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Joan
Joan is the Director of Development and the Manager of the Prayer Enrollment Office at the Chicago Cenacle.
Off the Island
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"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up their fellow. But woe to the one who is alone when they fall and has not another to lift them up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?" Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV

Ah...our need for others.  Our physical, emotional and spiritual desire for other people, a bond which reminds us we are human, reminds us we are communal animals.  But why is this so?  What is to be gained by having other people in our daily lives?

I would surmise God has graced us with this need in order to give us numerous opportunities throughout of day to grow in our love for all creation and transcend our limited egotistical selves – in essence so we can spiritually grow.  As Ecclesiastes states “if they fall, one will lift up their fellow…How can one keep warm alone?”  I can’t “wing it” totally on my own.  I am not, and can never be, an island unto myself.  And for this I am grateful to my creator.

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As we enter the 3rd week of Advent we can be tempted to be distracted by the ever growing list of things to do, cook, purchase and decorate. We can lose sight of the miracle we are celebrating – the arrival of God in the flesh and presence of a little baby. The mystery and message of the incarnation can easily get lost in the effort we put forth to “do” Christmas. But can I pause? Can I take a step back from my lists, my time tables and easy access to technology and consumption to really consider just what the arrival of this baby centuries ago means for me? Can I consider the message the Christ child brought to the world as he grew and traveled about preaching the gospel of love, compassion, peace and charity? How am I going to slow down to embrace Christ’s presence in my life? I find the stepping back is simple if I ask God for help. Inevitably, God responds in the way that is best for me, and often with a sense of humor. It might not seem helpful to sit in traffic after a long day at the office but I have learned to turn off the radio and use this time to pray and converse with God. When I do that God helps me pause and within that pause I find the peace I know Christ came into the world to show us.

 How does God help you pause? How do you find the true peace of Christmas as you travel towards Christmas Day?


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Inner Hospitality
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Joan  »

There is a lovely portion of 1 Peter 4 where he states:

"....keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.Show hospitality to one another without grumbling."

Other translations of this verse use the word complaint or grudging.  I prefer grumbling because it strikes me as such a visceral word.  It sounds like the sound I do make when I am grumbling inside my head.  I was raised with very proper manners so I rarely, if ever, externally grumble or complain when called to be hospitable.  But I must admit to times that I am glad I don't have a microphone in side my head proclaiming my grumbling about it to the world.  

This time of year there are many opportunities to welcome, feed, house and entertain family and friends.  I will pray for the grace to not only welcome all who enter my home with external joy and love but to deeply feel the presence of Christ in all who enter.  When I do that all inner "grumbling" is dispelled and replaced by "earnest love" and hospitality.  Perhaps if I embrace all opportunities for hospitality as God's gift to me to BE love, patience, joy and graciousness I'll truly grow in my relationship with all of God's creation.     

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Ah... Autumn!
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Many people look to spring as the time of new life, renewal, and emergence.  Maybe it is a carryover from my school days of many decades ago but for me the cool nights and changing leaves bring to mind the anticipation of another school year and the possibility of a new (and smarter and more popular) me! Of course this came with the anxiety of what this transition from the old me to the new me might require of the current me.

But I must say with age and the wear and tear and resiliency which inherently come with age I am finding I can still tap into that excitement and anticipation which autumn stirs in me without the anxiety. I have come to recognize that the foundation of that anxiety free anticipation is my ever growing awareness that "God has this." God is with me as I feel the pull of some new activity, person or way of looking at my life and the world.  I can enter the transitions needed to grow, adapt and prepare for the next season of my life with a hope of and faith in God's love and presence. 

Where is transition happening in your life, and how are you growing from it? For me the mystery which I can only call Grace continues to transform me from day to day.

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With Heart
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The root of the word courage is Old French coer for Heart.  The Webster dictionary states it is the state of mind or spirit that allows us to face life without fear.  I love the idea that is is a state of spirit not just action.  I know when I face each day without fear it is because I feel God's presence in my heart directing my spirit at each moment.  Psalm 31 states Let your heart take courage; all you who hope in the Lord.  That is just one of the many biblical quotes telling us to trust in God, to "be not afraid".   When I call upon God to be grant me courage I am, in fact, asking for the ability to move through each moment of the day without fear.  And that is where the freedom to truly be present to my life resides.  May you find "the courage to change the things we can" each and every moment of your grace filled life.
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Three Things
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When I became a manager with staff reporting to me I pondered what skills I would need to focus on given I had never had such a job.  I thought about the things I valued in people who have managed offices I worked in.  One of the top things was kindness.  This probably came to me because I had recently read a quote attributed to Henry James.  He stated "There are three things that are important in human life.  The first is to be kind.  The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind."

I was so impressed by that statement that I printed it out on a large piece of paper and hung it over my desk.  It is still there many years later despite getting a bit ratty on the edges.  I look at it each time I enter my office and, I would like to think, it has impacted how I am both in the office and away from my work.

 

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The Triple Truth
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Ahhh... humanity.  There are times I edge towards despair as to how I can have any positive impact on our seemingly battered humanity. As I pray for guidance I often am inclined to search out wisdom from sages I admire - Jesus, Buddha, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Winnie-the-Pooh and others.  Recently I found this teaching called The Triple Truth.  The Buddha, ever succinct, crystallizes what I need to do to renew humanity in my little time and space.

A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.

This seems so simple yet I forget I can change someone's the world with a simple smile, a kind word, a compassionate ear, a hug or a gentle hand on an arm.  By these actions I can renew someone's spirit or prevent their fall into anger, despair or sorrow.  To renew someone's view of themselves is a powerful gift.  It is a stone in a pond of someone's world that ripples out to all they encounter. 

What better way to contribute to the crucial renewal of our world and our humanity? 

 

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The Joy of Hope
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Joan  »

I have grandchildren who, at this particular time, are full of a special sort of hope. The kind of hope that keeps them in a cloud of excitement as Christmas Day approaches.  The kind of hope that leads them to be able to tell you exactly how many days are left until December 25.  I have the impression no matter what is under the tree that day they will have their hopes fulfilled because their hearts will be open to the joy of the unexpected goodness of the people who love them. 

This is the sort of hope I try to embrace myself as the days have darkened and the world seems off kilter more than usual.  The hope that enables me to feel gratitude and joy for each day because I know God loves me and gifts me with what I need to be happy and free.  The things I put on my "list" are not always what I receive but I hold tight to the hope that the God who loves me as a parent loves a child will gift me the grace I need to grow and express God's presence in this world.

May you find and share such a hope in this season of giving and in the year to come.

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Piglet's wisdom
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Joan  »

I learned a great deal about how to navigate life from the world of Winnie the Pooh and his companions.  I was always enamored by Piglet, Pooh's best friend,fellow Heffalump hunter and Woozle tracker.  

There is a wonderful realization by Piglet when he "noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude."  This reminds me that we can decide for ourselves just how much gratitude we will experience each and every day.  We can feel stingy about it or we can open our hearts and stuff lots of gratitude into it.  I have found when I approach life with a default of gratefulness my life does seem to feel blessed by things to actually be grateful for!  

Try the Piglet approach and fill your heart with "a rather large amount of Gratitude." Would love to hear how that feels!

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Purpose
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"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."  Charles Dickens

This succinct thought from Mr. Dickens clarifies for me the need for community.  With the recent natural disasters both here in the US and overseas it is very clear we all need each other.  Should you ever feel unneeded or even uneccessary to the proper order of the universe just go out and lighten someone's burden -  you will quickly discover how important one person can be and how connected we are.  We need everyone who passes through our day if only to remind us what really makes us complete - and that is love, kindness and the giving of ourselves in even the seemingly smallest ways.

I wonder who might lighten your burden today should you have any?

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