Monday, April 28, 2014

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”—Genesis 28:16 (NIV)

Practicing the presence of God requires us to stay in the moment and to be aware of our presence in the world. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not know how to examine the moment.”—Coptic Gospel of Thomas #3                                                                       
Don't we often just function without being aware of ourselves, our surroundings, the people around us and even less of God?

Let’s take a moment right now and relax… Rest in your breathing and become aware of your body…Where are you sitting right now?… While you are breathing gently, be aware of God’s breathing within your breathing… “I'll breathe my life into you and you'll live.”—Ezekiel 37:14(MSG)… Receive the Breath of God right now and surrender into it… All is well and all shall be well…

Most of us have become used to a life cut up into different sections: this is work, this is free time, this is time with my husband or wife and children, this is housework and this is time for me and this is time for God. And more often than not, it's in this order!
We perceive some of our time as fun but most of our time as work, including our jobs, errands and chores. How many of us work in order to be able to pay the rent and groceries and not because we enjoy what we do? An attitude many of us have adopted is that we “need to get things done” to be able to enjoy life in the future or we just have “to get through this” and then we will live a happy life. 
I was certainly guilty of living this way before I had an epiphany a few summers ago. I was jolted into the present moment by the beauty of nature and finally understood what it meant to enjoy every moment in life. 
I was on my last days of vacation at our cottage in Canada when I discovered that I needed to repair the boathouse roof. I had been looking forward to enjoying my last days canoeing on the lake, relaxing, and having fun before I had to go back to my busy life in Florida. I certainly did not want to spend my last days working, but the repair needed to be done before the winter. On this particular morning, I got hammer, nails and shingles and went up on the roof. I was resentful and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. I don’t remember what made me look up from my work, but I was stunned by the beauty I saw. The lake glistened in the sun and a beautiful cool breeze made the water look like a million diamonds were dancing on it. Time stood still! 

I realized that it did not matter whether I was canoeing or repairing the roof; I was still on the lake, enjoying the beauty of it, getting exercise and experiencing God’s presence in my life. I was grateful beyond measure for this moment of clarity and conversion. I realized by the grace of God that I had created my own divided reality and I suddenly had “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18 NIV), thereby experiencing what Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived in the sixteenth century, had said so many years ago: “He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it.” (Tony Jones. Practicing the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence. Brewster:Paraclete Press, 2007, 22.)
I certainly did not expect God on the boathouse roof. I was jolted into the presence of God by the beauty I saw when I looked up. The lake had always been there, the sun had been shining for hours and the breeze had been blowing for a while. It had all been there, but I had been too wrapped up in negative thoughts and feelings. God was present and I was absent!  
Margaret Guenther, a spiritual director and former director of the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Theological Seminary in New York, writes, “We hear God speak, predictably in sacred settings, but also in wildly unlikely places and circumstances: the subway, the shower and the messy garage. After all, the Holy Spirit is blowing over us all the time... It is all a matter of paying attention.”(Margaret Guenther. My Soul in Silence Waits. Meditations on Psalm 62. Boston: Cowley, 2000, 119.)
The Holy Spirit literally blew over me, and repairing the boathouse roof became a prayer. When we live in the presence of God, we do not need to divide our life into “work and play” or “good and bad.” Our life is our life no matter what happens. We will be able to accept every facet of our lives as meaningful and as an opportunity to grow, if we stay in the present moment—the only moment we are living!

Do you recall a moment like that? Give yourself permission to sit quietly for just a minute or two and recall a moment where you felt connected with God, yourself and life on a deep level.
Where were you? How did you feel? What did you see? What did you smell? What did you hear?

We can have countless moments like this if we just stop from “automatic pilot living” and become aware of our breath and God’s breathing within our breath!

The following prayer will help us to come into the present moment and really live:

Breathe, Listen, Watch
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”—Genesis 28:16 (NIV)
None of us wants to feel the way Jacob felt, but like Jacob, we often are not aware of God’s presence. Our thoughts dwell in the past and the future instead of in the present moment. Staying present is one of the most difficult things for us adults to do. Let’s tap into this knowledge and become present again.
Notice that there is a power other than your thoughts that can change your awareness from your thoughts to your senses. This is your physical connection to God within you. Whenever you feel disconnected from your life and God, turn to this prayer with an attitude of worship and the assurance that God is right here with you. If you stay present using your senses, you will always be connected to your life and God’s life within you and all around you. 
“Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”—Genesis 28:15 (MSG)    

Breathe gently and simply observe your breathing… No need to control your breath… Breathe in God’s presence and breath...
When your mind strays, listen to what you hear… Simply listen without attaching a meaning to the sound…
When your mind wanders again, guide your awareness to your surroundings… Simply watch...
Alternate between observing your breathing, listening, and being aware of your surroundings when your thoughts take you away from the present moment… Pray this way until you are present and calm...
Can you feel the power within that guides your awareness? How does it feel?
When you pray this way during the day, you will become present to God’s guidance and promise in your life.
Prayer: I am aware of God’s presence. Amen. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 22:43 (NIV)

I was sitting in my usual meditation place, ready to practice Centering prayer, when my daughter Sophia came in and said, “I’m leaving.” The words, “Bye, have fun! were on my lips when I caught myself and stopped at “Bye…”
Sophia was going to a memorial service for her 17-year old-friend and last year’s prom date, Pat. Pat died in a car accident on March 22, 2014. He was hit by a car while crossing a street in St. Pete Beach. His friends who had been waiting for him at a restaurant saw his body lying in the street. They all had rented a room together in St. Pete Beach to celebrate the beginning of their last high school spring break.

How do you say good-bye to your daughter when she is going to a memorial service of a friend she sat next to in sixth period at school, who won’t be sitting there on Monday? How do you talk to your 17-year-old about the death of her friend? How do you bring God into this event? Where is God in the death of a 17-year-old boy about to leave for college?

While Sophia was at the memorial service, I sat in silence and prayed and held all of the grieving kids and especially Pat’s parents up to God’s care… That was the only way I knew how to practice the presence of God at that moment and how to feel connected to a God who I know is loving. I don’t like God’s timing and I don’t understand why a 17-year-old boy who has always been kind and considerate to everybody had to die. I don't understand it but I know by faith that God is in all of life and God is also with us in death. 
Sophia wrote a Facebook entry for her friend Pat as all of his friends did. It said,
“Thank you for being the most amazing prom date and friend. Rest in paradise, Pat we all love and miss you.” 

This blog is about practicing the presence of God in all of life and the Holy in the ordinary events of life. Is death an ordinary event in life? Logically, I can say yes, death is a part of life!

Can I see the death of a 17-year-old as Holy and practice the presence of God in it? Definitely not! I am not one of those people who could say to the parents that their son was “called to be back home with God” or that it was “his time to go home” or that “God is taking care of him.” I still question God and ask “WHY? Why God, why does a 17-year-old boy have to die?”

My friend Runelle’s daughter Margaret was murdered by Ted Bundy in 1978. Runelle is the most loving and kind woman you will ever meet. When I first met Runelle and she told me about her daughter’s death, I could not believe my ears when she said that God has blessed her with feeling no hatred toward the murderer of her daughter. I asked Runelle to share a sentence or two for this blog entry and she wrote, “Jack [her husband] and I realized that there was no acceptable alternative than to go on with our lives. God's grace, many prayers offered for us, and counseling gave us the strength to carry on; God was with us every moment.” 

God was with us every moment, wrote a woman who lost her daughter to the cruelest murder I can imagine. 

Runelle, I admire you and I look to you with awe, learning how to accept and experience the presence of God in all of life. You are truly living what Kent Nerburn wrote in his beautiful book, Ordinary Sacred:

“We are not called only to proclaim God but to be the presence of God, reflected.”

My friend Ann’s son, Frederick John Cox, died at the age of 27 in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. His favorite quote was, “Do what you love; love what you do!” Though Freddy’s life was taken at a tragically young age, he spent his years truly living! He celebrated each day and turned adversity into opportunity for growth.

I was blessed to be part of Ann's grieving and healing journey. I am humbled by her courage and determination to turn this excruciating loss into good for other children with her non profit organization, Bettaplace.

Ann wrote, "At age 21, Freddy dropped a friend off at home after a night out at a party. His friend went into the house and committed suicide with a gunshot to the head. This is an excerpt from an essay that Freddy wrote afterwards:

'Learn from your experiences; good or bad. But why does it take such drastic measures to create a lesson in life for some people? So it all comes down to WHY?  But to strive to answer that question will only lead to dead ends. To stop asking why and accept and believe will be the only step that will move you forward on your journey in life. Don't look at that day. It is important to remember the good things, and not to dwell on that day.'

When Fred died on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center on 9-11, I used his own words to save me from myself. I never looked at any images of 9-11 or at Ground Zero. When Ground Zero was completely cleared one year later, I went to New York to see where my son, whose first breath I witnessed, breathed his last breath. I created a foundation in his honor, and published the childhood story I told him as a boy, as a children's book, with illustrations and songs. As Fred pointed out, I learned so many lessons...and I learned new ways to get closer to God, as I travel the road of grief and forgiveness. As for losing my son...I have no words. But today my best prayer is, 'Dear God, show me what you want me to do, because I really want to do it. Amen.'"
I love you Ann and I am grateful for the presence of God, reflected in you.

Today, I am meditating on what Mary might have felt on this Friday so many years ago when she watched her son die on the cross, and I am praying for all mothers who have lost their sons and daughters… 

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. Rest in paradise, Pat, Freddy and Margaret, we love and miss you.” 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Patience! You've got all the time in the world—whether a thousand years or a day, it's all the same to you.—Psalm 90:3 (NIV)

Practicing the presence of God in the check out line

I have a favorite local store where I get most of my fresh fruits and vegetables. When I went to the store yesterday, my grocery card was pretty full because I hadn't been in a while. Waiting in line  and practicing the Daily Awareness Prayer “In the checkout line,” I noticed that the woman behind me only had two tomatoes in her hands. I offered her to get in front of me, which she appreciated.  When it was her turn to pay, I overheard her say to the cashier “I will just get one tomato then.” Looking up, I realized that she didn't have enough money to buy both tomatoes. I offered to pay the difference but she said, “No thank you.” I assured her that it would be my pleasure to give her the dollar but she refused again. I had to let it go because I did not want to offend or embarrass her. She left with one tomato in her hand when it was my turn to pay. The woman at the cash register who I had not met before, said to me, “Offering to pay was very nice of you."
 “I wish she would have let me pay for the other tomato because she obviously wanted two,” I said, “ but I didn't want to offend her.” 
“I know,” said the cashier, “but it was really nice that you offered.” 

My bill came to $30,24 and when I handed her my credit card, I felt God’s grace and abundance like I had never felt before and I said out loud, “I am so grateful that I can pay this without having to put something back.” The cashier looked at me, nodded and put the last item into my bag, mentioning how nice it was that I had brought my own bag. She then put a box of Baklava  cookies on top of my fruits and said, “This is like paying it forward which you were trying to do. Have a great day!”
For a split second I thought about saying “No thank you” because my Lenten discipline this year is to fast on sweets. I stopped myself just in time and said “Thank you so much. That is very kind of you” and I left the store.

Can you imagine if I had told her I am not eating sweets right now? It would have been rejecting her generosity in the same way that happened to me a few minutes before. It had not felt good at all. I don't think the woman with the two tomatoes knew that the gift I was going to give her, would have been a gift to me if she had accepted it. But she did give me the precious gift of being aware of the blessing that I can buy all the fruits and vegetables without having to think about or putting any back.
It makes me wonder, how many gifts I am rejecting daily without being aware of it? How many gifts that God is trying to give me that I don’t see or appreciate? 

Becoming aware of the moment as I write this, I see the beauty of our cat Peaches. She is lying peacefully next to me while I type this story. The morning sun is coming through the windows playfully painting leaf shadows on the wall and the palm trees are swaying in the wind outside while the steaming green tea right next to me, is waiting to cool off. And these are only a few of the blessings I am aware of right now because I came into the present moment and looked up from my typing.

I hope you accept all the blessings that God and life has in store for you! I would love to hear what they are! Here is one of my blessings in life: 

Below is the prayer I prayed to practice the presence of God:

In the Checkout Line
Patience! You've got all the time in the world—whether a thousand years or a day, it's all the same to you.Psalm 90:3 (NIV)
The grocery checkout line is the most wonderful place to practice the presence of God. Have you ever watched the lines and gone from one lane to the next because you thought it was faster just to discover that you would have been out the store had you stayed in the first one?
Patience! It wont go faster if you are impatient, nor will it make you happier if you get out the store faster. Your impatience will still be with you and you will rush to the next thing in life, missing life as you rush through it. If you accept that waiting in a checkout line is part of life, you will already be a happier person.
Practice patience the next time you go shopping, being present in your life, present to God and those God put in your path that day.
“We have all the time in the world, time enough for life to unfold.”—Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

  • When you stand in the checkout line and find yourself wondering whether this is the fastest lane, take a deep breath and stay in the lane you are in…
  • Be aware of your body and stand with your weight equally distributed on both feet… Relax your jaw, shoulders and stomach... Allow your breathing to calm and quiet your mind...
  • God is with you this moment… Be aware of the pure miracle of it… You are alive now…
  • Look around and appreciate everything you see, hear and feel… Be completely present and look at the people God put into your life in this moment… Smile… Talk to someone and make their day...
  • Be present and let God’s patience and love flow through you into the world.

Prayer: I have all the time in the world. Amen.

Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb.
Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B
A Tree Full of Angels