Category Archives: Reflections

Lent 2019 – Day 13 – Jeremiah 3:6-10

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretence, says the Lord.
–Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NRSV)

Lent is a time of year when the church and the lectionary tend to challenge us. On Ash Wednesday, we are invited to observe a holy Lent, by fasting and self denial, immersing ourselves in Scripture and prayer. It’s a time of the year when we challenge ourselves and perhaps deny ourselves a few things we might not otherwise deny, as we walk toward the cross and Calvary.

The Daily Office Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer tends to include readings that some might consider a bit more challenging. I know I find the Old Testament reading for today from Jeremiah to be quite challenging.

This excerpt from Jeremiah exemplifies one of many areas in the Bible where women are likened to the status of property, of a pawn used in determining political deals and familial arrangements. And blaming the misjudgements or immoral behavior of the woman for potential undesirable outcomes of political or military ventures. This is obviously not something modern, enlightened people believe. But why did our ancestors?

Too often, modern people will “throw the baby out with the bathwater” to use a tired but easily understood expression. That is, many modern people will turn their back on God and on the church because of how many difficult things are in the Bible…misogyny being just one of many.

However, reading these difficult stories, and learning from them, and perhaps asking why things were once that way, and what came of such perceptions, and how can we be better…these are all valid questions to ask. There is so much beauty and positive energy throughout the Bible; but also so much hate and violence and destruction.

And yet, we read these stories. We read them again and again. We struggle with them, we question them, we get angry at them. And yet we are inspired by them, enlightened by them, and revived by them.

Thankfully, we have come a long way in how women are treated in society. Though we still have such a long way to go. Perhaps reading stories like this remind us of how offensive and disgusting such language and ideas are. Does any good ever come out of treating an entire group of people with such contempt?

I don’t have answers, but I bet that I am not the only one struggling with this. Reading these stories and struggling with them together are one of the many things that I find rewarding about being a Christian. So, let’s struggle together as we walk toward the cross this Lent, and watch and pray with Jesus as he walks with us.

O God, you so loved the world that you gave your only- begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Lent 2019 – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
Jonah 4:1-11 (NRSV)

Jonah is not a book of the Bible that people talk about too much, save for the familiar story of Jonah and the whale, perhaps. But this last chapter of the tiny yet beautiful book of Jonah from the Hebrew Bible is one filled with an interesting conversation between Jonah and God. In reading it, I find it similar in some ways to the book of Job, and Job’s struggles and anger at God. This feeling of helplessness is one that I have personally dealt with many times…where I’ve just wanted to give up and to throw in the towel. Jonah, in his situation, wants to die. He wants to give up. But God asks him to question that decision, to look at things from another perspective. God doesn’t give him the answer, but God asks him to think about things.

In fact, the chapter ends with a question, not an answer. I always have found that odd. But upon reading this again today as part of my morning prayer, I think it’s just perfect. Ending on a question.

God is there for us in our prayers. God is with us in our struggles. God grieves when we grieve, and celebrates when we celebrate. But God does not swoop in and make everything happy and joyful when we are sad. Far too often, that is how people view God, as a celestial entity who is there only when we need God to be, and to save us over and over whenever we get ourselves into trouble.

Yes, God does save us. We are saved by grace. But God is not there to swoop in and fix everything when it goes bad. This fact is something that turns many people away from God. Questioning why God would make people suffer, or why God would let bad things happen to good people.

I don’t have answers or a perfect explanation to justify God’s actions. But what I do know, through my own experience, is that God is faithful to the end. God is WITH US, in my experience in Jesus Christ, to help us bear our burdens and to comfort us when we are hurting. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”, Jesus says in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This Lent, as we remember our mortality, and shift our practices in different ways to unsettle us and help us to focus more on God, remember that God is faithful. Remember that God is with us, in our struggles and in our joys. And rejoice in that.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Death wasn’t the end of the story

It’s Good Friday. The day that Christians observe as the day Jesus hung on the cross and died. A day when death seems to have triumphed. But, of course, death wasn’t the end of the story…

As I like to do every Good Friday, I’ve perused numerous blog posts, reflections, and prayers centered on the theme of the day. One of the posts I read provided a recommended song list to listen to as an observance of Good Friday. As I perused the list, I came across one song on the list that I knew from an album I’d bought years ago. But I’d never focused much on the lyrics, until today.

The song that struck me so poignantly on that list is “What Sarah Said”, by Death Cab for Cutie. When I came across it on the list, I pulled it up on my phone and listened to it. Chills were sent down my spine. I was overwhelmed at the words of what Sarah said. I encourage you to listen to the song. Think about what Sarah said. Think of your loved ones, Remember how precious every moment we have on this earth. And, above all, remember that death never gets the final say…because death wasn’t the end of the story…

Here are the lyrics if you’d like to follow along:

And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to Father Time

As I stared at my shoes
In the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409

And I rationed my breaths
As I said to myself
That I’d already taken too much today

As each descending peak
On the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines
And year old magazines
In a place where we only say goodbye

It sung like a violent wind
That our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds

And I knew that you were truth
I would rather lose
Than to have never lain beside at all

And I looked around
At all the eyes on the ground
As the TV entertained itself

Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round
And everyone lifts their head
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said

That love is watching someone die

So who’s gonna watch you die?

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This [Living Into] Dying Business…

Last week, my dear friend Jeanne Tessier died. Her death was not unexpected. She had cancer that had come back many times, and after several years of treating it, she finally decided to let the cancer run its course and to accept death and approach it with bravery and boldness.

Her journey toward death was inspirational, awe-inspiring, and shocking. She approached her mortality with grace, trusting that what was to come was just another part of the marvelous story of her creation.

In the months after she decided to stop her cancer treatments, Jeanne made small changes in her life. She took care of many of her post-mortem tasks so that her children didn’t have to, categorizing her possessions and settling up many of her temporal matters. She also periodically reflected on all of the steps she was taking as she walked toward the afterlife. She titled these reflections “This Dying Business” and periodically posted them on her Facebook page.

I found her reflections to be sources of sincere inspiration and beauty. As someone who just dealt with the death of a loved one (my mother died in December of 2015), I found myself revisiting the final days of my mothers life. Though it was emotional reading Jeanne’s reflections, it was also comforting, providing succor for my emotional wounds after my mother’s death.

A few months before she died, I visited her one last time. She was staying in a friend’s vacant house, though it was fully furnished and had all of the comforts she would need to live. It was an amazingly loving gesture from a dear friend of hers. When I visited her, I thanked her for her bravery and for her honesty in the reflections she had been sharing. She had touched my life by reflecting on the fragility and beauty of her own life. I told her I hoped to share these things with others, hoping that her words may bring others hope and inspiration, filling them with courage, in the face of their own death, or the coming death of a loved one.

And so, below I share her posts, which she titled “This [Living Into] Dying Business”. My prayer is that you might also find beauty and inspiration in her honest and heartfelt words.

THIS DYING BUSINESS: Packing to Move January 14, 2017

I’m packing to move. I can’t count how many times I’ve packed to move in my life, including in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Now I’m preparing to move again, but this time is different. This time there are more layers of meanings to unpacking from cupboards and closets and packing into boxes for transport. This time the interior work — feeling, imagining, deciding, detaching — is thoughtful and exhausting, and the work proceeds much more slowly, one considered object at a time.

I’m preparing to move into the home of a kind and generous and beloved friend. I’m also moving for what I expect will be the last time in this lifetime. So this time I’m preparing to move my body and belongings, but I’m also preparing to die, and doing my best to be ready for it, to approach it clear-eyed and to spare my beloved children the tasks of sorting through all the stuff that gets left behind when someone dies.

For example, I have countless art-making supplies of every imaginable kind — not just paints, pencils, pastels, printmaking tools, beads, paper and canvases, but found or scrounged objects of many kinds — slabs of wood, odd drawer handles, boxes of every size and shape, broken eyeglasses, an old belt buckle, bits of mirror and broken glass. You get the idea. I once moved an entire suitcase of broken glass, much to the amusement of the men who helped me unpack at that destination some years ago. (Eventually, much of that glass became part of “Shattered,” the best sculpture I ever made.) This time, preparing to move, I look at all these things and think, “Who am I kidding? How can I possibly make use of all this stuff in what remains of my lifetime? Yet: making art is the thing that centers and fulfills me more than any other; it is my truest creative expression and prayer. It is also my hope.

So I examine all these objects and weigh the likelihood that I will be able to put them to use. I pull out some things to give my granddaughters — a tiny tea set, some little funnels, a few Japanese fans, some chopsticks, a bag of dice. I pack some materials and tools I’m not likely to have the strength to make art with anymore into a box to give to the Habitat Re-Store. I empty and part with some wonderful old suitcases I used to carry these things around in. And I pack up a lot of it, still, to go with me in hope to my next home, where I hope to make art until I die.

As I sort and pitch and ponder, I put little bits of my history and story — prints, posters, writings, and a few photographs — into a suitcase marked “FOR MY CHILDREN.” When my mother died, I wished I had known more about her and that she had left more clues and evidence behind. I don’t know if my children will wish that or not, but I want them — if they want them– to have some glimpses of who I was and what I created while I was here. They, of course, are my proudest accomplishment. As I pack, I take certain beloved objects of mine and write their names on the bottoms or backs of different ones, wanting to share with each of them some of the beautiful objects I have cherished and loved. I will enjoy these objects awhile longer and then, maybe, they will do the same.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 2: Abundant Life – February 10, 2017

I plowed through the business of moving more exhausted than ever before and yet forging ahead with the clear goal of living each day deliberately, consciously, and with love. For me, this goal includes searching through accumulated scraps of a lifetime, seeking words and images to share, seeking ways to serve even in this dying time. I want to offer gifts of some kind and maybe some perspective to those who walk at my side. I find myself simultaneously immersed in the physicality of my life — changing patterns of sleep, energy, mobility and pain –and also swimming through a wide range and depth of emotions, including sweet nostalgia, a desperate sense of urgency, and tidal waves of grief, both for what has been and what lies ahead. I want to name and give meaning to my experience of dying, to be open to what unfolds (or unravels), watching and waiting, reading my body’s energy and sensations, seeking some clues as to what I will and won’t be able to do. Yet no one knows, exactly, because cancer affects each of us who have it differently.

Now, as I settle in to this lovely space, I am grateful for Amy who has made this home available to me, for all who helped me pack and move and unpack, for being close once again to a favorite dog-walking park, for being close here to my sister Jan and her Donald, for wonderful neighbors David, Karen and Delora, and for feeling welcomed and at home. My friend Brian, who came last weekend to help create a guest room out of chaos and hung all my pictures, is returning this weekend to make a video of making art and talking together, something I can share with loved ones down the road. Awhile back, my daughter Shelley asked if I’d make a recording of myself reading Dylan Thomas’ story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” the reading aloud of which was a Christmas Eve tradition years ago, so Brian is going to help with that as well.

I have a long list of names and contact information of people — generous and kind — who have offered to help with everything from Soul-walking to food and other things. I am grateful to all of you for your willingness and I expect that, before too long, I will be needing assistance in a number of ways and will begin to call. In the meantime, I am grateful for your prayers and good vibes and waves of energy sent my way. I believe these things have real power to lift me up and carry me along on this journey and I am buoyed by knowing so many kind souls hold me in their hearts and minds.

Yesterday was kind of a bleak day for me — I was tired and sore and could not seem to get warm. Today the sun is shining and, after 12-plus hours of sleep, I feel rested and bathed in light. Time to take my dear beastie for a walk. Thank you all.


THIS DYING BUSINESS [3]: UNEXPECTED GIFTS/HOW GOD WORKS – March 12, 2017

Yesterday morning , I awoke in a dark frame of mind that hung around. Around lunchtime, I went out with my Soul dog for a walk and on the way back stopped at the mailbox and there found a letter. The walk hadn’t lifted my mind, heart or view.

I came inside and opened the letter. It was from a person with whom I used to share a spiritual community and a couple of small group experiences some years ago, someone I’d never known well, but whose presence and company I had enjoyed in the years our paths intersected. Her brief, kind letter was pure gift and all the richer for being utterly unexpected.

The writer had learned that my cancer is back and so took time to write and tell me about all the times she thought of me when at the community gatherings I no longer attend, about things she remembers about my life and how I tried to live, my presence and demeanor, my beloved dog Spirit… in short, her memories of me. She ended her note with words of thanks for having mentored her in some ways, unknowingly, by how I lived my life.

What an unexpected gift and remarkable treasure, especially on a day when my own light was dim. None of us ever really know whose lives we touch or in what ways, but, oh, what a gift we receive when someone tells us and affirms thereby that our lives have made a difference in their own.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 4: Getting Real Now – March 8, 2017

[Please know before reading the poem below that this is not a request for help but part of my continuing effort to share this experience with you. So many of you have offered to help and that time is coming but not here yet. When it comes nearer, I’ll be asking for help of various kinds from all who have offered. For now, though, this is just my attempt to give words to the “getting real now” of my journey.]

Tectonic Plate
noun: the two sub-layers of the earth’s crust… that move, float, and sometimes fracture and whose interaction causes continental drift, earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and oceanic trenches (Dictionary.com)

“And who is your caregiver?”
the hospice nurse asks. “When
the time comes, who will care
for you?” The question stuns,
and not just because I have no one
person, partner, sibling or child
who would be free to come in
my dying time to care for me.
(Anymore, who does? The lives
of nearly everyone I know are
wild with busyness.)
The question stuns, even though
I’ve heard and asked it of myself
(when it was still theoretical).
It stuns because I am, and for most
of my life have been, my own.
I am my caregiver. (Not that I’ve
been a good one, having neglected
my care in so many ways on so
many days.) Nonetheless, I’m it.
What stuns is the realization, swift
and sudden, that before too long,
I will have to let that go. I will
have to surrender my life to others’
care. I do my best (and fail) to give
my life to The Beloved every day.
But to other human beings? Having
been harmed so early by those who
first were given to care for me? To now
seek care from those I’ve tried
so hard (if badly) to care for in my life?
Ground shakes; the walls won’t hold.

Jeanne Tessier 3-18-17


THIS DYING BUSINESS 5: Living the Gift of Days – April 28, 2017

I have so many people praying for my well-being. I take good care of myself – eating well, taking vitamins, making and regularly consuming fudge full of turmeric, reputed to be effective at slowing cancer’s course (the turmeric, not the fudge, although who knows?). I regularly engage in visual meditation, envisioning
the colors of the chakras enveloping, penetrating and bringing healing to my body. I practice a little reiki on myself, and I pray to have all the time I need to accomplish what I still hope to accomplish in my life.

Which of these things are of God? All of them, prayer most certainly. Which of these things have secured for me this period of health and well-being in which I currently am delighting? All of them, perhaps, and God most certainly. I feel strong. I have no pain and only a little discomfort. I have energy. Soul and I are taking long, wonderful walks. The lump that appeared where my second tumor was removed a few months ago seems to have disappeared and as of yet there are no markers to suggest that the cancer has taken up lodgings elsewhere in my body. How long will this season of wellness last? I have no idea, but I’m going to ride this wave.

Marc Cohn, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, recorded a song a few years ago after recovering from being shot in the head; the song is called “Live Out the String.” It is a wonderful song and has been playing in my head for days. It contains these words: “Maybe life is curious to see what you would do with the gift of being left alive.” Maybe. Most certainly, in this and so many other things and ways, I am blessed beyond all reason. This is what I know for sure: I am glad to be alive and grateful beyond measure and I’m going to ride this wave until it ends.

Jeanne Tessier 4-28-17


THIS LIVING INTO DYING BUSINESS [6]: June 9, 17

I had CT scans of my head and torso on Tuesday in order to learn where the cancer might be in my body. I learned the results yesterday: there is a tumor inside my left chest wall near where a tumor was surgically removed several months ago. The area of my chest near where my left breast was removed 3 years ago has a number of lymph nodes that are enlarged with cancer. And there are some dark spots on my left lung, most likely cancer as well.

The good news:

The CTs of my head are clear and there is no evidence of cancer in any of my digestive organs.

Most of the time, I feel great. I have very little pain. I had a few days of occasional dizziness recently, but that subsided.

I continue to walk my Soul dog 4-5 times a day and would guess that we’ve logged 400-500 miles since the beginning of February,

I continue to look for beauty in the world every day (Soul looks for squirrels).

Since the beginning of February, I have completed 25 paintings, have taken a couple hundred pictures, have framed about another 20 pieces completed earlier, and have plans for many more.

I’ve had visits from and time with many family members and friends.

I get to hang out with my granddaughters who delight me on a regular basis.

Thanks to my friend Amy, I have a beautiful home in which to live.

My sister Jan lives a block away and comes over to play Scrabble and share meals often.

I have received so many kindnesses and blessings from so many people.

I am glad to be alive and, at the same time, I am not afraid of going Home when that time comes.

Living and dying are threads of the same tapestry, and I’m still busy weaving as best I can.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 7: September 19, 2017

For over a year after learning my cancer was back, I’ve had a pretty good run. Up until quite recently, despite the presence of cancer within, I’ve had good health and energy. I’ve been able to spend rich and healing time with family members and friends from far and near. I’ve had time to make art for two little exhibits here locally. Until recently, I could still comfortably walk my Soul dog 4-5 times a day. I’ve had time to sort through possessions to share with my family now or when I’m gone. I’ve gathered together writings, photos, and memorabilia for my beloved grown children, planned the basic structure of my funeral, arranged for my cremation, reconnected with a beloved friend from our undergraduate years who is on a brave and noble cancer journey of her own, done a bit of writing and a great deal of life review, reveling for some part of most days in the beauty of the world. Of course, I have also wondered, worried, grieved, and prayed.

Lately, life inside my physical body has become harder: pain, fatigue, loss of energy, weakness and so on, to the point at which it recently became important to let my beloved Soul dog go begin the next phase of his earthly life wrapped in the love, energy and care of my niece Mary and her wonderful family. His adjustment to his new life is going well and I know he is going to revel in the love he finds there. As for me, I’m sleeping a bit better since I’m not sharing sleeping space with him, I’m greatly missing his presence, and I am grateful and relieved to know that he has the loving family he needs. I pray he will give Mary and Glenn and Joey and Tessa and even Grandpa Joe, who will also be a part of his life in Illinois, much love and laughter.

Now I’m hoping to do a bit more writing about this “long, strange trip” I’m on, to learn some hard lessons about surrender, to read and maybe make a bit more art, to visit (more briefly) with family and friends, and to (hopefully) find some combination of gentle medicines that will ease pain and leave my mind more or less intact. I am praying I don’t linger too long, and I would welcome your joining me in that prayer. I’ve had a rich, full and difficult life (as most of us do) and I know Love awaits because that is who God is. I look forward to being welcomed into that Love and, I hope, as well, to being reunited with people I’ve loved here in my lifetime and with some animals, too, especially a big black Spirit dog who left this plane a year ago. For those who have doubts about the souls of animals continuing into eternity, I assure you that Spirit was my truest and most faithful spiritual teacher, even though I’ve had many wonderful human teachers as well.

I welcome your responses to my sharing, but please know it’s not required. I just hope, that if you read what I write, you will find some value there. Thank you all for being my family and friends.

Jeanne Tessier

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A gratitude-filled New Year

Last night, New Year’s Eve on December 31, 2017, I celebrated the festivities in an entirely new way: at church. While I am a regular church goer, and consider myself a devout Episcopalian, I never had really thought about celebrating such a holiday at church. But the opportunity presented itself for me to assist with the celebration in a small yet meaningful capacity, and so I accepted. My plans were set.

The church I attend, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, has hosted a New Year’s Eve labyrinth walk for almost 20 years. They open the doors of the church to the community for anyone to come and meditate on one of several labyrinths. This year, the walk began at 6pm and ended at midnight, when Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the center of the large labyrinth, ringing in the new year and celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name (which celebrates the Christchild being brought to the temple 8 days after his birth and being named Jesus). Also, it so happened that the weekly Compline service (which has happened every Sunday evening at 9:30pm since 1957) occurred in the middle of the evening.

I attended this year’s celebration at first just to fulfill my duty I committed to (assisting with the set up of the altar for Holy Eucharist). I ensured to arrive early enough to be able to enjoy the Compline service as well. As i settled into one of the few remaining open seats in the cathedral, I was surrounded by people slowly walking around the cathedral, making their way from one labyrinth to another; finding a seat for the Compline service; or wandering without seeming to have a purpose at all…perhaps just absorbing the sacredness of the space, illuminated partly by candlelight and dim lamps.

Shortly after I settled into my seat, the Compline choir entered the cathedral, carefully making their way through the crowds of people to the corner where they perform the service. As the service began, I let the music and chant calm my soul and transport me to a place of sacred peace. If you’ve never heard the St. Mark’s Compline Choir, be sure and check out their website: http://www.complinechoir.org. Listen to one of their recordings. You’ll be glad you did.

After the Compline choir completed their singing, a moment of silence fell on the very full cathedral before another musical performer stepped up. (There were numerous different musicians who took turns providing calming/sacred music during the labyrinth walk). I stayed put in my chair, and connected with the faces of several other people sitting along the floor in front of me (there were so many people, there weren’t any seats left). I wasn’t the only one who had been transported that evening into a place of peace.

After doing a bit of reading and praying the rosary, I decided I would begin a walk of the labyrinth. I chose a smaller one that was close to where I was sitting in the rear corner of the cathedral. Not being that regular of a labyrinth walker, and someone who finds it difficult to focus my prayer without a rubric, I didn’t want to walk the larger labyrinth that was filled with people in the center.

I removed my shoes, walked to the entrance, and slowly began to walk. I found myself instead of praying simply meditating on all of the blessings of my life: my family, my friends, my fluffy puppy Fritz, this beautiful city that I now call home. My thoughts became flooded with gratitude. And the face of my mother, who died 2 years ago on Christmas Eve, continued to enter my mind. I thought about all that she went through in her life and what she taught me about faith and love. My heart was overflowing with gratitude. As I slowly approached the center, I began to have puddles of tears form in my eyes. Overwhelming gratitude and love. It’s a powerful and awe-inspiring thing.

I noticed as I walked that the outline of the labyrinth had been retraced. There were spots where the old line had been removed and replaced elsewhere, kind of like a ghost image. Like when you’re driving down the road and you can see someone has re-lined the road, but you still see the old lines. It was a bit disorienting in the dim light to be able to make sure I was following the right path. I found myself seeing this experience as a metaphor for life…how often do we think we are following the right path, but aren’t sure we’re following the right one?

Upon reaching the center of the labyrinth, I paused. The center was surrounded by small tea light candles. I felt myself being held in a place of peace and love. I imagined a photo of myself as a baby where my mom has me in her arms, perched on her shoulders. Gratitude.

When I completed my labyrinth walk, it was time to begin preparations for our midnight Holy Eucharist. I proceeded to the sacristy, where I prepared the bread and the wine (though we were using champagne since it was New Year’s), and performed the tasks that have become a part of my offering to God, where I in turn give gratitude for Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for redeeming our world. Preparing the holy gifts for the altar warms my heart each and every time. And this night, I was especially filled with gratitude. Gratitude that was perfectly summed up in the Prayer of Thanksgiving which we read during the service:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

As I write this post nearly 24 hours later, I still find my heart and mind overflowing with gratitude. It’s a beautiful way to begin the New Year!

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New Year’s Examen

Looking back over the year, with God.

If you have time today, why not do an annual “examen”? St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, encouraged us to do a daily “examen,” or “examination of conscience,” where we look back over the day to see where God has been active. It’s a way to help us notice, be grateful and experience the desire for change.

You can do it for a whole year too, and Dec. 31 is the perfect time. Here’s how. Give yourself some time, maybe 30 minutes or so. Or longer if it’s been an eventful year.

1.) Remember that you’re in God’s presence. That’s essential for any prayer. It’s not just you running through a list or talking to yourself. You’re doing it with God. Ignatius used to recommend actually looking at they physical place where you’ll be praying (a chair, on the floor, in a pew) and imagine God looking at you. It helps you to remember God is with you. Or you could simply invite God to be with you. God’s always with us, but it’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially when we pray.

2.) Call to mind what you’re grateful for. Think of all the wonderful things that happened to you this year. Take your time to do this. Savor them, like you’d savor a good meal. And give thanks to God for them. Even if you’ve had a bad year, call to mind what you’re grateful for. You may be surprised by how many wonderful events you’ve forgotten about. Know that these are God’s gifts to you.

3.) Review the year. Of course you can’t do this day by day, but perhaps go month by month. Or just do it by topic–family, friends, work, and so on. Cast your mind back over the year. Notice where God was present, where you said yes to God’s invitation to greater love. Where God loved you. Notice.

4.) Express your sorrow. Surely in the space of 365 days you’ve done some things you regret. Tell God you’re sorry. If you’ve really harmed someone, the last day of the year is a good time to seek forgiveness. Think about going to confession if you’re Catholic and conscious of grave sin. But don’t wallow in your sins: remember you’re human and we all make mistakes.

5.) Ask God for the grace to live 2017 as a good person. All of us have things that we’ll need God’s grace to face: health problems, financial problems, family problems, work problems. So ask God for help. Be specific about what you need. St. Ignatius often encouraged people to pray for what they want and need. Finally, ask for the grace to see God’s presence in the new year.

And throw in a prayer for me too. I need help too.

Happy New Year!

–Orginally posted on the Facebook page of Father James Martin, SJ. Click here to go to the original post on Facebook.

Sunset from Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington -- December 20, 2016

Sunset from Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington — December 20, 2016

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Rejoice!

I’ve had a pretty bad last few days. A friend of mine hurt my feelings pretty bad the day before Thanksgiving. And then I spent Thanksgiving alone, which was a first for me and, although I actually enjoyed it, it was sad not being with my family or close friends. And then over the weekend, a person I’ve been romantically interested in for a year or so, and very good friends with for almost two years, gave me some news. I knew he had been interested in another guy for quite some time. But on Sunday, he dropped a bomb on me and let me know that they had decided to get married. It really hurt. I’ve been super upset since then.

And so for the last few days, I’ve been lost in my thoughts. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t wanted to talk to anyone. I’ve been very introspective and contemplative. I’m wondering why God is bringing me this pain right now as I approach the 1-year anniversary of my mother’s death, and as I am still so unsettled and confused after the recent presidential election. What is God trying to show me in all of this? Is God even there? Is there any hope to be found in all of this? Why does my future all of a sudden look so empty, so lonely, so sad?

In the midst of all of this, I’ve been distracted with the fact that it is the beginning of the Advent season, one of the most beautiful, meaningful, and sacred times of the year to me. Over the weekend, I set up my Christmas tree and made a homemade Advent wreath. And this past Sunday night, the first night of Advent, I attended a truly sublime Advent Lessons and Carols service at my church. The service ended with a profoundly beautiful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Three different choirs alternated singing verses along with the church filled with around 500 people. It was uplifting and spine tingling. And since then, I’ve been singing the song in my head over and over.

Tonight, on the car ride home from work, as I was stuck in gobs of traffic, I put “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on the stereo. I found myself meditating on the refrain:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

And it just hit me. Why am I consuming myself with sadness, and bitterness, and hopelessness? God is with me (Emmanuel!) in the midst of all of this. In spite of all of these bad feelings, I should rejoice in knowing that God’s peace is within reach. God’s grace and love and care surround me and are within me, no matter what befalls me. I shouldn’t be sad, rather I should rejoice in knowing these things.

And peace began to wash over me. It’s amazing how God can speak to us in the most mundane of ways. I think it speaks to the wonder of who and what God is…God is with us, in the midst of our daily lives. In the stranger, in the gentle breeze that blows, in the storm clouds that thunder and rain, in the raging fire, and in the swells of the sea. God’s presence supersedes all that we experience, and all we must do is listen with our eyes and we will hear it through all of our senses.

God’s peace does, indeed, surpass all understanding. And for this, I am truly thankful.

rejoice-590

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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