Mud, muck, and the courage of change

I love hearing the stories of the early Church, especially as they are proclaimed everyday at Mass during the Easter season. Their adventures, as are found in the Book of Acts, reminds me that the truth and joy that come from Christ’s resurrection has truly established renewal for all creation. We are one. We are free!

The energy and courage found in the early Church can enliven us today. None of us need to be afraid to share our faith. We can let go of our fears to take risks for the reign of God. We can live with strong trust in God and faithsuch courage can set all sorts of miracles into motion.

God has graced us with all we need to truly change the world!

Certainly, we don’t need to look too far to see that Christ-centered change is actually very messy. The season of springof beauty and life poking out of the mud and muck of what was once dead and dormantshows us that being courageous with our compassion and witness is far from neat and tidy. The mess of transformation is demanding, active, and fierce.

Photo credit: https://strangfordloughnationaltrust.files.wordpress.com

Parker Palmer’s recent reflection Spring is Mud and Miracle (published online at On Being with Krista Tippet) reminded me of this:

There’s a miracle inside that muddy mess: those fields are a seedbed for rebirth. I love the fact that the word humus, the decayed organic matter that feeds the roots of plants, comes from the same word-root that gives rise to humility. It’s an etymology in which I find forgiveness, blessing, and grace. It reminds me that the humiliating events of life — events that leave “mud on my face” or “make my name mud” — can create the fertile soil that nourishes new growth.

Spring begins tentatively, but it advances with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, pressing up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. The crocuses and snowdrops don’t bloom for long. But their mere appearance, however brief, is always a harbinger of hope — and from those small beginnings, hope grows at a geometric rate. 

During this Easter season I desire to accept the mess and muck as natural. My humanity is a gift. The muck of life can be thick and heavy, but it really is a sign of hope out of which can spring forth the determination of goodness.

True, it is messy and disturbing to encounter the world, but the muck is a necessary part of the freedom that comes from growth. We can have courage to change. Even though it can be hard to learn the truth, new awareness can crack light into my soul. Yes, service may wear me out but my weakness can open a way for me to get closer to my community. Although reaching out will mean I’ll inevitably encounter the hurting parts of our world that I’d rather hide from: witnessing as a healer, lover, server and friend may mean that I will end up bruised and broken. And changed.

In the midst of the muddy mess, I will choose to be encouraged. It is only through decay that new life can come. It is only through the stink, the goo, the pain of life that transformations will emerge. I know I am on the right path and really walking with The Way if I am breaking through barriers and getting hurt outside my comfort zone. This is the life of abundance, life to the fullest, the real Gospel way. The mud means I am moving in the right direction, serving and loving in union with Christ.

Yes, let us move out, singing songs of service and love, not afraid of the inevitable mess and muck, because it is part of transformation! Pope Francis encourages us:

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”  – Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, #49)

And, Alex Street’s song Beautiful Mess can be our anthem as we go:

Amen! Alleluia!

Expressions of love, totally ignored

Have you ever felt like someone was ignoring you?

As if, although you have a history of friendly relationship with someone, they no longer recognize you as different from any other stranger in a crowd? That, even despite your efforts to greet them with love and reconcile the relationship, they chose to snub you and turn away?

Recently, I had this experience and it really hurt. I talked to some of my close companions about what happened and they encouraged me to not take it personally. Then, I prayed and pondered the love of God in light of what had happened.

My prayer led me to an insight: God, in a way, can relate to my experience of feeling ignored.

We rush around preoccupied with our agendas and desires while God dazzles us with beauty. How often does God reach out to us with amazing expressions of love that we totally ignore? We turn away when God is aiming to awe us; when God is ready to stun us into a moment of transcendence, praise and prayer.

St. Rose Convent by Julia Walsh, FSPA

God tries, over and over, to get our attention and dazzle us, so that we remain faithful in our habits of keeping God #1. God wants to be close to us. Yet, we turn away and ignore God’s love.

Fortunately, God’s love and patience is abundant! And, even when we are blind or miss a clue or just plainly ignore God’s beauty, God is OK with reaching out to us again, in another way.

photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

God of amazing love, have mercy on us and help us to grow in relationship with you. As we pay attention to your wonders, may we lift our hearts in praise. You are awesome and your creation is beautiful. We want to be closer to you and we are grateful for your love. Amen!

photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

 

For the Love of Earth

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Creation!

This is an ecumenical and global day of prayer.  World-wide, Christians are united in prayer for the healing of this sacred home and our Sister, Mother Earth. Out of love for her, we pray in hope and thanksgiving.

Here in La Crosse, Wisconsin we are keeping vigil round the clock in our perpetual adoration chapel.

“Mary of the Angels and the moon” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Here is one of the particular prayers we are praying:

A Christian prayer in union with creation
By Pope Francis, Laudato Si

Father, we praise you with all your creatures. 
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!

Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.

Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts 
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made. 
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.

Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak, 
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.

O Lord, seize us with your power and light, 
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

We pray in joy and wonder.

“Emily in awe” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Silence” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Life in dry places” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray in thanksgiving and praise of the beauty that God has made throughout the universe

“Mississippi River Clear” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Krka National Park, Croatia” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Found in Friendship Garden, La Crosse” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Iowan neighbors” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Exaltation” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Beach at Night, Florida” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray that we can be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us.

“Earth’s bounty at a market in Split” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Swamp in Minnesota” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Unnatural nest” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Climate Change Extreme” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“The view from Mt. Hosmer, Lansing, Iowa” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

We pray that we will have the graces and courage to be in right relationship with all of creation.

May God help us all to integrate the important and challenging teachings contained within Laudato Si into our daily lives.

Amen!

“Beautiful Baltic Sea” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Seeking corners of quiet but learning lessons on love instead

Recently I had a conversation with another sister. During the chat, we realized we had a common experience on our different retreats earlier this summer.

We had each gone to opposite corners of the country and were looking forward to some sacred one-on-one time with God. He found a way to sneak in–to surprise and enlighten both of us.

My friend shared an account of how she had gone to a chapel, hoping to pray in silence in order to spend time with the One Who Loves her (and loves everyone, for that matter), only to be distracted by all the people and the happenings inside: chatting, rosaries prayed aloud, and fussy cleaning and tidying.

Then I told her about my retreat: to a busy lake over the 4th of July weekend, where I foolishly hoped for some solitude and silence in nature. I kept trying to find quiet corners in God’s creation. Instead, I became a little irritated by the noise of speedboats, jet skis and people whooping and hollering as they had fun.

The other sister said she eventually calmed and realized she was actually in an appropriate space to savor God’s presence. God was totally present in the people distracting her silent prayer in the chapel. She felt a sense that God was there, loving each of them. In this awareness she was overcome, suddenly, with a deep sense of joy and gratitude because she felt connected to God’s love for her and everyone else in the room.

My transformation happened gradually. Eventually I realized my attitude had shifted, though. All the people screaming in joy and speeding along on boats began to seem precious to me. I realized I felt happy for them as they had a great time. And, in one sacred and fleeting moment, I felt totally in touch with how God loves each and everyone one of them just for who they are.

 

"Tall trees near Trout Lake" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Tall trees near Trout Lake” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Both my friend and I had certain hopes about how our prayer time would go. We had gone into contemplation seeking union with God and anticipating a certain outcome and experience.

Instead, we experienced little conversions and learned great lessons from God about love. One of the most awesome ways to be in union with God is to love others as God loves them.

Amen!

Like loon encounters

“rowing on Trout Lake” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Like loon encounters 

Communion with the Creator
can come like loon encounters,
when you are simply rowing
through life and enjoying
the ride, then-ah-behold:
the sight of loon dancing, diving,
singing, playing. The surprise of beauty,
of scenery, of simplicity. Many ecstasies
come in these off-shore liminalities
but I must keep rowing, allowing
the beyond-me to be
bigger. Hold me Waves.
Hold me Harmony!

loon community
“loon community” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“loon dance” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Trout lake” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Surrender to the way

As this water flows
within the container
of Love-lake true-
my self shall surrender
to the way of these loons.
They give into the breezes
of belonging, the diving
of self, of yes.
Their freedom is found
in being who they
were designed to be best.

“looking loon” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“loon school” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Loving wide open

The gaps are quickly filling in between the branches as more and more leaves open up each day.

"gaps for growth" by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“gaps for growth” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

As more leaves open and crowd the trees with bright color I am reminded how we are also like small leaves–alone, we are vulnerable and hopeful. Together we are strong and form a bold, bright, colorful community.

"new leaf" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“new leaf” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

We must not stay attached to any certain way-of-being. We must be open to growth, to change and conversion.

"new leaf 2" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“new leaf 2” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

The leaves, like Jesus, teach me great lessons. Through their example I see how to give of myself for the sake of others. I learn how to give into growth for the sake of love.

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

May we all remain open to the growth and sacrifice that God calls us to for the sake of others. Amen! 

Learning to Trust

You did not consult me when You numbered the stars
You did not ask permission when You sprinkled the darkness with them
You did not ask me before You built the mountains and traced the sea coasts
You did not make me the conductor of the wind
Or the orchestrator of the birds
You did not ask me permission before You built hearts to need other hearts
You never asked me God and yet You did it anyway!
There is so much in my life that I don’t understand.

Yet, it only takes one walk on the beach, one starry night with someone I love, one birth;
 it only takes one naked moment to realize that I am glad you did not ask me permission.
The greatest joys in my life I wouldn’t have chosen.

Dear God,
I ask not for certainty but faith
Not proof but trust
I ask not for control but for a current to guide me
And at the end of my life, just as at the end of each day, to have but one prayer:
Thank you.

Photo Credit: http://patcegan.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/old-man-face.jpg

equal change under God

Crisp color changes and the crunch of Autumn’s evolving paths can lead us to deeper God-consciousness.  Let’s slow down and open our eyes and minds to the width and depth of God’s amazing love. We may harvest and celebrate our abundance.  We may pray and hope for a peaceful winter.  No matter the season, the God-given change is lined with lessons.

Here’s one that I’ve been pondering: All of nature is impacted equally by the happenings of the weather.  No creature is untouched by change.

Us humans have a lot to learn from nature’s way of gracefully bending to change and cooperation with biodiversity. No matter who we are, how we deal with or accept changes matters. We all get to play a part in God’s mysterious and phenomenal creation. None of us are bigger or better and all of our discipleship is special and significant–especially those acts that may seem small and silent. Sometimes our submission to God’s greatness is enough to help things move the right way.

A simple pro-life part of the Christmas story reminds us to stay open to the graces and goodness available in all kinds of changes.

 

Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously, according to your means.
For he is a God who always repays
and will give back to you sevenfold.
But offer no bribes; these he does not accept!
Do not trust in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion,
For he is a God of justice,
who shows no partiality.
He shows no partiality to the weak
but hears the grievance of the oppressed. 
– Sirach 35: 12-16
 

How could you give all you have gotten from God back to God today?

How can you spread appreciation to all parts of God’s creation–even those who are ignored, unliked, or on the margins?

How can you imitate Mary and Jesus’ teachings?

Merry Christmas!

 

like trees we can trust

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.  -Psalm  33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

Where is our trust, really?  Lately, the political conversation in the United States has me wondering.  Do we make our leaders into messiahs, believing blindly that they’ll save us from our troubles?  Do we falsely think that the correct policies and governmental laws will save us from our problems?  Why do so many people seem to think that more jobs will be the solution?

I know I wrote about this recently, but Brother Ben’s blog post continues to keep me thinking.  As Christians we must keep ourselves in check. Jesus is our savior, not a politician or a policy.  We know that our government- and democracy in itself- is imperfect. We are flawed. By ourselves, we would be hopeless.

With Jesus, though, we discover over and over where to put our trust.  We can act for change as the Body of Christ through votes, service, prayer, and other Gospel activity.  When we say “yes” to Jesus’ way then we become instruments building up the true Kingdom.

In my experience, the more I find myself saying yes to Jesus the less important I feel.  It’s excellent really. I am very relieved that peace on earth and justice for all is not really up to me- or any human for that matter- but my cooperation with God’s goods ways naturally brings about the peace and justice I pray for.  God’s got this; I can calm down.

Yup, God’s ways are naturally very good! And, like the psalm says, they shall fulfill our hunger.  As we trust, we must let go.  As we let go, we will become fed and able to grow into new, great things.

I love pondering the wonders of nature in order to gain some clues about how things are supposed to work for us in our spiritual lives.  In this part of the world this time of year, a lot of colorful leaves are coating the earth.  Recently, some cool gentle rains have fallen, causing the leaves to deteriorate some and sink into the soil beneath the trees they once decorated.  Trees work hard to create these leaves once a year and their activity of creating them gives them great life and growth through the hot months.  But then, as the cool months approach it is time for grounding.  The trees must let go of their creations, of their attachments.  As the trees let go and strip themselves they are transformed.  Amazingly, as the leaves rot into the earth, the leaves that they let go of become the rich, grounding soil that allow the trees to keep on growing.

Personally, I can learn much from trees.  If I detach from the things that I work hard to create, I shall end up being nourished by them.  As I am nourished, I’ll become more grounded and able to grow and create more life.

Collectively, we could learn great lessons from the beauty of trees too.  Trees surrender themselves to God’s designs. They teach us how to trust and remember that our grounded-ness and growth isn’t just in our hands.  Sure, OK, trees don’t really have a choice in the matter.  The fact that we do, however, could inspire us even more.

We can spin in circles from the chaos of political debate.  Or, as the psalmist invites us, we can trust in God with the calm surrender that the trees model.  I believe that if we do the latter, we’ll live into the answers we hope for.  Amen!

“tree community” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

alive in the studio

Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.

God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew.  We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.

Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself.  My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint.  God is at work and I am working to cooperate.

Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me.  Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.

As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness.  And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me.  How does one describe feeling God’s energy?

For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be.  The final product is not up to me.  If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control.  Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me.  It’s really awesome.

Plus, good creativity is very messy.  Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death.  The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos.  Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful.  When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through.  Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised.  I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.

The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice.  These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week.  The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care.   Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:

“mighty money: a grotto to pray for economic justice”    by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist.  God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product.  Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices.  Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art.  When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness.  We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.

Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew.  Wow, I love living in this art studio.