By Brooke Maffia Wang
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and
give strength to body and soul.
My shoulders drop, the corners of my mouth rise, and I exhale deeply in an enfolding sense of welcome just as I am. Awe is healing. My body felt a resounding yes when I read this in a research study. And, again, this past week when my now 10 year old daughter and I made a 5.5 mile trek through the damp familiar redwoods.
The redwood forests in Henry Cowell State Park have played a part in raising me. They are as much my home as any house I’ve lived in. Creek walks, bike rides, runs, picnics on the riverbed, ducking and crowding into the Fremont Tree, walking the tracks to the Garden of Eden, gathering in the “family circle," riding the steam engine to Bear Mountain, viewing the stars and the ocean from the observation deck after having gone through three ecosystems to get there, prayer in the Cathedral of Redwoods, the horn of the beach train as it rumbles through the forest. Oh, and the intoxicating smell that is like a hug on a hot summer day. Each time I leave a little more grounded, aware of our interconnectedness, and filled with a lighter and bigger perspective.
Awe is one reason I continue to find my way home to this sacred awe filled forest. How about you?
As we enter this season of holidays that are beautiful and messy, may you find places to play and pray, moments of awe that sink deeply into your bones as they bring healing and strength as they remind you of the unique gift of you to this world.
By Rev. Erik Swanson
As I watch the leaves fall outside my window, I honor that this season is a time of change. A time of shifting from the heat to the cold, from the growing to the hibernating, from the green to the barren. This season of change happens in all of our lives at different points and in many aspects: from vocation to family to our bodies.
It seems to me that in the spiritual life change, or transformation, is what we are all to be about. Jesus’ teachings seem full of these ideas, and yet the Church has most often been about the opposite: about holding on, remembering what happened two thousand years ago, trying to get back to a different time.
My upbringing in the Church never really helped me learn to embrace change and all the learning, opportunity, and potential that it held. I mean, sure we have death and resurrection but those were presented more as intellectual exercises or theological beliefs and not a lived reality that would undergird my life.
It wasn’t until I heard about this new understanding of Quadratos from Dr. Alexander Shaia that I found a lived reality of the cycles of our lives that included change. It was a revolutionary understanding of the four Gospels that made the most sense of any theory of the Bible that I had ever heard. It was transformative for me to hear that the gospel of Matthew was about dealing with change. Really?! And that coincided with the Fall season and the liminal time of day around dusk. Amazing! And… of course it does! On some deep level within me that makes so much sense.
What about you? Where do you notice the call to change? Where do you notice change happening? How is our Creator and Deeper Truth present in and through that change?
As we approach this new moment and new Church year that Advent ushers in, may we all begin again that deep work of change that opens us ever more fully to the new life that is the Christ- that is Emmanuel, God with Us.
By Diane Pate
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
One October, my husband and I experienced wet thick misty weather as we visited Ireland. We traveled along the southwest coast in an area of narrow roads along beautiful cliffs that dropped straight down to the ocean. We were exploring with no specific destination in mind. The road went steeply upward until we reached the top where it was so narrow that only one car could pass. We were relieved not to meet a car. We made it safely to the village below and had a lovely dinner. It was dark and misty when we emerged from the pub and we went on our way.
On this particular peninsula, the road signs were written in Irish. Soon we came to a fork in the road. Not able to read the sign and our GPS out of service range, we made a guess which road would lead to home. Again, we traveled on narrow roads and soon this one, too, went steeply up. As we traveled on, I began to have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. This mist was heavy and it was hard to see the land on the right, and we were very aware of the steep drop to the ocean on the left.
Then, for a moment, the mist cleared and our headlights illuminated a large statue of Madonna which we had seen earlier in the day. Suddenly, we knew right where we were-- almost to that narrow one-way curve at the top of the cliffs. We tried not to panic. It was pitch dark and we could hear the ocean far below. We decided that I should get out of the car and direct us in backing up because there was no way we were going to risk meeting a car at the very top. As I exited the car, I realized I was on the cliff side and couldn’t see where it dropped off. I quickly reentered the car and we began to inch our way down the grade to a wider spot to turn around. Then, breathing a huge sigh of relief and still shaking, we made our way safely home.
Are you on a road where you don’t know where you are going? Unable to see the end? Do you wonder if you are following the best path? Do you deeply desire to please God?
Like Thomas Merton, we may find great comfort in knowing that our desire to please God, does in fact please God. We might feel lost and in the shadow of death and know nothing about the road we are on, but we can trust that God leads us on the right road and never leaves us to face our perils alone.
By Wendy Toda
It’s easy to see the idea of “release” as being released from something. I would offer that we can also be released to something, or into something. Perhaps there is also a sequence to it - that we are released from something so we can then be released to something?
This is a poem best read while standing (safely) at the edge of some kind of threshold - a doorway, a curb…or while bouncing gently up and down at the end of a diving board. What possibilities are before you in this moment? What is inviting your “yes”?
Test the breeze
then I freeze
toes grip the edge
here I am
notice the new
of the One
what can be
for all tomorrows
if I wait
till I am ready
I’ll never go
let it be
all that is unfurling
catch the wind
in the going
that I become.
By Rev. Linda Taylor
One gift of collegial conversation is the new learnings that arise when we share anexperience. Recently, I told a long-time colleague about a phenomenon I’ve noticed in my spiritual direction practice. For years I've noticed that It’s not unusual for several people to bring the same issue to direction within a week, or even on the same day. The stories are different, but the issues share a common thread. Almost always, I notice how the thread is playing out in my own life, which frequently leads me to discussion with my own spiritual director.
I asked my colleague if she has ever had the same experience. She acknowledged she too noticed this synchronicity. Our curiosity led us to explore what might be happening. I’ve been reading about particle entanglement, so I wondered if this experience is another manifestation of the universal connection we share. My colleague wondered if the thread is something so present to us at a subconscious level that we’re actually tuning out something that our directees want or need to talk about.
Our practice of spiritual direction shines a light on our own lives as well as those of the peoples whose lives we are privileged to hear. Our self-supervision during and following each session—as well as in sessions with our supervisors—can help focus that light in a way that supports the life-long formation we are called to embrace. I think I’ll be continuing to wonder about the emergence of these threads and to be grateful for the unknowing that just might lead to deeper awareness about what’s happening in my practice and my life.
Having written about my own experience, I'm wondering what might be happening in you at this moment. When have you noticed synchronicity in your own work or life? What thread keeps popping up along your path? What invitation or insight may be unfolding in you? If you would like someone to listen with you, feel free to reach out to any of our spiritual directors here at CCSV.