Everything’s a Circle

The Sacred Spiral – The spiral represents the universal pattern of growth and evolution. The spiral represents eternity and continuity. The spiral in nature appears frequently. It is a symbol that represents innocence, rebirth, and the eternal. The sacred spiral is also an energetic symbol, it represents energy. In fact, if you look at pure energy under a microscope you will see that energy forms spiral patterns.

Nature loves to make things round: planets, soap bubbles, oranges, eyeballs, the circular swirl of a spinning hurricane. A lot of forces are at play in favoring natural circles and spheres—the equalizing force of air pressure pushing out or gravity pulling in; the rotation of the Earth, creating vortices in air; the evolutionary imperative of efficient packaging.

WESTBROOK, ME – JANUARY 14: This 30-second exposure shows a circular ice floe spinning counter-clockwise in the Presumpscot River below Bridge Street, as viewed from a nearby parking garage. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

The power of the round is in the news again, with the appearance of a massive, rotating ice disk in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine. The disk was first noticed on January 14, spinning in a lazy, counterclockwise direction. On social media, the ice circle was an instant sensation, alternately said to resemble a British crop circle or the mottled face of the moon—both fair descriptions. Either way, the Presumpscot ducks loved it, settling down for a slow-motion ride.

Ice circles are rare but hardly unheard of. What makes this one special is its size: 300 ft. in diameter, or 10 times bigger than the common 30-footers.

The circle has always been an important symbol to the Native American. It represents the sun, the moon, the cycles of the seasons, and the cycle of life to death to rebirth.

Represented by the circle is the Medicine Wheel, an ancient and powerful symbol of the never-ending cycle of life, used by Native Americans for various spiritual and ritual purposes.

Our fascination with the ‘Ice Circle in Maine’, speaks to an instinctive longing within humanity.  A longing to be filled with awe and wonder.  This phenomenon serves a spiritual purpose…putting  our lives in perspective.   A reminder that it isn’t all about us.

Rather, we are part of a universe that is awe-inspiring.  We have a place in a cosmology that is far bigger than us, than we can imagine.

Throughout time, such awareness, evoking humility, has spoken to the spiritual journey of countless people.  We’ve taken various paths but are fueled by a shared passion to connect to that which is greater than oneself.

The ancient prophet, Isaiah spoke to this journey:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? Creator sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. The Holy stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”  (Isaiah 40:21-22)

 

The labyrinth found in Christian cathedrals and forest glades, invites the traveler to walk the way of the circle and to be open to the blessings to be found.

It has been said, that ‘everything is a circle’.  If we allow ourselves to enter upon such a path, we may find ourselves returning to the Source of all that is good, lasting and true.

When Prayer Meets Politics

In a January 7th New York Times article” ‘A Wall and Two Prayers’ by  Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni    The article reflects on a series of meetings this past weekend, by White House and Congressional leaders.  They are seeking a way past the shut down of our nation’s government, now at day sixteen.  The article begins:

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence insisted on beginning the first meeting with a prayer, so the chief of staff to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, asked God to “to bring us together” when negotiators met Saturday in Mr. Pence’s ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The next day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff members, who were representing the Democratic side, began with their own prayer, which noted that Jesus and Mary were both refugees.

The two disparate prayers underscored the stalemate that lawmakers find themselves in as the shutdown drags into its third week: The two sides could not even agree on a pro forma invocation.

The article raises the question of what role prayer has, in the world of politics.

We know that prayer can be a means to support one’s own agenda and bias.  A cynic may suggest that Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi used prayer in precisely this way.

But I offer a warning.  Anyone who strive to use prayer in a calculating manner is moving into unchartered territory.

Prayer has a way of inserting that intangible we call Spirit, into our most carefully constructed agenda and closely held bias.  Prayer can’t be constrained or contained.  Prayer taps into a Source that is greater than our sense of what is possible. Greater even than our ego or fears.

Prayer creates an opening.  To be filled by that Mystery who goes by many names: Holy/Sacred/Divine/Spirit/Source.   Spirit can expand the smallest of imaginations and soften the hardest of hearts.

Prayer can’t be domesticated.  Not by politicians, priests, pastors or prophets.

When a person enters into prayer…even the most hard-hearted and closed-minded among us….has entered upon a process of being changed.

The Spirit nudges, stirs, compels and propels, to the point that the one who prays begin to change, evolve, transform.

Perhaps the change is dramatic like the Biblical story of Saul being brought to his knees at the Damascus gate.  The result is a new identity (Paul) with a new call to serve those he had been persecuting.

Other times the process is glacial, like the slow expanding of the Grinch’s heart at Christmas (which was oh, so small).

My point is that Mr. Pence and Mrs. Pelosi should be careful when praying.  If they continue, who knows where it will lead?

We can only hope it will lead to greater wisdom, guided by compassion.  Not just for our sake but the sake of all God’s children.

For this, let us pray.

Darkness and Light

The Winter Solstice has come and gone.  With each day the light lingers.

In my faith tradition, Advent has given way to Christmas.  Light illuminates the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

The seasons both cosmic and liturgical, remind us that the challenges of any given moment, give way in time, to that which is life-giving.    Such is our hope.

Such thoughts are welcome in this time of political turmoil, both within our nation and on a global scale.  I see the leader of my own nation demonize and trivialize the struggle of migrants fleeing violence and poverty.  The answer he offers is a wall to keep ‘the other’ out.   A wall of apartheid.  A wall built by fear.

Yet, we know that in a life of faith, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there is only ‘us’.  Children of God.

Imago Dei.

We know, these migrants have names and stories, just like you and me.  We know that they are more than their labels.  We know that they are simply doing for their loved ones what we would do.

So into the darkness of this moment in time, we long for metaphors, stories of light and love, healing and hope.  As we look into a New Year, may the words of the poet, Madeleine L’Engle offer comfort and courage to one and all.

Into The Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

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!’