A New Dawn…Again

Special highlights this Advent include Pope Francis being named Time’s Man of the Year, Nelson Mandela’s death causes the world to reflect, ObamaCare continues to be under attack.

I guess you can say we are still waiting for the coming of Christ even when we have experiences of hope in the limited experiences we have now.

Pope Francis

Millennials are feeling free-er to question and doubt their faith with this new Pope. Last January, we held a Young Adult Retreat that was so needed that our spaces are halfway filled up this year even before the advertisement went out. Archbishop Dolan has seen a resurgence of youth in their 20s and 30s returning to church each month in New York. (Wayward millennials flocking to church).

This latest generation, un-churched or wrongly churched, is finding some kind of relief and joy with Pope Francis.  How fitting was Evangelii Gaudium as his most recent Papal Encyclical! Afterall, this does translate to the Joy of the Gospel.

As a friend of mine said, “I am always skeptical when leaders in the Church are not joyful. I wonder what Gospel they listen to.” Although she is not a millennial, she, like many others are feeling a sense of excitement with Pope Francis—not because he takes selfies with people or returns the phone calls of people who personally seek out his help, but maybe because cultural catholics, who have been accused of being cafeteria catholics (or picking and choosing which teachings and  doctrines to follow) are seeing themselves accepted by the “official” Catholic Church. 

Pope Francis as a “teacher” has extended humility and grace through his listening and his example of simplicity and modern sense.  I wouldn’t say common sense because the Church does hold a stance as a bold contradiction to some of the world’s priorities, but modern in the sense that his lived experience has connected with 20 and 30 year olds and many others in a truthful and authentic way.

Nelson Mandela

I was sitting with a friend when he read a tweet he had received announcing the death of long-time activist and moral beacon, Nelson Mandela.

Surrounded by children barely born in 1999, I sat there grateful for his witness and convinced that I can continue spreading his legacy by the mere act of sharing his story and re-telling his story.

President Obama spoke at his memorial celebration capturing the truth of Mandela’s life – that this generation will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. And yet, these words come from the first African American president of the United States, a possibility and dream to many of us just decades before.

Mandela’s witness to reconciliation, just action, and persistence echo in my being as rising doubt and fear try to paralyze me into believing that change is not possible or that the status quo is what will win in the end.

The Affordable Care Act

First it was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 that introduced a concept of government assisted healthcare, then it was Johnson’s Administration that enacted the Social Security Act in 1965.  Now we have agreed (certainly and tentatively according to some politicians) on the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

What a gargantuan effort to provide health care access to many more Americans.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long advocated health care for all. In their 1991 pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, the bishops called for a “comprehensive health care system that will ensure a basic level of health care for all Americans.”

And yet, so many are disappointed in the website, criticize the lack of preparation and continue to nay-say the efforts of many people to transform our current insufficient system.

And, of course, we Catholics are all over the map when it comes to our opinion on this new law and its consequences. Ethically, how can we promote life in all its forms?  From the struggling family in poverty to the unborn child to the person who has sinned and committed crimes against others…

Hope is in what we say and what we do

St. Paul, in his first letter to the people of Corinth writes, “Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

With the example of Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, and President Obama and all the LOVE-ly people that support them and their visions for a better world, may we, too, learn to speak of a better future AND act in LOVE and kindness to others as we build this kin-dom of peace, justice, grace, and love. May we begin to see ourselves in the examples of these men… that we are capable of humility, discipline, and truth.

And yet, here I am, a woman in the church, pressed for some GREAT examples of women includes in this column.  So, who better but Mary?  The  celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) gives me a new vision of Church and of kin-dom. A friend reminded me of Yolanda Lopez work and prayer.She depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe in three images. As I have just reflected on the three male figures that share the worldwide stage, I continue to reflect on a world that is inclusive and has room for all people.  Ms. Lopez’ depiction of Our Lady is stunning because she in the in reflection of herself, her mother, and her grandmother.

May God’s likeness be reflected in our very lives as well.  May WE bring about the revolution of a New Dawn, the Advent of our time… a CHRIST-mas! of sorts….

portraitofartistasvirgin2-207x300 chicana12 chicana13

 

Sacred Spaces and experiences of the Trinity along Europe

Saints and sinners alike greeted me as I entered Santiago and made my way to the Cathedral. I finished the ancient pilgrimage of over 600 km in about 25 days! I looked around to see tears running swiftly down cheeks of those who are not even the slightest religious, huge arms outstretched in thanksgiving and hospitality by some of the quietest people who spent most of their time walking alone, and the chanting, cheering and singingof hundreds of youth groups. Santiago was the place to be. Santiago was like heaven on earth.

It was here that people celebrated life. Exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, and proud, we all knew that our accomplishment was achieved and shared by many others. We made it. We did it. Wow.

We reflected on moments of difficulty with a lightness some people justifying just how worth it the entire journey had been.

We planned for our future reunions, collected Facebook requests, and attended mass together…wanting to bask in the glory of a shared transformational experience.

I snuck in to greet St. James early the next day so that I could have private moment to thank him. For his example, for his courage, for his inspiration, for his service and for his faith. Traditionally, pilgrims arriving to Santiago would come up to the saint behind the altar and hug him before visiting where he lay. Such a simple gesture, this hug. This was big for me. I do not consider myself a huggy type of a person. Yet, this action helped me to simplify my attitude and my posture in serving God and God’s people. I need to open myself up just a little more in order to welcome the holy spirit in my life and offer the peace and grace of God in the form of hospitality to others.

This invitation to embody this embrace continued to resonate with me as I journeyed through Cologne, Canterbury, London, Rhyl, Harrogate, Glasgow, Oban, Mull, and finally to Iona Island off the western coast of Scotland where St.Columba first arrived in the year 563.

It is in this sacred space that I witnessed God’s continued efforts to pronounce the Good News in sunsets and thin horizons that drizzled red in a clear blue sky, single boats adrift in the quiet sea, century-old stone that nourished new plants and flowers, a reconstructed abbey and ruined nunnery, puffins, otters, and seals, communal prayers where inclusive language is a way of being, and seekers from all over the world who believe that the trek is worth it in order to obtain peace and glimpses of the kin-dom.

Originally, I thought the space of prayer and dedication of generations of innovative Christian community and confident acts of justice is was why I was led this progressive abbey. But as the days unfolded, God’s abundant grace came to me in the form of living in community with families from all over the world. It was amongst my peers that God was inviting me to embrace life, open myself to their experiences and our experiences together. From hikes along the island to group reflection exercises to artistic attempts to uncovering God to quotidian tasks of chopping vegetables, setting tables, cleaning toilets, eating with one another, and praying loudly through song, spoken word, and action, God was making my life new again.

Now I know this hug is not just between me and God or between me and a statue of a Saint or me and just one person. This hug is about opening my arms out wider so that the dynamic of relationships takes centerstage.

Thank you, God, for opening my eyes, heart, and arms to a real and deep experience of the Trinity–God in relationship, God made whole through our very lives together.

The Camino and a spiritual way of proceeding

When I did the Spiritual Exercises more than a decade ago, I had no clue that the two main fruits of that retreat would continue to sustain me and my life choices. During those 30 days of silence (with only one meeting with my spiritual director each day), I prayed through the life of Christ with the help of St. Ignatius’ many meditations and exercises. I remember two powerful moments: one, Jesus’ voice calling to me, “Come, follow me”; and two, a passage from the Book of James: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in your heart” (James 1:21b).

Well, after stringing together a few odd jobs these past few years, I was able to save up enough cash for a flight to Spain and an experience of a lifetime. This week marks my second week on the Camino.

For many Spaniards, this is a physical exercise and communal time akin to the American camping experience. People pack their backpacks with enough water, toiletries and clothing to last a day or two. Cash in your pocket is handy and helps to settle your bill in restaurants, bars and albergues (hostels) for each day’s expenses.

Martin Sheen dramatizes an experience of the Camino de Santiago in the movie “The Way.” In his raincoat, waterproof pants and hiking boots, carrying a map and his pilgrim credential (a passport of sorts that has spaces for local stamps to color the pages, proving where you have been received as a pilgrim), he is able to walk and seek refuge among many of the hospitaleros (hosts at the albergues) along the way.

For me, my Camino began in Loila, the birthplace of St. Ignatius. His life and contribution to Christianity and Christian education have shaped my life and how I have come to discern decisions toward a freedom that loves more. He talks about the importance of the “composition of place” in his Spiritual Exercises. Here, the retreatant is encouraged to enter into a particular passage of Scripture and use all of his or her senses to be there. Standing in Ignatius’ bedroom, which is now a chapel, gave me a view he had of a wonderful countryside, a view he had during his convalescence. (A cannonball struck Ignatius’ leg, and he spent many months recuperating. This time is popularly known to contribute greatly toward his own conversion toward a greater desire to do God’s will.)

I continued through small countryside towns, listening to the strong and sharp language of País Vasco, or the Basque region of Spain. Ignatius’ certainty, flair for the dramatic and enthusiastic acts of faith made sense as I met ambitiously confident people whose independence and identity were sources of pride, accomplishment and commitment. Here, Ignatius’ gusto resonates loudly with the messages I heard throughout my years of education with the Jesuits: Magis (the “more”), “women and men for others,” and Ad Majoriam de Gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”). So after climbing the second highest mountain (only by 10 feet) in plain view, my bones and muscles and heart began to understand what my head had already known about how impressive Ignatius really is and why many parts of me follows in his footsteps.

After six days on the Camino Ignaciano, I learned more deeply the value of confirmation. As Ignatius lays out in a discernment process for seekers, he invites the retreatant to seek confirmation through an experience with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Jesus, with God, or with the Holy Spirit through positive emotions or consolations. After trying to decipher directions and minimal signage in Catalan*, the language spoken in Catalunya, a subtle orange arrow would appear about 50 feet ahead confirming my decision. Whew! Thanks, Ignatius, for allowing me an opportunity to truly trust in your ways.

And now, I am writing after a few days on the Camino de Santiago, named after St. James. Centuries of relationship create the way that is both well marked and well worn. I join hundreds of thousands of past pilgrims in this quest for God, for truth, for meaning, for wholeness. In this moment, there are about 50 or so I have seen in the same town each night, occupying the same albergues, the same restaurants, praying in the same sacred spaces. Whereas the Camino Ignaciano was relatively isolated with only two other companions, this way toward Santiago includes companions from Spain, Ireland, Italy, Bulgaria, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Canada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, New Orleans and Oregon. I am overwhelmed.

To my surprise, this ancient trek adjusts to the modern pilgrim whose cellphone now can get the most updated Camino app. As for me, I left my phone, computer and earbuds at home. Here I want to continue to hear how God is calling me with every sense of my body.

To be continued with a reflection on my journey to Santiago, Canterbury and Iona Abbey.

Spring Ache

354I remember the first time the local newspaper reported “Spring Ache” when hundreds of thousands of high school and college students came pouring into the New Orleans area to spend their Spring Break in the most unconventional of ways –helping to gut, drywall, paint, clean, and rebuild their neighborhoods.  Traditionally, pictures of students on their Spring Breaks would include bikinis and bare chests, dancing at daytime parties, drinks in hand, and a tropical resort.  Since Hurricane Katrina and other recent tragedies, the student revolution has taken the form of an alternative to drunken nights trying to relieve the stress of rigorous education.   The students have chosen to be of service, to actually get deeper into the “work” by getting their hands dirty and their ideas challenged.

“I have to keep in mind that my own discomfort is at the service of someone getting back into the comfort of their own homes, their own lives,” says Daija, a high school Senior,  as she spoke about how difficult and challenging drywalling for the first time with her peers from California.  “I’ve never done this before, but  I am learning a lot about communication,”  says Cate, another Senior aspiring to get into AmeriCorps upon graduation.404

These students from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, CA are one of many groups who spent the Triduum  and their Spring Break helping families in New Orleans get back into their homes.  The girls ranged from Sophomores to Seniors with little or no experience painting, drywalling, or tiling… but they did it.  This worked because there are others who have volunteered to lead their work crew, teach them how to work safely, and encourage them as they learn.  The girls learned how to use a drill, how to stand on a ladder, and most importantly, how to be present and show compassion to their neighbor.

So instead of parties on a beach, this revolution of service is seen in muddied boots, sweat-soaked t-shirts, dry and painted-on hands, and tired eyes.

The girls experienced their own Triduum as they began the week in memory of Christ’s example and ended with a some-what eerie and unknown certainty of Easter that is still filled with great and indescribable hope. “The week was hard, but I would do it again if I could.  I want to take my family back here and show them around,” says Makalah, a graduating Senior who wants to be a future Child Specialist.

Just like the aftermath Hurricane Katrina, human suffering, especially as we remember through Jesus’ own story of salvation, is like a dramatic story of love waiting to unfold.  We stop because we are shocked, and we choose to either dive in or step away and pretend that everything is fine. In fact, some people actually try to drown their worries in drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity.

As we celebrate these indescribable days of Easter in a post-Jesus, post-Katrina, post-life kind of way, we are invited to engage ever more fully in the discomfort so as to help bring healing to ourselves and our neighbors.  Perhaps this post-discovery of sex abuse, post-scandal, post-unorganized management of parishes time of the Church is dawning a new time of uncertainty.  Like most people who are hopeful for Pope Francis, perhaps this, too, is a Spring Ache for the church as we stretch beyond the comforts of our knowing and our past into the discomfort of the challenge and opportunity of developing a stronger community of believers – a place where people are heard, respected, and treated with dignity no matter who they are.

May the Church come into a deeper openness to systemic and seismic changes as we reflect on the alternative so many of our students have shown us.  Let us all continue grow as both people of faith and service  and people of hard work, conviction, and vision.

35 Mountaintop Prayers

Palo-Alto-Taxi

In a reality of smart phones, streaming on-demand videos, cloud storage reliability and accessibility, young adults hold in tension the pace of their daily lives with the longing for a whole identity as an individual and as someone within a community.   Demanding work or extreme sports have reaped the benefit of their energy for commitment, identity shifting developmental stage and community seeking “check-in” necessitating social location.

This is what I heard this past weekend on a Young Adult Retreat held at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos.

Conceived by an idea that a couple of graduates from the Jesuit School of Theology had, what began as a journey support an imagined and personal desire evolved to supporting 6 retreatants, then 18, then 22, then finally 30 just hours before the retreat was to begin.

Retreatants came from as far north as Sacramento, as far South as Monterey Bay, as far East as Tennessee to arrive at the edge of the West Coast to overlook and contemplate the beautiful San Francisco Bay.

Teachers and counselors, Silicon Valley Innovators, BioTech professionals, and artists heard the echo of their search for community, understanding, comfort and love in the conversations around prayer and spirituality alive in the silence, the small faith-sharing groups, experiences of communal prayer and communal meals. People being people coming to a peaceful understanding of themselves, God and how God desperately desires to be in their lives to offer love.

I was particularly moved by the retreatants’ desires to participate fully in the weekend.  People dove in and took refuge in the community of deeper thinkers, feelers, and followers.  They tried on new ways to be with God through a variety of Contemplative practices – from Our Father yoga to lectio divina, walking meditations, Ignatian contemplation, the Divine Office and the simplicity of silence.  The entered into practices of Centering Prayer and the Examen together. They ate together, they laughed together, they listened together.

And yet the tension I continue to feel is that our church is limited in the space we can offer to our Young Adults.  I am stuck in a place of wanting to create more room, but hitting the concrete walls of years of tradition and formation built by previous generations’ devotion to education and their Christian communities. More established communities of faith and religious organizations must provide both stability to a sea of seekers and hospitality that is willing to be transformed and mutually welcomed into the lives of these younger versions of renewal and possibility.

How can churches be a place that celebrates the tension of Young Adulthood?  With its disappointments, surprises, insecurities, and uncertainties, many Young Adults are faced with the harsh reality of life not as they expected.

It’s like what happened to the 30 year old Jesus.  He grew up in an uncommon household, baptized by family and God was pleased.  Then was tempted in the desert before significantly contributing to the healing of the people around him.

Our Young Adults know love and still are thrown into situations of anxiety and despair, doubtful commitments and true questions of faith and longing.  They are critical of the world and more now than ever, critical of themselves.

Let our church be continue to be a community of trust, openness, healing, and God’s grace.  Let our church be places filled with every age of God’s children – from the experienced to the experiencing, the youthful and the courageous. Let our church’s contemplation, or “long loving look at the real” (according to The Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt) celebrate the complicated position and posture of the faithful: open handed, open armed, open hearted like the 30 year old Christ born of family, formed in the desert and journeying to his passion and extending new life to others.

 

Thank you to all the retreatants for your faith.  Thank you to the staff at the Jesuit Retreat Center your openness and support. Thank you to the rest of the team: Michael Downs, Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ, Kyle Lierk, and Jessica Mueller for being contemplative companions on this journey.