Friday, June 29, 2012

Thoughts From A Long Island Retreat

I attended a spiritual/religious writers' retreat titled, "Writing Your Way Home," this week at Our Lady of Grace Spiritual Center on Long Island, NY. The retreat was led by S. Paula Gallagher, IHM, of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was thought-provoking and affirming. The retreat gave the participants an opportunity to write, share, to give witness, to be affirmed and to pray. We were fortunate to have Fr. Michael Greene, C.P., a Passionist priest celebrate Mass each day. His heartfelt, sincere homilies and his kind way added a lot to the retreat.
The history of the estate, where the retreat house is located is fascinating. The house which is located on beautiful grounds was donated to the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1959 by J. Peter Grace, Jr. He offered the Congregation "a gift of land and buildings adjacent to his estate. Mr. Grace was head of W.R. Grace and Company, which owned a fleet of 35 ships, chemical plants and the Grace National Bank of NY as well as other business ventures...."
When you go on retreat, so much happens that it's hard to put it into words. S. Maria Regina, the director of the spiritual center/retreat house thought of a wonderful idea during the retreat to further promote the beautiful and peaceful house. So the fruit of the retreat, for all of us is already beginning to flourish.
I had a great experience during the retreat. I was standing alone in the library looking at the books on the shelves (I love books, especially religious/spiritual books and am drawn to them). All of a sudden a strong gust of wind threw open the large wooden/glass doors which cover a set of huge windows. The wind just blew right into me. (The weather was mild that day, it wasn't stormy.) I was surprised and bewildered. Was it the Holy Spirit?.....I'd like to think so........but it could of been just a gust of strong wind.
Just a few thoughts from the retreat, that were shared......that I wrote in my journal.......
"Expect goodness," "You are good enough", "There are many surprises awaiting us from God," "Remember each day to be grateful, " "Be intentional each day about being centered," "Be fully present to what God is doing in and around us," "Possess a hopeful heart," "Be receptive," "Maintain a healthy balance between prayer, contemplation and action," "All will be well," Be patient and persevere," Be truly present to others." These are just a few, there were so many tidbits of wisdom.
Here is a sample of my writing: (in response to the writing prompt..."I am thinking of......."
I am thinking of peaceful days of summer, enjoying sunshine, waves crashing on the beach, walks along the seashore. I am thinking of the beauty of summer flowers, bursting with color, created by the Divine Artist- a feast for the senses, these summer months ahead. I am thinking of how healing summer can be.
I read through books in the library and I came across this quote which struck me in its simplicity, by Aldous Huxley, "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned all one's life and find that at the end one has no more to offer by way of advice than: Try to be a little kinder."
So I thought: try to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little more caring, more patient, and learn as S. Paula said to live with unanswered questions, to live with mystery as it unfolds.....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Will Save the World?

It seems the world needs saving, according to some economists who think that the European fiscal crisis could spin out of control. It could happen quickly, if nothing is done. So who will save the world? Will the Germans act or will the United States act? Or maybe China will help out. I started thinking about this after reading Paul Krugman's article in the New York Times titled, "The Great Abdication." He seems to believe (along with others) that someone has to act to save Europe from spiraling out of control. Greece, now Spain, soon Italy and then the contagion could spread.
The world seems to need two kinds of help, one earthly, the other Divine. For years there has been high unemployment in the United States, as Mr. Krugman mentioned in his article. High unemployment is dehumanizing and causes tremendous problems for families, most especially children. People are suffering in this country because of high unemployment and this is going on for years and nothing seems to be done about it. It's absurd when you think about it. Politicians keep promising solutions but nothing changes.
There are dangerous fires burning out of control in the Western U.S. The West is dry from record heat. In Colorado alone, eight wildfires are burning across the state. A frightening situation. One woman described it as "hell opening up." There is a water crisis developing in the West. Each year the problem gets more serious. There simply isn't enough water. Where are those solutions?
Major problems seem to be ignored as if they will just go away if nothing is done about them. Universities are filled with academics who study, do extensive research and write and yet problems persist in our country and the world and only patchwork takes place. Well thought out and researched solutions seem to be lacking. Sometimes nothing makes sense to me.
As I've written many times, I don't know how people live without prayer, especially in this uncertain, unsettling world we live in. I'm on retreat this week, but obviously I can't stay away from reading or blogging. But I am praying a lot and that calms me and helps me to deal with what I read. On retreat tomorrow I will remember to pray for everything I mentioned in this entry and to pray for realistic solutions that work and truly help people.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meditation, the Saints and Positive Brain Changes

There are many types of prayer and one prayer experienced by many saints is called contemplation. Contemplation is infused prayer which means God does most of the work and it is a pure gift of God. In order to prepare yourself to receive the gift of contemplation, you have to practice Christian meditation or Centering Prayer (or mental prayer as St. Teresa of Avila called it). Meditation opens you to the possibility of experiencing contemplative prayer.
According to a pamphlet on Centering Prayer by Fr. Thomas Keating, "The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to Contemplative Prayer, is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. It tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love."
A simple way to practice Christian meditation is to repeat a one or two syllable word while breathing in and out mindfully. I use the Holy Name of Jesus and breathe in-Jesus- and in breathing out I use one of His sacred titles such as Savior or Redeemer. When thoughts arise I gently push them away as if with a feather and repeat the sacred Name. This type of prayer which can also be called the "Holy Name of Jesus Prayer," not only brings you closer to experiencing contemplation but also reduces stress, helps one to focus better and has a great many physical as well as psychological benefits. It also can deepen your relationship with God.
Now in an interesting study recently published by the National Academy of Sciences, when participants in the study practiced mindful meditation there were measurable positive effects in the brain. Healthy brain changes occurred which could be seen in MRI imaging. Fascinating. It seems the saints have been right all along. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese- the Little Flower, St. Catherine of Siena, the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as well as many others) all practiced some form of meditation which opened them to contemplative prayer. It is fruitful prayer, as we can see in the life of the saints and those who practice this discipline.
I've been trying to work Christian meditation into my morning prayer discipline. It's worth the effort from everything I've read and experienced. But to see the "fruit" of this prayer you have to stay with it and be consistent. It takes time to see the graces of this prayer.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

...But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you. (Matthew 6:6)

For mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him, who we know loves us. (St. Teresa of Avila-"The Book of Her Life" 8.5)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Be Happy, Have Faith-Live Longer

I've read numerous studies over the years stating that people who believe in God, have faith, pray and attend religious services are happier, more fulfilled and healthier than people who don't. Religious rituals, like secular rituals are good for human beings as they provide comfort and security in an uncertain world. Religious rituals help people engage with the mystery (and God) present in sacred places and houses of worship. Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ, a very hopeful event for humankind and also believe in life after bodily death. Eternal life and the existence of a soul, gives people hope, knowing there is more to life than earthly existence.
A recent study at HuffPost-UK titled, "Happiness Is The Key To A Longer Life," stated the following, "Feeling happy and having a positive outlook on life could be the key to a longer life.....The five year study of almost 4,000 people aged between 52 and 79 years old, discovered that those who were happier and more content had a lower risk of dying young than those who looked on the gloomier side of life. Optimism is good for you, which makes sense. ("Researchers took into account age, disease, health related conditions and gender before coming to their conclusions.") This information reinforced a previous study at the University of Illinois which found that positive thinking reduced stress and made the immune system stronger.
I use positive affirmations, at times, to feel better as I tend to worry which is obviously not good for my health. Positive affirmations from Scripture such as, "With God all things are possible," or "God is my rock and my salvation in whom I trust," helps to lift my spirits. I also like to repeat, "I am a child of God, a member of the household of God, made in the image and likeness of God." Or "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," is another powerful quote from Scripture, which is helpful for keeping a positive outlook.
Christian meditation also helps one to put things into perspective, but it takes discipline to do it everyday (in addition to my prayer disciplines) and it takes time to see the "fruit" of doing it.
I have to work at staying positive, even with my deep faith and trust in God. Every life is a work in progress, but it seems staying positive has many health benefits.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Millennials Losing Belief in God

The latest bad news for believers, churches and Jesus came in a recent Huffington Post article titled, "Millennials Losing Faith in God: Survey," which quoted from a Pew study which stated that more and more young people are losing faith in God. This is a disturbing finding.
But I didn't need a study to tell me that. Firstly, I am often in Manhattan visiting my sons who live in a trendy, Manhattan neighborhood teeming with millennials. Thankfully my sons (who are both millennials), believe in God, pray and are practicing Catholics. But as for most of their friends, from what I can tell, very few practice the faith they were brought up in. On Sunday mornings in Manhattan, (and the outer boroughs) most young people are having breakfast or brunch in trendy neighborhoods, from what I've observed. (Probably some have attended Church on either Saturday evening or Sunday morning/ afternoon but not enough.)
Millennials are the children of baby boomers, born sometime between the late 1970's to the mid-1990's. All definitions of millennials include those born between 1981 and 1989. These are the young adults of today who are very comfortable with and probably couldn't live without media, technology, cell phones, and computers of all sorts. They are tech-savvy. They can't live without technology or their cell phones, but it seems many can live without God or worship.
According to the article and the study, older adults continue to believe in God and that remains stable, but the millennials belief in God is dropping. "About 68 percent say they never doubt the existence of God which is a decline of 15 points since 2007." That greatly concerns me and it should be of concern to all Christian evangelizers, from every denomination.
One quarter of millennials identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to show this age group the importance of belief, prayer and worship and how belief contributes to an enriched and meaningful life. The New Evangelization will have to address this alarming and sad finding and put much effort and resources to engage young adults, for the future of the Church.