Monday, March 30, 2009

It Looked Like a Real Accident, but...

Driving home from work, out of San Francisco around 6:30, I came upon a strange scene on the freeway. Literally feet from me, just across the center divide, was first a huge helicopter, full of paramedics, and then a burning oil tanker, next to a torn up taxi. The scene was surrounded by police, lots of on-lookers, and what appeared to be some large video cameras. At first blush, it looked like the news was covering a very very bad accident.

Without knowing what was going on, it was puzzling. Wouldn't my side of the freeway be shut down if an oil tanker was burning like that? Would they need to have closed the road for the helicopter to land? I recall thinking "That looked so Hollywood ... no one was panicked or upset." And I thought about it later as news clips played tonight, but no mention of what seemed to be a gruesome accident.

OK, I looked on SFGate, and sure enough! It was all special effects and they were filming for an upcoming TV show called Trauma. Woo-hoo! How cool!

And the Winner is .....

I'm proud to announce the winner of the first Welcoming Spirit Giveaway is ... Liz!

Randomizer popped up #3 and it corresponds to Liz of the lovely and entertaining Tidbits from Liz blog. I'll send you a little email and then all Liz needs to do is pick out some favorite flowers or colors for me to make the notecards. I can't wait to see what she picks :) Once that's done, I'll ship out the Nouwen book (I know you'll love it!) and the cards.

Thank you to everyone for entering, and for your lovely reflections and comments. I'll do another giveaway soon...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday: Music and More Flowers

Today my sister and her husband and my guy and me all went out to Filoli. It's a gorgeous estate with large gardens located just about 15 minutes from us. We try to go each year to see their amazing meadow hill full of daffodils. It's a sight to see, and they let you walk through the center of this lovely scene. It's like being whisked away to some sort of dream land. But you know how I am about flowers ...

So, we wandered about, taking pictures, enjoying the sun. It was the warmest today its been in awhile, and it was nice to wear shorts! out.

After the big floral outing, my guy and I cleaned my car. Poor thing was looking quite sad, so we did the whole thing - vacuumed, washed the windows, broke out the Armor All, and then washed the whole car. It's like having a new car.

And, since I didn't post music on Friday, I figured I would share a little band called "The Beautiful South." This guys started in England, in the late 80s. Their first incarnation was as a band called "The Housemartins," but then a couple of the members split off and formed a new band. Here's one of the first songs I ever heard by them, back in 1990 - it's called "Song for Whoever."

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some Images From the Retreat

Our day retreat went very well today, and the weather was gorgeous. It was inspiring meeting so many new people, and seeing how willing everyone was to sharing and opening up. Our them was "Living the Retreat Everyday," with the focus being things you can do every day to reconnect spiritually. Here are a few images from the day:


San Damiano


ready to rock

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oakland Police Department Memorial Service

An Embrace
Originally uploaded by Thomas Hawk
Today, at the Oakland Coliseum, four fallen officers were honored. The event was attended by thousands of police officers from across the US.

The four officers were shot in the line of duty, in Oakland on Saturday, the 21st of March. The incident started when wanted parolee was pulled over during a traffic violation, and then pulled a handgun on two of the officers, fatally wounding them. This parolee then ran from the scene, and a SWAT team was brought in. The other two officers were shot when the SWAT team stormed the apartment the man was hiding in.

I want to honor those officers who were killed, and acknowledge their heroic efforts, and the heroic efforts of all our public safety officers. It is not easy work, and their life is on the line for each of us, every day.

My heart and prayers go out to each of these men and their families:
Sgt. Mark Dunakin
Traffic Officer John Hege
SWAT Sgt. Ervin Romans
Sgt. Daniel Sakai

If you want to see more of photos, showing Police from throughout the US, please see the breath-taking photo set by Thomas Hawk on Flickr. It is touching and inspiring to see men and women from so many of the local cities gathered to honor the fallen. You can also check out the coverage at SF Chronicle.

And please take a moment to pray for peace in Oakland, and throughout our nation.

Where the Wild Things Are: The Movie

Perhaps I'm the last to know ... but I came across this today and it brought a huge smile to my face - Where the Wild Things Are is coming out as a movie in October of this year.

What's super amazing is the talent involved. The original book, by Maurice Sendak, was turned into a screenplay by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. Eggers wrote "A Heartbreak Work of Staggering Genius," which was a book that was real, honest, funny, and sad all at the same time. I loved it.

Here is the trailer. I can't wait to see this! I love that it appears to be an inspiring tail of hope.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Centering Prayer and Meditation: Two Interviews

One of the topics we're going to go over at the retreat is Centering Prayer and meditation. Interestingly, I came across a couple of excellent interviews today that both addressed this very topic!

1. NPR's Fresh Air: PTSD Treatment for Monks, an interview with Dr. Michael Grodin
A moving interview in which Dr. Grodin discusses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Tibetan Monks. What's amazing is that Dr. Grodin, in treating Tibetan Monks who have been imprisoned or tortured, has seen that meditation seems to bring about flashback memories of their torture. He walks the listener through his theory, that somehow meditation lowers one's ability to push bad memories out of one's consciousness. Instead, meditation causes the monks to relive some of the horrible events of their past. His methods of helping the monks deal with this problem are quite fascinating - and I'm sure you will find this interview engaging.

2. Cynthia Bourgeault on Centering Prayer
I was looking around to find more info on Centering Prayer and happened upon this interview, from 2007, with Cynthia Bourgeault. I had not heard her speak before (the retreat I had signed up for was unfortunately cancelled) but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her explain her own point of view. She does a great job of walking the listener through some of what it means to engage in Centering Prayer ... that it is not unlike a teenager taking off his "walkman" headset and hearing birds for the first time. In silence, we hear God's language, and are drawn closer to God.

I first was introduced to meditation about five years ago. I've since discovered that the method I use is very similar to Centering Prayer. I allow my mind to slow down and make an effort to let go of thoughts. As I recognize a thought, I acknowledge it and visualize it moving on its way (usually I visualize it moving left to right) out of my mind. Then I enjoy the nothing. As a new thought pops up, I acknowledge it and move it along. I'll admit that I love using this as a tool to fall asleep. And, I often do it when I feel my mind getting to0 busy. I really loved that Dr. Michael Groding makes reference to monks visualizing placing their thoughts on a lotus flower, and letting them float away on a peaceful river. I might have to try that, too.

Do you have a meditation practice? How do you approach meditation?

How to Plan a Retreat: Using Your Resources

In the world of retreat planning, you often need to rely on the resources you have on hand. Lots of times, budgets are small, and the more you can stretch your dollar, the better! So, here are a few ideas on how to make the most using the things your team may already have access to, and all for FREE.

1. A Place for Team Planning Meetings - A church is a logical location for a meeting, if your team is affiliated with one. Our team can meet up at our retreat location, but that's not always the most convenient for the whole team.
In our years together, we've found a free place to meet at:
- member's homes / apartments
- the coffee shop owned by a team member
- the recreation room / business center at a member's apartment complex
- our retreat center

2. Retreat Location - We could probably hold a day retreat at that same apartment complex recreation room, but here are a couple of other thoughts:
- open space or parks during warm months
- one reader, Kim from Kentucky wrote in and told me that she was able to use her brother's farm and farm house to host a retreat! How cool is that? It all came about casually, and before Kim knew it, she was planning a retreat for her Prayer Shawl group in a lovely location without a big price tag.

3. Retreat Supplies - OK, we've all done it - made copies or calls from work to help with a volunteer project. But here are a couple other, more above the board, ideas on supplies:
- one of our team members has access to a lot of free magazines at work, and we've used them for a variety of projects including collages.
- another team member can donate some food items from his coffee shop to our retreat breakfasts.
- we've gotten donations from companies going out of business for things like notepads, pens, and other office supplies. They have an old logo on them, but no one minds at the retreat.
- some companies are excited to give pens or other branded items to organizations because it gets their name out there. I know an insurance company and a realtor that are always gung ho about this kind of thing.
- we once had a local nursery donate a tree for a gardening themed retreat. All it took was a call to a couple of places, and one of them was more than happy to make a donation, we just had to pick the stuff up!

So, it's really about using the resources you have on hand and getting creative with ways to make your budgets stretch further.

Do you have any ideas on how to make a small retreat budget go further? Spill the beans below, or drop me a note at welcomingspirit [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ready for Saturday: Retreat in a Box!

Our next Young Adult Day retreat is on Saturday. Our theme this time around is "Living the Retreat Every Day of the Week," or ... "Retreat in a Box." (Yes, there were many references to SNL around 'Retreat in a Box' including much singing and laughing and strange gesturing. No, Ron and Kevin will not be doing a skit.)

I'm going to be giving a little opening chat on Spiritual Maintenance early in the day, and then we'll break out into smaller groups to talk about Lectio Divina, praying the Rosary, Meditation or free time. It should be nice. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

We're also getting some "to go" bags ready for the attendees. The idea is that we want to give them stuff to take with them that will help them in continuing in living the retreat after they leave. I can't tell everything in the bag, but I'll post pictures over the weekend. You know, we're just top secret about this stuff.

But the sneak peek - I'll be getting at least 2 boxes from Amazon and one from Oriental Trading at work in the next couple of days!

What do you do to keep on top of your spiritual game everyday?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Photo Challenge: Signs of Spring

Jenna, over at That Wife, is holding a little photo challenge this month - and it's around photographing "Signs of Spring." Last weekend, when I was out at San Damiano, I stopped for a few moments to capture a few flowers just after the rain had stopped. Now, I knew right from the start of the challenge that I'd be shooting flowers, because frankly, I can't get enough of them. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like they are as expressive and lovely as human faces. Call me crazy, but here a few of the lovely ladies gracing San Damiano.

A pretty Gerbera Daisy:

Spring Gerbera Daisy at San Damiano

A bright daffodil, which reminds me of living in New Haven, Connecticut with my friend Kathleen. We awoke one spring morning, looked in the backyard of the professor's home we were renting, and saw a field full of these lovelies. I went out and cut a huge bouquet for our kitchen table. It was an amazing site.

Spring Daffodil at San Damiano

And, a stately pansy:

Pansy at San Damiano

These photos all reside on Flickr, and were edited slightly using their picnik tool.

So, what do you think? What kind of spring flower is your favorite?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

'The Dance of Life' and Flower Notecards

**This give away is now closed**

A winner will be chosen and announced over the next day or so. thank you for visiting!

In honor of spring and celebrating life, I'm pleased to announce the first giveaway on Welcoming Spirit. I've picked out a couple spring-like treats to share, and hope our winner will really enjoy them.

So check this out! The winner will get a copy of Henri Nouwen's book "The Dance of Life" and a set of six flower photo notecards made by me! It's just a little way of sharing a couple of things that have brought me joy as a big fat thank you to everyone who stops by here and spends some time with the blog.

Henri Nouwen is a gifted Christian/spiritual writer. I have really delighted in reading his works, they are full of insight and humor, and he has a beautiful way of seeing the work of Creation in tiny moments of life. One of my favorite quotes from Nouwen is "The reward of choosing joy is joy itself."

The Dance of Life is a collection of the work of Henri Nouwen edited by Michael Ford, and it's a great introduction to Nouwen. The chapters take you through some of life's challenges with passages from Nouwen's various writings. I know you'll just love him.

The notecards feature photographs of flowers that I have taken over the past few years. I adore flowers, and find that I am drawn in by their individual features and details, with their shining faces being quite like that of humans. Each one is different and beautiful in its creation. So, I'm throwing in six notecards, similar to the ones here. The cards to the left are just a sample of some of the ones I can make - I plan to customize the choices whoever wins, they'll just need to tell me their favorite color or flower, I will pick photos that match their tastes!

So the rules - to enter you just comment below. Tell me your favorite part of Spring. Only one entry per email/blog name/person. Entries will be accepted until Sunday, March 29th at 11:59pm. A winner will be selected using, and I'll post a screenshot to show the winner's number. You do need to give a valid email address so I can contact you and find out where to mail your prize. And, the winner will need to have a mailing address in either the US or Canada.

Good luck to all! And thank you again for spending time with Welcoming Spirit!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sci Fi Saturday: Watchmen and Battlestar Galactica

Today I saw both the Watchmen movie and the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. Both were amazing, well done, noteworthy in their own ways.

A lot of my friends had read the Watchmen graphic novel when we were in college. For a literature class. Cool, no? I remember them being fascinated by it, but I never read it myself. Today I went with a couple of them to see the movie, and I really liked it.

While its 2 hours and 40 minutes, it sure didn't seem like it was that long. I really liked the interaction of the characters, and the overarching idea of what people will do to obtain world Peace. Does the end justify the means? If we really had enough resources, would wars stop?

Then when I got home, I watched the final episode of BSG. I've been a fan since the mini-series, and I have to say it is one of the finest shows I've ever seen. The show also left us with a lot to think about on Peace.

I was especially struck by the themes around Hera, who is the daughter of a human father and cylon mother. Both humans and cylon insist that Hera is the key to their future, and in the last episode a unified team of humans and cylons go to rescue Hera from a cylon ship. The imagery around this is lovely; its reminiscent of the Good Shepherd. The effort of a group to save their future, to keep looking for hope and love in the face of adversity, all of it is breath taking.

And strangely, both stories leave us with the notion that "Nothing ever ends" and that cycles are more or less pre-determined to repeat themselves. Interesting fodder.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Music: David Broza

David Broza is an Israeli artist who meshes the sounds of Israel with a lot of Spanish influence. I came across him at a very small event when I was in grad school, and got to see him perform live. It was a great concert. He is spectacular in person - amazing guitar player, he clearly has a great love for music, and a great love for Israel.

Here is one of his songs in modern Hebrew. If you have not heard the language spoken, its a real treat. His passion for the words is evident, so give it a listen:

In the last few years, Broza has been working hard to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2005, he and Palestinian singer Wisam Murad worked together on a Mid-East Peace song entitled "My Heart," which digs deep into the love that both groups share for the land that they fight over. The idea is that if these groups can focus on what commonalities they share, perhaps they can see past the need to fight, and rally around the land they love. If you want to see the video, its on You Tube here.

More of David Broza's music can be heard here, too. I hope you enjoy him and his sound as much as I do!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

About the Real Me

My buddy Jess Gonacha made a really lovely post this morning about the real her. She and a friend had been talking about how many people feel the pressure to appear perfect in the blogging world. So, to give a little perspective on things, she and a friend posted pictures of themselves, first thing in the morning. Not perfect, but real.

I love this idea. Soooo without further adieu, here I am, in our bathroom, one evening after work. Notice the flippy, pony tail hair ... the wrinkly shirt. When I get home, I usually change out of my work clothes to lounging clothes because its more comfy.


The T-shirt is something my guy bought in Canada when he was up there in August, its from a fishing place that he and his family have gone to for years. The ring is something I bought myself last year, and I love it and wear it almost every day. My earrings are something I've had since college ... I actually lost one at one point and had to buy a new pair to replace one. Strangely, my sister had the same pair and had also lost one around the same time, so I gave her the other one.

Here's a little tag I came across and decided to share in the spirit of sharing more about myself.
  • 5 names you go by: Paula, PJ, Jenksy, LeeRoy, Skeeter
  • 3 things you're wearing right now: grey socks, jeans, grey floral t shirt
  • 3 things you want right now: to go to bed, some strawberry chapstick, something to drink
  • 2 things I did last night: watched Battlestar Galactica, made pasta for dinner
  • 2 people you last talked to on the phone: my sister, my guy
  • 2 things you're going to do tomorrow: finish a Statement of Work for a new project (yay kitty litter), try to take at least 30 minutes to eat my lunch, maybe outside if I'm lucky
  • 2 longest car rides: from New Haven, CT to Soquel CA and back, and from New Haven, CT to Houston, TX. I guess that's three. I've actually driven across the country three times.
  • 2 of your favorite beverages: lemonade and coffee
So, care to share a little more about yourself?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: Franciscan Prayer by Ilia Delio

A musician I've worked with on retreats asked if I liked to read, and when I said I did, he promptly handed me a copy of "Franciscan Prayer" by Ilia Delio. I finished it ahead of last weekend's retreat, and I found it to be a wonderful, insightful book.

The basic premise of the work is Franciscan Prayer: the roots, ideals and practices upon the Franciscan way of praying and how it came about. The author, Ilia Delio, does a good job of describing the prayer life of both Saint Francis and Saint Clare, as described by Bonaventure. Beyond prayer, Delio also explains many of the premises for Franciscan life.

Divided into nine chapters, Delio artfully places meditations and questions at the end of each chapter, giving the reader time to consider daily applications of the material in their own prayer life. The chapters themselves are well constructed and academic in some regards, although Delio has a refreshingly lyrical writing style that draws the reader in.

Although I lead retreats at a Franciscan retreat center, I'll admit that I did not have much of a background on the Franciscan principals. Delio does a great job of explaining how poverty and humility help to center and open one up to a fuller relationship with God.

"Poverty invites us to go beyond ourselves, by taking from us everything on which we might tend to lean. It is not a matter of simply being poor but of having nothing that can prevent us from being wholly open to the grace of God. The practice of poverty, therefore, is the condition and sign of our openness to the mystery of God."

Delio also explains Saint Clare's methodology of prayer, which consists of four phases:

I'll admit that these steps are very different than anything I learned growing up Lutheran. Certainly, we did not have images or icons to Gaze upon as Lutherans, so this idea took awhile for me to get used to. The Cross of San Damiano is considered an icon cross because it has the images of Christ and of people within Christ's life, instead of being simply the wooden cross many of us are more familiar with. Truly, as you stand before the San Damiano Cross, you are staring at a Crucified Jesus. And, once you have that kind of imagery present, I do find that it draws you in to the story in a deeper fashion, making the events and crucifiction of Christ more real, personal and understandable.

Having experienced the San Damiano Cross, I can now better understand and appreciate Saint Clare's stepping off point for prayer. It is much easier to begin Considering the life of Christ when presented with a moving image of Him. In Considering, Saint Clare states "If you suffer with him, you will reign with him. If you weep with him, you shall rejoice with him; if you die with him on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendor of the saints, and in the book of life, your name shall be called glorious among the people."

Contemplation, Delio says, "leads to a solidarity with all creation whereby all sorrows are shared in a hear of compassionate love, all tears are gathered in a womb of mercy, all pain is healed by the balm of forgiveness." In Contemplation, one considers the connectedness of all things in Creation, and begins to better understand the similarities and beauty that surrounds all of us.

Imitation is the last step, and it allows us to become what we love, and for Saint Clare, that love is represented by Christ. By imitating Christ, in true form, we become more like Him. This involves the totality of the person, in heart, mind, soul, and action - when we are truly imitating Christ, we are fully participating in the mystery of Christ. In following our own passions, we are fulfilling our purpose on Earth.

The ultimate goal of this form of prayer is "bringing Christ to birth." By becoming what we love, we embody Christ for others here, and act as the Body of Christ for each other in a living, breathing form. By Gazing, Considering, Contemplating and Imitating, prayer allows one to embody the foundational principals of love and peace. Delio does a wonderful job of explaining that love and peace are both things that must be lived out. "A person can live in the spirit of crucified love, however, only when he or she believes that he or she is loved. 'The root of Christian love, Merton** wrote,'is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved.'"

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning more about the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, and to anyone who is intrigued by Franciscan Prayer.

*San Damiano also being the church in Asissi, Italy where Saint Francis first had an encounter with Christ.
**Thomas Merton, a Contemplative Christian author

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Music and Life by Alan Watts and the Makers of South Park

In preparing for a retreat, I often accumulate a lot of delightful things that fit the theme, but can't always find the perfect place to share them within the weekend format.

This little movie, "Music and Life," is one of those gems. I first saw it on Jess Gonacha's blog, Treasuring, and I've watched it a number of times since then. I love it.

I'm totally enthralled with the idea that Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame) took the spoken work of Alan Watts and animated it. A little research reveals that Parker and Stone did five of the videos from Watts old recordings.

There's something so consistent and perfect about Parker and Stone doing this work. Watts was certainly a cutting edge thinker for his time, introducing many of the Eastern philosophies and religions to the Western World. Watts published over 25 books - he was an Episcopal priest for awhile, and studied and wrote about Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Later in life, some of his interests included "personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher consciousness, meaning of life, concepts and images of God and the non-material pursuit of happiness."

Parker and Stone are also always pushing the boundaries, while using the cartoon as their medium. Certainly, their irreverence is both loved and hated by many, but they challenge the comfort zones and political and religious thoughts of many mainstream groups. For this, I respect them. It's easy to be passive in today's society. It's good when artists keep the public thinking and talking. I think that's part of why I really love the marriage of Watts with Parker and Stone in this little flick. We're called to live past the mainstream race, and to fully participate in living day to day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ocean of Mercy: A Video from Spiritual Pilates

Last weekend was an amazing retreat - it's always so hard to recap retreats because so much happens. I find that it often takes a long time to really process everything that went on, from learnings, to meeting so many new people, to the presentations. One of the things I like to do after a retreat, is to create a little video on Vimeo.

I'm proud to present "Spiritual Pilates" with the song "Ocean of Mercy" by Michael John Poirier, which we played on Saturday evening as part of our reconciliation service. I hope it provides a little three and half minute retreat from your day. I especially want to thank Liz and Sister Michelle for the inspiration for some of these quotes. You were both very much at the retreat in spirit, as were the many readers here and bloggers that I follow. I want each of you to know how much this community of kindred spirits means to me. :)

Likewise, I want to thank all of those who attended the retreat. Their willingness to share and participate was so inspiring. There was a lot of soul work done, a lot of honest reflection. This is not easy. I applaud everyone who was there for their hard work.

And, I thank Father Rusty. As always, it is a joy to lead with him. Words can't express how much I cherish our time together. I learn so much with each retreat!

Enjoy! And Happy early Saint Patrick's Day, all!

Spiritual Pilates from Paula on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reflections From the Retreat

It's a great day at San Damiano. The group here is awesome and they are truly embracing the theme of "spiritual pilates.". Indeed, many are doing deep soul work and reflecting on their own time in the desert. It is good to see Grace in action as people open up, share and wrestle with the tough questions. We are met with "wilderness experiences" ( think Israelites in the desert, or Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert) and those journeys have two distinct parts: both inscape and landscape. Inscape is what goes on inside. What makes each of unique. We each have our own passions and gifts. We each have our own demons and wilderness to conquer, inside. Landscape is the exterior forces we each meet. They are the circumstances of our current situation.

In the middle sits the human. Faced with internal and external forces. When we triumph over tough times, we learn and change. And we are often made aware of a deep seated truth. Grace in these times reminds us we are loved. Totally. Unconditionally. Loved.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Breaking into Small Groups: Collage of Quotes

Tomorrow kicks off the big "Spiritual Pilates" retreat. I'm excited and ready to go lead it!

One of the things I love to do with retreats is find a creative way to break people into small groups. Here's the set of 42 individual images that we'll be spreading out on the table as people come in on Saturday morning. Each person takes a card. If you look close, you'll notice that there are really 7 pictures, cut into 6 pieces each.

Is there a surprise involved with the pictures? Oh my word, yes! There's a cool twist coming on Saturday afternoon when we talk about the Beatitudes...

collage of quotes

So I get a little excited about these things. Isn't that what you want in a retreat leader? Got any cool ideas around small groups? You know I'm all ears, people!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time Lapse of a Winter Scene

I discovered this lovely time lapse video on Vimeo ... the music, the scenes, everything in this video is gorgeous. I love that when time is sped up, we see new things. When nature is silent and dark, patterns and images appear that we never see. This reminds me to look again at things with new eyes, to not take for granted the beauty of Creation. We can choose everyday to walk along in a haze, or choose to take in the scenery around us.

Time Lapse of Winter Scene from mockmoon on Vimeo

One of the things I'm working on for this weekend's retreat is imagery that exemplifies "The Wilderness." Generally speaking, we associate the wandering of the Isrealites and Jesus in a desolate, hard landscape. They fend off temptations, harsh climate, and much testing.

Yet, the journey of these people contains more than meets the eye. While they are tested, they learn. While they are challenged, they are met with steadfast love.

It all depends on the lens through which we view things. Nature can be cold and foreboding or stunning in its stark beauty. Our own trials can be insurmountable or they can lead us to new heights.

How do you see things?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Plan a Retreat: Putting Together the Basic Timeline

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

A Bevy of Lenten Thoughts and Reflections!

As a proud member of CC blogs, I'm happy to post a great big list of folks who have provided reflections around Lent.

Don't Eat Alone
The Connection Pastor's Post

Faith at Ease
Holy Vignettes

Where the Wind
As the Deer The Other Jesus

Mark Powell Getting There Ellen

Theolog Welcoming
Living Word by

Where the Wind
Faith in
When Grace

Theophiliacs J.
Theophiliacs A.

Available Light
Work in Progress Allan

A Diner at the End of Time The Painted

The Church Geek
Breaking Fast on the
The Pocket

One Hand

I've visited many of the posts, and I'm excited about the depth of the reflections provided by my fellow bloggers. I plan to visit all of the blogs over the next few days. I encourage you to surf a bit as well.

My "Faith on Ash Wednesday" post is included, and if you're looking for even more on Lent, I've also got a couple of longer posts about Lent:
The Wilderness and a People's Journey
Spiritual Pilates: Strengthening our Spiritual Core

Do you have a post on Lent that you'd like to share here?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Making the Choice Between 'Bitter' and 'Better'

One of the things that a priest friend and I like to talk about is the choice that is inherently involved in each moment. We can choose joy, we can choose to be kind. We can choose love. Or, as he likes to say, we can choose to be "bitter" or "better."

This little saying stays with me as I go through my days. I think after hearing it enough, it starts to seep in. I try hard not to be bitter. I try not to take things personally. Wherever possible, I try to leave the negative emotions out of the picture. They don't serve me or anyone well.

Tonight as I am getting ready for the retreat I'm leading this weekend, I was reading the Book of Ruth. It's a story of friendship, between to women.

Naomi is an older woman, married and living in a foreign land. One of her sons is married to Ruth. Within the span of a year, Naomi's husband and her two sons die. Naomi is left, alone, in the midst of terrible grief. She tells her daughters in law to return to their families. The one daugher in law, Orpah, goes back to her family. But Ruth, oh Ruth. She has a heart of gold, and her response goes something like this:

Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God my God.

What's remarkable about this, in many ways, is everything that Ruth is actively giving up. She's been given the "legal" blessing to return to her family, to go home. It'd be really easy for her to leave Naomi and start over, and no one would think less of her for doing so. Instead, Ruth has said that she will stay with Naomi, that she will cling to Naomi's family, and that she will take up Naomi's religion (which had not been the same as Ruth's religion).

Out of love, Ruth has chosen to stay with her mother in law. So the two women travel back to Naomi's family, back to Bethlehem. And upon seeing and recognizing Naomi, someone says "Is this Naomi?" To which she replies, making a pun in Hebrew, "Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me."

Or in plain English, "Don't call me the pleasant one, call me bitter." Poor Naomi, She who was once pleasant is now bitter because of the unfortunate turn of events that has occured in her life.

In this story, there is a great contrast between Naomi, who's heart has turned bitter, and her daughter in law Ruth, who has chosen friendship and love.

In the Hebrew, though, the term that's used for Ruth's acts of compassion is hesed. Or "Loving Kindness," which is generally reserved for describing God and His kindness to faithful people.

In staying with Naomi, Ruth has shown her own brand of hesed. Ruth has extended human loving kindness to both her mother in law and her deceased husband. Ruth has gone above and beyond the Judaic legal requirements, and she has remained faithful to her husband's family.

Once the ladies are back in town, Naomi's kinsman, Boaz takes notice of Ruth. He's been told of her faithfulness to Naomi, and because he recognizes the goodness of Ruth's heart, he allows her to glean the fields he owns. Later, Boaz agrees to marry Ruth, and in doing so he extends hesed to Ruth. He's showing loving kindness to his dead relative (Ruth's deceased husband, this act of marrying a deceased kinsmans widow is considered the right thing to do by Judaic law), and he's extending loving kindness to Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed, which in turn makes the sad events of loss right again. The people of Bethlehem recognize Ruth's love for her mother in law, and declare that she is "greater than seven sons." And, in the end, Obed is the great grandfather of David, who is later in the lineage of Jesus.

What is truly amazing about this story is the unusual love that is displayed by one woman, and the ripple effect this choice has on an entire family, and later an entire lineage of people. Ruth could have easily left her mother in law and returned home. Like her mother in law, Ruth could easily have been bitter about her situation. Instead, Ruth chose love, and she shared this love with others. In doing so, she changed the hearts of many.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Member of God's Flock

Between the ages of five and ten, I lived in Minnesota. I have delightful memories of that age, and of the place. Minnesota is full of good people, with a smart wit, and a lot of faith. I know that much of my own faith began fermenting there, at the very welcoming and loving St. Andrew's Lutheran Church.

The church itself began in an elementary school, and that is where we first became members. The school was the same one that I attended, and in that regard, it all seemed very "Little House on the Prairie," except the building was much more modern. Each Sunday, we'd arrive to the same place we went every day of the week, except we'd be dressed in our finest. And then we'd file into the lunch room, which no longer had long tables and benches for children, but was lined with chairs and a center aisle for the purpose of having church.

What I remember from those first church experiences was wonder, love, and happiness. Pastor Rod was full of life and had a true gift of presenting messages that held delectable layers of nuance. Certainly the children understood the sermons at one level, and the adults garnered different tidbits that would have been relevant to their life at another layer. One of my favorite sermons ever was about migratory birds, and it is a sermon that I think about to this day.

For background, I love birds. In that same house in Minnesota, my family used to hand raise birds. This was a "pet" project of my Dad, and in our basement we housed several breeding pairs, along with room for the babies. When the babies were small, my parents or my sister and I would hand feed them birds every two hours, around the clock. This made them quite tame and friendly, and they made wonderful pets. It was definitely an interesting business to be around and learn about growing up.

On one Sunday, Pastor Rod spoke about the amazing trip that migratory birds make every year. They travel from one spot to another, year after year, going thousands of miles, usually so that they can mate. And one of the things that is simply amazing is how the birds manage to make the journey. How do they have the stamina to go the distance?

Pastor Rod went on to say that most birds fly in groups in the sky, and when they're

Autumn dawn
Originally uploaded by James Jordan
traveling, they form a giant V. You've seen it, I imagine. One bird out in front, with equal numbers of birds following along on each side. They do this because the front bird is cutting through the air, and the ones behind him are drafting, like race cars. The lead bird does the hardest part of the job, and when he's tired, he drops behind, to the very back where he can rest. In turn, another bird takes the lead. It's a part of the dance of nature.

As a kid, I was fascinated by this. There was a reason why the birds flew in that distinctive pattern. The birds were helping each other. Pastor Rod explained that this is also how a community works, one bird (or person) does his part to help everyone while he can, and when the load is too heavy to go on, another person can pick up his load. It's gorgeous to see this dance, in the sky, and be reminded of how we are called to help each other.

What's more, no matter what, we all have a Lead Bird at the front of our flock who will always be able to manage His the load. When we're tired or worn out, when we've gone too far, God is out in front, leading us all. We can rest behind him as He takes the heavy load. He will never tire, he will never falter, all we have to do is fall in behind Him and follow Him home.

Ta-dah! A New Layout!

I'd been wishing for a new layout for some time for the blog. I'd searched and searched for something a little less pink, a little more "universal," and finally found a dreamy layout at Our Blogger Templates, and went with the one titled "Spain." This let me upload my own header image and I can now change that any time. I'm really liking the look and there are some other exciting things I can do with it, which I'll hopefully unveil soon.

I want to give a huge thanks to Gisele Jaquenod, who designed the last template. It was adorable, and I will keep it saved in case I want to go back and load it again.

So, what do you think?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Music: Earl J. Rivard

This Friday, I bring you the music of a dear friend, Earl J. Rivard. Earl and I met working on retreats together, and he is a gifted and amazing singer and song writer. My very favorite cover that Earl does is "Fly like a bird," but alas I do not have that song available to share. Suffice to say, if you ever have the chance to see Earl live, you need to go. You'll be amazed.

Today, I'm sharing another favorite song, and the first song that he ever wrote, which is "Shackled." I love the music, and I love the raw emotion that infuses the lyrics. While I can dance around my apartment to this one, I also can appreciate the message and words of this song. Who can really resist a song about unrequited love?

Shackled from Paula on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Migraines: Drugs and Triggers and How I Figured What Works

We had a nice talk about migraines and my journey with them a couple of weeks ago. I must say that it was a topic I was hesitant to talk about, for lots of reasons. I want to thank those who commented here; your words and stories were all so kind and well thought out.

I mentioned that there was a time when I was really flailing about the diagnosis of having migraines. One of the real issues was that about eight months after being officially diagnosed, I hit a really bad patch where I was getting a ton of migraines. It was averaging three a week. Not good.

One of the things about migraines that's really difficult is that it can take awhile to figure out both what your triggers are, and what medicine might help. For triggers, it can be any number of things that might bring on a migraine. I mentioned last time that it could be weather, food, hormones, lights, smells, the barometer, smoke, temperature or other health things like sinus pressure. It's really a mixed bag, because while you may identify a single thing that you think might be a trigger, you're likely to discover that that thing doesn't always act as a trigger. And boy, this can be confusing and frustrating.

Now that I've been living with this for awhile, I have a thesis on migraine triggers, which is totally just my own gut feeling. I believe that I do have things that generally act as triggers for me. The top ones for me are High Fructose Corn Syrup, hormones (sometimes, but not always), the barometer, smoke, certain men's colognes, and cheap liquor. Any of these things could trigger a migraine, but they don't every time. I honestly think its when I have an accumulation of these triggers, stacking one on another, and usually stacking on top of things like lack of sleep or too much stress, that I'm more likely to get a migraine. It's like my body can deal with just so many things going on at the same time, but it does hit a certain point where the scales get tipped and then there's no fending off a migraine. I'm no medical doctor, and that's just my take on my own situation.

Back about a year ago, I had none of this knowledge. What I did have was this unrelenting fear that was seated in the fact that I felt I had NO idea what triggered the migraines, and I had no plan for reliable medication if I got a migraine. All I knew was that if I got a bad migraine, I was out of commission, and in miserable pain. And often times, since it is a neurological disease, I also felt like I was losing part of my mind because of the auras and other oddball stuff that went along with the disease. This scared me to death, because I very much felt that had lost control of my own body and mind. The fear was bad enough that I worried about what would happen if I could no longer work. It's not good to live in that kind of fear.

What became apparent was that I needed to figure out what caused the problem, and then come up with a reliable way to stop or get rid of migraines if I got them. If you're reading this now, and you're new to the world of migraines, please know that it will get better. I've had days when I would not have believed that. But it does get better. You just need to find a way to get back in control, and you can do this by figuring out triggers and medication.

With figuring out your triggers, you have to really start paying attention to when you get migraines. I'm going to admit, I was never good with keeping a food journal. But I did start taking a good hard look at my food intake, and what I'd injested in as many as three days leading up to when I got a migraine. This was a small epiphany for me - you can't just look at what you ate the day you got the migraine. You need to look back a couple of days to sometimes figure out what the trigger was.

High Fructose Corn Syrup was pretty easy for me to identify as a trigger. I got one of the worst migraines I had ever had after drinking a jumbo sized Coke at a SF Giant's game. By the time I got home, I was a mess. This was way before I knew I officially had migraines, but I had one of the worst headaches ever and I actually stopped drinking all dark sodas after I got home. That day. I stopped drinking them.

Later, when I'd been diagnosed, I remembered this episode and put two and two together. I then systematically went through my pantry and refridgerator and discovered that I had very very little food containing HFCS in my home. That was weird, since so many foods have it. Now that I know how sick HFCS can make me, I chalk this up to my naturally weeding out things that made me feel bad from my diet, without actually being aware of why I did it. Next time I ate a Klondike bar though, I got a migraine. What's Klondike got in it? HFCS. The pieces fit, and I've accidentally confirmed it many more times by going back and seeing what was in food after I got a headache. This isn't controlled science, but it worked for me.

Many people recommend an elimination diet, and I've tried eliminating specific things like caffeine and ALL sugar and fake sweeteners. This eventually helped me confirm what I already thought I knew. For some people it helps them figure out they're allergic or have sensitivities to certain foods.

The drug piece of this was just as hit or miss for me as figuring out the triggers. What I didn't realize when I started is that most people with migraines have at least two drugs that they have on hand. The first one is meant to stop the migraine from getting bad, and the other is a back up pain killer to take in case the first drug doesn't do what its supposed to.

There is a "designer" class of drugs, called Triptans, that were designed to just work on migraines. Triptans are considered abortive medication, meaning that you take one when you first feel a migraine coming on to stop it before it gets really bad. Currently, there are seven different Triptans and each of them work a little differently. In my case, I tried two that worked only so-so. The third one I tried worked the way it should, and I've been with it for nearly a year. The triptan I take almost always works. But when it doesn't, I have a pain killer to take that has always worked.

It took me a very long time to get comfortable with the idea of "needing" to have these medications on hand. There are other options, like taking daily medication, but I've actively selected (with a neurologist's approval) what makes me the most comfortable. Once I got over fighting the idea that I get migraines and that this means I should take medication for them, I realized it is only the responsible and healthy thing for me to do to make sure I have the medication around. Sure, its scary. Sure, I still wrestly with the idea that I didn't really sign up for this. However, I'd be a fool to ignore the positive impact that these drugs have on my quality of life. The loving, caring choice for me is to take care of myself.

I hope that this gives a little more insight into my journey. Feel free to ask questions or comment, I do feel like we are all in this together.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From NPR: Bart Ehrman and Jesus, Interrupted

On the way home I caught a little of an interview with Bart Ehrman on NPR's Fresh Air. His latest book is Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) - this interview was simply amazing.

One of my favorite things in studying religion is understanding the circumstances under which portions of the Bible were written. It's interesting to me that studying the Bible often takes the ability to split oneself into two distinct mindsets: the academic and the spiritual. Many people have difficulty separating the two sides when studying religion. I argue that its a good practice to set aside one's spiritual and emotional attachment to some of Religious Studies because it allows the student to analyze the texts, begin to understand the context of stories and gives people a fuller understanding of the religion itself. I know that many people are vocally opposed to setting one's beliefs aside when studying religion, often siting the infallible word of God.

Hopefully you'll take a listen to the interview and take away a little of the landscape of the time of Jesus. So much went into the writing of the four Gospels, each by a different person, at varying intervals after the death of Jesus. Each was canonized, yet there were other gospels written. Often times, where there are differences and discrepancies in the texts, we learn the most. How do the differing stories give us a fuller picture of Jesus? Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spiritual Pilates, Strengthening our Spiritual Core

Just about five years ago, while visiting my parents in Kansas City, I fell down the stairs. Carrying two drinking glasses, in socked feet, I made the split second decision that saving the drink ware was the priority, and landed square on my back. And I slid down a few steps, until my feet were resting on the first floor.

This was one of those moments where I knew I'd really screwed up. Things were all out of whack. Lots of good expletives come to mind, and I was keenly aware that everyone else in the house was sleeping, so I couldn't use a single one of them. Instead, I walked into the kitchen and swore at Linda, our 30 year old Blue Fronted Amazon parrot. I like to think she kind of understood. In her own way.

This injury led me down the road of specialists, physical therapy, and spending a good deal of money. If nothing else, it quickly became apparent that if in the future I ever had to choose between the $14 worth of glasses or my own back, well the better choice is to drop the glasses. The prognosis was an anular tear in L4/L5. What that means is that it would heal, but the healing would take time.

In physical therapy, I started Pilates. Pilates involves strengthening core muscles, so that your body supports itself better. Instead of just letting your muscles hang on your bones, your muscles learn to be engaged, and carry the weight. So, instead of being "flabby, fat, and lazy," I started working on "abs of steel." It was fascinating.

This fall ended up teaching me a lot.
- Often times, I go through life, too busy to pay attention to common sense, and I find myself over extended.
- It's only in becoming injured, or burning myself out, that I first realized that I needed to relearn the way things should work.
- Once injured, I had to schedule things like physical therapy, so that I could return my body to its original, working physical state.
- Doing something like pilates can hurt a whole lot, and it sure feels like a sacrifice to have to get up early to get to the therapy sessions.
- Such a silly injury can made me wonder how I ever got so far off the path of basic physical fitness.
- I realized quickly that specialists make a world of difference, and learned to appreciate the kind and motivating work of good physical therapists.
- Once I had retrained my muscles and recovered, it would be wise to continue my regime by regularly working out.

I find that this is often so similar to our spiritual journey. That this external learning has deep rooted Spiritual resonance. Let's take another look:

- Don't we get side tracked by our ego, being drawn to the rewards of this life and the material world? It's easy to forget our original spiritual nature and become over extended at work, or with engagements that do not resonate with our authentic calling. We are often too busy to pay attention to our Spiritual fitness.
- Once the material and ego centric parts of our lives are no longer interesting or fulfilling, we find ourselves burnt out, spiritually "injured" and looking for "something more" to fill the void that in our life.
- If we are lucky, this spiritual injury or sense of unfulfillment leads us to look for our passions, or leads us to recall what we once felt a great love for. We begin to look for Source and hopefully begin to return to our spiritual center.
-Sometimes this return to our spiritual core can be painful; many of the great spiritual leaders like Paul, Saint Francis, Moses, and Jesus had many trials on the way to strengthening their spiritual core. There is much sacrifice on the journey for each of us as we make sense of what is of this world, and what is of the world of the Spirit.
- When looking for the right path on our spiritual journey, we often run into painful moments. We often wrestle with our own shortcomings, letting go of perceived past hurts in this life, of forgiving those who have hurt us and those we have hurt. Finding the spiritual path is not easy, and we often make sacrifices in realizing and following our Spiritual core.
- Sometimes silly little things remind us of our authentic self, and point out how absurd the ego and its greedy ways can be. We wonder how our ego ever led us so far off the path.
- It is always helpful to have spiritual direction when looking for the right path. We learn to recognize great leaders and teachers, of both past and present to use as examples of how to strengthen our Spiritual core.
- Once you have found our Spiritual core, we should remain active in our faith and beliefs. A true Spiritual core is strengthened and remains strong with regular use and exercise.

How have you strengthened your Spiritual Core?

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Wilderness and a People's Journey

Long ago, the Hebrew people of the Old Testament spent time wandering in the wilderness. Or, ha midbar, in ancient Hebrew. If we look back at this time, and this place, we come to understand that the wilderness they encountered is quite different than the open spaces we know today.

Israel is covered by a lot of desert. When I visited, nearly 10 years ago, I felt how dry the air can be, how fine the dust is in the desert, tasted the saltiness of the place, and sensed the drain of the harsh surroundings on me, even as a traveler. It is a place of great beauty, it is God's country, and yet the climate can be trying.

So what happens when a people are sent to the desert for years? The Israelites encountered wilderness, or the space between Egypt and Israel, during long journey. As a people, they were at a threshold, held in a liminal space between a land of slavery and a land of milk and honey. The climate in the desert can be harsh, foreboding, especially to a people who do not have a home, and do not have permanent shelter. But the Isrealite's time in the desert was not simply a journey.

The journey represents the fulfillment of promise between God and God's people. The time in the wilderness is a time of transformation for them. They are tried by conflicting tribes. They are tried by nature. They are tried and they remain true to God.

What strikes me about this story found in Exodus is that Lent represents the wilderness, a time of transition, and a time of testing. We can go into this more in the days to come. As I think of this time in the foreboding wilderness, the words of Ilia Delio seem ever so appropriate:

"It is in darkness that God's light shines radiantly. Thus we must enter into the darkness to see the light. We must enter into the center of our hearts to find the solitude of God's loving embrace."The Negev Desert, Isreal, by josef.stuefer on Flickr.