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Creating Calm Amid Life’s Chaos

Well, I didn’t plan for this confluence of events, but, as is often the case, the Spirit took care of that for me. Today I’ll be out in Canandaigua, New York, talking to 70 Catholic prison chaplains about “Creating Calm Amid Life’s Chaos.” Couldn’t have come at a better time, what with this week getting off to a somewhat chaotic start here at Not Strictly Spiritual. Read more

Convergence, coincidence, and cosmic connections

If you go on silent retreat, or spend any serious amount of time in deep and quiet prayer, you’re likely to find that some new synapses are firing. Suddenly it’s as if you’ve discovered a previously dormant channel in your brain. Read more

Sacred spaces, liminal places

When I first arrived at Pyramid Life Center, I carted my sleep bag and backpack up to my room in the main lodge, and, I have to admit, felt a flutter of disappointment when I realized my little room did not have a view of the lake. The last time I was at Pyramid I had a corner room with a lake view from both windows. I even slept with my head at the foot of the bed so the lake would be the last thing I saw at night and the first thing I saw in the morning. So I had to fight the urge to let disappointment be the first feeling I felt on my weekend retreat, especially since I wasn’t planning on spending that much time in my room and this might actually encourage me to spend more time sitting right next to the lake rather than looking at it from afar. Read more

Lessons from Brother Sun

So much happens on silent retreat, even though nothing at all seems to be happening. No talking, no reading, no writing, no casual eye contact. Doesn’t sound like much could be happening, does it? But, let me tell you, there is so much energy and movement and chatter going on under the surface, it’s hard to contain it. At one point on the first day, as I let go of everything that was going on in my head and heart, my interior was actually shaking, almost like I was shivering, but I wasn’t cold. Just a flood of feelings and emotions and questions that came rising up to the surface after being pushed down day after day by the normal events of life. Read more

Into great silence, Adirondack-style

I am so honored and humbled by the many, many prayer requests that have come pouring in from friends on Facebook. I asked people to send me their special intentions so I can carry them with me on silent retreat this weekend, and I now have three full pages — and I’ll be adding to the list right up until I leave at 3 p.m. in case you want to email me or leave an intention in the comment section before then. What a beautiful thing, to have people trust me with their worries and needs. I promise I’ll honor all of them. Although I’m not supposed to read on this silent retreat, I will make an exception for my prayer list so I don’t forget or miss anyone. Read more

Solitude and small-town friendliness in Manhattan

When I visited Manhattan a few weeks ago, I emerged from Penn Station, stepped out onto the street, took a big, deep breath of bus fumes mixed with subway steam mixed with street-cart hot dogs, and immediately texted Dennis this message: “I love New York.” And I do. Whenever I go back, I remember why and just how much, so much that Dennis and I have said more than once that if we had the money — and the ability to retire ever, which isn’t going to happen — Manhattan would be our retirement destination of choice. Read more

Pitching a tent on sacred ground

I’m not much of a camper. I chalk it up to traumatic Girl Scout experiences as a kid — think rain, mud, latrine duty, French toast cooked over a coffee can. But as I write this column, I am simultaneously washing my winter sleeping bag in anticipation of a weekend camping retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., with Noah’s Boy Scout troop. And I’m actually looking forward to it. Read more

Skip resolutions. Go for ‘goals’ instead.

What new routines have you vowed to start and keep this year? A healthy eating plan? Exercise regimen? House re-organization effort? The new year offers the promise of a clean slate, a chance to begin again or try for the first time something that will improve our health, our home, our world.

I tend not to make typical resolutions, but I know plenty of people do. Every year, when the first week of January hits, our YMCA becomes a bit of a zoo. You can’t find a free treadmill or weight machine no matter what odd hour of the day you show up. I asked a trainer once, “How long will this go on?” He said, “Hang in there until the end of February and they’ll all be gone.” Read more

Picking up scattered fragments of peace

When I returned from my wonderful weekend retreat almost three weeks ago, the sense of peace surrounding my heart and penetrating my soul was almost palpable…

unflappable…

Kids did dopey things. I didn’t yell. Work deadlines went from bad to worse. I didn’t melt. The car bumper was bashed in by a hit-and-run meanie. I didn’t explode.

It was clear evidence, at least in my mind, of the power of deep and intense prayer practiced over days, rather than short bursts of desperate cries shouted heavenward while sitting at stoplights or wiping the counter.

In the initial days after my retreat, I kept up some semblance of deep prayer and deep peace. I cleared the decks and sat down in silent meditation in my sacred space. I did yoga followed by more prayer. I got up early and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in the twinkling glow of the Christmas tree set against a backdrop of winter darkness. I was on a holy roll.

But then bit by bit, day by day, the peace started to fragment…

I could almost see it happening.

Sharp shards of silence breaking off and flying away from me in every direction.

I knew enough to realize it was an unhappy development but felt powerless to stop it. The tension of the season, coupled with the crush of work, compounded by the frenzy of family life made me — as it often does — feel as if I should just wave my spiritual white flag and give up my quest for inner peace. Add my voice to the din.

Then I remembered something our teacher said on retreat, something that really jumped out at me as I sat cross-legged on the floor of the yoga studio at Kripalu. So often, when we think of Jesus in prayer, we think of him in the desert, in the garden, in silent solitude. But the truth is, Father Tom reminded us, that Jesus was more often than not surrounded by chaos — people clamoring to get near him, touch his robe, lower a friend through a roof, climb a tree.

Follow, follow, follow. Ask, ask, ask.

And yet we see the way his peace and prayerfulness emerge amid the chaos. The quiet compassion given to the woman caught in adultery, the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of a soldier’s servant, the forgiveness of a thief from the cross. Jesus did not become unloving, harsh and impatient because the conditions around him went from good to bad to abominable. He stayed true to his center, his Truth, bringing his peace into the noise and glare of an often unkind world.

Rather than letting it happen the other way around…

So as we wait just two more days to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, as I look at the absolute insanity that is sure to ensue in the coming hours, I’m picking up the scattered fragments of peace and fashioning them into something usable, something new. I imagine my peace looks a bit like a kaleidoscope now.

Pieces of peace…artfully arranged into something that will cast a brilliant and warm light on everything its shooting and darting rays touch as I turn it gently in my hands.

Chaos into calm. Panic into peace. Fragments into fullness.

All through him, who was…and is…and is to come.