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The Journal and the Journey
AUTHOR
Bob  »

The journals that are stored in boxes in my closet date back to 1971.  All these years I have recorded experiences, impressions, feelings, and reflections on things that happened and things I read.  Occasionally, I will look back at what I wrote at a particular time with amusement or embarrassment, and at times I gain some added understanding of who I was and who I am and how I got here.  Writing in a journal is a clarifying instrument for viewing the past, but also for sorting out what I am thinking and experiencing in the present.  I read somewhere, “In journal writing we often find out what we did not know we knew.”  That seems true.

As the memories pile up and as I find myself more and more forgetful, the journal also simply serves to rescue events and encounters from oblivion.  Looking back at what I wrote, I remember, oh yeah,  this person was important to me or, yes, I was really caught up in this or that once.  I see where I was stuck, maybe still am stuck, or sometimes, wonderfully, where maybe I have changed and grown.

Thomas Merton wrote, “Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think … Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and same experiences.”  That seems true, too. 

Life, like any journey, is often routine, mundane and ordinary, but that does not mean that there is not a lot to discover along the way if you keep your eyes and heart open.  Keeping a journal is not the only way to stay awake and mindful of the passage of time, but for a person of a certain disposition, this kind of conversation with oneself is a way to enjoy and learn a thing or two from the journey.

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Do you not perceive it?
AUTHOR
Mark  »

See, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the wilderness I make a way,

in the wasteland, rivers.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/isaiah/43?13= (Isaiah 43:19)

 

In ruminating on Isaiah 43:19, a relatively “famous” passage of the Old Testament – especially the ‘I’m doing something new,’ line – I am sitting with two thoughts.

First, the word, perceive. One of the characteristics I inherited from my father is not being able to find what is in plain sight, especially in the refrigerator. The butter is there, perhaps even unobstructed from view but after four seconds I call out to my wife, “Where’s the butter?” and she responds, “On the second shelf.” I quickly retort, “No it is n—oh, there it is. You’re right.” I hardly can see what is in front of me, add another layer of perception or understanding, and, no, usually I do not perceive what is being done.  

Second, the last nine months in particular seem rather antithetical to this passage. The year 2020, and really our perception of the pandemic in March, seemed to turn the life-giving rivers of our beings into socially distant wastelands; the paths of our lives which had much greenery turned into a wilderness with hardly away forward. And yet, here’s God saying he’s doing something new. In fact there was a wilderness but now in this pandemic there are now new paths, where I only thought there was wasteland, there are now rivers – if only I can perceive it.

Yes, there has been much loss and discombobulation, but indeed in this new or next normal there will be paths and there will be rivers which hopefully will soon turn our various wastelands into lush and verdant pastures where one day soon we can safely gather, in person, and perhaps also without masks! I may not perceive that day just yet, but if my personal history and inability to see what is in front of my nose is any indication, I trust that these things are happening and I have hope that what I do not see others can point out for me along the way.

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The Room Where It Happens
AUTHOR
Mark  »

In the play Hamilton, Aaron Burr pleads, “I wanna be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens.”  This private space is the place of power and deal making where insiders conspire.  The ambitious aspire to be one of the brokers there.

For the past century, the Cenacle has offered a different kind of space.  At the heart of the Sisters’ ministry has always been the inspiration of the Upper Room (the Cenacle).  The Cenacle is the room where Jesus joined with his friends in the Last Supper, where he gave them an example of selfless service by washing their feet.  It is also where the disciples awaited in prayer the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Cenacle is a place of quiet expectation, of communion and of transformation.

At the retreat center in Chicago and at similar others throughout the world, the Cenacle Sisters offer a spiritual and physical place, a “room where it happens.”  What happens, though, is quite different from what Burr was after.  What happens is the opportunity for deep encounter, personal discovery, awakening to one’s true self, meeting God in prayer.  A respite from the headlong pace and screen-filled diversion of our lives, the Cenacle offers an invaluable gift – time and space for quiet reflection, a room where nothing and everything happens.

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I Say to Myself
AUTHOR
Bob  »

First, get rid of the idea that the time you spend praying is any more holy than anything else you do that day, I say to myself.  Remember that there is nowhere in the gospels where Jesus says, or even infers, that we will be judged by how much or how often or how well we pray.  Don’t forget that he expressly rejects the idea that babbling on in prayer in the mistaken belief that somehow simply multiplying one’s words to God has any merit.  And surely keep in mind Jesus’s distain for people that make a show of their piety.

That said, do pray.  Do your best to be a prayerful person – not for God’s sake, but for yours!  Maybe God, disguised as your life, is always whispering to you, nudging you forward when you are just mucking along, showing you the way, standing by you when you think you are all alone.  Maybe God is a river of grace flowing through your life.  Deep down you know it is true.  Stop and pay attention or who knows what you may be missing.  You know from experience that it pays to pay attention.  So, pray already.

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The Meek Mentality
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Strength. Two passages of Scripture populate when I hear the word strength.

Scripture passage number one, “I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13); Scripture passage number two, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek…” (Matthew 5:5).

Strength is a fickle word to define. A good leader, especially in politics, like a good lineman in football is thought to be “strong,” but certainly the strength of the lineman and the strength of the politician are not the same, or are they? I think strength is born of will or desire, determination or practice. I think also strength should not be thought of as entirely synonymous with the word “might” or relegated only for the concept of physical strength. A better synonym for strength, on a football field or in a hall of power might be the word resolve. Strength as resolve is the reason, I think of those two Scripture passages. And I think those two passages are very much interrelated.

Blessed are the meek, I do not think means blessed the weak. Rather, the meek are those who are gentle, those who have the power, the strength to overwhelm, strike-down, to hurt or annihilate, but have also the strength to not react in that manner. The meek keep their swords sheathed, they do not react or over-react with their might. And, I think, that that is hard. I think it’s Christ who strengthens our resolve not to respond with might but rather with meekness. Many times, a show of force or lashing out is easier, perhaps automatic, compared to walking away, being meek. Because meekness is hard, perhaps unattainable on our own, we need Christ to strengthen us in meekness, to choose peace, or quiet, or gentleness, or compassion, or empathy, over “I’ll show you,” or “what about me!” actions and mentalities.  We do not have to up the ante, we do not have to view life as a zero-some game, but it takes strength, or rather meekness to choose a better way.

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Refuge in Friendship
AUTHOR
Joan  »

These are words to remember during these challenging times.  When I keep my friends in my mind and heart (and maybe in the little image box on my computer screen) I find the time of social distancing and staying at home are much easier.  I find myself complaining less, if at all, because I know I have friends who I can reach out to and find common ground with – if only in our sharing of creative ways to manage this new normal.  So Eeyore, the perfect mascot for the less than content and optimistic among us, finds the bottom line is friendship.  His friends in the Thousand Acre Woods keep him moving along.  Similarly, my friends keep me from feeling overwhelmed or discouraged and I do my best to keep them from feeling discouraged and isolated.  As with the inhabitants of the Woods, we all share this common space called Earth and are called to find in friendship a refuge and salve.  

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Patient Practice
AUTHOR
Jill  »

Traffic, long lines, end of a work day it’s these little things I miss most of all (just kidding). The daily practice of patience is not for the faint of heart. Actually patience takes much heart; in 1 Corinthians 13:4 we learn love is patient. In the past the watching of a clock or the jitter of a limb gave our angst a “free pass” to steer us emotionally onto the road of intolerance. Learning to take a deep breath and trust in God when you feel you have lost all control; exercises an even more substantial virtue…LOVE.

 Practice does not always make perfect, but the practice of patience during these enduring times will steady our focus on the journey ahead of us.  So easily we may forget, and become short tempered or anxious; but it only fuels ignorance and fear. We must remember we are all in this together, so keep practicing!

How are you exercising patience in the world around you?


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No Out Doors
AUTHOR
Jill  »

In this time of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, let us be mindful that our obedience is better than our sacrifices.

 Like most children I frequently spent my summer afternoons under the rays of the beautiful sun. Skipping rope, riding bikes and mapping out grand adventures with my closest pals. Round 6 o’clock each eve I could hear my mother call for me, cause dinner time had arrived. Off I went, each evening tracing my shadow against the endless palette of the pebbled cement. In for meal time and if it was a nice night I could join my mother and other neighbors on our front porch taking in the full body of the sweet summers night air.

 Now there was one unparticular day while letting the afternoon pass with my brother out front, a new face appeared on our block, a lightly freckled face girl with braces. Her lanky limbs shot out from her cutoff jeans and overly decorated puff paint shirt like fresh bamboo. As she grew nearer she shouted “Hey, yall live here?”, her accent gave me pause, was it Georgia or maybe Florida, “how cool” I thought. “Uh, yeah” my brother spoke before I could finish my thought. Cinching in every inch of my beaming excitement, “a new friend…YES” internally I exclaimed. As I gained my composure, responding with a faint “yea”, and a follow up “where you from?”. So poised I was (not, eye roll), well as you can imagine we became fast friends. I introduced her to the neighborhood crew, and later learned she was visiting from Virginia, and her aunt lived at the end of my street.

 And so now with each cascading afternoon I lunged myself down my front steps breeching the threshold of our daily escapades. This one day stood out among the rest, time seemed to stretch and glide by like a good piece of 25 cents sticky bubblegum. As the warmth of the sunset rolled over our backs like a snug tide, our laughter drowned out my mother’s distant call.  I knew I had to go, my shadow grew bigger with each additional 5 minutes I tacked on to my now sunless fulfilled afternoon. “Jillllllllll…..” I could hear my mother from the front porch, I was in deep to say the least. “See you tomorrow” I yelled while reaching for all my lil’ knick-knacks. Scurrying toward my house I began to rehearse my apology, as I reached home my face puddled in remorse, quietly climbing the stairs towards my mother, “Mom I’m sorry”. “No TV, no outdoors and no front porch  til the end of the week” she exclaimed as I shrunk passed her. Up to my room I went, fell upon my bed of fluff filled baby animals. I lingered for while clacking my sneakers together, trying to rewind each tid bit of the afternoon. “Three whole days…it wasn’t even that late…I should have just come home…” on and on I debated my actions internally. My mother peaked her head in “Your plate is on the table”, before she closed the door I yielded another “sorry” passed my lips and buried my face in my pillow.

 Well if you are reading this, I survived. The following Monday I got home from day camp, tossed my backpack by the front door and swoosh toward my friend’s house I went. Buzz…Buzz, I could feel the electricity of the door ring from the first floor of her Aunts apartment. “Hellooo” I hear a woman from the back porch yell out. “Hi, my name is Jill and I ammm uhhh…”, and before I could stammer another word the woman said “oh yes, Jill I’m sorry you just missed her she left for home this morning. “School goes back in session for Chany soon, but she left you this note.” The side gate creaked as I passed through to grab the glittery sticker covered letter. The woman could see the sheer sadness that had come over me and tried to assure me should be back to visit by the holidays. It made it no better, but I thanked her anyway. As if I was walking in damp sand my legs felt cumbersome, approaching the bottom stair of the porch I plummeted my eyes mystified, with unease I opened my pleated note and read:

“Dear Jill, sorry for getting you in trouble. I had lots of fun this summer. Here is my phone number so K.I.T. 703-555-1993, stay cool, Chantel”

 

 

 

 

 

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Life In Focus
AUTHOR
Mark  »

What’s in focus is what we see in front of us. Equally as important to our sight is our peripheral vision, which is not in focus but rather blurry and off to the side. Pope Francis speaks often on focusing on the peripheries. To do this we must turn our heads, our attention, to bring the periphery into focus. When we make this movement to look at, observe, or otherwise pay attention – which is focusing – that which was previously out of focus and off to the side is transformed into our center of interest and clarity. As such, we first have to choose what we want to focus on, and then we must move in the direction of that object to make it clear, make it our focus.

As an example, if we want to focus on a person or focus on the conversation we are having with a person we must make sure we move our sight unto that person and away from things such as the cell phone in our hand. To focus is to provide definition through attention, and people – not things – should be our focus.

What helps you focus? For me, I prefer quiet and order. Noise, even music I like tends to distract me more than it enables me to focus on a person or a task.

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Let's Grow!
AUTHOR
Jill  »

This year I challenge you to participate in the communities that serve you. Whether it is your church or neighborhood, take time to consciously be a blessing to the people and environments that have blessed you. Community is not just the groups that occupy a space, but is also the relationships that we build there. Life without intentional engagement leaves us mentally and spiritually fragmented by a lack of understanding, patience and compassion for those we share our communities with. There is growth in our humanity when we choose to grow together.

Who is taking on this Community Grow challenge with me this year? Share your thoughts in the comments and grow with the Chicago Cenacle in 2020!

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