Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ksimir Malevich, Russian, 1878 - 1835: The first painter to surrender to the freedom of abstract forms in search of purer emotional expression.

“Every therapeutic cure, and still more, any awkward attempt to show the patient the truth, tears him from the cradle of his freedom from responsibility and must therefore reckon with the most vehement resistance.”
Alfred Adler, February 7, 1870 – May 28, 1937

May we bring our hearts in prayer this week seeking healing for what ails them. May we pray that God meets us there in the midst of our defiance and our fear restoring us, as we are able to allow, to the great truth of our ability to choose freely there to respond for the wholeness or our own lives and the lives of all who come to us seeking care. Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Speaking From Silence: Vocare to a Life Solitude I

Marc Chagall, Solitude

“When we have lived long enough alone with the reality around us,
our veneration will learn how to bring forth a few good words
about it from the silence which is the mother of Truth,”
(Merton, Thoughts in Solitude).

There is wisdom which circulates among courageous souls who are called to share compassion’s journey with sufferers who come seeking healing of mind and heart and spirit: nothing happens along that way until the sufferer is ready. Lately, several things have happened which have drawn me more even more deeply into suffering and grief at the brief lives of my three Dear Little Ones and more closely to my long-slow smoldering rage at living this unbidden childlessness of mine. Only a few shy of twenty years, I have struggled minute-by-minute to keep them at a distance for fear they would consume what little of me remained. All the while, they still consumed me in every battle I waged against their power. I am exhausted now. And they have come again. I have no fight left in me, so I must succumb and find the ways to welcome them into the solitary practice of my daily living. Only here, in the great silence of these sorrows and the sins and griefs they bear can my spirit’s sighing find the Word which might hear the silent death of my fecundity into speech. Only here in mute surrender, in the solitude of this rage too deep for words can the Spirit’s sighs reach the shattered weakness of my heart and intercede for good, for love for a will and purpose which are my vocare, my call.

My very wise Jesuit Spiritual Director has, with great patience, persistence and good humor, consistently offered a hermeneutical frame for my living which I have resisted mightily for several years. The central point of discernment in this struggle—if God created us for relationships, how is God present in all that I have lost? Adoption, mother’s alcoholism, father’s terminal illness, two sets of parents gone before I was twenty-five, three children dead before they drew a breath, and the potential for ever bearing a child of my own with them, extended family caught up I the hubris of blood over emotional and relational bonds, a ten year marriage turned horribly public in the revelation of its truth in clergy sexual misconduct and that same horrible truth lurking in the shadows of the church where I turned for support. The vocare says very wise Jesuit Spiritual Director, is the very thing which I hate, rail against, resist, resent, refuse… my aloneness. Who in there right minds would want it, to be alone, to grieve these many losses, with no family to give and to receive love and the common bonds of daily living which offer our lives their shape and form and meaning?

For these many years, I have listened with particular attention to the brave preacher’s words on the painfully difficult passage from Mark 10: “Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’” (Mark 10:28-31). Never have I heard uttered a word, or an inflection or an inference to lead me to believe that the preacher’s heart would truly be willing to give up family or home or community or livelihood to follow Jesus. How, I have often wondered, might that preacher live, if he or she had no choice but to lose all that they loved and held dearest in the world? Would they still try to follow Jesus? Would they still be so certain of the smug platitude of God’s goodness and their heart’s willingness to follow, or convicted of such righteous sociopolitical truths?

It is not their hearts I am questioning but my own. In some long dormant hidden place I know this journey is mine and mine alone, and just as I must remind myself that I will never be able to find a family at grocery in the produce section among the avocados and artichokes, so I must remind myself that no heart should ever have to comprehend, no less endure, the shattering of the simple safe assumptions of their benevolent and equitable worlds. No one of them should ever have to endure year after year of shattered hopes for life shrouded in fears of death. Nor should their deepest longings and most tender dreams ever be pushed aside for the arrogance and hubris’ gains.

But I am, after all a Presbyterian, we do spirituality more in the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Heschel marching from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King, “Even without words our march was worship. I felt my legs praying,” than we do in the spirit of St. Paul in Romans 8, waiting in our weakness for the Spirit to intercede. This does not come easily to me, this vocare, this silence. I feel my legs still longing to march, to pray deliverance from this evil. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Still Thinking about Forgiveness

Perhaps not the most eloquent but found myself saying something like this to a patient today:

“As you release your tenacious hold on your conviction that the love you desire and long for so deeply can only come from your mother,father, sister, brother, wife, husband, child..., you can begin to open yourself up to the reality that those things can come to you from other sources. As long as you hold tightly to those as the only sources of love and acceptance available to you, you will remain closed to all other possibilities.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thinking on Forgiveness

I have been working on forgiveness presentations for Associates building on some clinical training I took several years ago on the subject so I could offer better clinical integration of this difficult topic in my work with patients.

German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was imprisoned by the Gestapo and spent the bulk of WWII in a concentration camp, only to be killed two weeks before the Allies marched on Berlin wrote these words from his prison cell: “Whoever cheats oneself out of the truth of one’s own life certainly also cheats oneself out to of the truth of God.”

Dr. Fred Luskin, Ph. D., Project Director, Stanford University’s Center for Research in Disease Preventions, the Forgiveness Project and author of Forgive for Good: a Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, reports, what many people of faith know, that forgiveness is a spiritual activity supported by all major world religions and wisdom traditions. Luskin also reports that forgiveness improves our health and the overall quality of our lives.
Forgiveness research reveals that there are some fundamental changes which we all can make in our thinking which can help is begin the process of forgiving ourselves and those who have harmed us.

1. Change the kind of stories we tell ourselves and others about events which have harmed us. People tend to describe their experiences as awful, and their coping responses as weak. Luskin’s research suggests that we not talk so much about the terrible things that happen to us, but instead talk about what we can do, how we are learning to cope, and how we are growing from the experience.

The research reveals that shifting the way we tell the story of the event is probably the most important thing we can do to begin the process of forgiveness.

2. We need to have a stress management practice, some kind of meditation, visualization, breathing technique, martial art — something we can practice to dissolve the stress response when it hits our body. That is crucial and needs to be practiced whenever the feelings associated with the grief or grievance arises.

Engaging these practices and shifting our attention to area of our heart while seeking compassion—a Buddhist practice, or praying for the person who wronged us— the Christian tradition teaches us to pray for people who have harmed us— reduce the arousal of the nervous system and get us in tune with our higher selves. If we don't reduce the arousal of the nervous system when we think of something unpleasant, it's very hard to overcome the effect.

It's almost a mindfulness practice. "Oh, here I am experiencing the grudge again," and you do some kind of spiritual, stress management discipline to work it through at the moment.

3. Finely, we need to think more clearly. Most of us, especially around life’s griefs and grudges, are filled with some distorted thoughts or ideas about how the world should be and what's owed to us. Luskin calls these our “un-enforceable rules,” Roman Catholic author, Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR, calls them the “original wound,” Buddhism recognizes that “life is suffering.” The forgiveness research identifies for us a very simple practice we can engage to remind ourselves just what the truth of our living is, just how un-enforceable our rules really are, we can remind ourselves, as the old Rolling Stones song goes, that "you can't always get what you want."

If we change our story, practice stress management, and remind ourselves over and over again, as the old song goes: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you may get what you need," The practice can become shorthand for a willingness on our parts to begin to consciously change our thinking, so that our thoughts are more accepting of the truth of our own life. There we can begin to make choices for our living which bring more peace, happiness and freedom into our lives. There we can begin to glimpse the truth of God or our Higher Power as we understand him or her or it.

Only then are we beginning to cease our great argument with the way the world actually is and relinquish our heartfelt notion that it is we who created it and the rules we must live by. This is a spiritual movement, a process of grieving, not alone an act of forgiveness. The question at the heart of the matter is the deepest question of our own hearts: “How do I live in a world where that kind of cruelty is possible?” It is very difficult, and requires the patient, careful attention to our spiritual journey. In perhaps two or three or four years, the question can become: Is being furious at what happened — being bitter or despairing — is that helping me in my life, now today? If, and when, the answer for our lives is no, we might do well for ourselves to surrender that which happened to the past, committing then to simply living our lives to the best of our ability with a heart now open to new possibilities.

This does not mean that what happened is okay. It does not mean that what happened is not incredibly damaging. It just means just that we have made the choice either to put more of our energy toward loving ourselves and the people around us and to acknowledging ourselves as the heroes of our own lives for overcoming our tremendous difficulties. This journey is an announcement to the world that human beings have the possibility, even amid the most horrible difficulties, to find within themselves some truth which transcends, for it is only in knowing our own truth that we can begin to glimpse the truth of That which called us and all that is into being.

“Although the world is full suffering, it is also full of overcoming it,” Helen Keller.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The New Modern Art Wing opens at the Art Institute of Chicago

The new and much anticipated Modern Art Wing opens tomorrow at the Art Institute of Chicago. The AI has always been a favoite place to refresh and renew. In that spirit:

“The true work of art is born from the 'artist': a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being."
Wassily Kandinsky, December 4, 1866 – December 13, 1944

May we come in prayer this week seeking to bring into being through our living the true art which lies in the profound mystery of our souls. May we pray that those gifts find life and breath and being in the lives of all who come to us seeking comfort and healing for their own souls. Only here will we find the true reality of our existence. Amen.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

First There was Florence Nightingale

I was first asked to develop a service for the Blessing of Hands about fifteen years ago in preparation for Nurses Week at another hospital. In that preparation I “discovered” the writings of Florence Nightingale. Since that day I have been an unabashed fan of the Nightingale. Both the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America celebrate a feast day dedicated to the Nightingale’s life of faith ad service which was a blend of prayer and mystical union with God, especially in the service of others. Truly a woman of pioneering spirit and vision she prefigured Gandhi, Dr. King, Thomas Merton and many others who would seek to bring about God’s justice and compassion in the lives of God’s suffering children, not only by tending the suffering of individuals but by changing the structures and systems of care by which society sought to care for those most in need and vulnerable in their midst.

The Episcopal Lectionary writes: “In her diary, an entry shortly before her seventeenth birthday Florence Nightingale wrote: ‘On February 7th, 1837, God spoke to me and called me to his service.’ She did not know what the service would be, and therefore decided that she must remain single, so as to have no encumbrances and be ready for anything. With this in mind, she rejected a proposal of marriage from a young man whom she dearly loved. She suffered from "trances" or "dreaming" spells, in which she would lose consciousness for several minutes or longer, and be unaware when she recovered that time had passed. (Could this be a form of petit mal epilepsy? No biographer of hers that I have read uses the word.) She found the knowledge that she was subject to such spells terrifying, and feared that they meant that she was unworthy of her calling, particularly since she did not hear the voice of God again for many years. In the spring of 1844 she came to believe that her calling was to nurse the sick. In 1850 her family sent her on a tour of Egypt for her health. Some extracts from her diary follow:

March 7. God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him, for Him alone without the reputation.
March 9. During half an hour I had by myself in my cabin, settled the question with God.

April 1. Not able to go out but wished God to have it all His own way. I like Him to do exactly as He likes without even telling me the reason.

May 12. Today I am thirty--the age Christ began his mission.
Now no more childish things. No more love. No more marriage. Now Lord let me think only of Thy Will, what Thou willest me to do. Oh Lord Thy Will, Thy Will.

June 10. The Lord spoke to me; he said, Give five minutes every hour to the thought of Me. Coudst thou but love Me as Lizzie loves her husband, how happy wouldst thou be." But Lizzie does not give five minutes every hour to the thought of her husband, she thinks of him every minute, spontaneously.”
Every one of us in health care is her heir. Our patients benefit everyday because of the Nightingale’s deep commitment to not only caring for the sick, the injured the lonely, those in pain and suffering, but also for insisting that the means and methods by which all others render them care upheld highest standards of quality and compassion. May each of us take time during nurses week to reflect on the Nightingale’s heart of compassion, her heart’s commitment to the highest standards of care, courage to lead others along her way and her heart’s longing for union with the One in whose name she sought to heal.

Near the end of her life, “on Christmas Day when she was sixty-five, she wrote: ‘Today, O Lord, let me dedicate this crumbling old woman to thee. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. I was thy handmaid as a girl. Since then, I have backslid.’"
“A few years before her death, she was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit from the British government. She died at ninety, and, by her directions, her tombstone read simply, ‘F.N. 1820-1910’".

Prayer of the Episcopal Church for Nightingale’s Feast Day
Life-giving God, who alone has power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of your servant Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Happy Nurses Week! All

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Prayer for the brightness of God's goodness

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, for what’s a heaven for.
God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.
I show you doubt to prove that faith exists.
The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say, if faith or comes doubt.
When the fight begins within himself, a man’s worth something.
Then welcome each rebuff that turns earth’s smoothness rough.
Each string that bids, nor sit, nor stand, but go.
Be our joys three parts pain, strive and hold cheap the strain.
Learn nor account the pang.
Dare, never grudge the throw.
What I aspire to be and was not, comforts me.
There shall never be one lost good.
What will shall live as before.
The evil is null, is naught, is silence implying sound.
What was good shall be good, with for evil, so much good the more.
On the earth, the broken arcs in the heaven make perfect round.
It’s wiser being good than bad.
It’s safer being meek than fierce.
It’s fitter being sane than mad.
My own hope is the sun shall pierce the thickest cloud earth ever stretched.
That after last returns the first.
Though a wide compass round be fetched, that what began best can end worst.
Nor what God blessed once, prove accursed.”

Robert Browning, May 7, 1812 – December 12, 1889

May we come this week in prayer with hearts filled with all that which exceeds our grasp, and all that causes us to doubt God’s rightness in this world, and all that tumult and rebuff within ourselves. For only there can the sun pierce these thickening clouds and God’s goodness shine within so much brighter than before. Amen.