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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.

2011
Jan     Feb     Mar     Apr     May     Jun     Jul     Aug     Sept     Oct     Nov     Dec

    2006 - 2010

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 2011

     One of my most joyful moments during the past Christmas was an afternoon spent in putting together a complicated jigsaw puzzle with three of my great nephews, aged 8 – 13. When we emptied all the oddly shaped pieces onto the table I wondered if we would manage to put it together.  For awhile each of us worked on a separate section. When we got stuck, we’d ask one of the others to help us look for a color or a shape. Slowly, slowly the puzzle began to take shape but there were still a lot of places that held large holes. After several hours the boys’ sister came in to lend a hand. Because she had not been staring at the little pieces as long as we had, her fresh, keen eyes spotted a number of links we’d missed. We were elated when we completed the puzzle just as dinner was ready to be served. 

     As I drove the three and half hours back home I thought about the fun of doing that puzzle, of how we needed each other to get all the tiny segments interlocked. Then I remembered a meaningful insight from Lawrence Kushner’s “Eyes Remade For Wonder.”  Kushner writes: 

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle….

But know this. You do not have within yourself
All the pieces to your puzzle…

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don’t.

     A new year awaits us.  These 365 days lie before us like the many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. With each day the year will slowly shape our lives. We will be able to fit a lot of the pieces together by ourselves but we will also require others to fit the pieces into a semblance of meaning. Sometimes it will be a stranger or a person we do not like who guides us to the parts we are missing. At other times it will those who are most intimate and closely held in our hearts who will offer us another piece of our puzzle.

     This metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle is a reminder to trust in our own wisdom but to also value the wisdom of others, and to trust in the One who moves through all of us to bring guidance and truth. We do not walk into the new year alone even though it might seem that way. There will continually be someone to help us find a missing part of the puzzle if we are willing to let them sit at our table of life, if we are open to receive their presence and their help.

     I leave you with a message from Albert Einstein, a wise person of our past:

Strange is our situation here upon earth… Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: we are here for the sake of others… Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of so many others…

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
February 2011

A new book of mine is at the printer’s, due out in March. Fragments of Your Ancient Name contains 365 names for God.  I thought I’d share several of the February entries that focus on divine love, the foundation of all our loves.  May the following reflections inspire you to further deepen your relationship with the One Great Love as you celebrate Valentine’s Day and the loving people of your life. 

(1) Deepest Good

When I sort through the layered texture
Of what clutters and claims my spirit,
I find you, Deepest Good, in residence.
You shine like a piece of gold inside of me.
In that tranquil, secluded district of soul
I discover my true, unblemished nature.
Teach me that there is much more to “me”
Than just my struggle and my failure.
Absorb me in the jewel of your love
Until I am fully one with your goodness.

Today:  Deepest Good affects how I view myself.

(2) Unconditional Love

You are Love like no other.
Love so large you contain our smallness.
Love so deep you accept our shallowness.
Love so strong you carry our weakness.
Love so wide you enclose our wandering.
Love so tender you experience our hurting.
Love so tolerable you outlive our apathy.
Love so ardent you thaw our coldness.
Love so true you endure our betrayals.
Love so patient you wait for our returning.

Today:  I accept that I am loved unconditionally.


(3) Divine Lover (Sgs8:6-7)

How far will I go to look for you?
How deep will I delve to know you?
How empty will I be to hold you?
How quiet will I be to perceive you?
How humble will I be to reach you?
How free will I be to accept you?
How open will I be to receive you?
How true will I be to love you?
How willing is this heart of mine
To pay the price to be one with you?

Today:  I ask myself if I will pay the price. 

 (Reflections taken from: Fragments of Your Ancient Name: 365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation, Joyce Rupp.  Sorin Books, 2011.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
March 2011

     As we enter March, my heart is set on Hope. This month not only contains the opening of Springtime for those of us in the midwest USA, it also opens the liturgical season of Lent.  Both seasons remind us that death is not the end of the story. The pattern of life-death-resurrection is ingrained in nature and in all of the major religions. Both nature and religious faith teach that death precedes new life. Yet, how difficult it is to believe in a fresh beginning when we suffer those experiences we want to instantly shed.  Nature teaches us to wait, to trust that what seems lifeless actually holds the energy for what will develop in the future.  The Christian story brings a similar message: Easter Sunday follows Good Friday.

     In February we received the welcomed gift of a great thaw in Iowa. Warm winds and bright sun melted most of our snow. One day I was out walking and for the first time ever I was sure I heard Spring  breathing. I looked around. Nothing moved. All was silent. But I sensed something stirring inside every part of the landscape. I listened closely and, sure enough, I heard the terminal buds on oak branches yawning and the moss taking a deep breath. I heard the flower bulbs hidden in the soil, the browned grasses, and the barren bushes all sighing joyfully. The next day I wrote the following:

I Hear Spring Breathing

I hear Spring breathing softly,
her quiet respiration
rising and falling
through the heavy snowbanks
as they gurgle in the sunshine.

I hear the slow, steady intake
of mid-February air
stirring the awakening crocuses.

I hear the sigh
of the oak tree’s terminal buds,
warm wind stretching them out
beneath the turquoise sky.

I hear my own lungs
inhaling and exhaling
with renewed hope,
ready for the coming
of green and the shedding
of all that is grayed
with winter's feigned death.

Lent is often presented as a time of sacrifice and personal renewal. I wonder what might happen this year if we entered into it differently, entered with a spirit of enthusiasm. What if we not only looked for signs of hope but became messengers of hope? We might soften that which has hardened in the human heart. There could be less griping, hostility, self-centeredness and disdain for differences in our world. Perhaps we would hear God breathing Hope through us into the people and the places where we have turned away, where we have given up on the possibility of fresh life being birthed. Perhaps we might become Easter People!

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
April 2011

     About a month ago I received a rather disquieting email message. A friend wrote to inquire if the rumor she heard was true. Someone had returned from a retreat in her city with the news that I had been diagnosed with cancer.  I immediately zoomed this note back to her: Well, if there's ever an incentive to respond quickly  to an email, yours did it for me. Thanks for your concern and prayers. No, I have not been diagnosed with cancer.

     That startling rumor caused me sit up and take notice. It came at a time when my calendar was bulging at the edges with commitments and activities. On the day that email arrived I was feeling rushed, hurried, pressed.  But that rumor put the brakes on my hectic pace. I looked around my life and pulled myself to a halt. Even though I had deadlines hissing at me, I chose to go to the lake for a long walk where I savored life in a renewed awareness. The next day I went back again, this time with my binoculars, and sat for a long time to watch flocks of seabirds migrating north to the Great Lakes. 

     Choosing to pause. Paying attention. Slowing down. This allowed my mind, body, and spirit to wake up.  Doing so did not leave me gasping for breath and in a frenzy to complete the tasks at hand. Rather, my re-awakened spirit entered into those tasks with fresh zest. I felt immense gratitude for the opportunity to be able to do what I was doing. 

     Quite some time ago Og Mandino wrote:      

Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.

     We need to treat ourselves that way, too. Live as if we were going to be dead by midnight. Stroll without anxiety, instead of running madly through our days.  Relish what is easily taken for granted.  Cease being pushed around by the ego’s need to maintain a high performance goal.

     I have been reading a marvelous book that a thoughtful woman sent to me several months ago.  In God’s Out-Of-Doors dates back to 1902.  It is filled with lovely reflections on nature by William A. Quayle who strolled instead of racing through his life. Here’s a bit of what he writes:

I shall walk to my farm. Those who always ride miss a good share of delight if their way leads through the country. Flowers and leaves and pastorals must be seen close at hand. Nature says “Come nearer.” … Be leisurely and walk. Dally, loiter, poke along, putter, or if you like not these words, get a word you do like, only let the word express delayed and loving motion, the sort of leisureliness a brook knows, running when it feels like running, drowsing when it has a drowsy mood, in silver basins where sun and shadows meet, shadows to woo to slumber, sun to stoop and kiss the waters awake….Choose your word to fit that motion and fit your goings to the word.

There are many ways we can slow down and savor life.  We don’t have to live in the country to pause, to loiter, to ease our inner and outer pace. All we need is to do what we are doing with mindfulness. Stop being so driven to multi-task. Live in the Now and notice what we would miss if we were to die by  midnight. It’s just that simple, and just that challenging.

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
May 2011

     When we were ready to take a break from a seminar at which I was speaking, we heard the squeals and high pitched laughter of little children. I turned to see a pre-school group come dashing into the small, greening garden next to our conference room. The full length glass wall of our room allowed us to see what was taking place. The children had created “binoculars” out of two cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls. They held these little creations close to their eyes and dashed around the garden looking through their “binoculars” at the gorgeous spring flowers filling the area. Little shouts of joy erupted as the children bent over tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other sprightly spring flowers. As they peered through their “binoculars” it was obvious the pre-schoolers were receiving the beauty in front of them with unfeigned surprise.

     The sound of their enthusiasm led me to want to be one of those children, to resurrect what had been covered up inside of me by my hectic schedule and adult sophistication. I longed to bend toward the flowers and be surprised by their astounding colors and grace. I yearned to awaken the pure joy of relishing beauty, of entering the seasonal textures filling the garden. I wanted to run around skipping, to gaze through a pair of cardboard binoculars and shout for joy.

     Later, as I reflected on the children’s delight, I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes” in which Oliver writes of her desire to be full of curiosity and surprise:

          When it's over, I want to say: all my like
          I was a bride married to amazement.
          I was the bridegroom, taking the world in my arms.

     Oh, to be amazed at life! The artist Frederick Franck taught people to see the inherent beauty of something as simple as a lettuce leaf. He based his work on the principle that there is a great difference between “looking” and “seeing.” Franck wrote: “Everyone thinks he knows what a lettuce looks like.  But start to draw one and you realize the anomaly of having lived with lettuces all your life but never having seen one, never having seen the semi-translucent leaves curling in their own lettuce way, never having noticed what makes a lettuce a lettuce rather than a curly kale.” The same is true of spring flowers and anything that exists.

     I discovered Franck’s work long ago. He awakened my sense of wonder and taught me how to see. Yet, even now I look at a zillion things every day and often see very little. That’s because I forget to pause and pay attention to what is before me. I continually have to be reminded to do so by something like a child enjoying a spring garden. What happens when I really see the inherent beauty of the world before me is that I am reenergized. When I truly see, I regain perspective on life. I do much less mumbling and grumbling and a lot more laughing and thanking.

    It’s not too late for any of us to see with our physical eyes what often escapes us in the external world. It’s simply a matter of being fully awake. Of course, this requires some deliberate slowing down and considerable amounts of gazing attentively.  That is the challenge. The reward is that we grow in amazement and gratitude.

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
June 2011
 

     One afternoon my friend and I were sitting on the porch of a colleague’s lakeside home. As I gazed across the lawn I saw a black and white ladderback woodpecker clinging to the bark of a hickory tree. I whispered delightedly to my photographer friend, “Look over there on that tree!”  I knew she would want a photo. In order not to disturb the bird, my friend went through the house and stealthily moved around to the back where the tree was. Her approach to the bird surprised me. I thought for sure it would startle and fly away.

     My friend returned to the porch where we continued to watch the bird. We both wondered why it stayed so calm and only moved sideways, seemingly with the breeze. I concluded, “It must be sleeping.” My friend nodded in agreement. I kept watching. I couldn’t help noticing how different the head appeared from other woodpeckers: “This must be a rare woodpecker. I wonder if there’s an Audubon book here. Maybe we can find out what kind it is.”  Finally we crept off the porch and tip-toed close to the woodpecker. At almost the same time we both began laughing hilariously. It was a wooden bird attached to the tree!

     This discovery of Woody Woodpecker brought us a huge amount of fun as we realized how we allowed this illusion to ensnare us in a momentary enthrallment. It also led me to reflect on how illusions of a more serious nature can easily influence me with their presumptions and unexamined beliefs.

     I thought about illusions that used to be a part of my life in the past, illusions about political platforms that appeared to be positive but later turned out to be destructive, church doctrines   considered to be absolute but eventually disclosed as false in their proclamations, and personal beliefs about myself that gradually revealed a part of me I had not seen clearly. For instance, I once believed I did not have the capability to despise someone. But then one day this very emotion erupted in me and I humbly admitted this propensity.

     Illusions like Woody Woodpecker are harmless but other illusions about how life is, or ought to be, can be downright dangerous to our society and to our own personal transformation. It takes constant alertness and close observation to discover an illusion in our belief system. It also requires openness of mind and heart to accept what one uncovers as a deception, especially if it is something that has formed a part of the framework of one’s identity. This jolt comes when someone points out our “blind spot” or some aspect of us that we’ve totally missed. This recognition brings with it the gift of humility, an opportunity to accept more of the truth of who we truly are, so that this part of us does not rule our behavior.

     I doubt I will ever see a ladderback woodpecker on a tree without being reminded of the countless illusions that try to sneak into my life on a regular basis. I plan to be on the lookout for these deceptive “creatures.”

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
July 2011
 

     There’s nothing quite like the fragrance of a freshly baked loaf of bread.  I read someplace that if you want your house to sell, you should bake bread before people come to view the place. A whiff of the bread’s aroma conjures up a sense of harmony and welcome, thus creating an inviting sense of “home.”

     This thought came to me when I listened to a church group discuss the doctrine of the Eucharist. Their discussion meandered from complex theological considerations to a simple appreciation for the gift of spiritual nourishment. My mind went in a different direction. I began thinking about bread itself, that delicious food that I enjoy so much. I wondered why Jesus used this particular item of nutrition as a central gathering point, encouraging communities to celebrate his memory when they blessed and ate it. Why didn’t he use rice or corn or some other staple?  What spiritual message does a piece of “bread” provide?

     A loaf of bread contains a number of ingredients, flour, salt, yeast or soda, to name a few. If you were to eat any of those ingredients by themselves you wouldn’t enjoy the taste.  But when all these ingredients are mixed appropriately and baked, out from the oven comes a feast for the palate.  Each of the ingredients for bread is necessary in order for that loaf of bread to become something delicious and nutritious.  Leave one item out and you’ll have dead bread. 

     Pondering the content and formation of bread led me to recognize how challenging the spiritual bread of Eucharist is for me. On my way to join the group who were discussing facets of Eucharist, I had been listening to the daily news. I heard that a certain politician was going to visit our city. “Hummm,” I thought as I reflected on the Bread of Life, “I definitely do not want that person in my “loaf of bread.”  From this perception, came other faces and names of people I’d preferred to not include in my “bread.”

     Then, the clunker of a question came. Jesus called himself “the living bread” and if all of us are part of that spiritual reality, the Body of Christ, how can I keep any of the “ingredients” out of it?  Some people, like bread’s ingredients, might not taste so good but they are essential if the bread is to be spiritually nutritious.  Leave any one person out of my life and I’ve ceased to fully partake of the Bread of Life.

     It can be helpful to ponder theological aspects of a religious belief but, quite honestly, I don’t see much benefit to this unless these ponderings reach right into my mind and heart and bring me to the point of living the teachings of Jesus. His particular lesson on “I am the bread of life” sliced (pardon the pun) right through my comfort zone and challenged me to consider who I accept and do not accept as being part of the one great humanity in whom the Divine dwells.

     So, during this month I am going to let bread be my teacher. Each time I eat a piece of bread, whatever the form and texture, I will let it be a prayer that my mind and heart remain open to those whose opinions and style of life vary from my own. And each time I receive the Eucharist I will pray for the grace to welcome all the “ingredients” who come into my life.

 

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
August 2011
 

The Divine is totally imperceptible but fully present in all
we see, touch, taste, smell, hear…   (Thomas Berry)

     My time in July with the Summer Institute at Sophia Center (Holy Names University in Oakland, CA) re-ignited my desire for union with the One who dwells within and among us, both here on this planet and far beyond. I felt at home with the participants who eagerly embraced a spirituality that includes a dimension of the physical world in which we dwell.  No wonder my inner eye awakened with full alertness when I returned and took a walk along Saylorville Lake last Sunday.  I was moving along at a speedy pace on the bike path when a movement in the meadow’s tall grass brought me to an abrupt stop. Here is what I observed:

The fawn, the enchanted fawn,
replete with curiosity and wonder,
her outsized ears wide open,
young eyes looking straight into mine,
surveying me as I gazed with admiration.
Only ten feet and a tall fence separating us
as we observed one another intently.
I marveled at the delicate body,
the tiny legs, the soft mottled hair,
and that lovely line of pure white
trailing all down the slim of her neck.
As I spoke to her, she came closer,
listened to the soft sound of my wooing,
never once taking those black eyes away
from her gaze of me. Finally she was content
with my strangeness
and bent with ease to lift two strands of grass
to her small mouth.
I had been to church earlier that day
but it seemed not nearly as sacred
as that brief interlude
with the gentle fawn in the meadow.

     I sat down after that precious encounter and pondered the reality in some religions to consign what is holy to the realm of “church,” when, truly, there is so much of the sacred in our lives from the moment we wake up each morning. If we can become aware of the gift of breath, of the taste of life in the many forms that are ours for another day, of the companionship of humanity and the world of creatures to ease our loneliness, we can sink into the sacred with ease. If we bring this awareness with us to “church” then a unity of holiness can encompass our entire life. Oh, for the day when we find the dynamic presence of the Holy actively stirring in both religion and the ordinariness of life. May it be so!

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
September 2011

     Lately I’ve been intent on savoring something every day. To “savor,” the dictionary tells me, is “to taste good food and enjoy it completely.” I’m reawakening to savoring life by thoroughly relishing some basic things. When I focus on savoring ordinariness no matter how askew the day goes, I remain calm and accepting. I’ve been finding a lot of things to savor. I mean truly savor, like drinking in the fresh air after a rain, sipping from the words of a poem, relishing the kindness of a stranger.

     Psalm 34: 8 suggests that we taste and see the goodness of the Lord. I like Nan Merrill’s translation of this in her Psalms for Praying: “Taste and see! The Beloved is within you.” This psalm verse is often used in reference to the Eucharist but it can also be applied to the eucharist of our daily lives, to those situations where we savor and find satisfaction in the goodness of the divine dwelling amid the commonplace pieces.

     A brief quote by the Eastern sage, Wu-men, is what led me to think about savoring. He writes: “If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”

     Sorry to say, not every day is the best season of my life. When my mind contains those unnecessary things Wu-men cites, then that leads to my failure to savor and enjoy life. This is especially true when I am pressed, in a hurry and charging around trying to get things done. To counteract this tendency, I have been savoring the dawn, getting up in the dark so I can simply sit and wait for the light. This conscious gesture gives my entire day a different quality, one that has a constant, welcoming hue. I’ve also been deliberately savoring nature on my daily walks, taking in the texture and color of flowers, even appreciating the frazzled looking weeds alongside the path, and definitely enjoying those glorious swallowtail butterflies.

     As I was savoring the sunrise the other day I remembered a prayer I wrote in Prayers to Sophia. It speaks of enjoying the blessedness of what is. I share a part of it with you in case you have also forgotten about tasting and enjoying what is in your life:

Joyful Journeyer,
I hear you call to me this day:
“Behold! Enjoy! Appreciate!
Welcome all who enter this new day.
Live wild with rapturous wonder.
Look with awe and smile with elation.
Forgive those who stand at a distance.
Thank those who have settled in your heart.
Be tender with the rough edges of yourself.
Taste each morsel of life with fullness.”

May I live each day with heartiness,
keeping things in clear perspective…
May I not zoom mindlessly through my days
missing the passionate gift of life.

     What will you savor this day?  What will you enjoy as completely as you can?

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
October 2011

     Not long ago I read Barbara Bradley Haggerty’s Fingerprints of God. It contains intriguing stories and insights regarding unusual spiritual experiences. The author, a religion correspondent for NPR, extensively researched situations such as people being unexpectedly overcome with brilliant light or hearing a voice within telling them what they needed to know or do. One man told her, “I went all goose bumps and all the hairs on my arms and legs just started standing on end and I was just kind of full of electricity.” Another stopped by a church one night and was there by himself when he felt “a really strong sense of sacredness. It felt like the accumulated energies and prayers of all the people who had been in this historic church for a hundred years – …the atmosphere felt very thick with the presence of many, many people. I sat back and closed my eyes and I was overcome with this really profound sense of goodness and rightness and that everything that was, no matter how we felt – good or bad – just as it was supposed to be.”

     Almost everyone Haggerty interviewed felt a sense of oneness, a profound sense of well-being with God and life after their surprising experience. Each one’s encounter led to some positive change or a healing of body, mind, spirit. They “saw the world in a new way.” After exploring scientific and religious possibilities for why these extraordinary encounters with divinity occur, she concludes that neither science nor religion can offer a full explanation. Whatever a person’s religious belief or non-belief, it all comes down to mystery. We cannot intellectually understand how or why a person is suddenly overcome with a totally encompassing, unexpected physical response or an intense presence. Part of it can be attributed to science but not totally. She writes:

By the end of my year of research about God and science, I was persuaded that these recoveries were not mere coincidence. I was a little closer to understanding the mechanics of how these perplexing healings might work… It struck me that these events occur when people who are hurtling along in life suddenly ricochet off of some kind of spiritual truth, and their condition suddenly changes. Not always because of their prayers and theology…. but because of, well, location. They walked into grace, like wandering into a patch of sunshine on a gloomy winter day, and were changed by the encounter.

     Most of us do not have enormous experiences like hearing a voice or being engulfed in immense light. However, we do have an abundance of ordinary, grace-filled encounters. We read or hear something, are drawn to a piece of nature that takes our breath away, or are suddenly caught in a flash of meaning. We are utterly unable to put this into words - but we know it. Last week a man I met described how he was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago. He began praying to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, (who promised as she lay dying that she would send “ a shower of roses” after her death). Not long after he began praying to Thérèse of Lisieux his wife was driving home from church – it was the middle of winter – and she saw a rose laying on the road. That event gave him the hope and positive approach he needed. Four years later he is in good health.

     We never know when some major or minor incident will gather us into the arms of our Great Love with one full swoop. Because we move at such a fast pace with a huge amount of information constantly pressing upon us we can all too quickly forget or dismiss the way the Holy One enters our lives. This is why I urge myself daily, and each of you, to live in a way that our minds and hearts are attentive and receptive to a sudden emergence of divine presence.

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
November 2011

     On the liturgical calendar the Feast of All Saints lands on the first day of November. This day honors women and men who have been canonized as saints by the official church. For as long as I can recall I have resonated with this feast. When I celebrate it I include a lot more mentors of faith than just those who are canonized. There are many people whose goodness has radiated into my life and who continue to inspire me even though they are deceased. I feel a strong bond with them and gratitude for their courageous, God-filled life no matter how silently or openly this took place. I trust these kindly spirits are near and that I can call on them for insight and support.

     We all have faith-filled ancestors. These are not only relatives from our family of origin but other persons, as well, who chose to live an such a way that they brought kindness and well-being into this world. Perhaps they were teachers, friends, spiritual directors, or historical figures. They may have been unaware of their ability to make a difference but their presence held this gift for us. The lives of these ancestors assure us that it is possible to live as our best selves.

     I am reminded of the song, “Standing on the Shoulders” by Joyce Johnson Rouse.

We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.
They are saints and they are humans, they are angels, they are friends.
We can see beyond the struggles and the troubles and the challenge
When we know that by our efforts things will be better in the end.

     All Saints Day encourages us to remember and celebrate those guides of wisdom and catalysts of spiritual growth on whose shoulders we stand. I share with you a prayer that I created for this year’s feast. I hope it will be a resource for you to unite with the saints of your life, to remember to call upon and to honor them.

Spirit of our ancestors,
we join in acknowledging the blessedness of the many
who inspired us and shaped our faith.
We turn in memory and appreciation
toward those ancestors in our family of origin
who influenced and encouraged us to live as our best selves.
We bring to mind others who enriched our lives
and led us further on our journey of personal transformation.
We honor all those who sacrificed and suffered
in order for peace and justice to be furthered on our planet.
We give thanks and rejoice for the countless, unnamed persons
whose goodness left a lasting mark of kindness and compassion.
May the remembrance of each of these blessed ones
deepen our own personal commitment
to leave a trace of goodness wherever we go.
When we depart this sphere of life may we do so
having contributed to individual and world peace.

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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lilac

Spiritual Zest
December 2011

     Every once in a while I receive a phone call that perks up my attention. Such was the case when I responded to a journalist writing a Christmas article on the topic of “light.” When she asked me about “the Catholic perspective” my mind leapt into remembering. “Light” constantly circles through the scriptures, spirituality, theology, and sacramental moments in Catholic thought and ritual. This is something I’ve assumed but not really thought about that much. The more I reflected, I realized how the symbol of light is intricately woven through both my personal and communal prayer. I wished I had hours instead of a few minutes to talk to her about the subject.

     Beginning every liturgical situation with the lighting of candles is a given, whether this be at Mass, before my own morning meditation time, or praying with small groups. Where did this strong foundation of light imagery originate? Most certainly from John’s gospel in which Jesus describes himself as the “the Light of the world” (Jn8:12, 9:5) It also derives from other sources like the Transfiguration. Luke, Mark, and Matthew’s gospels all describe Jesus’ clothes as “dazzling white” (Lk9:28-36) Matthew adds that “his face shone like the sun” (Mt17:1-13) At this moment the disciples see Jesus as a Light-embodied being exuding divine presence.

     When we celebrate the birth of Christ we celebrate this Great Light who came to help us see the Holy One more clearly. On Christmas day the opening scripture from Isaiah9:1-6 proclaims: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

     The season of Advent prepares us for a fuller perception of how Christ the Light continues to be  birthed in each of us. In the four weeks preceding Christmas the four candles of the Advent wreath will have been lit, each time reminding us to be alert to how the presence of this enduring Light is with us NOW, alert to how we respond (or do no respond) to this beloved presence who lives in and among us, alert to how this Light radiates expansively if we look closely and clearly.

     Each evening during this Advent I am sitting quietly for awhile with only the light of the Advent candles to illuminate the darkness. As I do so I turn my attention toward being ever more aware of the Christ-Light. When Christmas arrives I hope my inner self will be freed a bit more from the inner debris keeping me from recognition of the Great Star of divinity shining in every heart, including my own. 

     The gospel of Matthew contains the story of the Magi, the wise ones who followed the light of a star to find the divine Star-Light. I offer you a blessing based on this story. This blessing is adapted from The Circle of Life which I co-authored with Macrina Wiederkehr.

       May you remember that you carry the precious gift of Star-light within you.

       May you greet this Star-Light with gratitude and amazement each day when you awaken.

       May you be led by this Star-Light to the places in your life where love is greatly needed.

       May this Star-Light shine radiantly in your life and bring you abundant joy.

                                                                                     ©  Joyce Rupp

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