Sheer Silence: Part Four

This is the fourth installment, where we explore a key question:  In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?

This question is particularly compelling during the holiday season.  The demands and expectations can be overwhelming and unrealistic.  The busyness can drown out the underlying spiritual essence of the season.

Within my tradition, Advent marks a four-week journey, ushering us towards the promise of the Christ child and the hope He represents.   My Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Hanukkah, marking the eight-day festival of light as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Still others find meaning in the rhythm of the seasons. The Winter Solstice marks the longest night (honored with fire, dance and reflection).

Each of these ritualized events create cosmic space for a meeting of awe, wonder, gratitude and humility. A space which reminds us of the enormity and mystery within which we find our place.

What then can we do to step away from that which distracts us?   How can we enter more fully  into the cosmic search which the various religious traditions invite us?

Walking through the woods at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, during a silent retreat for Advent.

Here are a few suggestions:  Carve out 30 minutes each day to simply be quiet.  The premise is that in silence we become open and are met by a Source of wisdom, which is greater than oneself.

Be mindful.  For a period of time each day, whatever you are doing, do so mind fully.  Be fully present to where you are and who you are with.  Imagine what happens when you are fully present to your child, to your beloved, to nature, to ___.

Be grateful.  Studies show that a leading indicator of happiness is an intentional practice of being grateful.  Consider making a list each day of at least three things you are grateful for.

Be kind.  Each day offer at least one-act of kindness, large or small.  Kindness expands our heart and mind.

Be unplugged.  This one is particularly challenging.  Recent studies show that many of us are addicted to our smartphones.  Indeed, social media platforms are designed to train us to spend more and more time on our devices.   A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania https://www.thecollegefix.com/college-students-happier-when-they-limit-social-media-campus-roundup-ep-36/ indicated that college students who limit themselves to 30 minutes on social media each day, saw a significant increase in their sense of mental well-being and connection to others.

This sacred season, whatever your spiritual path may be…may you carve out space to simply be and listen for the wisdom that is yours.  In the mid 19th century, the theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: ‘God is always present, simply waiting to be found’.

May it be so, for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

 

 

When Character Counts

This week, two great Americans were laid to rest:  Former President George H.W. Bush and Andy Fitzgerald.  Both men shared core convictions:  Service above self and humility.

Today I watched President Bush’s funeral, televised from the National Cathedral.  His accomplishments were great.  But what made him a great man, was a sweet mixture of compassion for others, humor and a desire to deflect attention from himself.  An odd trait for a politician who accomplished so much.

A young George H.W. Bush as a Navy Pilot.

As a young man he served as a decorated combat pilot during WW II.  In one memorable encounter his plane was shot down.  His two fellow crewman didn’t survive.  For the rest of his life, he honored their memory by serving others.

 

Andy Fitzgerald is not as well-known.  He too served in the military.  In the early 1950’s he was stationed at a Coast Guard Station off of Chatham, Cape Cod.

On February 18, 1952, the Pendleton – a 503 foot oil tanker – broke in two about 6 miles off Chatham. In nighttime blizzard conditions, Fitzgerald and three others set off in a 36-foot boat and did the seemingly impossible: rescue 32 men off the Pendleton and make it back to shore.  A 36 foot boat, with a capacity for eight, carried the entire crew to safety.

Andy Fitzgerald, age 84, upon the commissioning of the Bernard C. Webber, the first of a new class of rapid response cutters. Named after Bernard Webber who commanded the rescue.

Mr. Fitzgerald was the last surviving member of the rescue crew that was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard’s highest honor.  A book was written and a movie in 2016 was made of their story: “The Finest Hours”.  http://time.com/4197131/the-finest-hours-true-story

Andy’s wife, Gloria said: “He doesn’t consider himself a hero to this day.”  He’d say, ‘it was three hours of work that we were supposed to do.’

President Bush and Guardsman Fitzgerald, serve as an antidote to the toxic and polarized political culture of our time.  In contrast to the polarizing and self serving traits of some of today’s political leaders, we need look no further than George and Andy for guidance.

Their values show us the way forward.  Their character traits offer a self correction for us as neighbors and citizens.  Thank you George H.W. Bush and Andy Fitzgerald.  We as a nation, are forever in your debt.

God’s First Language

Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and mystic, has returned to God’s eternal embrace, at age 95.  Fr. Keating famously said: “God’s first language is silence.  Everything else, is a poor translation.”   Keating reintroduced us to the ancient wisdom that it is in silence, that we hear God’s voice.

In our plugged in, hyper busy world, full of distractions…it is silence that provides an antidote.  Silence offers us respite from the exhaustion and anxiety, that results from our constant hurrying and preoccupation with much and more.

When I was a boy, I knew this.  Near my house was a wetland, where we explored and played.  Walking through the woods as children, we immersed ourselves in the sounds and smells of the forest…rich loom, scented pine needles, bubble of the brook, call of the birds….all called us to become open and reflective.

Silence, in such a sacred place, allowed us to hear the voice of our Creator.  Martin Luther said:  ‘The sound of wind, the movement of water, call of a bird are logoi (little words), from our Creator.

As I grew older however, I often forgot to listen.

I became preoccupied by dreams and schemes.  My life became active and busy.  At times, more times than I care to acknowledge, I became disconnected from the beauty and richness, that only comes from first being quiet.

Fr. Thomas Keating at Snowmass Monastery, Colorado

Thomas Keating however, came into my life as a breath of fresh air.  A teacher who through his books and lectures and simple witness, offered a series of spiritual practices.  Reminding us of what we knew as children.

He called it, ‘Centering Prayer’.

Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. http://www.centeringprayer.com

Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation.

For those of us who are Christian, it leads us into communion with Christ.

Several years ago, I attended a retreat in Maryland.  The culmination of the retreat was a practice called, ‘The Great Silence’.  For 72 hours we didn’t speak.  We began and ended each day with 30 minutes of ‘Centering Prayer’.

On the third day of silence, I awoke to find that the colors of the forest, fields and sky had become more vibrant than any I had ever seen before.  A woman, at the far end of a meadow, greeted the morning by singing a Gospel song.   I found myself entering into the very melody, that she sang.

Words can’t adequately capture what I felt and experienced that day.  I can’t prove, measure or quantify what came to me.

What I do know, is that silence, an intentional practice of being quiet, created the essential environment, within which I was able to see with new eyes and hear and receive with an open heart.

Isaiah, an ancient prophet and mystic said: ‘Listen and your soul will live’.

I knew this to be true as a child.   Thomas Keating gave me a practice, for returning to the Source of all that is good, lasting and true.   Thank you, Fr. Keating.

Running for Your Life

Guest Writer:  Kelly Pheulpin, reflects on her vocation of inspiring others, to run for their health.  This is the second of  a two-part article

Kelly writes: ‘I’m a proud mom of two girls, who is into fitness and helping others around me achieve their goals of living a healthier lifestyle.  I’m a mom of a child with Type 1 diabetes and I love to educate others on healthy living and small changes to make their diabetes more manageable’.

Fellow FlowersA community of runners supporting others through inspiring stories of why we run. Membership into the group is free but it is preferred that a fellow flower invite you to join with the gift of a flower that represents your story. https://fellowflowers.com

Kelly: ‘I have been running and working out since 2011, I have met so many amazing men and women through my journey to get healthy. In 2017 I was asked to teach a class to help members of North shore medical center’s gastric bypass. Forward to 2018 I have been working with this dedicated group for almost a year. Their commitment to a healthy lifestyle is inspirational especially since all of them thought I was crazy upon meeting them, however they all dedicated themselves to the program.

Kim one of the members in the class was the most skeptical of the bunch, when I told her she would someday run a ½ marathon she laughed and said not me; all I want is to pass my physical fitness test at work. Slowly she started working towards small goals. She walked the 2017 reindeer run in Beverly then walk/ran the frosty four-miles on New Year’s day, then on and on.

When we laced up our sneakers to take on Zooma’s ½ marathon, she was almost a year to the day I met her and she was crushing goals, we had a fun exciting race on the cape enjoying the views and each other, once she completed her first ½ marathon days later she would be facing her final goal… The fitness test.

Tuesday came, and I was fortunate enough to be present when Kim took her test, I knew she was more than ready. To pass she needed to run 1.5 miles in under 18 minutes complete at least 12 push-ups in under a minute, complete 30 sit-ups in under a minute, and be able to reach more than 23 inches on the sit and reach. Not only did Kim nail her goal she was encouraging others and coaching them through passing their tests as well. Coach and student had come full circle right before my eyes.

Kelly (left), Kim (right) concluding their race.

 

I had been waiting for this day for so long, I could barely contain my excitement for her as she passed the test and I handed her a flower, she had earned her entrance into the fellow flowers, I picked purple for her.

Purple represents: “SELF; The odds are against me. I’m too slow. too old. Self-doubt. No time. No training partner. The kids need me. Its dark out. It’s too early. I’m Tired. I have to work. It hurts. I’m scared they will laugh. Doctor says maybe I shouldn’t. Can’t find a sitter. Life is too Busy. I look in the mirror and don’t see a runner. What if I fail? NO MORE EXCUSES……. I’m doing it anyway!”

Even when everything was going wrong and Kim thought about giving up she didn’t, and she surpassed goals she never thought she could achieve. I couldn’t think of a more fitting flower than purple for her. She is continuing to move forward with her health journey and helping others by leading through example to pay forward what was given to her. I can’t wait to see what she tackles next!’

 

Kelly Gets Her Flower

Guest Writer:  A few years ago I invited my friend, Kelly Pheulpin, to write a guest blog on her vocation of inspiring others, to run for their health.  This new two-part article, is another chapter in Kelly’s ongoing journey of empowering herself and others.

As an introduction, Kelly writes: ‘I’m a proud mom of two girls, who is into fitness and helping others around me achieve their goals of living a healthier lifestyle.  I’m a mom of a child with Type 1 diabetes and I love to educate others on healthy living and small changes to make their diabetes more manageable’.

Kelly inspires me.  I hope her unfolding story will encourage you too.  I invite you to read and get out and exercise.

                                         Kelly Gets Her Flower

Fellow FlowersA community of runners supporting others through inspiring stories of why we run. Membership into the group is free but it is preferred that a fellow flower invite you to join, with the gift of a flower that represents your story. https://fellowflowers.com 

‘Every runner has a story, some are moving, powerful, or remarkable; others are just everyday run of the mill but still important in their own right. I had been following the Fellow flowers community online for some time in awe of all the ladies and their stories. While I was down at ZOOMA Cape Cod  http://zoomarun.com/race/cape-cod, I was able to talk with one of the founders of ‘Fellow Flowers’,  Mel Charbonneau.

She is a strong, positive woman who wants to spread her strength to others. While helping her set up for Zooma and chatting about running and how I got involved with Zooma through another Skirt Sister http://www.skirtsports.com, she asked:  “Are you Kelly”? I said yes, how did you know? She explained she had been asked to give me a flower and welcome me to the community of Fellow Flowers.

I was shocked! My running story isn’t unique or special are you sure you mean me?!? She then gifted me a light pink flower with the saying : “GRADTITUDE to endure against the odds, to thank my body and myself, to admire and love, to honor a hero to be a hero because I know this is so much bigger than me” . She explained that every flower has a special saying; it tells the runner’s story without words. When runners see them on the course, they know if they need help or a person to confide in, we will be there for them.

I stood there with tears in my eyes again asking,  ‘me, really’? She said yes, because you are the silent runner who gathers and encourages runners with your enthusiasm for the sport, as well as your knowledge to help them commit and change their lifestyles, without ever thinking you have done a thing. She went on to tell me about how she heard of my work with the North Shore Medical Center’s gastric bypass class and excited she was to be able to meet them and cheer them in for their first ½ marathon finish.

Race day came, and I joyfully put my pink flower on my visor and got ready to run. During the ½ marathon I saw a rainbow of flowers on all types of women and felt an instant connection to them without ever saying a word. Zooma’s race while the distance was not new to me was a unique experience, I still can’t get my mind around.

left to right: Kim, Mark, Kelly, Christine, Jennifer

Between the positive energy, motivational runners, the few men who ran to celebrate with their female running partner,s and seeing my group of runners who have never run a ½ marathon, cross the finish line, knowing they had trained hard for this day and they had succeeded. True to her word Mel was at the finish line cheering my group in louder than anyone else. She congratulated all of them and asked if they would run another, they all said they would. I can’t wait to give out my first flower to a fellow runner.’ ~ Kelly

Note:  If you want to learn more about how you can improve your health and wellness, contact Kelly at kpheulpin@aol.com

Voting for Our Future

As a boy, I remember standing in line with my Dad while he waited to vote. I watched my neighbors greeting each other quietly, as if they were in the midst of a sacred act.   All  the adults of my childhood had lived through WW II,  adding a sense of dignity, gravitas to casting a vote.  They understood that democracy is a fragile enterprise, requiring each generation to recommit to this civic duty.

Today, we know the statistics, how a majority of us in the USA, don’t vote.  This is particularly true in mid-term elections.  We know too, that those who do vote are skewed older.  People like me.

We know that elections have consequences.  None more so than the 2016 presidential election.  2016 brought Mr. Trump to power as the Republicans ran the table (House, Senate and now controlling votes on the Supreme Court).

Some in our country are ecstatic.  Others of us, not so much.  In truth, many of us are deeply concerned, that the underlying values of this fragile enterprise we call a democracy, are under threat.

What gives me hope, is the millennial generation.  As a whole, they have embraced values that bring out the best in us as a people: They value a pluralistic society (where races, religions, sexual orientations, cultures, mix and mingle…and where fear mongering is rejected).  They value science, particularly Climate Change, knowing that their generation and the generations to come, will face the brunt of the current Administration’s denial.  They see access to health care as a basic human right.  They are the generation too most affected by gun violence.  They are looking to elect candidates who are not in the pocket of the NRA.

It is true that younger generations don’t vote at the level of those of us who are older.  But I think that is going to change.

Mr. Trump and his minions, have shown that elections have consequences.  I’m looking to the generation of my daughters, to show us the way forward.  To recommit to the values inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and in our Constitution.

I’m going to be standing and voting, with them.  How about you?

Tree of Life

Saturday morning I attended a board meeting in Pittsburgh, for a public health ministry in Nicaragua.  We chose Pittsburgh because of civil unrest in Nicaragua,  It wasn’t safe for us to travel.   Our board’s focus was on how to provide access to health care, in the midst of growing violence and uncertainty in that country.  We chose Pittsburgh because it was easy to get to and considered safe.

As we met, several miles down the road, a man with an assault rifle entered Tree of Life Synagogue and murdered eleven Jews gathered for worship.   They were the ‘minyans’ mainly older faithful Jews, who gather early, to begin the Saturday morning Shabbat services.   Others, such as busy parents, would  join them as their schedules allowed.  The role of the minyan is to hold the sacred space, for others to join them.

It was a typical Shabbat, until a white male with a history of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, broke in and murdered eleven…wounded several others, including four police officers.

We all thought Pittsburgh was safe.

The reality is we live in a volatile time.  Barack Obama as the first African-American elected president, led to a dramatic increase in white supremacist organizations.  Donald Trump’s political ascendency and presidency is based in part, on  promoting an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.  A focus on division rather than unity.

This week that division was evident:  Pipe bombs mailed to over 14 leaders within the Democratic Party; two African-Americans murdered at a grocery store, after the assailant was turned away from an African-American Church; eleven Jews murdered while worshiping.  Each act of violence by a white supremacist.  An ideology which finds encouragement (intentional or not), in the freewheeling rhetoric of our highest elected official.

So what is the antidote to hate and division?

The answer is simple yet profound:  Building relationships.  It’s hard to label a person or be indifferent to their plight, once you know their name, their story.

Sunday night, we gathered as a community at Temple B’nai Abraham.  My friend Rabbi Alison Adler, on only several hours of notice, gathered together 300 neighbors, from ten different faith communities, to grieve the atrocity visited upon Tree of Life Synagogue. We gathered too, in response to the nationwide increase in anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant violence.

Passover at the home of Rabbi Alison.

We came together to remember that we belong to one another.  At the Temple I said: ” I am here tonight because Rabbi Alison is my friend.  Her family and my family have been in each other’s home.  We have broken bread, played and prayed together.  And, because we are friends, when someone messes with my friend (anti-Semitism) they are messing with me.  I am responsible to and accountable for the well-being of my friend (s).”

The antidote to hate and violence is found in relationship building.  I challenge myself and you, to get to know those who are different from you. Get to know neighbors of different religions, ethnicities, race, nation of origin, sexual orientation, political perspective, languages.  Listen to one another’s story.  Let the other get to know you.

If you don’t have enough diversity in your life, then get out of your zip code.  Reach out. Find ways to rub elbows.  Break bread, sip wine, play games, talk with… someone who is different than you.

As relationships are built, prejudices based on ignorance, melt away.  The rhetoric of fear and the house of cards it is built upon, collapses.

The poet William Stafford, writes ‘the real enemy, is the one who whispers in your ear, telling you who to hate’.  As citizens, as neighbors, may we be wary of those who sow division.

On Sunday night, Temple B’nai Abraham was a beautiful mosaic of faiths and backgrounds.  We gathered to grieve with and draw strength from the company of one another.

Jesus said, ‘perfect love, casts out fear’.  May it be so.  For all of us.