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lilac

Spiritual Zest

     Welcome to Spiritual Zest - a regular monthly memo from me. This little note of sharing is offered as a connection with you to inspire extra spiritual zest for living your life the best you can.

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You may scroll down to read each month's Spiritual Zest or click on the link to go to a particular month.

lilac

Spiritual Zest
January 2006

     Welcome to the first of what will be a regular monthly memo from me. This little note of sharing is offered as a connection with you to inspire extra spiritual zest for living your life the best you can.  

     My reflection for this month arises from my having recently read an intriguing book: Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryōkan. Mary Lou Kownacki, a member of a Benedictine monastery, shares her reflections on the poems of Ryōkan, a Zen Buddhist monk. One side of the page has a Ryōkan poem and the other side contains Kownacki’s poem. What captured my heart most was not only the beauty and message of each author, but how each approached life from radically different places and found a comparable truth. Amazing. Different lives but similar wisdom.  Ryōkan, a monk sequestered in solitude, and Kownacki, living among the poor in a bustling, busy city, express parallel wisdom from their own lived experience.

     This book reaffirmed my belief that it is not where we live or our particular work that draws us to the Divine but, rather, how we enter our world and view it, how attentive and open we are to the daily events in which subtle spiritual messages are hidden. Each of us carries the Divine Light along the day’s way, whether in the silence of our personal reflection or in the midst of our external, active life. We can be drawn more deeply within and given both courage and inspiration to live life well when we are watchful and reflective.  

     As we move through January, I invite you to join with me in being more conscious and alert to where we are and how we are. As we do so, both the Ryōkan and the Kownacki part of us will discover greater clarity and hope for our journey of life.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
February 2006

     February has captured my heart’s attention for quite a few years. I look forward to this month because it reawakens me to the beauty and joy of love. During this month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, which I often refer to as the Feast of Friendship. It really is a month of “the heart” – a time for us to remember who we love and how we love. In our fast paced culture it’s easy to slip into forgetfulness. We can take for granted the gift of heart-felt goodness that others give us day by day, year after year. We can  blithely ignore the treasure we have in those who constantly offer us their kindness. We can miss numerous opportunities to return that love: to go the extra mile, to forgive the careless comment, to speak a word of gratitude, to love when love’s the last thing we want to do.    

     Recently I gave a retreat in Jamaica where my awareness of how God surprises us with love was rekindled. There I met a 78 year old widowed pediatrician who was soon to marry an Anglican minister, a single woman in her sixties. They were in awe of how their joy-filled companionship had developed into a deep love. Their story reminded me to always stay open to the Holy One’s grace-filled movement of love. We never know when Love might come to us in a surprising form such as spiritual kinship,supportive care, understanding kindness or generous acceptance.  

     Valentine’s Day is about much more than roses and sentimental verses (although these are lovely things). This day is an occasion to rejoice in the ways we both give and receive love. J. Philip Newell closes one of his prayers in Celtic Benediction with these two beautiful lines:  “…that I may awaken to the morning enlivened by love.”  May each of us, this February, be enlivened by love.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
March 2006

     Most people, including myself, think of the six weeks of Lent as a time for self-improvement to shape up their less-than-perfect selves. They take on certain practices to do so. Lentenites (my new word for people who take Lent seriously) often focus on food and try to lose some weight. Others strive to overcome their intolerable behaviors or work to become better pray-ers. Some give alms or focus on helping the poor.

     But is this what Lent is truly about?  Do we really change because of those practices or do they just make us temporarily feel good?  I wonder. Might Lent not be of greater value if we acknowledged the difficulties and struggles that trouble our lives, instead of taking on some short-term affliction that will end in six weeks? I rarely meet a person whose life is free from suffering. Sometimes the greatest pain comes from trying to live with our self. Many have chronic illnesses, irritating relationships, obnoxious or boring jobs, painful aging issues, or challenging parental responsibilities. Wouldn’t Lent be the ideal time to be with that pain, to focus on carrying the cross in such a way that it deepens the grooves in our compassion while lessening our impatience and discontent? What if we spent Lent befriending what we hate in our life, instead of fighting, denying, or allowing those things to slowly destroy our peace and harmony?

     What if we focused on Christ and his path of suffering? What if we let him teach us how to carry our own cross: to forgive those who cause us pain, to have immense empathy for others who hurt, to lean on the strength of the Holy One? We could learn that suffering can soften a heart, not harden it. We might even learn that love is stronger than death.

     Just a thought. Now, get back to that fasting, praying, and almsgiving….

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
April 2006

     Any doubts I had about spring’s arrival disappeared when I discovered the first radiant daffodils in early April. Spring renews the earth’s zest and also reawakens our spiritual zest, especially in the celebration of Easter. Last year I discovered a book with marvelous suggestions on how to enter into the Easter stories:  Stations of the Light: renewing the ancient Christian practice of the Via Lucis as a spiritual tool for today.  The author, Mary Ford-Grabowsky, gives numerous spiritual exercises centered around the fourteen sacred events in the post-Easter stories. Besides her creative and energizing approach, what I like about this book is how it provides a balance to Christianity’s Lenten journey which emphasizes the suffering and death of Christ. I have yet to find any Christian church that truly prays and celebrates the Easter season as fully as they do the Lenten journey.  Most people still spend far too much time with the cross and not nearly enough time with the resurrection. The darkness of the cross has little meaning for our faith without the balancing light of Christ’s resurrection.

    Here is an encouraging text from Stations of the Light:

     The Spirit works through surprises in everyone’s life. Every minute of the day brings the possibility of a surprise, the possibility of a breakthrough of love, of newness and change and joy.  A split second can turn a day inside out. Even the seemingly smallest event, like a chance remark that we happen to hear or a butterfly that suddenly comes and goes, can open a gateway to an unknown field of blessings and abundance. And when the surprise is difficult and challenging, people of resurrection faith know that the Spirit is in this, too. And that makes all the difference.

Happy Springtime!  Happy Easter!

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
May 2006

     This greening and growing time of year elates my heart. One of my joyous experiences is being able to open the bedroom windows once again and hear early morning bird songs. Their warbling melodies are much easier on my ears and my spirit than an intrusive alarm clock. The lively bird songs of spring reenergize my inner zest and invite me to listen to the whole of my life in a fuller way.  I was reconnected to the practice of listening fully when I recently read a beautiful poem by one of my favorite writers, Mary Oliver. In this poem she stands in a green field listening to mockingbirds.  As with many of Oliver’s poems, the poet allows her intent listening to the mockingbirds, and her consequent deeper awareness, to lead her back to her own heart.  The poem ends with these beautiful lines:

I was hurrying
through my own soul,
opening its dark doors –
I was leaning out,
I was listening.*

     Listening intently has the same effect on me. It continually draws me to open my soul’s dark doors (the entrance to inner mystery) where much I have yet to recognize is stored and waiting for my discovery.  Unfortunately, this type of listening does not happen nearly often enough because I allow myself to get overly absorbed in my work and hurried endeavors. I consistently need to be deliberate about standing still in my life and paying close attention to each part of it. The door to my soul is always ready for my entrance. I just need to lean into it enough to glimpse what is there.

     Wherever and however you are, I encourage you to join with me in listening more attentively to the birdsongs in your world. Let these winged resonances lead you to the door of your soul where greater meaning and the richness of fuller love resides.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

* (The poem is from “Mockingbirds”  - New and Selected Poems, Vol II, Mary Oliver)

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
June 2006

    In early May I was rendered speechless. Literally. A week before I was scheduled to speak all day, I could not utter a word. A sinus infection led to a severe case of laryngitis. My physician warned me, “Don’t use your voice at all. Save it for the conference. Do not even whisper.”  All week long I kept still.  I never realized how much I valued my voice until I did not have it. On each day of my body’s imposed silence I thought about how much I’d taken my ability to speak for granted. Once again, I came to see that it is when I lose someone or something, that I truly realize and value what is mine. It is not until the gift is gone that sometimes the fullness of the treasure is appreciated. This is true about loved ones, as well as the blessedness of personal giftedness and bodily functions. 

     In her book, In Lieu of Flowers, Nancy Cobb notes: “Emerson once suggested that if there were but one starlit night a year everyone on the planet would stop to herald the annual pageant of light.”  How true this is. Awareness is one of the best ways to become more appreciative of what we have. Regular alertness to the most common of things can keep us in tune with gratitude and joy. 

     June is a happy, active month with lots of outdoor activities and many things to do.  In the midst of the numerous goings-on that require our time and presence, I encourage all of us to pause each day and focus on one treasure of our life that we might too easily assume will always be there. Let us each take a clearer look at such things as a friend, a family member, the taste of food, the ability to walk and talk, and the steady beat of our heart that keeps us alive.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
July 2006

     Recently I gave a retreat in Montana. I have only spoken in that beautiful state three times but each time I’ve been in awe of the people I’ve met. The word that always comes to me is sturdy. Montanans seem to have an incredible inner strength and endurance. This big sky country is sparsely populated and the residents think nothing of driving amazingly long distances for both social and spiritual events. The people endure the harshness of the winters there but also thrive on the marvelous natural beauty of the land.

     All through the retreat as I listened to their personal experiences, I kept noticing how resilient the participants were. It started the first night with a woman telling me her only child had died a month earlier. She told me how her inner strength had been affirmed when she discovered my poem on the resiliency of the evergreen tree. (You can find it on this website)  From then on it seemed that the inner strength in those who were present leapt out at me everywhere. Perhaps the dearest of all was a tall, pencil-thin woman named Peggy who has struggled with cancer for some time. Her arms were badly bruised from treatments and she wore a jaunty blue hat to cover her just-beginning-to-grow-out hair. Peggy was radiant with joy throughout the days, seemingly undaunted by her lack of physical stamina.

     How easy it is to forget that we have within us a mighty reservoir of strength. And how good it is to be among those who are witnesses to us of the human spirit’s ability to endure all sorts of hardship and distress. I doubt they realize the gift they give to the rest of us when they stand strong in their struggles and pain. I felt the power of their resiliency. I received the beauty of their spirit. They did not know it but they blessed me with hope.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
August 2006

    Not long ago the Sisters of Earth Conference took place in St. Paul, MN. Among the many fine aspects to the gathering, one of the best was getting to know the music of a marvelous folk singer named Sara Thomsen. Sara led the group with song and ritual during the days we were together. One of her songs, “By Breath”, became a thread of hope throughout the Conference. We often sang the refrain, “By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one.”

    The reality of our oneness with others has been a firm belief of mine for quite some time and I welcomed the refreshing reminder of this conviction.  I was also grateful for Sara’s song because of our current world situation. How dismal things seem with the current news. Hope flees easily when endless stories of violence and injustice fill the daily newspaper.  What a difference it would make to the wounded and struggling ones of our planet if people really took to heart the deep kinship we have with each other.

    Another woman who encouraged music to sing in my soul during the conference was Earth Mama, (Joyce Rouse), who gave us a stirring sing-a-long the last evening with her amazing tunes. She is a woman of incredible spirit and energy. Her contagious liveliness got us dancing to the vibrant and meaningful messages in her songs. You may, perhaps, be familiar with Earth Mama’s beautiful song “Standing on the Shoulders.” We closed the evening by joining her in singing this stirring tune which honors the strong and courageous women ancestors who did so much to help all of us claim the freedoms we have today.

    As summer goes sailing along this month of August, I encourage you to join me in a renewed appreciation of the spiritual zest that music brings to us.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
September 2006

    Less than a month ago I was present with a woman in hospice. Jennifer was a beloved friend and spiritual guide who loved life and found joy and goodness in large and small ways. She approached life much like Maya Angelou describes: “The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving – with passion and compassion, and humor and style, and generosity and kindness.”

    Three weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Jennifer died.  What I remember most vividly about my last visit with her is how she turned her face toward death and did so with gracious surrender. Because of Jennifer’s difficulty with breathing, she sat almost upright in bed. As she slipped into a coma, her hands rested silently on her prayer cushion which was placed on her lap. One could not help but feel peace in the room amid her awesome task of waiting for death to come. I did not know at that time the poem Jennifer had selected for her memorial card. Rabindranath Tagore’s words speak to her faith filled life and the fruition of her thirty years of prayer in the Forest of Peace:

When death comes to your door
at the end of the day,
what treasures will you hand over to him?
I’ll bring my full soul before him.
I’ll not send him away empty-handed
the day he comes to my door.
Into my life-vessel pours the nectar
of countless evenings and dawns,
of numberless autumn and spring nights.
My heart gets filled with the sight
of endless fruits and flowers,
with the touch of joy and sorrow’s light and shade.
All the treasures I’ve gathered
during my lifelong preparation
I’m now arranging for the last day
to give it all to death –
the day death comes to my door.
               (Show Yourself to My Soul)

     I suggest to all of us entering into the busy days and demands of September that we walk with eyes wide open to joy, living with verve and vitality, never taking anyone or anything for granted. Then, we will also be able to graciously surrender the day death comes to our door.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
October 2006

     Being alert to what takes place both inside and outside of myself is valuable for my peace and well-being. When I am attentive to daily occurrences and take time to reflect on them, I consistently find teachings that influence my life. Most recently I was reminded of how quickly I can blame others for what causes me trouble and woe, even if these persons are not the cause of my difficulties. A few weeks ago I was in the Toronto airport waiting to board a plane after a lengthy flight from Newfoundland. As our large group of passengers prepared to board, the pilots returned from the plane and announced the flight was cancelled and no flights were opening until the next day. Immediately angry, hostile, frustrated voices practically flattened the gate agents with loud, insistent demands for explanations and action. Later that evening, I was at another counter trying to rebook for the next day when an exhausted young mother with two toddlers hysterically screamed obscenities at the ticket agent when she learned of her flight cancellation.
In both situations, the agents were not the cause of the problem.

     Since then I’ve noticed other situations of “false blame” – a shopper speaking abusively to a clerk when the shopper discovered she was waiting in the wrong line for “returns” - an impatient driver giving nasty gestures to the person ahead who was caught in a line of traffic. All of which  led me back to my own heart, to ask the question: How do I respond when I am frustrated and irritated with circumstances that fail me or disappoint me? These recent incidents caution me to be careful about blaming others. They also remind me to look for the source of  my strong emotions and tend to them, rather than blame the innocent, when life does not proceed according to my hopes and expectations. Like the serenity prayer suggests: change the things I can and accept what I cannot. When I do this, I breathe easier.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
November 2006

     November is a passageway month. The deepening darkness of each day, along with the gradual movement from the glowing colors of autumn to the white silence of winter, beckons to a secret part of my soul. This quieting movement definitely pulls me inward. The liturgical celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st also draws me into a passageway of silent mystery. As I grow older, I feel increasingly in touch with my spiritual ancestors. I believe the bond we have had with our loved ones remains strong even though they are no longer physically with us. When I celebrate All Saints Day, I honor not only the officially canonized saints of the church but all dear persons whose lives reflected goodness (God-ness). 

     A few months ago I received a letter from a friend who is mourning the loss of a beloved one in her life.  Dorothy wrote: “Everyday I ask Honor to gift me with the best of her.”  I understood immediately what Dorothy meant. After a close friend of mine died, I thought a lot about how kind he was. It occurred to me after his death that I had rarely ever heard him speak negatively about anyone. Since his death, I’ve tried to follow that example and withhold my unkind comments. I think this is what Dorothy meant by having “the best” of someone deceased continue on in our life. Doing so is not only a wonderful way to honor these good people by remembering their “best” but it is also a source of encouragement for us to try to live in the most gracious way possible.

     By asking our loved ones to gift us with their positive qualities, our lives, too, can have God-ness shining through them. This November, let’s cast our glance back to those dear ones who left us the essence of their goodness.  As we ponder their qualities and pray to have these traits come alive more fully in us, “the best” of our loved ones will continually call us to be the finest of who we can be.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
December 2006

     At the time of this writing, we have just moved beyond “Black Friday” in the United States. It’s the day when marketing people and shoppers go crazy. The crowds in stores are enormous. The lines of people waiting in pre-dawn darkness, ready to rush in and find good deals, grows longer every year. Ravenous-for-a-bargain customers push, shove, and even gun each other down as they try to grab a much-wanted item. I must admit this obvious show of greed by my fellow Americans both embarrasses and discourages me. I wonder if they have any idea how this comes across to our international brothers and sisters. Black Friday seems to be proof of what many already think of us:  self-interested, materialistic people. While I know that many Americans are generous and kind-hearted, still I cringe with the message that goes forth to those beyond our borders at this time of year: all we care about is ourselves and how much we can possess.

     So what will I do for this Advent? Instead of wasting my energy criticizing others for their consumerist activities, I’m going to focus on how I can act with integrity. Most of my gifts for family and friends will be simple ones with a note tucked inside telling them that in lieu of giving gifts no one really needs, I am giving to food pantries and to organizations that support justice for the oppressed. I’ll also keep my eyes and heart on individuals and groups whose central work is that of acting on behalf of those who have much less than I do. This way I’ll stay hopeful. Discouragement about greed does little. Acting on behalf of those in need does much.  This Advent I hope you will join with me in the spirit of Christ and reach out with love to those whose lives long for a touch of goodness and care.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
January 2007

   As we embark on a new year, we do so in the midst of a world with an enormous amount of pain. The daily news tells us this as do our own lives and those of others we know. A new year’s entrance will not automatically change painful, unwanted situations or cause an instant departure from life’s troubles, no matter how genuine our resolutions might be. The new year, however, does allow us to ponder how we can keep a positive attitude.

    World situations can stifle our joy by their immensity. Likewise, people around us knowingly or unknowingly can shred our peace and enthusiasm. I recall a saying I heard sometime ago that has held me steady in troubled times: “Don’t let them steal your joy.”  Keeping our joy alive does not mean we let go of compassion or stop tending to our own or others’ woundedness. Joy is not a denial of life’s tough things but, rather, it helps maintain hope in the midst of them. A Florida man at a retreat commented “Life is like a symphony. You need all the high and low notes to create a piece of beautiful music.” So true.

    The quality of joy keeps our inner strength and resiliency alive. In her book, The Second Half of Life, Angeles Arrien offers a suggestion that might be a new year’s resolution for those of us whose joy is easily stolen: “Each week do something that is fun and brings the spirit of laughter and play into your life. Joy fuels creativity and nourishes the soul.” 

    The Buddha taught that “thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Joy moves us to be kind to others while sustaining its blessing in us. So, as we move into 2007, I encourage all of us to deepen our compassion, share our love, and never let go of the joy that longs to be sung in our lives. Here are a few lines from Mary Oliver’s “Honey Locust” to carry in our hearts this January:  
               
                                      If the heart has devoted itself to love,      
                                         there is not a single inch of emptiness.     
                                      Gladness gleams
 all the way to the grave.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
February 2007

   There is something to delight my heart in every month of the year. February is no exception. It has long brought me pleasure because Valentine’s Day is situated smack-dab in the middle. There are those who thumb their noses and consider this day to be nothing more than a marketing venture of sentimentalism. Undoubtedly, the celebration could be that if one chooses to live only on the surface of life. But I think Valentine’s Day is a golden opportunity to revisit not only the “who” we love, but the “way” we love (or do not love). Lately, I’ve been thinking how sadly ironic it is that so much applause is given to “random acts of kindness.” Not that I want to belittle these beautiful, generous acts of love that strangers do for one another. Rather, I find it strange and disappointing that our culture rah-rahs these individual actions while forgetting or ignoring that our entire life, every single day, could and can be filled with ordinary acts of loving kindness. Deeds and attitudes of love are meant to permeate our existence and be as natural as breathing. But we all know this is not the case. At least, it certainly is not so for me.

    Valentine’s Day beckons me each year to celebrate the gift of love. It calls me to gratitude for those who have a special place in my heart. This celebrative day alerts me to remember the tremendous kindnesses that known and unknown people have bestowed upon me. I am continually touched by their goodness. Valentine’s Day also challenges me to look at my potential for love, to see how much wider the door of my kindness is yet to be opened, especially to the larger world beyond my own small space of living and loving. 

    I was delighted to recently find Sharon Salzberg’s “The Force of Kindness” in the Half Price Book store. Her other book, “Loving Kindness” holds many treasures and this one does, too. I leave you with this thought from the introduction: “(Kindness) is not a cushy, undemanding path. It is easy to overlook the power of kindness, or misunderstand it. The embodiment of kindness is often made difficult by our long ingrained patterns of fear and jealousy. Those around us may devalue our dedication to kindness. We may devalue it ourselves. There are many challenges, many subtleties, many intricacies. But if we can commit to the open-hearted exploration of kindness, it will reveal itself as a force that can change our lives.” (p.2)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
March 2007

    Last autumn I was in the lovely mountains of North Carolina at a large Methodist conference. One day I walked over to the building where I was scheduled to speak and noticed a maintenance person swishing a large broom in the air near the entry way.  As I greeted him, he turned around and explained, “These pesky spider webs. I can’t get rid of them. One day I sweep them down and the next day they’re back again.” The rest of the day I thought about those spiders, about their persistence to keep weaving their webs in the face of what seemed like endless defeat.

    Persistence as enduring as those spiders calls to me during this Lenten season. I ponder the mystery of suffering, beginning with the journey Jesus took and then, extend my view to include the suffering on our planet today.  I ask myself: Can I have that kind of persistence in my own small efforts to lessen the suffering of those near to me and those far away? The daily news accounts of the continual destruction of lives in Iraq disturbs me. The grief of a good friend due to her husband’s sudden death saddens me. The thought of homeless people on our streets during bitter cold nights and blizzard conditions troubles me.  It seems as though everywhere I turn I meet suffering of one sort or another.

    My own compassionate care and actions can help heal our world. I believe this, but I need to be as persistent as the spiders, to not give up when my tiny efforts seem ineffective or when the vastness of the world’s pain appears too huge to touch. My Christian faith helps me persevere, to trust and have hope that compassionate care and loving actions can make a difference. Jesus taught that new life follows death. Earth also speaks of this hope. Here, in the central part of Iowa, winter still clenches us in the strong grips of ice and snow but a month from now green grass and flowers will be the norm.

    The Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, has this to say about hope and persistence: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.”  I take these words to heart as I try to “listen very carefully” this month of March.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
April 2007

    Not long ago I sat in the airport on an early morning, restless and more than a little grumpy at the thought of a long trip ahead of me. Seated next to me in the gate area were two small girls. Everything was quiet until the youngest one let out a shriek: “Mommy, mommy, look, it’s in the air!” She was watching a plane soaring upward into the sky.  Everyone’s head turned toward the little girl and there were many smiles. Her piercing exclamation lifted us out of our morning dullness and awakened the sense of wonder that sleeps in adults. At least she did this for me.

    The spirit of children thrives on life’s amazing components. Children come into this world with clearness of heart and an unsullied authenticity. Their spirit flies free, unmarked by heavy adult responsibilities and the push for financial success. Since that morning I’ve thought a great deal about my sense of wonder and how easily I can squander my enthrallment of life’s surprising grandeur.

    There is a lot of talk these days about global warming, protecting our environment, healing the damage we humans have done to our exquisite planet. I question whether this compassionate attention will actually happen unless we regain our sense of wonder. Until we are in tune with the mystery, awe, and loveliness of each piece of life, we will go on our busy, preoccupied ways and miss being a source of healing for our planet.

    Earth Day is April 22nd.  Wouldn’t it be grand if we looked at each piece of life that day through the eyes of a three year old?  Couldn’t it be immensely beneficial if each of us recognized the countless ways we are blessed to be citizens of this astounding blue orb that circles through the heavens, nourishing us and providing for our well-being?

    I salute the gift of “wonder” and leave you with these wise words of Christian de Quincy:
“In my experience, the sacred is all around us in nature…  The most direct way to God, I believe, is through touching and feeling the Earth and its inhabitants – being open to the expression of spirit in the most ordinary, as well as in the most awesome, events of daily life. The way to meaning in our lives is by reconnecting to the world of nature…  Nature literally carries the wisdom of the world, a symphony of relationships between all its forms.“  
   (“Stories Matter, Matter Stories”  IONS June-August 2002

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
May 2007

    Yesterday I held three tiny beefsteak tomato seeds in my hand. Mary, our prayer facilitator for the day, led us in a meditation on what is waiting to germinate and grow in our life. Mary read the reflection, “Seed Song,” which is in the May chapter of my book, Fresh Bread.  I rarely return to my books once they’re published, so her inspiring reading of the seed’s story stirred my heart. It awakened me anew to the amazing journey that a seed takes once it is placed in the soil.

    Today I drove through the Iowa countryside and drank in the wonder of farmers busily planting fields and fields of corn. Again, the story of the seed sang inside of me.  I thought of how each little kernel of corn is going to wait in darkness until the moisture of rain and the sun’s warmth urges it to let go of its strong husk. Then the tiny green shoot will stretch toward the light while  newly birthed roots will push their way downward, deeper and deeper into the earth.  Incredible, how this growth occurs!

    In the past week, I facilitated two retreats where I observed participants connecting with their own “seedness.” The mysterious journey of spiritual growth is equally challenging and marvelous. Like the seed, it requires a belief in our potential for growth. Then we take up the task of waiting in the darkness, trusting that the surrender is worth it.  We open our whole being, ready to be drawn toward the Light. Finally, we allow our roots of love to grow deeper so they’ll be sturdy and strong in our passageway of unending growth. 

    Take a seed in your hand this month of May. Ask yourself:  “What seed in my life needs to be planted?  How will I wait in the darkness for its germination?  Can I allow this part of myself to let go and be drawn toward the Light? What will help me root this seed deeply so my growth will have a strong foundation of love?”

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
June 2007

    Several days ago my printer died. Of course, it happened on a day when I felt “everything” needed printing. I went into a tizzy for a while. Then I remembered there are much bigger things in life. So having a dead printer soon became less of an irritation. But the lesson I really learned in the next day or so while I searched for and installed a new printer was how much I take for granted. Not having the use of the printer made me realize my reliance on it. (Absence does make the heart grow fonder!) When the printer works fine, I don’t even notice it.

    Last week I attended a funeral of a man who was a spouse, father, grandfather, brother, father-in-law, nephew, colleague and friend. I did not know this man personally but I wonder now how many there who held him dear had taken his presence in their life for granted. Did they have regrets? Was there more they wished they had been or done for and with him? Taking for granted people we cherish is easy to do, especially in this busyness-obsessed world we live in. Only when these dear ones are gone from us does the full impact and treasure of their life become fully apparent.

    Thanks to my old printer, I am asking myself some valuable questions this week. Most of them center around my awareness, or lack of it. Am I observant of my ability to breathe? Am I aware of how great it is to read, to drive a car, to see the lush, deep green of Iowa farmland? When is the last time I gasped in amazement at being able to hear, to think, to laugh? The questions also pertain to my work and whether or not I am letting it consume me. Am I tending to the precious people who are family and friends? Within the work itself, am I valuing my abilities and appreciating the possibilities each day’s work offers? Good questions to help set me on the right track again. Quite amazing, how a defunct printer can teach me - when I’m ready to listen.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
July 2007

    A few days before the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere I walked through the living room in early evening. I had planned to move on to the kitchen but I did not get there. I was stopped abruptly by sunlight on the honeysuckle bush outside the window. It was truly a kind of burning bush moment. Because the slant of our planet leans so strongly this time of year, the strength and angle of sunlight hits the leaves with stunning brilliance.

    The sunlight allowed me to see the intricate detail of veins and the “innerness” of the leaves. Each dark green leaf on the bush appeared translucent. The shadows around the leaves enhanced their beauty. I was mesmerized and filled with awe. I sat there in utter stillness for quite sometime. When I did reluctantly rise and finally continue with my household tasks, I did so with profound gratitude and a sense of clearance inside of me.

    Later that same evening I remembered a powerful quote of Thomas Merton’s in A Book of Hours (a lovely book edited by Kathleen Deignan). I think this quote is taken from Merton’s memory of standing on the busy street corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville. There he had the mystical experience of seeing God present in every person around him. Here is what Merton wrote:

    There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where   neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. if only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.

    “What if,” Merton queries, “what if…”    Those two little words hold big possibilities. What if I saw divine light shining from those whose philosophy, political stance, theology, and way of living is radically opposed to mine?  What if I trusted that each person who comes into my life has “secret beauty” in his or her heart? What if, what if…?   I don’t think I’d be tempted to bow down to these people as Merton suggests, but I do know my heart would be much softer and my mind less cluttered with harsh judgments.

    This month of July I am going to stop often and observe the beauty of summer sunlight dancing through the green leaves. I am also going to make an effort to see the Light dancing deep inside each person whose presence intertwines with mine.  I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
August 2007

    Not long ago I spent a weekend with my sister and her husband. The condition of his health steadily deteriorates. My heart hurt for both of them. I longed for life to be different than it now is. In the midst of my sadness, something else also stirred within my heart. I did not fully understand what this inner movement was until today. The word “dedication” comes to mind, and “faithfulness.” What I witnessed was the deep love between two persons, a love nurtured over forty five years of marriage, years of being steadily committed to one another. When I saw how devoted, caring and tender my sister is with my ill brother-in-law, my hope in the power of love renewed itself. When I observed my brother-in-law, I saw his gratitude, kindness and respect for my sister shining through his eyes and smile. In their current situation, both of them have good reason to be impatient, complaining and disgruntled. Neither of them gives in to these emotional responses.

    Devotion and commitment live deep in the human heart but only those whose love is large enough, strong enough, and generous enough, ever fully live these essential gifts of an enduring relationship. This kind of love is learned and earned over a life-time. Faithfulness is purified in the fire of suffering. In her book, The House of the Soul,  Evelyn Underhill, early twentieth century mystic, challenges her readers with these two questions:

            “ Was everything that was done, done for love’s sake?
            Were all the doors opened, that the warmth of Charity
            might fill the whole house; the windows cleaned, that they
            might more and more radiate from within its mysterious divine light?”

    Love is meant to radiate from all the doors and windows of our soul. This month of August I am taking Underhill’s questions into my prayer and into my life. As I do so, I give thanks for the hope I gain from dedicated and faithful people like my sister and brother-in-law.

    The witness of those around us has the ability to change hearts and influence lives in the most unsuspected ways once we are aware of it. Look for persons like this in your life. May their love encourage you as you continue to let “the warmth of Charity” fill your soul.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
September 2007

    Not long ago I was reading an article in which George Washington Carver is quoted as saying, “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.” Those words keep resounding in my mind and heart. I find them both encouraging and intriguing. I’ve begun thinking more specifically of how true Carver’s insight is. How do we love anything enough? Well, I think it means that we continually give it our kind hearted presence as fully as possible. We try to be there in a nurturing, compassionate way,  believe in the hidden worth, and are willing to pay the cost to uncover the treasure-laden mystery that lies beyond what we presently know.

    What might some of the secrets be that we could find?  Certainly secrets that lead to our well-being and the well-being of our world. Hidden treasures that deepen and strengthen our relationships. Secrets that surprise us with their power to transform our lives. Concealed truths that heighten our purpose and direction in life. Yes, secrets lie hidden in most everyone and everything that exists. It just depends on where we want to search, what we desire to find, and how much we want to love.

    What do we want to yield up its secrets? It might be something as serene as a garden that we plant and tend with care. As we do so, it yields up secrets of how a tiny seed grows and matures into a splendid harvest. It might be something as challenging as wanting to know how to balance our life of action and contemplation. Can we love each of these aspects of our life well enough that they yield their secrets about balance?  It might be something as deep as our soul. Do we believe in its worth and give enough love to our own soul so it will yield its secrets of truth and goodness to us?  It might be our relationship with the Holy One?  Do we spend enough time and give enough of our daily focus to this mysterious and grand presence so the secrets of divine love are revealed to us? Perhaps we long for our world to yield its secrets of peace to us. Do we love the world, its peoples and creation fully enough for us to be given the secret of peace? 

    Hidden secrets will be revealed if we take George Washington Carver’s words to heart and love whomever and whatever fully enough. What a challenge. This month let’s reflect on what we care about enough that we hope to have it yield up its secrets. Then, let’s love it enough and wait for the revelation to happen!

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
October 2007

    As I write this, I am sitting by Long Island Sound, listening to the gentle lapping of the tide as it goes out. I am spending a few days at Mercy Center in Madison, CT, a beautiful spot that easily draws one into reflection. Today I have been thinking about the content of an excellent book I recently read: The Sacred Art of LovingKindness by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.  I chose to read this book because I wanted a Jewish perspective on compassion, along with the Christian and Buddhist sources I already have. Each approach has helped greatly to deepen and expand my desire to live this central component of the spiritual life.

    The part of Shapiro’s book I most appreciate is the section on forgiveness. He wisely insists there can be no true lovingkindness (compassion) without forgiveness.  Here are some insights from his book:

    “Forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, accepting, denying, or numbing yourself to pain. If someone hurts you, it is unreasonable to think that you can just forget it and move on. Forgetting is not a matter of will. You cannot forget on command. Neither can you will yourself not to feel hurt when a hurtful act is recalled. Nor would it be wise to do so.”

    “When it comes to forgiveness, memory is not your enemy, though obsessing over memories may be.”

    “Spacious mind feels everything; it simply clings to nothing….allows all feelings to arise, notes and learns from these feelings, and then allows them to fade….Forgiveness is letting go. Letting go means you do not cling to memories and feelings.”

    Shapiro has more to say, of course, but I hope these few tidbits provide some food for thought, especially when you find yourself struggling with the need to forgive self or others. 

    I also hope this month of October brings you renewed inner zest and an ever fuller harmony with your deepest self and with the Holy One.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
November 2007

    Not long ago, I gave a seminar for chaplains of a large health care system. I enjoyed both their ethnic and religious diversity. Among the group were men and women from Kenya, Colombia, Poland, Ireland, Ukraine, India, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. The staff decided to have a fun time after lunch to encourage the chaplains to relax. They invited the group to play charades. I was happy about that decision because it’s difficult to speak after lunch and keep the group awake! 

    The decision to play charades turned out to be an awakening event for me, as well. I learned a lot by observing the group. A number of the chaplains had never heard of the game but they eagerly entered into it. Every table was given seventeen slips of paper, one for each of the titles to my books. The room that previously contained sedate chaplains suddenly came alive. What a hilarious time they had. I looked to see a rabbi dancing around the room with his hands held high in the air, trying to act out “The Cosmic Dance.”  Another person was attempting to get people to recognize “May I Walk You Home?” by walking arm in arm with someone. Laughter erupted everywhere and easy delight spread across the chaplains’ faces. Later that evening I reflected on the day and thought about what a gift laughter is for us human beings. When we laugh, our spirits seem to grow wings and take the burdens of the day away from us for awhile.

    Laughing at ourselves is a healthy experience, too. I had an opportunity to do this a few weeks before the chaplains’ seminar. When I was with a group of UCC ministers, I spoke with them about our “persona” and how difficult it is to discover and claim more than who we now think we are.  At the break, a minister told me he had a story about “personas” and proceeded to tell me about a time in the airport when another minister pointed out two nuns to him. He was surprised she recognized the women as nuns because they wore nothing resembling a habit and he asked her how she knew. The minister replied, “Oh, that’s easy: “Hair too short, skirt too long, shoes too flat!”  I laughed heartily as I looked at what I was wearing and admitted that his comment was, ah, yes, very true.

    November is a month of Thanksgiving here in the USA. Perhaps this year we can be especially grateful that we have laughter in our world to ease our woes and to keep the dance of hope alive in us.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
December 2007

    In her Advent book, Night Visions, Jan Richardson refers to a story Kathleen Norris narrates in Dakota. An old monk, who was trained to welcome every guest as another Christ, tells a younger monk: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, “Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?” 

    Richardson goes on to write, “Those who welcomed Jesus – the angels, the shepherds, the Magi – readily recognized him and knew the import of his arrival. They greeted him joyfully with their songs, their presence, their gifts. The rest of us sometimes have a more difficult time welcoming Christ into our midst, particularly when he arrives in the guise of one who seems radically different from us or who gets under our skin or who angers us or who confronts us with parts of ourselves we don’t want to see.” 

    This major theme of Advent, hospitality, is my focus for this December. Spiritual hospitality is about welcoming with kindness, allowing gracious openness for another to enter the room of one’s heart. I think of the welcome of Mary’s womb where she nourished Love into human form. I remember how Advent today is not about preparing for the coming of the infant Jesus. This human Child came long ago. Rather, Advent extends an invitation to reawaken to the mystical Christ (the Spirit of the Risen One) living on in us.

    What this means for me is a daily renewal and intention to be a welcoming presence. This resolve challenges my judgments of others, loosens my grip on my grudges, and requires me to soften my hardened heart toward certain individuals and groups. Because of this intention of mine, I have placed one word on my prayer altar this Advent:  ACCEPT.  It’s a small word with big potential. If I truly live this word formed of six simple letters, it could change significantly how I experience both Advent and Christmas this year. 

    To close these ponderings, I share with you a part of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem from 19 Varieties of Gazelle. 
           
                        The Arabs used to say,
                        When a stranger appears at your door,
                        feed him for three days
                        before asking who he is,
                        where he’s come from,
                        where he’s headed.
                        That way, he’ll have strength
                        enough to answer.
                        Or, by then you’ll be
                        such good friends
                        you don’t care

    This Advent, I hope we will all “feed some strangers” until they become “good friends!”

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
January 2008

    No matter how my life is unfolding, I always look forward to greeting a new year. Its open space and fresh prospects instill renewed hope in my soul. A new year provides an opportunity to re-establish and reclaim what keeps me balanced and growing. One of my friends reminded me she doesn’t “do resolutions” because she tends to never keep them. She’s not alone. I read recently that studies show almost 80% of new year’s resolutions will be broken before the month is over. I don’t do resolutions either but I do make affirmations each January. These are simple statements in the present tense about what I believe and hope for the coming year. I find affirmations extremely helpful. Why? A few lines from Awakening Into Oneness best explain their value:

            …a life without a vision is like a journey without a destination.
            It is the vision that we have for our life that gives meaning to our existence.
            The greater the vision, the greater the human being you become. 

    Usually I make four or five affirmations regarding my vision for the year. Unlike resolutions, it’s not so much about “keeping them” as it is about believing in their possibilities, holding the vision near to heart each day. That’s the key. Affirmations require attention to them every day. Mine are on an index card in my morning prayer book, as well as on the front page in my journal. That way I have two good reminders to help me repeat the affirmations regularly. 

    You are probably wondering “what are her affirmations?” I’m still not sure about all of them but I do know that the first and most central will be: “I am in union with Sophia (Holy Wisdom). She sustains me.” This affirmation continues year after year as most essential and vital to my existence. I’m thinking another affirmation will be: “I am going toward that which repels me.”  That’s a toughie. But my vision of growing as a person of unconditional love has to include greater welcome of people and situations I’d rather avoid, such as irritable postal clerks and thoughtless neighbors. So, gulp, this will probably be my second affirmation.

    What about you? How will your vision of life direct you in this new year? Whatever you decide, may your journey of 2008 be one of revitalizing transformation.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
February 2008

    It’s February - time to greet those dear to our hearts with affection and gratitude on Valentine’s Day. Lent also begins this year in February. I see a strong link between these two events. Each calls us to reflect on who we love and how we love. In my new book, Open the Door: a journey to the true self,  (due out next Sept.) I wrote a section on selfless love. This month I decided to share some thoughts from that part of the book with you in hopes that you might be encouraged in your efforts to love well. The following comes from Open the Door.

    On April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech massacre occurred in which a distraught student went on a shooting rampage, coldly killing fellow students. As many as fifteen were saved from death by an instinctively protective and caring English professor. Liviu Librescu pressed his body against the door to his classroom while he urged his students to jump out a window to safety. This professor, a Romanian Jew who survived the Nazis in his homeland years earlier, died in his classroom after the killer shot through the door that Librescu was holding shut.

    Self-less love is real. In spite of the horrors of war and other brutal ways that humans treat one another, love is possible. Unselfish people reside everywhere. They love unconditionally, dedicate themselves to alleviating suffering, are willing to give their all for another, intent on being life-givers and spirit-transformers. These are not “do good, holier than thou,” people. No, this kind of love is seared by trials, purified by personal growth, shaped by persistent re-dedication and self-giving that goes beyond required duty. Each day people on this planet open the door of their hearts and love pours forth. No matter how discouraged we might get about the world’s violence and hatred, let us remember that generous love thrives in kind souls and expresses itself daily.

    Selfless love does not come about overnight. For most, it takes a lifetime of effort. Yet, nothing is more central to Christian life than other-centered love. “This is the first and last vocation of every Christian, to love, and all other vocations are only a shell in which this vocation, to love, is protected….,” writes Caryll Houselander. “Love, and love alone, can make life welcome to us; we can help one another by love, as never before; nothing else can comfort, encourage, be patient and heal, as love can do now.”

    Our deeds of love might not be as enormous as Liviu Librescu’s but they still contain great value. The unselfish giving and support we offer occurs within our homes and workplaces, in local supermarkets and on freeways, in hospitals, restaurants and other common places of personal encounter. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, personified selfless love. She was convinced that each act of love had a far reaching effect: “If we all carry a little of the burden, it will be lightened. If we share in the suffering of the world, then some will not have to endure so heavy an affliction... You may think you are alone. But we are all members of one another. We are children of God together.”

    Let’s join with one another this February and bring as much love as possible into our pained and wounded world. I believe our selfless caring and kindness can make a significant difference.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
March 2008

Going from this place to another place
is like the bird in winter
who remembers the beauty of her Springtime nest
just to keep herself from freezing. 

                           - Nancy Wood

    On a recent February morning, I groused about the nasty winter weather as I walked into our 7:00 a.m. prayer group. We already had almost 50 inches of snow since November and the air was again filled with the white stuff. I struggled to drive across town on streets still icy from the freezing rain a few days before. As far as I was concerned, winter had become a royal pain in the you-know-what. To my surprise, Kathi (our leader that day) invited us to look out the window at the beauty of the softly falling snow. She commented on the splendor of the large, intricately designed snowflakes that landed on her car’s cold
windshield that morning. 

    “Wow,” I thought. “Guess it’s time for a little attitude change.” Then, Kathi encouraged us to spend our time of silent prayer by reflecting on a positive memory of winter. Amazingly, as soon as I went deeper into the silence, I entered into a lovely, sensual scene of my childhood winters on the farm. I could visualize and smell the delicious fried dough bread
covered with sugar that my mother made on snowy days. I saw her giving me some to take to my father out in his shop. There I found the fragrance of wood burning in the old pot-bellied stove that kept Dad warm while he worked. As I beheld this lovely memory, my disgust of winter fell away, replaced by a. soft gratitude.  I was able to re-focus on winter’s wonder rather than on its inconvenience.

    That’s the power of memory. Not all memories are such pleasant ones, though. Sometimes our recollections bring forth hurtful experiences from the past. The memories of a friend of mine stir up anger and resentment about harmful behavior of a family member.
But these memories also bring her a continued opportunity to heal. Each returning memory allows her to re-choose the forgiveness she initially extended, rather than hanging on to the soreness of the past.

    As I reflect on the gift that memory brings us, here is something I wrote some time ago:

    Our ability to remember is a precious gift. It is in remembering our blessings that our  hearts are filled with gratitude. Without memory we would be unable to savor the good  things that have happened to us and for us. Without memory we would be unable to be healed from past painful situations. Memory can bless us or haunt us, depending on what   stirs inside our mind, and how we receive it and live with it.  …be the gatekeeper of these memories. Catch the ones that draw forth and enhance your core goodness. Savor them.
    Let these blessed memories fill you with hope.
   (The Cup of Our Life)

    When we keep good memories alive, they nourish our hope. March is a season of fresh life in this part of the world. Like Nancy Wood’s bird in winter, we recall spring’s promise of green vitality, budding flowers, increased warmth, rain’ fragrance, and the freedom to walk without falling on icy sidewalks or getting stuck on snowy streets. This promise doesn’t hurry winter away but it helps us continue to enter into “what is” and to find the beauty within it.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
April 2008

    Recently I offered a seminar at the Spiritual Directors International Conference in Maryland. I had the good fortune of being able to hear the keynote speaker. At the end of the talk we were asked to gather at our tables for dialogue. As this was announced, about 50 persons got up and walked out. My first thought was “Well, what does this say about spiritual guides if they are not even open to dialoguing with others?”  Within a minute I checked my mind’s harsh judgment and thought of other options for why they might have left: needed a bathroom break, had a phone call to make, have a bad back that needs tending,  have a talk to prepare, etc. 

    That afternoon at my seminar I spoke on the topic of “compassion.”  One of the key aspects of this beautiful quality is non-judgment. I told the group of how my mind had immediately started judging those who left the dialogue time in the morning. During the break at my seminar, a lovely, dark haired woman came up to me smiling and said, “I was one of those fifty. I hated to leave and tried to do so quietly. I had to make an international phone call.”  Then, I was the one to smile and said “Yes, so much for the old mind doing that instant judging of others.” 

    Elizabeth Gilbert has a great section in Eat, Pray, Love in which she writes about the false and unhealthy judgments the mind easily makes. Gilbert is learning to meditate and has become aware of how many things she harbors in her mind. She writes: “So I’ve started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: “I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.”  I am trying to follow suit and not harbor unkind judgments anymore. Like Gilbert, this takes a lot of practice and constant alertness.

    I also read a superb story of how crazy our mind operates in judgment-making in Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s The Sacred Art of Loving Kindness. He writes about a friend who was deeply hurt by a drawing his kindergarten son had made of him. He described his son’s drawing as “all bloated and green.” The friend was overweight and often used the phrase “green with envy” in talking about people who didn’t have to worry about their weight. His wife put the drawing on the refrigerator and the man figured she was trying to keep him from “foraging for food” in the fridge. The friend gets angrier as he talks to Shapiro about the drawing and adds that the man in his son’s drawing is wearing a big purple suit. At this point, Shapiro starts to laugh and says, “That drawing’s not about you. It’s the Hulk.” Sure enough, when his friend asks the son about the drawing, it is the Hulk, not him at all. His judgments were totally wrong.

    Our minds are amazing gifts. They offer us marvelous insights but they can also lead us astray and keep us from being loving human beings. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m not going to let a day go by with out being attentive to the “stuff” that stirs in my mind. It’s the only way I’ll grow in compassion for self and others.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
May 2008

    In March of 2007, I was in San Antonio attending WomenSpeak, a stimulating conference in which 1,000 women from all over the world participated. Soon after arriving at my hotel, I paused to read USA Today. My heart leapt when I read an article about a new bicycle route - not because I’m a bicyclist but rather, because I have been searching for a path in America that could become like that of the soul-touching Spanish Camino that I walked four years earlier. The route I read about in USA Today traces paths of the Underground Railroad and has been mapped from Mobile Alabama (a busy port for slavery) to Lake Huron Bay in Ontario where many slaves found freedom. This route has been established to “honor the bravery of those that fled from bondage and those that provided shelter.”  (Adventure Cycling Association)

    Upon reading about this new bike route, I thought, “Maybe this is the American camino.” That evening at the opening of the Conference, I was stunned. The first part of the program was that of a one woman drama by Valerie Tutson, a poignant and heart-rending account of a slave woman and her fear-filled, courageous flight to freedom. “That’s it!” a voice inside of me exclaimed. Ever since, I have been convinced that I need to pursue walking on this path that holds the painful memory and brave spirit of those who traveled the perilous roads.

    So, here I am, leaving May 6th to walk the route for two weeks in Alabama with dear friend and writing colleague, Paula D’Arcy. This walk promises to be challenging. Unlike Spain, there are no designated places for lodging nor easily obtainable water. Because it is a bike route, the distances between services are too far for walkers to find food and lodging each day. Paula and I will carry our tents and enough food for several days at a time. Both of us waver between “Are we crazy to do this?” to feeling a strong pull and a deep sureness about our making this journey.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we move along a path that cries out for healing and peace in a world still saturated with racism and division.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
June 2008
 

    In May, I shared about my upcoming walk on the Underground Railroad Route in Alabama. How grateful I am for all who supported Paula and myself through their care, prayers, and donations to the Redbird Foundation. Many aspects of this journey enriched me in a profound way. I can only share a small portion here but I am confident this experience will continue to manifest in my life and writing. In a tiny way, Paula and I felt something of what the slaves seeking freedom experienced: fear (walking along busy highways, wondering where we would find lodging, hoping our water supply & food held out, watching out for rattlesnakes.), discomfort (high heat and humidity, mosquitoes, chiggers, sunburn, foot blisters) and the blessedness of people who offered us safe haven. (No one turned us away when we asked to pitch our tents; some even gave us lodging in their homes.) 

    The following renewed beliefs emerged from this experience:  1)  a vast and deep Presence urges us toward communion with one another; 2) the welcoming heart of divinity is revealed through human hospitality; 3) love is stronger than fear; 4) healing requires entering into past pain and trusting in future freedom. On the walk that I am calling “an American Camino” I realized anew the powerful influence of our country’s history of slavery. How readily one forgets what shaped racism and the social bondage that still influences us today. Unless we remember and enter this painful story, the effects of slavery will continue to blight our society. I came home energized by an evolving mission to encourage the development of a safer walking path so people can walk on this route, whether for a day or for much longer. I will present this plan to city leaders in the Mobile area (where the route begins) with the hope that Paula and my footprints will initiate a walking path that leads to deep and strong healing.

    This healing has already begun. One of the touching moments on our walk was the day a lovely young woman stopped her car and came over to a grassy area near the road where we were resting. She inquired, “You’re the two who were on Fox-Ten news the other night, aren’t you?” With tears streaming down her ebony cheeks, she then thanked us: “…for what you’re doing for our people, for all people everywhere.” We spoke with her a while longer, inspired by her enthusiasm. When she drove away, Paula commented, “If we do nothing else on our walk here, this moment makes it worthwhile, to know we’ve given hope to someone .”

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
July 2008

    In late June, I participated in a four day gathering with eighty members of my religious community. We joined together to look at our life as Servite sisters, to glean the realities of our current community situation, and to peer into the future with hopes of envisioning the kind of transformative presence we can be in our world. What amazed me is how much each of us continues to grow in our ability to enter into dialogue with kindness and a true respect for unique personalities and differences. This genuine acceptance of one another is something that my community members and I have attempted to expand and deepen. Years of being deliberately intentional about this approach have proved helpful. In this most recent gathering, the effects of our efforts were especially visible.

    My religious community is small in number. We’ve known each other for a long time and, thus, we’ve discovered how easy it is to succumb to categorizing one another as a ‘certain type.’ This sort of thing is not unusual. It occurs with any group that lives or works together for a significant period of time. The tendency is to put others in a box and predetermine what they’ll say or do. When this occurs, one assumes the other’s past attitudes and behavior are fixed or static, and stops being open to that person, How energizing and encouraging when this judgment does not happen.

    What does it take to be able to talk freely with others whose perspective diverges from my own?  Respect for the other person.  Trust in another’s good intention.  Willingness to be vulnerable. Focused, compassionate listening. A non-judgmental attitude. A posture of curiosity rather than defensiveness. None of these qualities are easily acquired but each one grows and matures with deliberate practice.

    As I think about what happened with my community, I look at our global situation and see that the experience of my community’s gathering is not unique. It is reflective of numerous groups who are intentionally focusing on unity within diversity. This development gives me hope. I believe there’s a growing consciousness that the our planet and it’s inhabitants will survive only if we approach those different from ourselves with openness and a willingness to listen with a non-defensive posture. The only way this will take place, of course, is by individuals being willing to enter into this challenging process. Let’s hope more and more will deliberately do so.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
August 2008

    While traveling a week ago, I stayed overnight at a motel. The next morning I arose and went outdoors for my usual morning walk. The motel was situated along a busy highway, as many motels are, and I presumed I’d need to walk along a street paralleling the noisy road. While this did not appeal to me, I was resigned to the reality. I started walking on the street and soon came across a line of semi-trucks with the motors running. Something inside urged me to change directions and get away from the racket so I turned around and walked another way. Imagine my utter amazement when I got to the back side of the motel and discovered a serene, small lake there, hidden from view by a thick row of trees. Not only that, there was a brand new walking path around the lake. My heart did a flip-flop of joy and off I went, much more contentedly.

    As I walked around the lake, I thought of how readily most of us get into predictable patterns of thinking and acting. We grow accustomed to the way we view our world, what we expect to have happen, and how we respond day by day. This habituated approach becomes deadening for our personal growth. We can gradually become an unconscious robot going through the routine of our lives. I happened to “get lucky” that morning in Minnesota when I turned and went in another direction. I could easily have missed the tranquility and beauty of the lake had I not stepped out of my rut of believing I had to use a noisy street for walking. This simple incident gave me a sharp nudge to not get stuck in the groove of everyday habits and unconsciously-sought security.

   Growth takes effort. This life-long endeavor requires constantly freeing oneself from what rusts the mind and dulls the heart. It’s all too easy to fall into those familiarized patterns that suffocate  and keep us from the vast expanse of life waiting to stretch and grow us.  I encourage each of us this month of August to get out of our routines, to step aside from our habitual way of going along in life. Now might be the time to read a book on a topic we normally avoid, or sit by someone new or less familiar at a conference or family get together. Perhaps our move away from routine will be to change the way we act toward others. Maybe we’ll try some food we’ve never considered part of our diet, visit a historical site in our area we’ve taken for granted and never explored, or simply take a new route home from work. We could pray in a different format or explore some facet of spirituality we’ve ignored. Whatever we do this month, let’s hope it wakes us up and sparks a new energy to be our most alive and thriving self.

                                                                    ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
September 2008

    Not long ago a friend of mine invited me to her home to view a marvelous scene. A pair of cardinals had built their nest in a small maple tree right outside Mary’s bedroom window. She was privileged to watch the progression from nest building to egg laying, and now was able to see the regular feeding of the two chicks. I arrived on a rainy Wednesday morning when the mother cardinal was on the nest, keeping the two babies warm. I didn’t wait for very long before the papa cardinal flew in with a beak full of food. As soon as he arrived, a wide open mouth instantly appeared above the rim of the nest. Papa stuffed the gathered goodies in mama’s beak and then she dropped it into that baby’s spacious mouth.

    All this seems like such a simple event. It was. And, yet, it wasn’t. I’ve thought often about what I observed as I looked in awe out Mary’s window.  Something spiritually deep and universal lay beneath the bird feeding scene. Surely what I saw was about trust and being dependent upon those providing sustenance. The scene was also about devoted and dedicated parenthood. Probably more than anything else, though, I re-learned an essential lesson about the act itself of receiving spiritual nourishment. If the baby bird had not risen up and opened its mouth wide, it would not have received the food ready to be given.  Similarly, unless I open wide my mind and heart, I will miss the countless opportunities that are ready to nurture and sustain my inner self.  There is no lack of food for spiritual growth if only I am open to receive that nourishment.

    Two days after I saw her family of cardinals Mary sent me an email. She announced that one of the little ones was sitting on the edge of the nest, looking astonishingly healthy and ready for flight. I thought to myself: “Like that little bird, I will gain strength for my inner freedom if I remember who it is that feeds my soul, and if I am willing to accept what is offered.” As Psalm 81 declares: “I am your God…  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” (v.10)

    When I am truly open to the divine Nourisher, my spirit receives what is needed to soar with strong wings. 

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
October 2008

    This past week I’ve been cleaning out stuffed file drawers. Old talks containing notes I will not use anymore, copies of articles that outgrew their usefulness, and numerous other piles of “stuff” found their way to the recycling bin. What brought me to this frenzy of sorting, sifting and discarding was the basic need for more file space. I’d run out of places to put stacks of papers and the office floor was getting pretty crowded! Another four drawer file seemed the answer but I  decided I was definitely not going to buy one more thing for storage. Instead, I would get rid of what took up too much room. Which brings me to the point of this month’s reflection.  How much is too much? When do we stop filling up the spaces of our lives with material things and start living with what we have? 

    The current financial situation in our country gives cause for great concern, both nationally and globally. I wonder for those of us who live in the wealthy United States if the financial scare possibly includes a positive aspect. Might it be a warning to us that we need to reconsider what we truly need in order to live? What if we had to do with less? A lot less. What if material things became significantly less important to us?

    I have neighbors in an apartment complex about half a block away whom I both admire and envy whenever I pass by. In late afternoon and evening, I often see people of various ages gathered on the lawn or the parking lot. Teenagers play ball with young children or push them on the swings. Grandmothers with colorful scarves wrapped around their heads sit in circles, holding babies on their laps. This vibrant group consists of mostly Bosnian and Sudanese immigrants. They have fewer material belongings than those of us born and raised in America, but I think they have something a lot of us seem to have lost: a conviction that true happiness does not come from external possessions.

    Whenever I visit a developing country, I come home ready to dispose of my many unnecessary possessions but it’s astounding how quickly I forget that resolution. Our American culture clamors for me to buy and buy, no matter how much I already possess. I still give in to the subtle, consumerist voice urging me to “build the economy” and get something new. 

    What will it take to get me, and many like me, to stop? When will each of us turn to what is truly of worth and use our time in ways that promote better relationships and community spirit? When will we pass by what we want, (but do not need), and leave it out of the shopping cart? I hope we do not have to wait for a huge financial catastrophe to force us to make valuable choices that we could have made without such a disaster.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
November 2008

    Have you found your way into the heart of a thick grove of trees where you can lie down and melt into its peacefulness? Until late October, I had not done so for many years. The opportunity arose when I spent five days in retreat at a contemplative center near Easton, Kansas.  This section of the state contains treasured woodland filled with trees of various types. The area that most attracted my deeper self was a thick stand of juniper, spruce, and pine. The first day of retreat the wind roared wildly as I walked along the rim of a large meadow. The whoosh of the wind through the trees beckoned me. When I reached the grove, I stood for a moment in gratitude for its green beauty. I then continued to walk alongside the trees until the idea came that I’d like to go inside to see how it felt in there.

    Easier thought than done. Many lower branches were brown and brittle, tightly woven into one another. I searched for an open entrance but none appeared. Eventually, I made my way in by pushing aside the dead branches and stooping as low as I could. A dozen scratches later, there I stood inside the heart of the grove. The tranquil stillness amazed me. Most of the lower branches were not even moving although the wind high above kept its wild pace. I lay down on the ground and absorbed the wonder of it all.

    As I lay there on my back I noticed all sorts of things above me – single spider threads spun between branches, several sprigs of bittersweet whose berries the wind had not yet claimed, chickadees and sparrows busily searching for food, autumn leaves that somehow landed inside the grove and rested on welcoming branches.

    Later, as I departed from that sacred space, I realized that making my way into the center of the closely knit trees is much like my daily meditation. When I begin this practice, I look for “a way in.” This comes through deliberate attention to my posture and to the rhythm of my breath. Finding my way in to the center takes considerable practice. I have to bend low and admit I cannot do this on my own, that a Presence greater than myself guides me. And those scratches, they’re like the never ceasing distractions that arise as I go toward the tranquility of the center. Once I give myself over to the inner stillness, sometimes aspects of myself and life that I rarely notice take on clarity. And then, there are those rare moments when I let go of all that my life consists of and simply allow myself to rest in the deep peace at the core of my being.

    Each of the remaining days of my Kansas retreat I returned to the grove, entered it carefully, lay down on my back, relaxed and dwelt in peace. In the same way,  I intentionally come to my place of meditation now that I am back home. I enter the grove of my soul and give myself to the Stillness dwelling in that secret region, calling to me: “Come!”

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
December 2008

    While preparing for an Advent retreat two weeks ago, I came across a beautiful story in Carmen Lampe’s Children and Family Urban Ministries newsletter. Some years ago, a five year old boy named Emilio drew a stick-figure picture of a tall Black man and a small Brown boy. When asked about it, he responded, “I wish that I could meet Martin Luther King.”  Last year Emilio was in sixth grade and went with other children to Simpson College to take part in a march to end “Isms” such as racism, sexism, classism, etc.  To Emilio’s surprise, the story picture he drew when he was five was shown to the crowd that gathered. Later, Emilio held the picture close to himself and exclaimed, “I can’t believe I did this. I must have had an expanded heart!”

    “An expanded heart” – I love that phrase and what it implies. It’s going to be my focus during this Advent season as I renew my hope of welcoming the Christ in every person who is a part of my life.  I hope that my heart can expand wide enough to receive what is needed to be Christ-like, open fully enough to accept those who differ from me, strong enough to endure what it takes to be kind, and large enough to give generously.

    I offer you a prayer that seems appropriate for this time of year. This is from a book of prayers written in 1949. The content is superb but I did edit the language a bit to fit more easily into our current mode of expression.  May this time of welcoming Love be an opportunity for each of us to expand our hearts.

O Divine Love, you stand everlastingly outside the closed doors of our souls,
knocking ever and again.  Will you not now give me grace to throw open all
my soul’s doors? Today let every closed door that has hitherto robbed my
life of air and light and love be opened.

Give me an open mind, O God, a mind ready to receive and to welcome such
new light of knowledge as it is your will to reveal to me. Let not the past ever
 be so dear to me as to set a limit to the future. Give me courage to change
my mind, when that is needed. Let me be tolerant to the thoughts of others
and hospitable to such light as may come to me through them.

Give me open eyes, O God, eyes quick to discover your indwelling in the
world which you have made. Let all lovely things fill me with gladness and
let them uplift my mind to your everlasting loveliness.  Forgive my past
blindness to the grandeur and glory of nature, to the charm of little children,
to the sublimities of human story, and to all the intimations of your presence
which these things contain.

Give me open hands, O God, hands ready to share with all who are in want
the blessings with which you have enriched my life. Deliver me from all
meanness and miserliness. Let me hold my money in stewardship and all
my worldly goods in trust for you.

A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
January 2009

    Three phrases are twiddling around in my mind as we begin 2009. The first is: “Be aware.” An inspiring article in Shift, the Noetic Science magazine, describes the compelling spirituality of Mother Maya (Maya Tiwari). She is quoted as saying:

“There’s only one thing that we can control in the human life, and that one thing is not our mind. It’s not a thought, it’s not our breath, it’s not our responses, it’s not our actions. It is the cultivation of personal awareness, the moment-to-moment awareness of who we are – in charge of our life, in charge of our purpose, in charge of our path.”  (Mother Maya)

    Attentiveness is vital for spiritual growth. As I enter this new year, I yearn to brush off my non-awareness. When I am aware of who I am and how I am, then my thoughts, emotions, and actions contribute to my own and others’ well-being, rather than take away from it. (Oh, how vehemently my meet-deadlines, press-forward, hurry-up life protests against being aware!)

    The second phrase is: “Appreciate each moment.” I found this in Taro Gold’s lovely little book Living Wabi Sabi:the true beauty of your life. Here’s what the author writes:

Appreciate this and every moment, no matter how imperfect, for this moment is your life. When you reject this moment, you reject your life. You don’t have to settle for this moment, you are free to steer a different course, but for now this moment is yours, so be mindful to make the most of it. (Taro Gold)

Of course, to appreciate each moment in 2009, I’ll need to be aware of it, won’t I?

    The third phrase is: “Love Mystery.”  This encouraging suggestion came when I was absorbing the creative and wise insights posted on Jan Richardson’s website, The Painted Prayerbook. Here is a story from Walking Words that Jan relates.

Pilar and Daniel Weinberg’s son was baptized on the coast. The baptism taught him what was sacred. They gave him a sea shell: “So you’ll learn to love the water.”  They opened a cage and let a bird go free: “So you’ll learn to love the air.” They gave him a geranium: “So you’ll learn to love the earth.” And they gave him a little bottle sealed up tight: “Don’t ever, ever open it. So you’ll learn to love mystery.”  (Eduardo Galeano)

    I am learning to love mystery. I value the secret hidden in the heart of life. I respect the unknown in the depths of humanity. I relish questions that have no answers. I treasure the Great Love whose presence is quite beyond reach, yet can be intimately experienced by each of us.

    Can you see why these three phrases have insisted on coming into the new year with me? What are your three phrases that promise to guide your inner journey as you step into 2009?

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
February 2009

    Each year February rolls around, my thoughts immediately turn to Valentine’s Day. Consumerism has turned this event into somewhat of a fetish but, no matter. I am still pleased by this celebration because it calls me to reflect on who I love, how I love, and why I love.

    Recently, when I was in my “clean and pitch” mode, I found a file with some thoughts I’d penned after my aunt Margy’s death. She was a favorite of mine and died far too young of Alzheimer’s disease. In her earlier years, she was a vibrant, fun-loving person but when I went to visit her in the Care Center, I met a woman who did not recognize me, could not carry on a meaningful conversation or give me any direct satisfaction that the time spent with her would be remembered or appreciated. Her body was there but the woman I once knew seemed to be gone.

    Of course, what I could not observe was aunt Margy’s soul, the deepest part of who she was and is. I could not see the pure love that resided there in her wonderful depths. I could not see the clearness of heart, her union with God, or the bond she kept with each person she loved. How easily I can forget about “soul” in this world of ours that is caught up in the externals of life, in money and things, in prestige and reputation, in getting things done and in having something to show for one’s efforts. How quickly I can forget that there is in every person something deep, strong and true that can never be destroyed by Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental illness, or anything else that causes one’s personality to change or to withdraw.

    Perhaps the greatest gift aunt Margy gave to those of us who loved her was her Alzheimer’s disease. For it was then that she allowed us the opportunity to know what it is like to love unconditionally, to give without expecting anything in return. This is the highest and most difficult form of love. We truly know we love someone when we go to be with them and receive nothing back, not even the gift of their conscious presence. Aunt Margy could not do anything for those who visited her. She could not even remember them. It’s good for me to think about this when I get into a snit about not receiving something “in return” for an attempted kindness or an exerted effort to be there for another. Every February my heart has to “clean up its act’ again, to check out the who, how and why of my love.

    One of the quotes I’ve often returned to at this time of year is by the Jungian scholar, Robert A. Johnson. In his book, We, he writes about making oatmeal as an act of love:

Stirring oatmeal is a humble act –not exciting or thrilling. But it symbolizes a relatedness that brings love down to earth. It represents a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night…. Jung once said that feeling is a matter of the small. And in human love, we can see that it is true... Love is content to do many things that ego is bored with. Love is willing to work with the other person’s moods and unreasonableness. Love is willing to fix breakfast and balance the checkbook. Love is willing to do these “oatmeal” things of life….."            

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
March 2009

    Lent is here. My understanding of “Lent” is that of a time when Christians renew their commitment to animate the qualities and virtues that Jesus taught and lived. Lent reminds us Christians that we not only say we are followers of Christ, we are to revive our efforts to live that way. And what is it to live as a Christian? I ask myself this question every Lent. When I do so, I am quickly called to something that needs restoring or enlivening in my own expression of Christianity.

    Recently, I’ve been reading the Essential Writings of Jean Vanier (Orbis Books, Spiritual Masters Series) and have been inspired by every page. The French Canadian Vanier is the founder of L’Arche communities for people of all faiths and traditions who “have been wounded in their minds and psyches.” I’ve been touched by his attitude and approach to those with mental disabilities, by his tenderness and care. His is never one of pity or condescension, nor of thinking he has more to offer to them than they do to him. Here is some of what he writes:

    I have learned much from them and feel deeply indebted to them. They have shown me what it is to live simply, to love tenderly, to speak in truth, to pardon, to receive openly, to be humble in weakness, to be confident in difficulties, and to accept handicaps and hardships with love. And, in a mysterious way, in their love they have revealed Jesus to me. 

    It was there that I discovered the two worlds that exist side by side; the world of the “normal”: people, who seek social status and are motivated by ambitions of efficiency and riches, and the “abnormal” world of the despised, the handicapped, the “not-adapted-ones,” be they prisoners, prostitutes, or mentally sick. 

    I began to see the deep wounds caused by the lack of compassion of the “normal” and “good” people; I began to sense the fear that seemed to motivate them.

    In many of my past Lents, I (ego) set out to DO something. I(ego) decided how I wanted to grow and made a plan toward it. This Lent I am opening myself to how God wants to lead me. What am I to learn through those who are “other” than I am?  When I hear or read the news, when I meet people in stores, at meetings and conferences, in my own family or community, what will they teach me? Will I allow them to draw me toward greater spiritual transformation? Will I be open to their helping me be aware of how I am to live in the manner of Christ? 

    This is what stirs in me as I consider Lent this year. I wonder what will happen. Can I shush my ego long enough to really listen and be vulnerable? When Easter comes, will more of Christ’s understanding, non-judgment, openness, acceptance and kindness have become part of me? 

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
April 2009

    One evening after dinner last week I went for a walk in the neighborhood. The warming sun sat openly in the western sky, an hour before setting. The streets held fewer cars and a lovely quiet filled the air. As I ambled alongside a rugged stone wall, unexpected beauty braked me to a standstill. Within the wall’s aged stones, narrow crevices allowed a strong line of succulent leaves to peek out at me. I reached over and let my fingers run softly across their bright green surface. Each thick little leaf felt strong and vibrant to my touch. Without a doubt, winter was past. Spring had arrived. But more than that. In the moment of laying my fingers on life, hope hidden in an ancient truth rushed through my soul: life follows death. Something new eventually comes forth from what has lain fallow. Light calls forth what darkness has cradled. The fresh growth in the decaying wall assured me that any winter residue left in my spirit could be the source of something life-giving.

    Just a few days earlier I led a retreat focused on the theme of life-death-rebirth. Now, here I was, learning the lesson for myself. On the Christian calendar, the liturgical season of Easter is a time of restoration, urging renewed belief in the possibility of life stirring amid that which is required to be let go. This is the time to especially ponder the pattern of life/death/rebirth in the journey of Jesus, and in one’s personal history, as well.

    During the retreat, a number of persons who had experienced acute suffering spoke with me. Each one reminded me of the Easter story. Bob explained that five years earlier he learned that he would probably not live due to his cancer. Today he stands tall and healthy. His new life is not only physical. Bob had an inner rebirth: “I changed significantly. I learned what it is like to be vulnerable, to be the one to receive rather than the strong one who is always giving.”

    Soon after Bob spoke with me, Laurie described her story of a gradual resurrection: “I kept shaking my head ‘yes’ to all you said about life-death-rebirth. My teenage son died suddenly from meningitis three years ago. Initially, his death crushed me, but due to good friends and prayer, I am emerging from the pain. Today I help lead a group that supports parents coping with the loss of their children. I know I can go on. There is still something to live for.” 

    Here is how Barbara Brown Taylor writes about life/death/rebirth:

I want a God who will cut my losses and cushion my failures, a God who will grant me a life free from pain. I want a God who will rescue me from death, who will delete it from the human experience and find another way to operate. What I, what all of us, have instead is a God who resurrects us from the dead, putting an end to it by working through it instead of around it – creating life in the midst of grief, creating love in the midst of despair – resurrecting us from our big and little deaths, showing us by Jesus’ example that the only road to Easter morning runs smack through Good Friday.    

    The Easter story in our story. Have faith. Trust the process. The Resurrected One is with us.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
May 2009

    Not long ago I returned from beautiful Bon Secours retreat center nestled in the lovely countryside of Mariottsville, Maryland.  Spring was alive there. Every tree that could bloom was in its festive color. The birds sang to their mates with passion and the frogs in the pond called ceaselessly to one another. Amid this restful music of nature, I invited the retreatants to open the door of their hearts and discover their goodness, their God-ness. I used several new pieces of music to help deepen the message of coming home to our authentic self. Each song we listened to or sang drew us deeper, called us further, and joined us in a oneness of mind and heart.  In the words and melody of these songs, we drew strength and inspiration to continue the inward journey. When the retreat concluded, I sensed a unity of intention and purpose among us as we reclaimed our goodness and renewed our desire to engage that goodness in the larger sphere of life.

    The central song that weaved through our time together was “Coming Home” by Trish Bruxvoort Colligan, on her CD: Splash. You can find the words to this touching song on her website (the riversvoice) but I’ll print a few lines here to help you see why it meshed well with our retreat:

Coming home, Coming home
To this me that is now in all her glory
Coming home, Coming home
I will be the first to fully claim my story
I will be the first to call this journey holy
I will greet me at the door with arms wide open
.

    The other song that fit well with the theme of coming home to our true self is by Sara Thomsen. Sara’s music continually awakens my heart. In her latest CD, Everything Changes, there’s a song that is simply exquisite. She uses the metaphor of “the dancer” to invite the listener to accept his or her own beauty. Here are two stanzas of the song:

The Beauty of the Dancer, Sara Thomsen

You see the beauty of the dancer                   
You hear the beauty of the song
You feel the beauty all around you
You wonder where do you belong

You are the beauty of the dancer
You are the beauty of the song
You are the beauty all around you
You’re standing right where you belong

    Each time I hear these two songs my heart circles around and heads for home. Just imagine the change in our world if people could truly greet themselves with arms wide open, if they could acknowledge and claim the goodness residing within them, if they could believe they contain immeasurable beauty.

    I cannot imagine my life without music in it.  Nor can I imagine a retreat without the gift of this graced resonance.  Music can help to change a heart. It can transform a world.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
June 2009

    There are lessons in life that I continually re-learn. Even though I firmly value these teachings, I easily forget them. Recently, I rediscovered how the gift of beauty awakens and sustains my inner strength. In May, I was part of a pilgrimage to the magnificent cathedral in Chartres. A small group of us were walking there from Rambouillet, close to Paris. Each day consisted of sixteen or more miles as we trekked with our backpacks through the exquisite countryside of France.

    Late one afternoon, we had grown especially weary after walking all day under a warm sun. There were still a few miles to go before we reached our destination. Those who nursed large blisters on their feet trudged even more slowly than those of us who were just plain tired. The lovely Eure river was on our left and kept us company for quite awhile. A woman and two children on bikes passed by us on the road,  stopped, got off the bikes, and went up to the river which was partially hidden by small hedges. They stood there gazing at something on the water. Soon after, a man parked his car and crossed over to stand with them. Of course, then we all joined them to see what they were looking at so intently. To our amazement there were two gorgeous white swans with seven little cygnets swimming in a single line.

    This unexpected sight gifted me with a rush of fresh energy. Beauty had surrounded me throughout the day but this surprising scene gave me the oomph I needed. I’ve continued to hold that image of beauty close to me on my return home. Each time I recall the scene on the river, a burst of satisfaction and encouragement arises. This is how it is with beauty. It returns us to our inner strength, awakens and re-engages us to what is of worth and value. Beauty offers sustaining power when our enthusiasm snails at a tiring pace.

    There is a powerful passage in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. It speaks of beauty’s ability to keep hope alive. When Frankl and his fellow prisoners in the concentration camps experienced desperate, life-threatening conditions, nature’s beauty provided momentary comfort and a necessary distraction from their dire situation.  Frankl writes that when a prisoner experienced the beauty of art and nature…“he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to the Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty.”

    Some form of beauty in life continually presents itself, waits for us to notice, to receive, to accept, to embrace. Beauty is not limited to grand cathedrals, stirring symphonies, or exquisite paintings. My experience has been that beauty often comes in the simplest of forms and in the most unexpected moments. Things like an affirming comment, a line of poetry, an alluring melody, a glimpse of color, an unexpected smile, a gentle embrace of assurance, and numerous other daily encounters, each contains the essence of beauty.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his readers: “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting -- a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”

    The beauty of France’s cathedral remains in my heart. But, most of all, that line of swans in the slow moving river continues to gift me with enduring energy.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
July 2009

If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble,
you won’t have anything to laugh at when you’re old.

    The quote above (from American novelist, magazine & newspaper editor, Edgar Watson Howe) holds a great deal of truth. Not long ago I was sitting around a luncheon table with several of my aunts and my mother’s cousins, eight of them in all, ranging in age from 78 to 91.  I just loved being there with these women, hearing their stories of the past, and joining in their laughter. As I looked around the table that day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the resilient spirit of those present. None of them had easy lives. All were widows. As the oldest daughter, one of the cousins stayed home after high school to help her father take care of her nine siblings when her mother died. Another woman was the primary care-giver of her spouse for seventeen years after his stroke. Others had tended their husbands when they were dying of cancer. One widow was married to an active alcoholic. At one time or another, most had known the hardship of financial insecurity. 

    As I looked at the happy faces of the women present and listened to their jokes and stories of younger years, their easy laughter frequently filled the room. I thought how amazing it was that none of them was bitter, filled with self-pity, resentful, or harboring envy of someone else’s easier times.  Each of them had obviously made their peace with life’s struggles. They left the past behind and looked to the good that life still held for them.  Each one gave me hope and a certainty that none of us need be overcome by adversities.

    While each of these women has a solid religious faith, it is not only this that keeps them happy. Their open-heartedness and ability to laugh has greatly aided them in maintaining a positive outlook. They reminded me that if we forget how to laugh we miss the hidden joy in each day. 

    Laughter brings balance to the heart when troubles weigh down the teeter totter of life. No wonder some of the most popular workshops are those on therapeutic laughter. As one ad puts it: “Laughter registers in the body’s chemistry, reversing unhealthy stress reactions and helps various treatments work better…”  I really don’t need a workshop to convince me of that. All I need is time spent with people whose wit loosens the stronghold of my struggles. A few hearty belly laughs does me as much good as my daily vitamins.

    Most of us take ourselves way too seriously. I know I do. I can’t keep pain and loss from invading my existence but a good sense of humor can keep me from being overburdened by it.  When I find myself becoming anxious, irritated, nervous, or overly concerned about my own or others’ problems, I say to myself: “Lighten up, loosen your tight grip.”  This works…when I remember to do so.

    Comedian Milton Berle quipped, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” Here in the USA, we’re into July, the time of vacations. So, let’s take a “laughter vacation” this month. It will do ourselves, and our world, a lot of good.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
August 2009
 

    Sometimes a line in a poem or a paragraph in a book leaps out and immediately intrigues me. This happened in reading David Whyte’s poem,“Coleman’s Bed.” Whyte’s work has long been a favorite of mine. Here is the stanza that led me into an extended pause of reflection:

Be taught now, among the trees and rocks,
how the discarded is woven into shelter,
learn the way things hidden and unspoken
slowly proclaim their voice in the world.
Find that far inward symmetry
to all outward appearances, apprentice
yourself to yourself, begin to welcome back
all you sent away, be a new annunciation,
make yourself a door through which
to be hospitable, even to the stranger in you.

    I am especially taken with the phrase “apprentice yourself to yourself.” An apprentice is a trainee who still has lots to learn. But imagine, learning it from yourself! Is this a paradox or what?  Actually, it holds a beautiful truth: each of us contains a vast amount of secret resources for our transformation, just waiting to be accessed. This part of our inner being has much to teach us.

    In this current milieu where the vast majority still tend to fall at the feet and idolize popular rock stars and touted gurus, Whyte’s words have tremendous import. Busily adoring what is admired in others, we can fail to realize the worth of what is within our own self. While it is equally true that narcissism, the consistent adoring of self, ought not be encouraged in this unhealed world, we desperately need to access what resides within the temple of our own being.

    Unless we spend time with our own person, deliberately entering into silent pondering, our inner wisdom remains untapped. We will fail to be led by the core of truth residing there, flinging it aside in favor of seeking something elsewhere. When our focus is continually placed outside, we miss hearing the Beloved’s tap on our heart, urging us to value and nurture what lies within.

    Yes, we do need others in our growth process. They can instruct and inspire us to live as our best self, to encourage us by the gleanings from their own lived experience. Whyte urges us to go beyond this: “Be hospitable, even to the stranger in you.” And oh, how much of the “stranger” remains in us! The poet nudges us to come close to this stranger in order to recognize what stirs, motivates, and feeds our thoughts, intuitions, feelings and actions. Only then will we “begin to welcome back” the blessedness that we sent away in favor of seeking what we acclaim in others.

    This month of August my intention is to truly apprentice myself, to listen closely to what breathes in my soul, to “learn the way things hidden and unspoken/slowly proclaim their voice in the world.”  I hope you will join me in your apprenticeship of your own dear self.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
September 2009
 

    One sentence keeps reappearing in my journal each year: “Summer can’t be over yet!”  Even though I thoroughly enjoy the season of autumn, about now I start to begrudge the passing of summer.  But this time, I just might be able to let go of my mournful attachment to summer’s rich abundance of garden products, extended walks, fireflies, cicadas, and long days of light.  I just might be able to enter into autumn with an open mind and a welcoming heart. I owe much of this change in attitude to a message sent to me at just the right time.

    Several weeks ago I received an email from an artist, June Rollins, in Wadesboro, NC, directing me to her website. www.artbyjune.net  I had not known of June’s work until she wrote to me. Even though I was in the middle of a writing project, I followed a nudge to go directly to her website. I thought, “I’ll just take a brief look at one page.”  But like eating a potato chip, I absolutely could not stop with just “one look.”  On and on I scrolled, loving both what I saw and read, my spirit strongly drawn to the reflective insights that accompany each piece of art. I was enthralled with the seeds of June’s life leading to her creations as well as to her view of what came forth from her gifted self.   (http://artsyncmag.com/pages/links/Writers/june_rollins.php)

    So what does this have to do with my letting go of summer?  June Rollins’ work reminds me of the power and wonder of ‘seeing,’ of the kind of observation that is more than simply visual. This deeper seeing starts with the external but, with some contemplative gazing, can draw one to the inner sight of what “is.”  This kind of “seeing” brings one to the inner eye, the one that Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote about in The Little Prince:  “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  I’d adapt that a little bit, because I think we often need the visible to lead us to the invisible. So, in a way, both are intricately united and essential in order to see more deeply into the nucleus of truth and goodness.

    When we look contemplatively, allowing what we see physically to move us to our inner space, we perceive from an intuitive, grace-filled stance. We see what is elusive, non-tangible, yet very real. I  had almost forgotten how much benefit I gain from the external world when I slow down and let my eyes gaze unhurriedly at what I see. This is particularly true of the natural world. Nature has long been a mentor of truth, a companion of beauty, and a reliable source of needed encouragement for me.  (I pray that God may give you a spirit of wisdom… so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you… Eph1:17) When I take the time to live contemplatively amid the pressures of my daily schedule, I find the Source and sustenance I need to live as my best self.

    This gift of seeing is part of every season. If I allow myself to be aware, to do more than simply “look,” I’ll find joy and nourishment in the turning of the seasons. Consequently, I am resolved to move into the coming of autumn with eyes that look clearly and a heart that recognizes the deeper reality.  Goodbye Summer. Hello Autumn. I think I am ready for you.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
October 2009
     

    Good news!  Now That You’ve Gone Home is currently available in bookstores.  This book on grief that I co-authored with Joyce Hutchison arrives at a symbolic time here in midwest USA. Many reminders of death are showing their faces through earth’s participation in the natural turning of another season. The autumn leaves are already layering the lawn and golden soybean fields are readying for harvest.

    Ten years ago Joyce Hutchison and I collaborated on our first book, May I Walk You Home? for caregivers of the very ill. Thousands of readers have since used the stories, meditations and prayers to help them be present to their loved ones in a more meaningful and comforting way.

    Our new book is a companion to May I Walk You Home?.  It has the same kind of format – stories by Joyce H (and others who’ve grieved the loss of a loved one), along with meditations & prayers written by yours truly. Quite honestly, I have been longing for this book to be available. As Joyce H and I prepared the manuscript, I kept thinking of more and more people who’ve had someone die the past year. I believe they will find a comforting kinship in the experiences of grief that are contained in our book. As Joyce H often tells individuals and groups, “You might think you’re going crazy because you can’t concentrate, feel in a fog, and are often overwhelmed by the simplest tasks. It helps to know that others have had similar responses when one of their loved ones died. Then you know you’re not going crazy after all.”

    One of the most touching moments for me in working with the manuscript was reading the story by a mother whose 12 yr old daughter was killed in a car accident. I read this story often as I prepared the meditation and prayer to go along with it. I still weep each time I read the story. The mother does not sentimentalize any part of her story. She simply tells the facts of what happened and how she responded.  I was deeply moved at one of our recent booksignings when this particular mother was present. I looked at her and thought, “Because of her honest story, I can more easily get inside the grief of parents who have lost a child.”

    It’s been such a privilege to write with Joyce Hutchison. I’ve often said that I’ve learned more from her about death and dying than I have from any book. That’s because she has a vast amount of experience – her own widowhood, years of working as director of several hospice houses, and development of palliative care programs for two hospitals.

    You might think that writing a book containing stories of death would be a morbid and dreadful thing to do. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Joyce H has a terrific sense of humor and she also has a deep faith that keeps her emotionally balanced.  One day she was telling me that she absolutely loves Snickers candy bars. She grinned and said, “If I’m in an end of life situation and can’t eat anything, I want you to use a Snickers candy bar instead of lip balm on my parched lips.” 

    Read our book. Let it help you with your own sorrow, or in being present to someone else who grieves. And most of all, keep as much joy in your heart as you can.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
November 2009
     

    November opens with All Saints Day, one of my favorite church feasts. Each year I recall memories of deceased people whose goodness has blessed my life. Last month I read a novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, that reaffirmed the power of memory. In the novel, author Debra Dean tells the story of an elderly Russian woman named Marina who is now in America. She has Alzheimer’s and can’t recall the present but carries with her detailed memories of the past. Marina continually goes back to these memories of when she lived in St. Petersburg during the invasion of the German army in the early 1940’s. As a young woman in her twenties, she had been a docent at the incredible Hermitage Museum.  In order to keep the famous paintings there from being destroyed, the museum workers took the paintings from their frames and hid them from the invaders. 

    During this turbulent time, Marina lived with 2,000 others in the damp, cold basement of the museum.  Facing starvation, seeing people all around her dying, hearing bombs pounding the city, one of her friends encouraged her to “build a memory palace.” Anya says to Marina, “When I was a girl, we made memory palaces to help us memorize for our examinations. You chose an actual place, a palace works best, but any building with lots of rooms would do, and then you furnished it with whatever you wished to remember.  First, you walked through the actual rooms and memorized their appearance. But once you had learned the rooms, in your imagination you could add anything you wish.”

    Marina chose to do this with the famous Hermitage museum. She built a personal Hermitage in her mind and continued to go through the museum as if she was giving a tour, even though the frames were empty. She could describe accurately what was in the frames, so clearly that those who were with her could “see” what was there. Her memory of that beautiful art gave Marina strength to stay alive.

    While this is a novel, it is based on history:  “when the staff of the Hermitage museum packed up all the treasures in the museum, they left the empty frames hanging on the walls. …this was either a pledge that the art would return or it was a practical move to speed up the re-hanging later. Though there was nothing left to see, visitors continued to show up at the museum throughout the war, and one of the curators occasionally gave tours, leading ragged groups of starving Leningraders through the deserted halls and describing the paintings that had once hung inside the frames. It was said that he described the missing paintings so well that his listeners swore that they could see the images.”  (Debra Dean, at the end of the book, telling about her trip to the Hermitage)

    I have applied this concept to my life and the memories of my loved ones who have died. Those I have loved are gone. I have only ‘the frame’ of their lives remaining with me. But my memories can recreate images of what was within that frame. I can recall my dear ones’ goodness, the ways their presence gifted me. My good memories keep them alive in my heart where I continue to unite with them.  

    I hope this November resurrects some inspiring memories for you.

P.S.  I learned that there are three million art and world culture artifact pieces in the Hermitage Art Museum.  Supposedly, if  you spent one minute looking at each item, it would take five years to see it all. You can take a virtual tour of the museum at http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/08/hm88_0.html  It’s worth taking a look, even if you don’t have five years to see everything!

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
December 2009

    Among the green, thriving plants that I brought into the house at the end of summer is an elderly, tattered geranium that’s been in my keeping for what seems like forever. Each autumn, when I think it may be the moment to finally let it go with the frost, I weaken in my decision and take the plant inside for the winter. Last year it was a tall, gangly mess so I cut two of the top stalks off and rooted them in water. In a month or so after I repotted the geranium, a happy surprise of bright, pink blooms filled my grey, winter days.

     That geranium reminds me of the family tree of Jesus. The church season of Advent always includes a reading of his ancestry as recorded in Matthew1:1-17. One would think that this heritage included a gallery of perfect people. Not so. Hidden within the long lineage are personages whose behavior sounds more like that of rogues, liars, and cheats. The family tree begins with Abraham, a fine, faith-filled man but who also acts despicably when he deceives those who would harm him by pawning off his wife Sarah as his sister, giving her to Pharaoh in order to save his own skin. Then there is Jacob who, with his mother Rebecca’s help, steals the birthright of the first-born from his twin brother Esau. Notable King David, the anointed one of God, commits adultery with Bathsheba while her husband is away at war. 

    And there are more… but you get the idea. Who would believe that Jesus would come forth from this family tree? Those of his lineage are good people but they are also imperfect people. They fail. They make mistakes. They deliberately deceive, steal, and use others. None of their sinful behavior ought to be condoned. Yet, we ought also not to condemn them as human beings. Like a raggedy geranium bringing forth beautiful blooms, so an imperfect ancestry can give rise to a tremendous surprise of ultimate goodness.  In this case, the Blessed One we name “Jesus.”

    In this season of Advent when we are encouraged to give more than a ho-hum attentiveness to how Christ comes to dwell with us, we ought not look for his presence in people who are faultless. If we do, we will never find this Radiant Light, because there are no perfect people.
There is no perfect spouse, child, friend, relative, colleague, or anyone else. Sooner or later, we find the chinks and flaws in every personality, including our own.

    In the weeks before Christmas, we will undoubtedly experience a lot of hurrying and scurrying about, too much stress and pressure, and an untold amount of “have to do” things. When this sort of atmosphere crowds our days, our best self easily succumbs to the part of us that is definitely not perfect. The same goes for others. So, let us each make a special effort to go with the flow even when things do not go as we had hoped. We are never to put up with abuse but we can persevere in the midst of less than perfect situations. Now is the time to welcome and accept those whom we wish were more to our liking. To be kind, even when they (or we) say and do things that are extremely aggravating. Let us forego our gripes and complaints and seek, instead, the divine light of the Christ, the ever-present One who waits to be known, welcomed and accepted within the frame of each of our less-than-perfect lives.

    May this Advent season bring us all nearer to the Christ who dwells within us and among us.

                                                                  ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
January 2010

    Each new year extends an invitation to re-enter the process of transformation, for self and for our world. This valuable process involves both a deliberate letting go of the past and an intentional welcoming of what is possible for the future. We stand at the threshold, looking back and looking ahead. We will make choices and decisions in 2010 of how we create our reality. We live on a wounded planet. We share life in a world where there is great suffering of humanity. But we do not despair. The Holy One continues to awaken us. We have what we need to bring peace to our world. This is my prayer for each and all of us:

To let go of the idea that I am separate from the rest of creation.
To welcome the countless ways that unite me with all that exists.

To let go of whatever keeps me indifferent to the suffering of others.
To welcome and act on the compassion and kindness stored within me.

To let go of past woundedness and hurts that I carry.
To welcome my ability to forgive and be healed.

To let go of aversion and avoidance of the unwanted.
To welcome people and events disturbing my comfort zone.

To let go of my inattentiveness to the beauty dwelling in existence.
To welcome the little joys and great wonders that are always present.

To let go of the pull of consumerism on my desires.
To welcome simple living and the bounty to be shared.

To let go of being imprisoned by self-centeredness.
To welcome the ways that life draws my gifts outward.

To let go of what stalls my spiritual growth.
To welcome quiet times to be with the Beloved.

To let go of worry about that which I fret and stew.
To welcome a stronger trust that all shall be well.

To let go of the desire to have a perfect life.
To welcome the taken-for-granted life that I have.

To let go of those who have departed this sphere of life.
To welcome the love and good memories they leave behind.

To let go of the old year’s troubles and burdens.

To welcome the new year with its wide open hope.

  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
February 2010

    Something pretty amazing happened last weekend. I co-facilitated a three day retreat in…get ready for this... a funeral home! That’s right. A mortuary. This retreat had nothing to do with loss and grief. Mary Kay Shanley and I teamed a writing retreat for women. Her husband belongs to the Kiwanis who meet weekly at the funeral home. That’s how we discovered this remarkable place.

    I learned last weekend that I still have more un-boxing to do regarding my perceptions and beliefs about certain things. Death stopped being a fearful thing for me once I trained and volunteered for Hospice. But funeral homes have been off-putting. They’re not one of the places I consider spending time except when it’s out of necessity to honor the dead and comfort mourners.  The funeral home, Hamilton’s on Westown Parkway,  awakened me, - startled me, actually. Over the weekend, I grew to relish that light-filled, beautifully decorated setting: comfortable sofas, soft lighting, fireplaces, a meeting room with two glass walls on either side, one of them offering a view of a lovely garden. All this and more greet the visitor at Hamilton’s.

    The staff’s philosophy and vision upends how death is viewed by many in our western culture. The folks at Hamilton’s do not deny death. Rather, they look at death as a natural part of the journey of life, not as something abhorrent and morbid. They believe in using the space that houses the dead to also house other events of diverse nature. Life and death intertwine comfortably in this funeral home. On Sundays, you’ll find a church service, including a children’s nursery. During the week, quilters, book clubs, and other groups gather in one part of the building while a funeral service is taking place in another section.

    Why am I sharing this with you? We are approaching Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent is a time of intentional renewal to live as our truest self, to live more fully the teachings of Christ. I now know where the focus of my Lenten time will be: establishing greater awareness of my preconceived notions and judgments. Jesus stressed non-judgment (“take the plank out of your own eye”). He lived open-minded, open-hearted. He had the courage to deviate from the acceptable norms of culture that close doors to a wider love. His choices of how to live led to his passion and death on the cross.

    I barely notice when I keep people framed in the tight space of my limited views. Yet, this is exactly how prejudice and racism, anti-immigration sentiment, self-righteous religious hostility, ongoing family feuds, and much more, develop and persist. When I tighten and narrow my gauge of those I accept, I lessen the movement of Christ-like love in our world.

    Lent is a time to renew, to change, to become a person of greater love, and to be willing to pay the price for those changes. Perceptions can alter. Illusions can be recognized for what they are. Judgments can be let go.  Lent is an excellent time to browse inside our mind and heart, to notice what clogs our ability to love, and to release tightly held attitudes that wound our world.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
March 2010
  

    I’m continually amazed by the connections that occur in my life. I no sooner returned from a workshop on spiritual direction (based on “Surrendering to God”) when I opened an email from a middle-aged man facing terminal cancer. I was touched by his magnificent attitude of surrender. He’s been through a huge amount of medical procedures in order to deal with his illness and now knows that not much more can be done. Here is what he wrote to me:

    “We all want to say we "Let go and let God be in control". I've always struggled with that a bit. Well this gets easier when you finally accept that you really have no other options. I have a whole lot of clarity about what does and does not matter these days. I appreciate every day that I have left. I've met people in support groups that just quit living when they get this diagnosis These people just wait to die, or they get mad at the world, and at God. That is sad. I know that my situation is something God is helping me to get through and NOT something he has done to me. I hope to have as much time as possible serving God's purposes here on earth and for spending time with family and friends. I have no fear about the end of my journey here on earth.”

    This man’s courageous, wise response to his suffering reminds me of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his humanness, Jesus did not want to suffer and die. He asked that it be taken away from him. But then he went on to turn his heart over to his Father: “Let  your will be done, not mine.” Jesus trusted that no matter what happened, he could do what lay ahead of him, with the strength and compassion of the One who gave him power to do so. What eventually came from his surrendering was new life. Maureen Conroy puts it this way: “As we admit our powerlessness and surrender to God, true power grows within us – the power to love others, the power to experience God’s love, and the power to love ourselves.”

    Unfortunately, too often people think of “the will of God” as the Holy One shoving bad things into their lives. To accept God’s will is to recognize and accept the loving energy of divinity that is with us in both good and bad times. I would be extremely arrogant if I thought I was totally in charge of my life. Eph3:20-21 continually reminds me: “Glory be to God whose power working through us can accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine.” I need to do my part in what is required of my life and work, but then I relinquish trying to control the outcome. When I remember to do this, peace and calm prevail in me. When I forget, I am anxious and stressful.

    There are certain times when one cannot help but be confronted with powerlessness, such as an end of life prognosis, coming to terms with addiction or mental/emotional disorder, or being in the middle of a tough situation where nothing more can be done. But experiencing surrender is not only for the times when no option remains. None of us can totally control life to our wishes. Each one is required to face the reality that our true power comes from a divine Source within us.

    In this Christian season of Lent, I hope the journey Jesus took will draw each of us to accept our own powerlessness and to surrender ourselves with trust into the loving care of God.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
April 2010
  

    It was my turn to prepare the prayer for our weekly women’s group. After mulling around some ideas, I selected the theme of “life/death/resurrection” because of the return of spring and the coming celebration of Easter. I chose the monarch butterfly as the symbol for this prayer. We each read a selection describing that remarkable cycle from caterpillar to a beautiful winged butterfly. (View it at this site: http://lifecycle.onenessbecomesus.com/larvae.html)

    I did not know as I planned the prayer that one of my closest friends had died of a heart attack and was lying in her apartment, not to be found until the day before my group met.  I shared my sorrow with the women that morning. After I returned  home and was in my office, I decided, for some unknown reason, to go back into a website to search for a film to use for a future workshop. It was as if my hand was led to select the trailer of a film on Rachel Carson. As I listened/watched, I was overwhelmed. I felt my dear deceased friend had led me to the site and was speaking directly to my grief.

    Rachel Carson writes from Southport Maine to a friend after they had seen a flow of monarch butterflies on a walk together earlier in the day: “We spoke of… that unhurried drift of one small winged form after another. Each drawn by some invisible force. We talked a little about their life history. Would they return? We thought not. For most, at least, this would be the closing journey of their lives. But it occurred to me this afternoon, remembering, that it had been a happy spectacle, that we had felt no sadness when we spoke of the fact that there would be no return, and rightly. For when any living thing has come to the end of its cycle, we accept that end as natural. For the monarch butterfly, that cycle is measured in the known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else. The span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same. When that intangible cycle has run its course, it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life has come to its end. That is what those brightly fluttering colored bits of life taught me this morning. And I found deep happiness in it. So, I hope, may you.”
(http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/sense.html)

    At the funeral Mass for my friend, Fr. John Ludwig spoke of the Resurrection stories in the Gospels. He reminded us that in none of these stories did anyone who was grieving the death of Jesus think that something extraordinary would happen. Each person was startled by the end of the story. They never expected that new life would follow death. 

    And so it is with our own lives. Each of us, and those we love, lives in this natural cycle of life, death, rebirth. The cycle of the monarch butterfly and the gospel story of the Risen Christ assure us that life does, indeed, rise out of death. In this Easter season, may your faith be restored and your hope renewed in the reality that death is only one part of a continuum on the amazing journey of life.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
May 2010
  

    In the preface to his remarkable book, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion, Gregory Boyle comments: “In Africa, they say ‘A person becomes a person through other people’.” I read this book on the plane while returning home after spending an enriching week with forty two participants at The Institute of Compassionate Presence at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Maryland. Boyle’s comment resonated strongly with me because of what I experienced there.  On the first day of the Institute, I suggested  to these women and men that, because of our humanity, they would have ample opportunity to practice being compassionate during our days together.

   The human mind and heart continually make judgments and create expectations of those we encounter. Invariably we measure how others look, sound, and act according to what we like or dislike, to what does or does not fit with our life experience and our accepted values. I asked each one to make a concerted effort to be open, to deliberately sit and talk with those they did not know or whom, perhaps, they might not initially feel an affinity. The participants made a wonderful effort to do this and, consequently, what happened during our time together amazed us all. It is impossible to find enough words to adequately describe the loving kindness and genuine appreciation of one another that developed. We discovered so much goodness in one another. Whether sharing around tables, in groups of three, or in the dining room, each sought to listen to one another, to engage at the heart level, to set aside our ego-judging selves.

   Sharon Salzberg writes in The Kindness Handbook “In many ways a spiritual path is essentially about connection – a deep connection to our own inherent capacity for wisdom and love no matter what, a connection to a bigger picture of life no matter what.”  She then goes on to note: “We can easily go from morning until night disconnected, not only from genuine contact with others, but also from more fundamental and loving aspects of our own hearts.”

   The more we recognize our own goodness and open to the goodness in another, the greater compassion, the deeper peace and harmony, our world contains. I’ve believed this for a long time and I trust this belief even more, having had the joy and privilege of inviting these participants to the journey of becoming a compassionate presence and experiencing the fullness of their response.

   This experience reminds me of a verse from Rilke: “Again the murmur of my own deep life grows stronger, flowing along wider shores.” Because these experienced, skilled individuals were willing to go toward one another with a vulnerable spirit, instead of leaning on their egos and standing apart in the security of their professional successes, their deeper self grew stronger and their vision of life increasingly wider. We left with a richness that will sustain and encourage us on our varied paths of life.

   As the month of May unfolds, let us each look for the goodness within our own person as well as in those who enter our lives, be they strangers or people we know quite well.


  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
June 2010
  

    I’ve been thinking a lot about “water” lately. The horrendous oil spill off the shores of the southern U.S. has prompted me to consider the tremendous value of water in its myriad forms. I recall an article in the Inquiring Mind last year that described how basic this element is for our lives.  Anushka Fernandopulle wrote: “Like the surface of the Earth itself, the human body is made up of about seventy percent water. We are like walking bags of liquid held together by our skin… Feel the liquid nature of your own body – the saliva in your mouth, the lubrication of your eyeballs, the gurgling in your belly. Feel the softness of your arms, legs and torso; this is due to the liquidity and cohesion of the water element in your body.”

   As I read this description, I thought not only of the necessity of water for our bodies, but of what the water in the Gulf of Mexico must be experiencing with oil spewing into its body, of what it must be like to have such a huge gush of pollution ravage the natural processes of one’s system. No longer can this body of water be an inviting host for the creatures that have homed in its depths. No longer can this water be a safe place for birds that have trusted it for daily nourishment. No longer can delicate beings like dragonflies land on its surface. Anything that touches this now polluted water wears the stain of oil, the stain of termination.

   This reality was the focus of our weekly women’s prayer group last week. We pondered the beauty and necessity of water for our planet and for our own bodies. After this, an internet message from Chief Arvol Looking Horse was read in which he refers to the oil spill as a “bleeding,” a severe wounding of creation, and pleads for prayers for Grandmother Earth.

   With the pain of this message stirring our minds and hearts, we stood and faced the south, the Gulf of Mexico. After a time of standing silently, we called out the names of creatures and people being harmed by the oil spill. I don’t think any of us expected so many names to fill the air in that room. This naming enabled us to perceive our kinship with the water in the Gulf and with the countless beings affected by the damage being done to it.

    It was in our vocalizing of those being affected by the oil spill that we began to understand the truth in a verse of Jan Novotaka’s “Earth Family,” a song that had opened our prayer time:

I am one with Earth’s family….
Whales, fish and dolphins; clams and lobsters, too.
starfish, shells, and tuna, all are part of you….

    I’m inviting you this month of June to join with me and many others in awakening our compassion for the pain and suffering of those being affected by the oil spill – water, land, air, creatures, humankind. Our compassion will not eliminate the devastation but it will send a loving message from our spirits that we care, we care deeply. And we will do all we can to respect and protect the elements of this beautiful planet.


  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
July 2010
  

    It’s been awhile since I’ve been so deeply moved and filled with gratitude as on a recent trip to Omaha Nebraska to see The Bodies Exhibit. I’m someone who tries to live with awareness and appreciation but those two aspects increased a hundredfold after viewing this unusual and educative project. The Exhibition, which is traveling the world, features actual human corpses and allows viewers to see inside the human body with its muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and organs. Some have called this exhibit obscene. Others have condemned the use of real human bodies being used. I found my response to be the opposite. Reverence quickly surfaced as I studied the complex, amazing human system. I felt awe for how wondrously we are created. Each body I observed astonished me with its intricate, complicated parts. What a miracle that most of the time our bodies operate beautifully. 

    As I walked through the exhibit, stood and gazed at the inside and outside views of the bodies, a verse from psalm 139 returned to me again and again:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Since seeing the exhibit I have been marveling at how my body works. Right now, my lungs are taking an average of 15 breaths per minute. My red bone marrow is creating 2 ½ million blood cells and my kidneys are filtering about three pints of blood as they remove waste.  My cardiac muscle, which the exhibit reminded me is extremely strong in order to resist fatigue, is contracting about 100,000 times a day as it circulates blood through my body. While I write this, 19 muscles move my hand and wrist. And my brain is using its 100 billion nerve cells  to help me think about what I am writing. (I hope I’m using them all!)

    I also learned that the largest muscles in the body are those in the buttocks. Well, I guess that’s not too surprising.

    As I prepared to leave the exhibit, I thought of what an honor it is for these human beings to be of service to humankind long after their spirits have danced on to another sphere of life. I recall my mother, a year or so before her death, asking me to investigate if and how she might donate her body to science. She explained, “I want to go on giving something to the world long after I am gone.” I was deeply touched by her desire in old age to want to continue to help others. The bodies I viewed did not choose to be on public display but they most definitely are contributing not only to education but even more so they are giving viewers an opportunity to bow to the Holy One whose creation we are.

    At the close of the exhibit, there is a quote from Dr. Roy Glover: “Your body is the only thing you carry with you from the moment you’re born until your very last breath.”  I’m deeply grateful for this wondrous body of mine and I have resolved once again to take good care of it.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
August 2010
  

    A pair of house wrens is helping me live more contemplatively this summer.  They came two months ago and found a home in the wooden, cylindrical birdhouse my brother built. It’s hanging close to the kitchen’s glass door where I can easily observe their activities. These small brown birds, only four to five inches long, have an incredible song. At dawn their bold melody has jolted my tired ears and made certain I did not go back to sleep. As the male sings his energetic song, he becomes especially animated when he’s courting his mate or guarding his turf. His throat looks like a bubbling mountain stream when he sings. One time he was warbling so passionately I thought he might fall right off the railing.

    Just when I thought it might be egg-laying time I gasped as I looked out the door one morning to find the entire contents of the nest lying on the porch floor. At first I thought, “Wow, that must have been some fight they had!” But then I remembered how territorial these birds are and decided a returning wren wanted it for his own. Not long after this incident, a new pair of wrens took up residence. (Like humans, these birds have their shadow sides. Wrens can be downright nasty, destroying other bird’s eggs and even pecking at the newborns of strangers.)

    The strong song of the current wren never stopped from sun-up to sun-down. That is, until the babies were born. Then, no more singing. Feeding time had come. I’m astounded at the dedication of mama and papa. Every few minutes they bring insects, including spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets. When they come to the nest, I see all sorts of things sticking out of their beaks: a pair of antennae, a black wing, a bit of a caterpillar body. As the parent approaches the nest, the birdhouse moves back and forth. I imagine the nestlings inside with their little mouths wide open, all positioning for a place where they will be the lucky one to get a tasty treat.

    Why am I telling you this? To let you know I’ve been called back to “being present,” instead of overly-engaged in “doing.” I’ve slowed down to observe, to let myself be caught up in wonder. Watching these tiny birds has led me to rejuvenate my tired psyche and restore my gratitude for the marvel of life that exists all around me…if only I stop to contemplate it. (Contemplation: to look lovingly.) In doing so, I appreciate the wonder of creation. Thomas Merton writes: “Contemplation is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life.” 

    There are adventures of great simplicity, rich in beauty, right under our nose. We’ll never notice what is there unless we stop to look. In the same way, we will not be aware of the richness of the deeper gifts of our life unless we pause to be with them. Stop today and really look at the people whom you love. What is it that will awaken you to who you have? What will you discover when you slow down and contemplate? Perhaps you will find renewed love when your children are at play, or when your spouse is drinking coffee, or while caring for your aging parents. It might be that you find something worthy of gratitude in that daily trek to work that has grown increasingly boring or when you sit at the luster-less church service. Find a piece of your life and go there with your entire attention. See what happens when you do so.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
September 2010
  

    This past July I spent ten days on beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia. What a splendid experience I had at Bethlehem Centre which is situated on a lovely lake in the city of Nanaimo. Besides the joy of giving a weekend retreat to a wonderfully responsive group of participants and enjoying superb Benedictine hospitality, I was nearly ecstatic to have a whole week in which to plunk myself down in all that beauty and have nothing to do but write.  It was one of those times and places that I never wanted to leave.

    Part of what contributed to my immense enjoyment was the 5.7 kilometer walking path that circled Westwood Lake. Tall, graceful Douglas firs surround the lake and all sorts of wild flowers grow happily alongside it. Occasionally I glimpsed bald eagles in their swift flight to snatch a fish out of the water or patient herons standing at full attention. In that environment, nature once again refreshed me. The layers of travel and months of meeting deadlines that I brought with me to Nanaimo sloughed off my spirit like useless dead skin.

    But what most called me home to my deeper self and to a refreshing connection with the larger world was the walking path itself.  From my room up on the hill, I could look directly out onto the trail down below. Each day hundreds of people walked, ran, and strolled the path from early dawn well into dusk. Some were quite intent on exercise. Others meandered along at a slow pace. Some were alone. Many walked with a companion. Lots of them had their faithful dogs following alongside or behind them. There were children, babies in strollers and on parents’ backs, teenagers, men and women, young and old, dressed in every sort of garb from running shorts to long dresses. I even saw a turbaned sheik in black garb one afternoon. As I observed this continuous retinue of humanity day after day, I thought of the countless number of feet that had trod the path since its beginnings. Feet belonging to an immense diversity of humankind.

    When I joined these folks on the path for my own daily walk I would hear snatches of chatting as I passed by them: “Just before surgery the doctor told me he wasn’t sure he’d find….  Every time she calls me it’s the same old thing…   We were planning to go to Aunt Lil’s Sunday when…  I had to take my grandma shopping to get her underwear yesterday. It was awful… Where did their money go? They probably partied it away… I’m wearing the same clothes to this wedding as I did to the last one…”  These brief bits of conversation sometimes brought a smile to my face and they always left me feeling a sense of connection with the speakers.

    I became acutely aware, as I did when I walked the Spanish Camino six years ago, that every person not only has a story, each one is a story. And deep down inside of us our stories are not all that different. We each have our hopes and dreams, our struggles and sorrows, our likes and dislikes, our hurts and our healings. In this present American society of rant and rage, blame and bad-mouthing, and constant attacking of those whose views and way of life go counter to their own, I want to remember how I felt about humankind when I was at Nanaimo. There I felt I had re-entered the Body of Christ, the spiritual union that goes far beyond the externals. I was one with the Vine and the branches, one with the great story of Love that unites us all. Oh, that this awareness would sweep all disgruntled ones off their feet and settle them into a more caring and compassionate focus once again.

  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
October 2010
  

     Because I often travel by air I sometimes get ‘bumped’ into the “first class” seating section. The last time this happened I observed the behavior of a flight attendant who practically genuflected to a U.S. congressman who was taking his seat in front of mine. As she continued catering to him throughout the trip, her behavior led me to consider how society operates in a hierarchical mode. I’ve heard people proudly speak of our Western culture as not having a caste system. Ah, but there is one. It’s just not so clearly defined.  Even those of us who detest viewing others with a “hierarchical eye” do so unconsciously. We’re pulled into this mode everyday.

     It’s rare, and refreshing when someone approaches others as scientist Elizabeth Dodson Gray suggests:  “different than, not better than, another.” Oftentimes when I am a stranger to a new group they either ignore me or treat me like the gray-haired, older woman I am. But when they discover I am a published author, wow, the smiles and the “nice-nice” take over. This drives me slightly crazy. I want to be respected for who I am as a human being, not for what I do.

     The reality of being human, as I see it, is that every person is quite ordinary, but also quite extra-ordinary in her or his own way. (Notice I used “her” first? It’s usually “his” that comes first.) People are oftentimes qualified and valued as significant by such things as gender and ethnicity, how much money, titles, or professions they have, the clothes they wear, cars they drive, and the places they live. This includes church organizations. All one has to do is open any diocesan directory to see the order of names consists of the “highest up” – Cardinal or Bishop, priests, women religious, and ordained deacons. Only then comes the list of non-ordained laypeople (whose dedicated service is what actually keeps the church functioning).

     Mark Nepo relates a powerful story in The Exquisite Risk about two elderly gentlemen at a conference. No one would ever know their amazing history when meeting either of these two on the street. Nepo describes one of them as “a tall, thin man with thick glasses and clumps of white hair…his back slightly curved in a permanent bow.” After the old man shuffled to the microphone he told his story of being in a concentration camp and hiding in a garbage can for a week with hopes that the war was coming to an end. One day he felt the lid start to come off and feared he would be shot by a Nazi. Instead, he saw the helmet of an American soldier. He broke into tears, knowing this soldier was saving his life. Nepo goes on to write: “As he started to shuffle back to his chair, another old man stood up, his voice shaking as he uttered, “I was that soldier,” and they teetered to each other and fell into each other’s arms.” 

     Think of what those two men experienced during the war and their life after that. Think of the wisdom and the personal resilience they carried within themselves all these years. Yet, many seeing them could easily dismiss these two as tottering old duffers with little to contribute to others. Their story inspires me and gives me new incentive to be generous, kind, and grateful.

     How I long for the day when we no longer view people’s worth by the exterior nature of their appearance. We are all deserving of sitting in the first class section of life. Let’s treat each other that way.

  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
November 2010
  

     November opens with a favorite feast:  All Saints Day. I’ve long thought of this day as a celebration of the ancestors. While the day focuses on officially canonized “saints” by the church, the feast extends beyond them. This day offers an opportunity to reflect on all those good people who’ve gone before us, leaving us their legacy of influential virtues. The entire month of November invites this remembrance, a time of gratitude for how these persons touched our lives and how they live on in the good qualities we express today.

     These “ancestral saints” are not only from our own genetic heritage but also include people who entered our sphere as teachers and mentors, sources of wisdom and faith, perhaps even strangers who let in the light of grace for us.  If you think about who helped you to be the person you are today, and jot down their names, you may be surprised how long that list is.

     Each time I’ve paused to do this listing another name surfaces that I had not been aware of in past Novembers. This year my uncle Bob lands on my list. He was a dear, gentle man whose presence brought both welcome and acceptance. I don’t recall ever hearing an unkind word from him.  Uncle Bob taught me a lot simply by his even-temper and kind-heartedness.

     A few weeks ago I gave a retreat at the lovely Sophia Center in Atchison, Kansas. Outside their chapel the Benedictine sisters have a box with the names of the hundreds of members who have died. Each day when the sisters go into chapel for morning prayer they take a name from the box and carry the spirit of that community ancestor with them throughout the day. I’m going to do that with my ancestors this November. I have a feeling I’ll be carried on the wings of an angel every day!

     In the Sanctuary of Women Jan Richardson, a gifted artist and author, writes in one of her blessings:

But I think today is a day
for remembering
how all our history
comes down to our hands,
how we carry the lines
that our ancestors
pressed into our palms:
a geography of the generations
inscribed upon us like a map
.

     Just like the lines on the palms of our hands, so are the invisible lines of the spirit that unite us with those who brought goodness into our lives. Let us honor them throughout this month by calling them to mind and by integrating into our lives the virtues they exemplified.  
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
December 2010
  

     A thoughtful friend of mine recently suggested I might like to read about the lifework of Viktor Frankl and his wife Elly. (When Life Calls Out to Us, Haddon Klingberg, Jr.) She knows how much Frankl’s well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, has influenced my life. Klingberg’s book reawakened my desire to live in a way that benefits the larger sphere of life. Early in the book Klingberg reflects on the current culture of self-orientation in the light of  the selfless attitude shaping Frankl’s work:

we have been chasing happiness through self-discovery, self-enhancement, self-fulfillment, self-improvement, self-indulgence. We have been trying to increase our self-awareness and self-understanding, to become more self-affirming.  Through self-help we have boosted our self-acceptance, our self-esteem, and our self-concepts.  We learned to believe that we are okay just the way we are. We reassured ourselves that looking out for number one is really the right thing to do.   

  Taking care of our self and enjoying the benefits of a comfortable life is not the problem. What wounds humanity is when a focus on self does not move outward to embrace those who yearn for and lack the necessities and comforts of life that we have. It seems the fuller our life is, the easier it can be to forget or ignore those whose life contains little.

    I thought of this as I read “Divided We Eat” in a November issue of Newsweek. In it Lisa Miller describes the social status that difference in food indicates. Those who can afford the products buy nutritious and organic ones like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Others are unable to buy any of this. One family interviewed spends $200 a month on food while another spends $1,300. In New York City alone, “1.4 million people are food insecure” – which leaves them wondering at times if they will have enough to eat. This reality is reflected in food pantries everywhere that find it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of those who seek help.

     What do I do with information and statistics like this? I don’t think they are meant to create guilt but rather to stimulate awareness. And to hopefully serve as a motivation to look beyond my own table. The other day I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every “food secure” household tithed 10% of what they spend on food each month and gave it to a local food pantry?”  Soon after I brought this thought closer to home:“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I did this?” 

     As if the Spirit zoomed in to confirm my inner stirrings in this regard, Becky led our Tuesday morning prayer the next day with a quote from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening. In it he asks the reader to ponder what she or he holds dear. Following this came the bigger question: “When might it be right to give this dear thing to another?” Food seems quite dear to most everyone. When will it be “the right time”…?

     Christmas is the season of generosity and giving. I hope that each of us will take time to ponder what we hold dear and then decide to share some of it with those who can benefit the most from our dearness.
  
                                                                ©  Joyce Rupp

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