriotism. Both faith and patriotism should be active parts of our living each and every hour of every day. They should be as evident and visible as the noses on our faces.

I would suggest that we should be respectful and attentive during the playing of the National Anthem of our own and any country. I do think we should take it a step further, though. Because this has become such an issue involving our veterans, let take it all the way. I’d like to see people continue to support the NFL so that the NFL can support our veterans. Let each team donate fifty tickets to Wounded Warriors, injured and disabled veterans that could then attend the game. I would like to see those Wounded Warriors who bravely lived their patriotism escorted to the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem by team players with all present on the sidelines for the flag and anthem.

To be sure, some of those Wounded Warriors will not be able to stand but certainly no one can doubt their patriotism. Let’s stop the shouting and start taking real action. Let’s show up for what we profess to believe in and take a stand… or a knee… or a wheelchair to honor the true heroes of the game of life.

 

 

 

Resilience versus Weakened

Resilience Vs Weakened

Detours in Life

Pentecost 46-65 Mega Post

 

Travel south in Interstate 65 between Birmingham and Montgomery and you pass through history.  It is a trail of civil rights and farmers and if you happen to get stuck in a repaving project, you might find yourself detoured through the town of Prattville. 

 

Most people have few positive thoughts regarding the state of Alabama unless you are talking football.  At first glance, it appear as if the detour would confirm those negative thoughts.  Prattville comes across as a sleepy little rural town where dust hangs in the air and farming is the mainstay of life.  Detours afford us a chance to rethink and Prattville is certainly much more than just cornfields.  This coming month, for example, there will be a fall pops concert, an art walk, and a community trick or treat opportunity for children to participate in centuries-old traditions safely. 

 

What might not be quite so evident as you follow your detour back to the mainstream of society if that Prattville, Alabama is a member of the International Association of Character Cities.  Each month a different character trait is emphasized.  Additionally, citizens are encouraged to recognize that character begins with the individual.  There is a pledge to take as well:  “I pledge to… to practice the character quality of the month; to take the high road, the higher thought, the kinder word, and the best action in my daily life; to uphold what is true, right and just; to be a model of good character for those around me to operate with honesty and integrity in my dealings with others, and; to do my part to make the Autauga County and all its communities, including Prattville and surrounding cities, communities of good character where individuals and families are strong; homes and streets are safe; education is effective; business is productive; and citizens care for one another.”

 

September’s trait is resilience and that is often needed as we confront life’s detours.  Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, the resilient person will find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and continue.  Resilient people do not see detours as a roadblock or dead end.  They dee detours as a lesson and move forward, equipped with the new knowledge their detour has offered them.

 

 Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell has written extensively on the topic of resiliency.  “Over 100 years ago, the great African American educator Booker T. Washington spoke about resilience when he said, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”  Research has since established resilience as essential for human thriving, an ability necessary for the development of healthy, adaptable young people. It’s what enables children to emerge from challenging experiences with a positive sense of themselves and their futures. Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss, and adapt to change. We recognize resilience in children when we observe their determination, grit, and perseverance to tackle problems and cope with the emotional challenges of school and life.

 

“Resilience is not a genetic trait. It is derived from the ways children learn to think and act when they are faced with obstacles, large and small. The road to resilience comes first and foremost from children’s supportive relationships with parents, teachers, and other caring adults. These relationships become sources of strength when children work through stressful situations and painful emotions. When we help young people cultivate an approach to life that views obstacles as a critical part of success, we help them develop resilience.  

 

“Many teachers are familiar with Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s important work with growth mindsets—a way of thinking that helps children connect growth with hard work and perseverance. Educator David Hochheiser wisely reminds us that developing growth mindsets is a paradigm for children’s life success rather than a pedagogical tool to improve grades or short-term goals. Simply put, it’s a way of helping children believe in themselves—often the greatest gift teachers give to their students.

 

“The ability to meet and overcome challenges in ways that maintain or promote well-being plays an essential role in how students learn to achieve academic and personal goals. Resilient young people feel a sense of control over their own destinies. They know they can reach out to others for support when needed, and they readily take initiative to solve problems. Teachers facilitate resilience by helping children think about and consider various paths through adversity. They also help by being resources, encouraging student decision-making, and modeling resilient competencies.”

 

Simply, we illustrate our own personal resiliency by learning from the detours in our lives.

 

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Detours in Life

Pentecost 42

 

You can find a survey about most anything.  Facebook is certainly proof about that.  Still, I never thought I’d come across a survey like this.  It was entitled simply “Your Best Insult”.  One of the things I like best about writing this blog (Your comments and our discussions are numbers one and two, of course!) is the research I do for it.  I certainly don’t know everything; I admitted I was not perfect in yesterday’s post.  In the name of research I have read books I probably would have just passed by and attended gatherings I would have not shown up for because… well, because I am just like everyone else and varying from the norm is not a habit of mine.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat.  It is not a location nor should it be our destination.  For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable.  It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again.  Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way.  We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible.  We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves.  We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything.  We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things.  It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it.  We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home.  Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here.  A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those.  First, what insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment?  I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event.  Another stood up and said: “Not her!  She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.”  The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting.  A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied:  “I was going to protest but you know what?  She is absolutely right.  Thank you for noticing.”  I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct.  It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”.  It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one:  What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra?  It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities.  One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation.  I replied I had not ever been to the retreat.  Her response was immediate:  “Oh, of course not.  You wouldn’t fit in!”  She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending.

 

Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith.  Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all.  Let’s even forego the obvious insult in saying I was too….well, exactly what I am not certain.  While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group.  Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe.  Please reread that last sentence.  I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores.  They are not open only to those who know everything.  The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us.  The survey concluded with some very intense questions:  At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug?  Who asked about how you were doing?  Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you?  How do you define friendship?  How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us.  We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone.  The most recent event I attended was one in which I knew almost everyone.  Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was.  The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves.  At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone.  Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others.  As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.” 

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group.  During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different.  A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves.  Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves.  We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out.  However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful.  Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received and lead us on the best detour we’ve ever taken.  Why? You ask.  Because, taking a few steps outside our comfort zone might just be the best turn you ever make in life, a turn necessary for us to grow and thrive in this living for a better tomorrow.

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.

A Universal Plea

A Universal Appeal

Detours in Life

Pentecost 37

 

Prayer was our topic for a series of discussions during Advent 2015.   While we may think of prayer as a purely religious thing, history bears witness that it really is something else.  In its simplest definition, prayer is an entreaty, a plea, a request.  What makes it different from any other request is that a prayer has a level of earnestness associated with it.  Earnestness is not a word used much these days and yet, it is a word that is changing the course of history and has for thousands of years.

 

I remember getting a question just two days into that series:  Why discuss prayer during Advent?  The answer, like my decision on this topic, was not as easy as one might deduce.  After all, this blog is about thinking of ways we can better our living.  While I use the seasons of the liturgical calendar to organize these posts, this blog is not merely theological content nor does it eschew not support any one specific spirituality.

 

Calendars are organizational tools and the liturgical calendar is no different.  The Roman calendar eventually had twelve months in it, an evolution of other calendars tried throughout the history of the Roman Empire.  The Hebrew calendar has thirteen months in it.  The difference between the two is that the Roman calendar was based on the sun while the Hebrew calendar was based on the moon.  If one assumes a month is four weeks long, then a year of 52 weeks divides into thirteen months very easily.  Of course, the year being 365 days means that those 52 weeks are not going to encompass all the days.  That is why some months on the Roman calendar were longer than others and the decision of which months were longer was often based on politics.

 

The calendar I use for divisions of topics for this blog is based upon both the Roman and Hebrew calendars.  It relies on changes in both the moon and the sun.  Christmas, the date of December 25th, was determined based on the Winter Solstice.  During the earliest years of the Church, it occurred on December 25th.  It was considered the birth of the sun because, after the Winter Solstice, the days grow longer and the sun would appear to ancient man to grow.  For the early Christian Church, a group of Jewish believers who recognized the man known as Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Christ, the son of God, the symbolism between the natural “sun” and the religious “son” was too good to ignore.  In more modern times the date of the Winter Solstice occurs between December 21-23 but is now beginning to move earlier to include December 20th.  Christmas, however, has remained a fixed date on December 25th.

 

There are remnants of the Hebrew calendar still evident in the modern calendar, however.  Easter is not a fixed date and changes every year.  The date for Easter is based upon the phases of the moon.  Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Vernal Equinox or Spring Solstice.  The Jewish festival of Passover is also celebrated during this time.

 

We all have our own uniqueness but we also all have a great deal in common.  I think we can all think of some time in our life where we needed help; maybe even a time when we really, really needed help.  It is those moments of request, earnest and heartfelt requesting that unite us.  We all get hungry, cold, scared, and even sick.  We also all are born with the ability to experience happiness and joy.  Regretfully, while we all experience the conditions of need, not everyone gets a chance to experience the conditions of positive emotion.

 

A prayer is not just a question for aid.  A prayer is not always in the form of a question at all.  At times, a prayer is a cry for help, earnest and immediate.  It can also be an exclamation of gratitude, although some would say such prayers are accompanied by hidden requests that such good times continue.  There are also prayers of remembrance and again one might say they carry a subconscious hope that the person praying is also remembered by the deity to whom the prayer is offered.

 

Prayer is the first reaction for most in those situations.  It is a universal response mankind has engaged in since the beginning of time.  We need to watch because we do not know what tomorrow holds, or even twelve hours from now.  We need to live goodness and mercy because we all at some point in our life feel we are stuck in a wilderness of sorts. 

 

Hurricane season is in full swing in the USA.  With Hurricane Harvey just having left, Hurrican Irma is in the new.  Next week we will be discussing Hurricanes Jose, Katia, and Lee, storm systems that have already formed with their own projections.  It is a time of great need – need for action, wise thinking, and prayer. 

 

Prayers are those earnest yearnings and the requests of our hearts.  Prayer is a universal plea, a universal need.  When fully recognized, prayer has universal appeal.   We all have hopes.  We all have dreams.  Far too often we go through life thinking about what we do not have instead of what we do.  Prayer is also about gratitude, a gratitude that lets us recognize our own potential.    It is something we have in common, the fact that we all have a time in which we will utter a universal plea to that which we feel but cannot fully see, something that we can feel but cannot create on our own.  This time of natural emergency created by the effects of nature coming together in a storm system threatening and affecting millions of people recognizes the human in all of us and the need for humanity in the world.

 

Today the universal pleas of those in Irma’s path are matched by those undergoing persecution for beliefs, their gender, their race or color.  The need for better living, for life itself is a universal plea.  It should not be determined by race, color, creed or socio-economic status.  May we all do our best to live productively, efficiently, wisely without harming others who are attempting to do the same.

 

The past several days have required a detour of life for many.  Evacuating one’s home is difficult; electing to remain is gut-wrenching and scary.  Life is not for the cowardly.  With faith, effort, and wise decisions, we can navigate the detours of life.  All it takes is one breathe, one prayers, one positive step.  Best of luck to all affected by life’s storms, whether they be natural or self-made.  We can do this thing called life!