GENERAL CHAPTER, PUNE, INDIA OCTOBER 8TH, 2014
Closing Ceremony 20th Oct. 2014
Sr. Bimla MInj, newly elected Congregation Leader declared the Chapter closed.
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
Morning Prayer was led by Sister Beth Preston based on St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians where he speaks of gratitude for the chosen.
The morning session discussed in small groups the number of delegates for the General Chapter of 2020. The results were shared in the large group.
Next, Sister Margaret O’Brien clarified how the approved Constitutional changes might affect the future Provincial Chapters.
Finally the Chapter Members met in Province groups to begin to plan how the experience of General Chapter 2014 will be communicated in each Province. The results of the Province discussions were shared in the large group.
The afternoon was free. Faith sharing groups met before super for their final sharing.
Saturday, October 18th, 2014
The discernment process for the election of the congregation Assistamts continued in an atmosphere of prayer and silence.
At the end of the day
Sister Jane Quinlan from United States Province
Sister Bernadette Mwavita from Vice-Province of Democratic Republic of Congo
And Sister Nirmala Kujur from Gumla Province
were elected to Congregation Leadership Team with Sister Bimla Minj as Congregation Leader.
Each Sister was thanked with singing and dancing upon her acceptance of her election.
Outgoing Leadership Team.
2014 GENERAL CHAPTER
October 16th-17th, 2014
On Thursday, October 16, the Delegates were led in Morning Prayer by our facilitator, Sister Ellen Doyle. She prayed, using Lectio Divina, the first reading of the day Ephesians 1:1-10 as we began our Chapter of Elections.
The rest of the day was spent in prayerful communal discernment for the election of our new Congregational Leader.
Today, October 17, the discernment for Congregational leader continued.
The result was the election of Sister Bimla Minj as Congregational Leader.
In the afternoon the discernment for Congregation Assistants began.
2014 GENERAL CHAPTER
October 14th, 2014
Morning Prayer which focused on the contemplative experience of St Francis of Assisi was led by Sister Helen Chasse.
In the morning session the Delegates worked from the first draft of the Chapter Direction Statement based on the previous day’s work on our Chapter team, Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
In small groups the draft was reviewed and suggestions were offered to the Editing Committee.
There was no afternoon session, but work was done by some Committees.
For evening prayer all gathered in the Chapel to pray in Thanksgiving for the outgoing Congregational Leadership Team.
13 October 2014
A special Liturgy for the celebration of Canadian thanksgiving Day was offered in honor of our Canadian Sisters
At Morning Prayer the Delegates reflected on the Song of Angela, « Live in Harmony ».
At the Morning session the Chapter Members returned to the invitations offered the day before from the Chapter Theme, « Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today ».
The invitation had been divided into Topics and each small table groups was given one topic and the invitation that fit under that topic.
They were asked to draft a paragraph that would reflect their topic. The resulting paragraphs were given to the editing committee to create a draft of a Direction Statement.
In the afternoon session a vote was taken on the proposed Constitutional changes to Article numbers 149,175, 181, 188 and 193. All were approved by the Chapter 2014.
A further recommendation was made to ask a Canon Lawyer to review our Constitutions to see which articles might need to be changed and which articles could be moved from the Constitutions to the Directives.
A joyful approval in song of the Tezpur Province followed the Governance conversation.
Finally recommendations from each small group as to how the Congregation Leadership Team might carry on its work were given in writing.
Faith sharing groups were held before supper. An evening social honouring Canada was provided.
October 12th, 2014
For Morning Prayer Sister Bimla Minj led the Chapter Members in a meditation using the words,
“Be still, be still and know that I am God.”
In the first morning session, Chapter Members were asked to share three concrete ideas that could be invitations for our Congregation to live the theme “Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission today”.
The discussion was done in small groups. In the large group each small group offered one of its invitations to be posted on the white board.
Other groups who had similar invitations posted them under the first one so that similar ideas were grouped together.
Later in the morning the Chapter Members discussed possible constitutional Changes, namely articles 149, 175, 181, 188, 193 which pertain to Governance.
Further discussions will follow. A second question regarding a review of our whole Constitutions was also discussed and will come back to the table.
In the afternoon the Chapter Members were asked for recommendations as to how the congregation Leadership Team might best serve the Congregation in the future.
The second question was what could be new ways of functioning for the Congregation Leadership Team that would include our International Identity.
Faith Sharing groups were held before supper.
2014 GENERAL CHAPTER
October 11th, 2014
Morning Prayer focused on hearing the Word of God and responding to it.
The Chapter Members were then engaged in clarifications of the Recommendations from the Nicholls Report that had been presented on Friday and a possible response from the Chapter to the Report.
This was followed by a very inspiring talk given by Sister Rekha M. Chennattu, Provincial of the Religious of the Assumption in Pune and Professor of Scripture at the Papal Seminary. Her talk provided Biblical perspectives for our Chapter theme
“Live Contemplative spirituality for Mission Today”.
The afternoon was free for an optional outing to the Anthony De Melo Institute.
2014 GENERAL CHAPTER
October 10th, 2014
Morning Prayer was focused on verse 17 from the Prologue of St. Angela’s Counsels.
Reports from the Democratic republic of Congo, Ambikapur, Belgium, Tezpur and Canada were given.
Chapter Members were asked to reflect on what we have in common at this time from these reports.
Each small group was asked for three values common in the reports.
In the afternoon the Chapter Members listened to the Congregational Finance report prepared by Brett Nicholls associates.
This report offers a 15 years projection of the human (Sisters) and Financial Resources of the whole Congregation.
The Report also offered recommendations.
After the presentation time was given for questions and clarifications.
The Members were invited to Faith sharing groups later in the day.
The delegates began the day with a quiet Morning Prayer reflection on the words “Open our Hearts, O Lord to listen to the words of your Son.” Following the prayer were small group discussions on the questions-
• How is God really the centre of my life?
• What is God’s invitation to me, to us, to live contemplative spirituality for mission today?
• What is our present reality of the theme?
The morning session was completed by the Congregation Leadership team’s report.
The report given by the members of the team was based on their experience of the 2008 General Chapter Direction Statement.
Sister Leela Secretary also gave the financial report for the Congregation Leadership Team.
In the afternoon the Province Report from Ranchi, United States and Gumla provinces were presented.
These reports were based on the questions,
• How is the province living the Chapter theme “Live contemplative spirituality for mission today?
• How will be the province be living the Chapter theme “Live contemplative spirituality for mission today”
in the next 6 year?
After the report, the delegates were asked to discuss in their own table groups
- what gifts do they receive from these Province reports?
The faith sharing group meet before supper.
October 8th, 2014
At 8:30AM - The General Chapter members assembled for the Opening Mass celebrated by Father George Pateri, SJ, Provincial of South Asia.
Sister Helen Chasse gave a meaningful and challenging reflection on the Scripture readings chosen encouraging all to Hope, to Trust, to Deepening our relationship with Jesus and to pay attention to the Holy Spirit who speaks to our hearts.
At 10:30AM - The Chapter Members, led by Sister Margaret O’Brien, Congregation Leader, processed into the Chapter Hall. Sister Margaret then welcomed the Chapter Members, declared the General Chapter 2014 open and called the roll.
This was followed by the approval of the members of various committees by the Chapter Members.
In the afternoon session Sister Margaret addressed the Chapter Members on the Chapter theme, “Live contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.”
This was followed by sharing in small table groups with large group feedback
The day ended with a welcome social
GENERAL CHAPTER, PUNE, INDIA
OCTOBER 8TH, 2014
2:30 – 4:00 PM
LIVE CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY FOR MISSION TODAY
Good afternoon, Sisters.
How wonderful for us to be together from around the Congregation and around the world! We are blessed to be in the presence of each other as we are challenged to accomplish God’s desire for us during this General Chapter 2014. May God be with us throughout our time together and always!
None of us is here because we chose to be here at this gathering. Each one of us was elected by our Sisters, either at a Chapter or as part of this General Chapter process.
We who are gathered here are a living example of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk.
We have never been here before. This is the first time we have held our General Chapter in India so is it a momentous occasion for our Congregation.
What is God’s desire for us, for the planet, for women and children, for the poor that these particular women are meeting in Pune, India?
Together we hold a great responsibility to listen carefully to the Spirit and to each other during these days of Chapter. The Holy Spirit has called us to discuss where we have been, where we are now, and how we feel compelled to move into the future. We must discern together God’s desire for our future and the future of the Congregation.
Already in our Provinces and Vice-Province we have been reflecting on and discussing the General Chapter theme – Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
We are building on our previous General Chapter themes which gradually over time have brought us to this one:-
1984 – Our Constitutions, Fullness in the Life of Christ
1990 – Ut Unum Sint
1996 – To Fulfill our Prophetic Role in the Church and in the World
2002 – We choose for life
2008 – Be Angela
and now in 2014 –Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
This thirty years’ movement of renewing our foundational Constitutions, strengthening our unity, reminding us of our values and priorities, rooted in St. Angela is now bringing us to another place, to our very reason for being.
General Chapter 2014 seems to be confronting us with the realities of our times, just as those previous General Chapters did, and calling us beyond where we are to a deeper awareness of God’s very call to us to Religious Life – a call to Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
“A spirituality for discovering God in the web of our lives”is the way it was described at the last UISG meeting in Rome.
We have all been on the spiritual journey for a while or we would not be sitting here. We have so much yet to learn and to discern about this re- newed emphasis to Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
Surely this brings us to quiet, to “inner silence” as the 2008 General Chapter Direction Statement says.
In the quiet, we attend to God who is love. In God’s presence, in a deepening awareness of the God who is pure gift, I come to a new awareness, new insights, and a new experience of the present moment, of who I am, of who God is.
We belong to God. We are called by God into a communion of love with God. Love becomes our spiritual journey, and our relationship with God is central to our lives. Love and empathy naturally flow from this relationship with God, and we reach out to others - for Mission today. We share with others and assist others in our desire to become like God, the personification of love.
Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says,
“The contemplative mind is really just the mind that emerges when you pray first instead of think first. Praying opens the field and moves beyond fear and judgment and agenda and analysis, and just lets the moment be what it is – as it is.”
With Jesus and in an ever-deepening union, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us.
Father Rohr also says, “True presence to someone or something allows them or it to change me and influence me – before I try to change them or it.”
Michael Morwood writes: “We learned to believe God is basically elsewhere.” Maybe there lies the wisdom of the General Chapter theme, inviting us to un-learn some things that have not been helpful to us along the way, and that may have, in fact, hindered us on our spiritual journey.
Father Richard Rohr wrote recently in one of his daily meditations:
“Jesus clearly taught about surrender, the necessity of suffering, humility, servant leadership, and nonviolence.
But we made the message into something he never said, “Worship me”.
Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; actually following Jesus changes everything.”
So are we being inspired once again to follow Jesus? Following Jesus makes great demands on us. To actually follow the person of Jesus will require our spending time with Jesus and coming to know the reality of who he is and how he behaves so we can behave in the same way.
In his baptism, Jesus heard his true identity, a new identity as God’s Beloved.
This is transformation, for us too, to surrender to our true identity and to consciously live from that place. This truth deeply changes us.
After forty days in the desert, contemplating being God’s Beloved, Jesus is ready to face the devil.
And, in particular, three compulsions:
to be successful
to be right
to be powerful, to have everything under control
Only once Jesus has confronted these three compulsions is her ready to begin his public life.
Do we allow our true identity as God’s Beloved to deeply change us?
Are we spending enough time in the quiet, in our own desert, to come to a strong awareness of God’s compassionate and merciful love?
Then we are strengthened live our lives from this sure knowledge of God’s lavish love for us.
Then we are ready to face our own demons.
Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium: God asks everything of us, yet at the same time God offers everything to us.
At the August assembly of LCWR in the United States, the keynote speaker, Sister Nancy Shreck, concluded her presentations with the following advice:
“Keep listening to the voice of Holy Mystery. Go into the cave of darkness and take time for contemplation. The deepest truths take a long time to reach us. Talk to each other about God. May we never speak the least about what matters most!”
It would seem that the Holy Spirit is calling religious women around the world to be faithful to their prayer, to their relationship with God. This is what the world needs, women who are taking time for silence, for God, whose actions are rooted in the values of love, justice and compassion.
War and injustice are raging in so many places in our world today, and women and children in particular are the victims.
We hear in the news about countless persons who are driven from their homes, about malnutrition, the malicious raping of women and corrupt political leadership.
The world needs women religious who bring justice and the presence of God to seemingly hopeless situations.
We have the potential together to bring hope wherever we go.
Our contemplation will give us what we need to be the presence of God for others.
Our contemplation, as with St. Angela and Fr. Lambertz, leads us to mission, and our mission leads us back to contemplation.
Last year Asian Sisters met in the Philippines and part of their conference statement read:
A mystic is a prophet in contemplation. A prophet is a mystic in action. It is the very essence of our Religious Life.
As you know, Pope Francis has called the Year of Consecrated Life to begin on November 21st.
Religious women and men will receive the attention of the church, and during this special year Pope Francis will be calling us back again to be all that we say we want to be in responding to God’s call to us.
Is it that this General Chapter is calling us to face “the very essence of our religious life”, and to be renewed in our commitment to God as Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk?
I found this quote recently from Chess Edwards:
“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”
What is the commitment this General Chapter will ask of us?
What are the dreams and visions that are being revealed to us which give us energy and courage to make the changes needed for the journey of the coming six years?
During these days together we shall be modelling for each other what it means to live contemplative spirituality for mission today as we understand it now.
Our discernment together, our respectful listening to each other, our willingness to speak our own truth will unite us as one as we work together to articulate God’s dream for us.
Later in the Chapter we shall articulate together what we believe God is asking of us, and then we shall call forth a Congregation Leadership Team to assist us in bringing that vision to reality.
Angela’s words are a guide here:
You are, therefore, to pray that God will enlighten you, direct you, and teach you what you are to do for love of God.
Thank you for your presence here at our General Chapter 2014.
Thank you for who you are and the countless ways you try to pay attention to God in your own life.
May God be with us and bless us with courage and confidence as we discover together how we are being called to Live Contemplative Spirituality for Mission Today.
Margaret O’Brien OSU
October 7th, 2014
The welcome of the Staff and Orientation to the Chapter process and translation equipment.
Opening of General Chapter 2014 At Pune, India
Entering the Chapter room in Procession Led by Sr. Margaret O'Brien, Congregation Leader
PREPARATION FOR THE GENERAL CHAPTER
Meditation: Month of May 2014
Mary stored up all these things in her heart. (Luke, 2:51)
Sister Deodata BUNZIGIYE VICE PROVINCIAL OF THE URSULINES OF TILDONK / DRC
Every year, our Mother the Church dedicates the month of May to our Mother, the Virgin Mary.
Each time, this month brings us closer to her. In the Church and in the whole history of salvation, Mary is presented under different aspects. In her Litany we can perceive how much our Mother is full of grace, full of divine values. Her beauty is a rare one; many saints have exalted her and shown that her beauty reflects above all the beauty of God and of human nature.
Her beauty is a source of light; those who saw her in Lourdes or Banneux, Borin or Fatima, Medjugorze or Kibeho, were dazzled by her beauty and were not always capable of describing it. How much little Bernadette Soubirous had to suffer, but still, she accepted it, provided she could return to the grotto in Massabielle. Those who had seen Mary, tried to describe the « MADONNA » ; they accepted a carved statue of her, but said that she was much more beautiful than the statue.
Mary’s particular beauty is one of silence, the silence of God. Her silent gaze contemplates permanently God, her Father.
Mary’s silence is valuable, a silence that contradicts today’s world.
In fact, our world is afraid of silence. We often see, especially among young people, how much it is almost impossible for them to face silence.
In the streets of the DRC and other African countries, in Brussels, the capital of Europe and in other countries of the world, young people are seen walking along the way with their earphones, with music accompanying them during the whole day.
The courage of being silent is a real challenge.
Mary, our Mother, is our model of silence, a silence that is life-giving, a silence that harms no one.
Mary’s silence is a presence
We are afraid of silence, for its emptiness challenges us. Silence is overwhelming; as it is empty, it frightens us.
Mary’s silence is a presence, her presence before God. She listens to God’s word unceasingly. She is fully present in each event of her life. She is in silence before God, who is present to her. She welcomes God in the depths of her heart. God is present in Mary’s silence. She keeps silence in order to adore Him.
Mary’s silence is dialogue and communication.
Mary’s silence is meaningful and praises God unceasingly.
At the Nativity, every one was speaking about the child. Mary kept silence, but she welcomed others; she listened around the manger. The angels sang and announced the good news; the shepherds adored and praised. The Magi bowed and offered their gifts. Mary looked upon them and communicated her peace, her joy, her praise to God.
In the Temple, at the time of the Presentation, Simeon sang his canticle: “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised: because my eyes have seen your salvation...” (Luke 2:29-32). Anna uttered a prophecy. Mary learned that sorrow would pierce her heart. Mary listened, welcomed and communicated silently her faith and her faithfulness to God.
She kept silence in order to listen to the word of God. She needed God alone. On the outset, the young girl in Israel was held as part of “Yahweh’s remnants” who knew Scripture.
Mary’s silence communicates peace; it is the opposite of floods of words.
Mary communicates her humility before God. She welcomes God’s wisdom. Her humility is the opposite of a barren shyness.
Mary’s silence is one of commitment
Mary’s silence, while she listens, led her to give an answer to the Angel; she gave her word born out of silence, out of her presence before God. « I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me » (Luke 1;38).
Because she wanted to know God’s will and accomplish it, she asked: « But how can this come about ? » (Luke 1:34-38).
At another time, after having noticed that wine was lacking, she told the servants: « Do whatever he tells you » (Jn. 2:1-12).
In the upper room, she did not remain apart, but she stayed with the Apostles and waited for the Spirit of life. .
Mary, mother of Jesus, sought for her son with Joseph, silently, but she moved on. She looked for Christ. She cared for His life, she gave Him life. When Jesus was not there, there was no life for her: « My child, why have you done this to us? »(Luke 2:41-52).
Because of her silence and contemplation, Mary teaches us how to find Jesus within ourselves and among others.
Mary’s silence is faithfulness
Mary’s silence is not fatal but faithful. Whatever happens, Mary is silent and faithful to God.
The most striking example is that of Mary accompanying her Son on the road to Calvary. The film “Jesus of Nazareth”, or « The Passion of Christ » shows us clearly how Mary accompanied Jesus in silence.
Mary’s gaze crossed that of Jesus, without a single word, and Mary remained silent even at the foot of the Cross, when she stood near John. Jesus entrusted each one to the other one, as Mother and son. Through John, Jesus entrusted us to Mary, and she welcomed us in faithful silence: « Son, this is your mother » (Jn,19 :25-27).
At the death of Jesus, Mary received the body of her son in faithful silence.
Mary’s silence leads to the Magnificat.
After the Annunciation, Mary, having learned the state of her cousin Elizabeth, travelled without any comment in order to visit her. After her journey, she ended up by singing the Magnificat; she exulted with joy: « All generations will call me blesed...” (Luke 1:48), for true praise, true joy come from love.
A person in love is happy. Sometimes people feel they are someone when they can speak to others. But Mary is happy because she is full of love and reaches out to others.
Our whole life can become a Magnificat if, like Mary, we journey in order to meet others and love them.
Mary’s silence is not barren; it is:
- - A silence of presence
- - A silence of dialogue and communication
- - A silence of faithfulness
- - A silence of commitment
- - A silence of Magnificat.
To know Jesus, we must follow Him
(Vatican Radio via CNUA)
Jesus is known more by following Him than by studying Him. That was the message of Pope Francis at his homily during the Mass at Casa Santa Marta recently. Every day, he explained, Christ asks “who” He is for us, but it is only possible to answer by living as disciples. It is the life of a disciple that allows a Christian to really know who Jesus is for her - a journey in the footsteps of the Master, where clear witness and even betrayals, falls and new impulses can intersect.
Pope Francis took the example of Peter, who in the Gospel of the day portrays at the same time both as a “courageous” witness — who responded to Jesus’ question to the Apostles, “Who do you say I am for you?” by saying, “You are the Christ” — and immediately afterwards as an adversary, when he feels he has to reproach Jesus, who had just announced that he had to suffer and die, and then to rise.
“Many times,” the Pope said, “Jesus turns to us and asks us, ‘But who am I for you?’ “It seems that to respond to that question, what we have learned, what we have studied is not enough. To know Jesus it is necessary to take the journey that Peter took. After that humiliation, Peter went forward with Jesus, he saw the miracles
Jesus did, and he saw his power.
But, at a certain point, Peter denied Jesus, he betrayed Jesus, and he learned that most difficult knowledge — more than knowledge, wisdom — of tears, of weeping.” Peter, Pope Francis continued, asks forgiveness from Jesus — and yet, after the Resurrection, he is questioned three times by Jesus on the beach of Tiberius: “Do you love me?”
Probably, the Pope said, in reaffirming his total love for his Master, Peter wept, and was ashamed at the memory of his triple denial.
“This first question for Peter — ‘Who am I for you?’ — can only be understood along a path, a path of grace and of sin, a path of a disciple. Jesus did not say to Peter and to His Apostles “Know me.” He said, “Follow me!” And this following of Jesus makes us know Jesus, following Jesus with our strength and with our sins, but always following Jesus. It is not a study of things that is necessary, but a life of a disciple.” It takes “a daily encounter with the Lord, every day, with our triumphs and our weaknesses.”
But, the Pope added, it is “a journey that we can’t make on our own.” The intervention of the Holy Spirit is necessary: “To know Jesus is a gift of the Father; it is He who makes us know Jesus. It is a work of the Holy Spirit, who is a great worker. Not a trade unionist — He is a great worker and He works in us always. He
does this work of explaining the mystery of Jesus, and of giving us this sense of Jesus. We look at Jesus, Peter, the Apostles, and we hear in our hearts the question: ‘Who am I for you?’ As disciples let us ask the Father to grant to us to know Christ in the Holy Spirit, that He would explain this mystery.”
John Maxwell writes in his book, Partners in Prayer: "In the summer of 1876, grasshoppers nearly destroyed the crops in Minnesota. So in the spring of 1877 farmers were worried. They believed that the dreadful plague would once again visit them and again destroy the rich wheat crop, bringing ruin to thousands of people.
The situation was so serious that Governor John S. Pillsbury proclaimed April 26 as a day of prayer and fasting. He urged every man, woman and child to ask God to prevent the terrible scourge. On that April day all schools, shops, stores and offices were closed. There was a reverent, quiet hush over all the state.
The next day dawned bright and clear.
Temperatures soared to what they ordinarily were in midsummer, which was very unusual for April. Minnesotans were devastated as they discovered billions of grasshopper larvae wriggling to life. For three days the unusual heat persisted, and the larvae hatched. It appeared that it wouldn't be long before they started feeding and destroying the wheat crop.
On the fourth day, however, the temperature suddenly dropped, and that night frost covered the entire state. Result - it killed every one of those creeping, crawling pests as surely as if poison or fire had been used. It went down in the history of Minnesota as the day God answered the prayers of the people.
That is an awesome story! Opened to Grace - God takes the initiative and is there before us. We need to show up and listen. How we open ourselves may be different for each person. Personally, I need to turn off all the external stimuli—to quiet down and concentrate. I need to be alone and undisturbed. I like silence. There are different methods: asking help of the Holy Spirit, prayerfully reading the Scriptures, repeating the Jesus prayer, paying attention to our breathing. It is not a selfish prayer. We emerge from our inner room full of love, ready to reach out to others with a visit or phone call, an apology or a prayer. Have we found our inner room? What steps do we take to get there? God is always waiting.
Father Richard Rohr, OFM
Contemplation, as Thomas Keating says, is the divine therapy.
We know God and we know ourselves by inner prayer journeys
Not by merely believing in doctrines or living inside of church structures.
God’s way of dealing with us becomes our way of dealing with life and others.
We eventually love others, quite simply, as we have allowed God to love us, which should create quite a loving world.
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). Faith is to trust that an intrinsic union exists between us and God.
Contemplation is to experience this union.
Adapted from True Self/False Self (CD)
How do I understand contemplation at this time in my life? What are the fruits of contemplation that I see in my daily life? What can I do each day to deepen my experience and understanding of
I'm writing this on New Year's Eve. Looking to the year ahead for you - a year that can begin whenever you want - what's one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?
There is usually one thing - or two or three - that you know in your heart is a key factor in your well-being, functioning, and how you treat others. It's often a seemingly small thing in the rush and complexity of a typical day. It could be getting that 15 minute break each day with a cup of tea and no interruptions . . . or writing in your journal . . . or feeling grateful for three blessings in your life before falling asleep . . .or taking your vitamins or eating protein with every meal . . . It could be finally now making that shift for which your heart has been longing.
For me, one thing that pops off the page is going to bed early enough to get enough sleep plus be able to get up in time to meditate. Doing this sets up my whole day and makes it better.
As you know, most New Year's resolutions are worse than useless: they don't lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them. But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you . . . well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.
What's on your own short list of the things that would make a big difference for you? Perhaps you, too, would benefit from getting to bed earlier. Or from listening to someone for five minutes or more each day with no expectations. Or from regular exercise, meditation, or prayer. Or from dropping one bad habit.
Take a moment to imagine the rewards to you and others if you did this one good thing for yourself tomorrow. How would you feel at the end of the day? What would be the benefits? And then imagine those benefits coming to you and others the day after tomorrow . . . and the days and weeks and months after that.
Of course, all you can do is tend to the causes; you can't control the results. You can water a fruit tree but you can't make it give you an apple. But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best.
Keep coming back to the feeling of nurturing yourself. It's OK to take care of
yourself in this way. Try to feel the warmth for yourself, the strength to gently guide your future self - the one who will be doing this one good thing tomorrow, and the days after that - to keep watering this particular fruit tree.
And know that you can water more than one tree. But it helps to zero in on just one or a few things to focus on for a year.
And then a year from now, looking back to this day, you'll likely be enjoying a beautiful sweet rich harvest! Rick Hanson
December 2013 - Tend to the causes;
You can't control the results.
You can water a fruit tree but you can't make it give you an apple.
But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best. “Just One Thing – Rick Hanson
Our contemplative practice is a “laboratory” in which we learn to die to our passing emotions and thoughts and to receive the always-permanent Divine gaze. The rest of our life becomes the field in which we live out this participation in Love, bouncing back the gaze of grace to the Other and then having plenty left over for all others besides. “Fr. Richard Rohr”
Great love and suffering are the natural gateways to transformation and growth, opening us to divine union.
Transformation is always a gift to be received. We can’t achieve it; like grace, it is given and can only be received.
It is not a matter of intense willpower.
We can nurture openness and presence ahead of time so that when the opportunity comes, we are ready and willing.
Prayer is largely just being silent: holding the tension instead of even talking it through, offering the moment instead of fixing it by words and ideas, loving reality as it is instead of understanding it fully.
Prayer is commonly a willingness to say “I don’t know.”
We must not push the river, we must just trust that we are already in the river, and God is the certain flow and current.
“Fr. Richard Rohr”
Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think.
Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection!
Just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.
This is the “pearl of great price,” in my opinion. Non-dual thinking and seeing is the change that changes everything.
It makes love, mercy, patience, and forgiveness possible. “Fr. Richard Rohr”
HAVE A DEFIANT CHRISTMAS!
Greenness in the Midst of Barrenness
The Cherokees have a short creation story. The story is called,
“Why Some Trees Are Evergreen.”
When the plants and the trees were first made the Great Mystery gave a gift to each species. But first he set up a contest to determine which gift would be most useful to whom.
“I want you to stay awake and keep watch over the earth for seven nights,” the Great Mystery told them.
The young trees and plants were so excited to be trusted with such an important job that the first night they would have found it difficult not to stay awake. However, the second night was not so easy, and just before dawn a few fell asleep. On the third night the trees and the plants whispered among themselves in the wind trying to keep from dropping off, but it was too much work for some of them. Even more fell asleep on the fourth night.
By the time the seventh night came the only trees and plants still awake were the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the fir, the holly and the laurel.
“What wonderful endurance you have!” exclaimed the Great Mystery. “You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever. You will be the guardians of the forest. Even in the seeming dead of winter your brother and sister creatures will find life protected in your branches.”
Ever since then all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter, while the evergreens stay awake.
This tale does not use the symbols of light and darkness. It talks about greenness in the midst of barrenness and associates this greenness with the ability to stay awake. “Staying awake” is standard code in spiritual literature. It means remaining aware of our life giving connection to divine reality even when inner and outer forces militate against it. Just as the light in the darkness reminds us of this truth, so does the green-leafed tree in the leafless forest.
Love in the Midst of Rejection
The major Christian symbols of Christmas also use contrast to emphasize the invulnerability of our inner transcendent relationship to God. “She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn” (Luke 2:7). In one densely symbolic sentence, Luke brings out the contrast of love in the midst of rejection. Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes, a symbol that he is a loved child. He is laid in a manger, a feeding trough, a symbol that he is meant to be food for the world. These two symbols combine to point to the reality of self-giving love, the essence of God and the identity and mission of all those connected to God.
Yet this love is surrounded by rejection. There is no room for him at the inn. This exclusion at his birth is a harbinger of his exclusion by the religious and political elite of his time. Jesus will not be accepted. He will meet with violent opposition and eventually be put to death. Yet, as the whole gospel testifies, this rejection will not undercut the truth of who he is. He is the beloved Son of God on a mission of communicating divine life to people. This truth is seen most clearly in the premier moment of violent rejection—his death on the cross. These future events, this “life ahead of him,” are hinted at in the interconnected symbols of swaddling clothes, manger, and no room in the inn. These symbols capture the truth of a loved child who continues to extend love in a world of rejection.
A Defiant Christmas
The truth of Christmas emerges in imaginative contrasts. Perhaps the best way to view these contrasts is in terms of inner and outer realities. No matter how severe the outer world is—darkness, barrenness, rejection—it cannot snuff out the light, wither the greenness, or destroy the love. Although we do not always reflect on it, there is an edge to Christmas, an in-your-face attitude. Chesterton put it simply and well: “A religion that defies the world should have a feast that defies the weather.”
If I ever return to the custom of sending Christmas cards, the cover will be a picture of a light shining in the darkness or an evergreen in the midst of a barren forest or a laughing child in a ramshackle stable. Inside, the greeting will be straightforward: “Have a defiant Christmas!”
Of course, I really do not want people to have a defiant Christmas. I want them to have a harmonious Christmas. I want the inner and outer world to be in sync. Light inside and
out, greenness inside and out, love inside and out. In other words, I wish people the full peace of Christmas—good enough health, good enough finances, good enough relationships, and a good enough, stable, non-violent society and world.
But that is not what we always get. Christmas arrives to find our health precarious; our careers, jobs, or vocations under stress; our finances dipping badly; our relationships in need of repair; our society and world slightly insane. How can we celebrate Christmas in situations like these? Isn’t the only realistic response anxiety and gloom?
But when the outer world is darkness, barrenness and rejection, Christmas is a lesson in bringing forth and responding to the inner world of light, greenness, and love. Since this inner world is rooted in a transcendent love, it is more powerful than all the attacks that emerge out of both our finitude and sinfulness. “I have said this that you might have peace in me. In the world you have tribulations, but cheer up, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christmas cheer, when it is modeled on this passage from the Gospel of John, engenders in us a gentle defiance toward the tribulations of the world. Gentle defiance is not on the standard list of Christian virtues, but it is the Christmas gift that we all need to unwrap during one December or another. (Adapted from John Shea - www.jackshea.org)
October 2013 - Contemplation: Finding Ourselves, Finding God
When 'happiness' eludes us -- as, eventually, it always will -- we have the invitation to examine our programmed responses and to exercise our power to choose again.
Through exaggeration, confusion, and distortion, we have allowed our politics, our church and our families to fall out of emotional balance.
We can learn to heal our reactive responses by seeking "emotional sobriety,"
which is really the task that we call contemplation.
Bill Wilson, one of the founders of the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, said that recovery was not complete until addicts achieved "emotional sobriety." In many ways he was saying the same thing that mystical religion recognized -- authentic spirituality should lead to a total "rewiring" of both our conscious lives and our unconscious programming. It will not just change external behavior, but internal emotions and responses, our entire pattern of thinking.
Contemplation is not first of all about being religious, introverted, or pious -- it is about being emotionally and mentally honest!
Contemplation is an alternative consciousness that refuses to identify with or feed what are only passing shows. It is the absolute opposite of addiction, consumerism or any egoic consciousness.
Egoic consciousness is the one we all normally operate with, until we are told there is something else! Every culture teaches egoic consciousness in different ways. At that level it is all about me, my preferences, my choices, my needs, my desires and me and my group as the central reference point.
It was religion's job to tell us about a different kind of software and the original word for it was simply prayer. But even the concept and practice of prayer became captive to the voracious needs of the ego.
Even prayer became a way to get God to do what we wanted.
Thus we use the word contemplation so people might know we are talking about a totally different operating system, different software where the private self is not the center of attention and interpretation.
This is the "grain of wheat" that Jesus says must die "or it remains just a grain of wheat."
But if it dies, "it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Mature and contemplative religion has always known that we need a whole new operating system, which Paul called "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16) or a "spiritual revolution of the mind" (Ephesians 4:23).
Only with this new mind can we also develop a new heart and a new emotional response to the moment.
When it is not all about me, I can see from a much deeper and broader set of eyes. In time our responses are much less knee jerk, predictable and self-centered. Only contemplative prayer touches the deep unconscious, where all of our real hurts, motivations and deepest visions lie.
Without it, we have what is even worse -- religious egoic consciousness, which is even more defensive and offensive than usual! Now it has God on its side and is surely what Jesus means by the unforgivable "sin against the Holy Spirit." It cannot be forgiven because this small self would never imagine it needs forgiveness. It is smug and self-satisfied.
We must learn and practice this new mind or there will be no real change, no authentic encounter with ourselves, God or anybody else. Find your own practice and learn a new mind. Contemplation really is the change that changes everything.
This article is adapted from "The Change that Changes Everything," by © Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, in the October 2011 edition of The Drumbeat. Used with permission of The Center for Action and Contemplation.