Echoes of Faith is an e-publication from King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center. Every couple of weeks, we share a brief reflection written by a member of our staff or a friend of King’s House. The reflections will echo an inspiration we’ve pondered in our lives, and we hope they are meaningful to you as well. You’ll find our recently published Echoes of Faith reflections below. To be sure you’re on our email list, join our newsletter by filling out the form in the lower right hand corner of this page. Enjoy!
And He Pitched his Tent Among Us (December 22, 2016)
I will not lie. I am not a camper. BJ tried (unsuccessfully) for years to convince me by his sheer joy at even the thought of sleeping under the stars that camping was awesome. I am still not convinced. And yet, this is the image that John gives us of Jesus coming to live among us. My limited experience of camping has been family float trips. Tents are every shape and size, packed pretty closely together. Between tents, lawn chairs, coolers, wet towels, swimming suits, and food, it is more than a little messy and chaotic. In a sense, that is what Jesus chose to dive into when he pitched his tent among us. He came right into the messiness and chaos of our lives. He pitched his tent and pulled up a chair right next to ours so he could share in our laughter, tears and stories. It feels really good to know just how close he chooses to be to us, even when everything is not perfect.
Chances are your Christmas celebrations will not be perfect. Somebody will get irritated. You forget to put out some of the food. A batch of cookies gets burned. Your present doesn’t fit (perhaps because of the cookies that you overindulged in). And yet, despite all of that, Jesus chooses to be present at your table, on your couch, or in the tent that the kids made out of their sheets. We welcome Emmanuel , God with us, into our hearts and homes – and he gladly accepts the invitation.
As we also come to the end of the year, I want to say, “Thank you”, to everyone who has been a part of our life here at King’s House this past year. Whether you dropped in for a few minutes or stayed a week, you were a sign to us of God’s goodness and closeness to us.
Merry Christmas from all of us at King’s House and our best wishes for the New Year!
Doug Boyer is the Director of the King’s House
No Room in the Inn (December 8, 2016
We have been ushered into the Advent season, a time of waiting for new birth of the One who continues to come into our lives each day. We also celebrate Mary, the woman who endured the mysteries of life by “pondering them all in her heart”. This woman carried the joy of giving birth to a child who would change the world. She carried the sorrows of giving birth to her child in a stable because there was “no room in the inn”, fleeing with this Child to escape the terrorism of Herod, and watching her only son die a violent death.
In this Advent season, we find that same suffering in our world. We see the joys of new birth, of love of families, of people working always to help others. But we are also sadly aware of the greed, violence, and division. We see on the television the horrors of war, of terrorism that makes people flee their lands, mass shootings for so many reasons.
We ask ourselves what we can do to make a difference in our world. What small thing can we do to help someone in need; to help others find “room in the inn? Through the International Institute in St. Louis, my community has decided to do our little bit by helping a Syrian family who lives in St. Louis and are in great need of financial help. Others are expressing their love by sharing their bit: sitting with the sick, the dying, the lonely; giving time at food pantries; preparing Christmas gifts for the needy. I ponder with hope in my heart that all the “little bits” will make a difference. Perhaps eventually there will be room for all in the inn.
Sister Joan Voss, asc is a member of the King’s House Advisory Board
The Light at the End of the Tunnel (November 23, 2016)
Nestled in the dense forests, hidden waterfalls and majestic rock formations of the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois lies a biking trail that originally was the railroad bed through this vast area. In this case it is a challenging trail that stretches 45 miles between Harrisburg and Karnek in Illinois.
At the height of this “Tunnel Hill Trail.” is a section that cuts a 543 feet tunnel through a mountain. The railroad builders found it easier to cut through the height of the mountainous terrain rather than build over the top. For our biking party it provided an opportunity to encounter one’s spiritual side.
This was our first experience of the trail and we approached the tunnel entrance with excitement and anticipation. We were immediately welcomed by wisps of cool air on a hot day. Looking further down the length of the tunnel I could see a speck of light that literally was “the light at the end of the tunnel.” With confidence and a bit of excitement we peddled onto the trail.
However, within yards of the entrance a strange feeling chilled me. I realized that I had “run out of light.” Except for the small pinpoint in the distance I could not see anything directly in front of me. I could hit an unseen rock, run over a snake, or crash into an unknown hole! My confidence was a bit shaken.
I had to make a quick decision. Do I stop, dismount and turn around towards the safety of the light I just left; missing the opportunity to explore the other side of the mountain? Or do I keep peddling and face the unknown despite my hesitations?
It had to do with Trust, and I quickly realized that the obstacles I faced were mostly within me; not just out there on the dark, unknown trail.
It made me reflect. When I face a change in my life am I able to take time to dwell in the gap between what I have left behind and what changes may lay ahead. Our temptation to fix things too quickly and get to the other side with the way we think life should be. We can miss the opportunity to embrace what the present moment is trying to teach us. When caught in the dark and fearful moments of life, a “gap dweller” may not need to ask how I get over this. The real question becomes, what will this confusing and uncertain moment teach me about myself and my life?
Several years ago a woman in our divorce recovery group at the Shrine described her experience: “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me; but it was also the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me discover new parts of myself and taught me strengths I never realized. It allowed me to own my part in this relationship.
My flight of fantasy: While enjoying leisure time at the wilderness camp at the northern end of the 2181 mile long Appalachian Trail in Maine I thought: what would it be like to set up a listening booth (like Lucy’s “The Doctor is IN” booth” in the cartoon strip “Peanuts”) with a welcoming sign that would say: “Tell us about your experience on the trail. What was it like for you and what have you learned? How has it changed you?” Like many life experiences the key goal is not to get to the other side. I suggest it is to make the most of what the journey elicits from and teaches you from your storehouse of self-understanding. Both the underground darkness of the unknown and the rugged trails of the mountain-tops serve a similar purpose: how to dwell in the challenge of the gap.
Dwelling in the gap takes on many shapes and stories. Some are like peddling through a dark tunnel trying to trust there is a path in the darkness. Some dwellers find the balance between what was the best and worst of their experience. Others need to be given the opportunity to tell the story of their journey and let the lessons emerge in the telling.
Some thoughts from the light at the end of the tunnel,
Taking from a popular financial commercial “what’s in your tunnel?”
What has been an opportunity to “dwell in the gap” during a change in your life? What did you learn?
What has helped you to “keep peddling?”
Describe an experience where you have “run out of light.” What was that like for you? What (or who) did you learn to put your trust in? How did you uncover the light within yourself?
When has the darkness in your tunnel become an opportunity?
Brother Bill Johnson, OMI is a former Director of the King’s House
If Trees Could Talk (November 10, 2016)
Hiking in the woods this weekend, admiring the brilliant foliage, a quote from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ came to me: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” (233)
What “mystical meaning” is to be found in a leaf or a tree?
A new book by German forester and scientist Peter Wohllenben offers some clues. In his surprise bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, Wohllenben describes his relationship with trees and the transformations they’ve wrought in his life. I hasten to add that we’re not talking about easy transformations or storybook endings here. This is a man who has been ridiculed and misunderstood, who quit his longtime job as a civil servant in order to put his ecological ideals into practice (not knowing how he’d provide for his family), and who suffered panic attacks and depression—all thanks to his love affair with trees.
His discoveries are mind-blowing. According to Wohllenben, trees “can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network…and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.” He explains that trees “talk” to one another, “suckle” their young, “cherish” the old, and have memories and emotions.
Wohllenben’s discoveries bring new meaning to Pope Francis’ words. Truly, every leaf, every tree, is a sign of God who “fills it completely.” Next time you take a walk outdoors, try slowing down long enough to ask yourself: How is the divine presence revealed to me through the natural world? How can I extend that love to others? And whisper a word of thanks to God, who flows through all living things like a secret, nutritious nectar.
Alicia von Stanwitz, a writer and longtime editor with the religious press, is a member of King’s House advisory board. More at: www.aliciavonstamwitz.com
Slow Down (October 20, 2016)
As I sit in rocker row looking at the beauty of the summer flowers fade and the brilliant fall colors come to life I can’t help but to think of the small wonders we miss daily. This never ending change reminds me that God has a plan and we are part of it and it continuously moves forward. We do not know how this plan will unfold and need to take time to embrace the people and events around us as they are part of this plan. Often it is the simple day to day things like the summer flowers and fall colors that bring beauty and wonder to our lives but, we do not always notice.
Our hurried lives take us from the things we cherish and then we wonder why we feel like something is missing. Take time to notice, you cannot get the time back but the memory will be with you forever.
With this I challenge you to take time out of your busy schedule, even if it is only a moment and notice God’s Beauty around you.
Richard Dahm is the long-time Business Manager at King’s House
St. Francis of Assisi (October 6, 2016)
This week we celebrated the Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is such a shining example of realizing our true connectedness with all creatures – human, as well as other living things – and with the whole of creation.
In his book, Joshua, Joseph Girzone called nature “the natural tranquilizer”. We are inundated with TV ads for countless medications to control anxiety, relieve stress, etc. Wouldn’t it be easier to just take frequent walks in a park, breathe deeply the fresh air, listen to the soothing sounds of birds chirping, laugh at the antics of the scampering squirrels and enjoy some quiet moments savoring the beauty of a sunrise or sunset? I think it would go a long way to cure what ails you. Throwing in practices like yoga, meditation or Centering Prayer work wonders, also.
Too often in this fast-paced society of ours, we lose track of the simple pleasures creation offers. We may not even realize the healing potential of Mother Nature. Hiking in the mountains, strolling on a beach next to the ocean or playing Tai Chi outside, one can soon feel the energy emanating from the natural world. If we absorb that energy into our bodies, our minds, our spirits, we will be so charged up that we are ready for anything life has in store for us.
The Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi gives us at least a yearly reminder to slow down, become more aware of the transforming world of nature and discover what might be missing from our busy lives. The universe, especially through all of creation, offers us healing. Accept the invitation!
“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”
~Francis of Assisi
Bette Meyer is Ministry Assistant for the Victorious Missionaries and a member of the advisory council at King’s House
That’s OK, that happens sometimes (September 22, 2016)
As I was wondering what to write about for this issue of Echoes of Faith, the following fell into my lap. It is from my older brother, John… who is also proud grandparent to a little girl named Evie. What John writes about is too good not to share, and I couldn’t have said it better. But then, I don’t have a little granddaughter to coach me.
Here it is:
Life Pro Tips is a topic on Reddit that collects the wisdom of people that have lived life and want to pass on a few of the things they’ve learned. But what would you call it if you get your tips from a three year old? I call it Life According to Evie. Or maybe: From the Mouths of Babes (although she would be quick to point out that she is not a baby, she’s a big girl.)
When she was two, she taught me that when things go south, no matter how guilty you are you should hold your hands over your mouth, act surprised and say “Oh no, how did that happen?” When she was three she came up with this gem: “That’s ok; that happens sometimes.” I’m guessing she heard it from her mother or her dad, but she applies it with a broad brush. Anything that might be described with a preface of “uh-oh” is quickly followed by “That’s ok; that happens sometimes.” It’s used to offer absolution and forgiveness, and to move on. Even if it was your fault. Or maybe especially if it was your fault. It’s a bandaid for minor wounds, but once you start saying it, you start pushing the boundaries to how much stuff it will cover.
This is from a little girl who still believes a kiss will fix many scrapes and bumps. This power is invested in parents and grandparents, but can only be given by the very young. And when does this kiss lose the power to heal? Never. It’s not the kiss that changes, it’s the belief in what that kiss can do. As long as you believe, that kiss actually helps. So how cool would it be if we could actually forgive ourselves, or someone else, and move on? All it takes are the magic words: “That’s ok, that happens sometimes.” You have to believe. You have to forgive. And you have to move on. For a three year old, it’s no harder than breathing.
She’s my hero. – John Dean (older brother of Fr. Mark…)
Fr. Mark Dean, OMI is a member of the ministry team at King’s House
The Birth of Mary (September 8, 2016)
September 8 is the feast of the Birth of Mary. The scripture readings of the day center on Jesus, his lineage, angels appearing to Joseph, and his role in fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Not one word about Mary. The scripture, like Mary, direct us to her Son. Mary was the first to hear the Word of God and observe it. Her life wasn’t about herself, it was about being the instrument of God. Her beautiful prayer, the Magnificat, is a statement of pure and true humility.
We might think of humility as pushing away a compliment, or diminishing ourselves. Someone says to us, “Hey, I love that blouse!” and we reply, “Oh, this old thing; Got it at a resale shop.” We push aside the compliment instead of simply saying “Thank you.”
At the Visitation, Elizabeth sees Mary, hears her voice, and the baby Elizabeth carries leaps for joy. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is me that the mother of our Lord would come visit me.” Mary doesn’t say, “Aw shucks, forget about it.” Mary says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my savior. He has looked on me in my lowliness, and all ages to come will call me blessed.”
She’s not bragging. She’s affirming: “Look what God has done for me! Of course all ages to come will call me blessed!” Mary knew God was doing great things in her, for her, and through her. So all praise to God, because God’s the source of it all. That’s what Mary’s about.
Mary knew joy in her heart and carried these mysteries as she raised her boy. We are invited to speak that same yes. It’s not about having to make some bold, dramatic, great change when we say yes to God. It’s about saying yes right where we are. In that yes, our lives will be transformed. In that yes, the lives of everyone we meet will be changed, too. Mary knew the deep joy of surrender to the love of God, from the moment of her birth. And she taught her son well.
Maria Rogers O’Rourke is a member of the preaching team at King’s House
Changes (August 25, 2016)
I was just sitting on my patio, noticing the end of summer — flowers are not quite so bright and the grass is getting brown. We will be entering into fall soon, a time of change. Most of us will find the end of summer and transition into fall one of the best times of the year. However, some of us have recently experienced or will experience changes in our lives. As we know, some changes are beautiful , but many of them are painful: e.g. a child is leaving for school, a move required in order to keep a job, the loss of someone close to us, a serious medical diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of these, this time of year is not so beautiful.
I recently heard this story about the American Eagle. Eagles have longest life span of any bird. They can live up to 70 years. But to do that, the eagle must make a decision (commitment) to reach this age. Because at age 40, the eagle’s talons can no longer pick up prey, its beak becomes bent, and its wings become too heavy to easily fly. So eagles have a choice; to die or to live. So those who choose to live, fly to the top of a mountain and dedicate 150 days (5 months!!) to changing. In that high nest, the eagle knocks out their beak on a rock and waits for it to grow back. Then, the eagle plucks out its talons. After the talons grow back, the eagle plucks out its old feathers. After new lighter ones grow back, the eagle takes its joyous flight of rebirth. It will live another 30 years.
What can we learn from our friend the eagle? In order to survive like the eagle, we may need to pluck away old habits, memories, or traditions in order to begin again. This may seem impossible. But from the eagle, we can see that when we make the decision to live/change, we find God is with us. Did you notice in the story of the eagle, that when the eagle brakes off its beak, God ensures it grows back. Same with the talons. Same with the feathers. I am sure that the eagle experiences pain during this process, however its rebirthing flight is “oh so wonderful”!
At any time in our lives, we intuitively know we are never alone. And during our times of pain, God is waiting to take our hand —- we just need to remember to put our hand out.
Sandy Bellon is a member of the Preaching Team at King’s House
Not So Fast! (August 11, 2016)
You can feel the days speeding up. It seems like all eyes are already turned toward the busy days of Fall. Everywhere people are gearing up for school and busy nights full of meetings. Stores have put away shorts and bathing suits in favor of hoodies and flannel. It is easy to get caught up in the rush. Even if we have to gather school supplies or do some agenda planning, we can’t let the magic that God has filled these days with pass us by. It is the season of sweet corn, peaches, home grown tomatoes and lush vegetation. It isn’t time yet for apples and pumpkins. Don’t rush. Everywhere we look right now is a miracle of nature. Take time to savor.
It is so easy to get caught up in looking ahead. Geri and I sometimes find ourselves excited for the day when our grandson, Connor, will learn his next new skill. Many sentences begin with, “I can’t wait until he can . . .” and yet we have learned to treasure every precious, perfect day with him just because he is in our lives.
The psalmist reminds us, “THIS is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Let us heed his advice.
Deacon Doug Boyer is Director of King’s House
Delight (July 21, 2016)
Our hearts are heavy these days as we hear so many reports of increasing violence in our world and especially the senseless violence in our own country. In the very month when we celebrate the beginning of our country, we are confronted with far too many accounts of blatant racism, brutality, and hate crimes.
What are we as people of faith called to do in the midst of such disheartening news?
How can we respond in ways which foster respect for the dignity of each person, which encourage others to be their best selves? What words of comfort can we give to those who are confused, saddened, or filled with rage?
Recently a respected colleague offered these words from a poem by Jack Gilbert:
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere…
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine…The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing…
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil…
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
– “A Brief For the Defence”
Can it be that part of our call is to balance the attention that we mustgive to injustice with delight in the beauty that God has created?
Blessings on the rest of your summer.
Sr. Carolyn Brockland, OSU, is a spiritual director for King’s House during Summer Directed Retreats.
Surrender (July 7, 2016)
“Surrender” – the word itself has all sorts of unpleasant connotations. Weakness, apathy, defeat, all come to mind when we think of the word. Many of us are “fixers”- give us a problem, give us some time and we’re glad to give you a to-do list of how to make it all better- or at least manageable. But what about those situations that despite our best efforts we have not been able to fix- the alcoholic son, the mother with Alzheimer’s, our own declining health. Have you ever thought of surrender as the ultimate in strength?
A few months ago, I realized that it was time to surrender to the will of God. I had to move from an apartment I loved within a few weeks. Working full time, outside commitments and a bad case of bronchitis was not going to make this easy. I felt totally overwhelmed. The words of a friend came to me as I sat in despair one day looking at boxes to be packed, lists of apartments to be visited and arrangements to be made. Her words? “Judy, God has always had your back- do your homework and let Him lead you.” With those words ringing in my ears, I packed, I looked, I filled out forms but mostly I prayed and sat in silence to hear God’s voice. And sure enough He spoke. He spoke through friends with suggestions, with gut reactions (both good and bad) to landlords who showed me their places, and He led me through a discernment process of what were my non-negotiables in a home and what could I let go. On a beautiful day in May, I found the perfect place for me on (believe it or not) Sunshine Drive.
Surrendering to God’s will: will we always get what we want? Certainly not. But with that act of surrender, by opening ourselves up to God’s will, we find the peace of knowing that we are not always in charge. Do what you can do, yes. But as our brothers and sisters in Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us, maybe it’s time to listen to that little voice in our heart that whispers “Let Go and Let God”.
Judy Williamson is on the Pastoral Team at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
Summer Graces (June 23, 2016)
Two days into my planned two week vacation I began to feel guilty about “not doing anything.” Then the words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel came to mind,” Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk. 6: 31). My “deserted place” was my brother’s lake house in the Missouri Ozarks.
I enjoy going there by myself to rest, relax, pray, read, sleep, play, write. This is a place where I can sit on the deck, watch and listen to nature and be attuned to God.
God is a God of surprises. Sometime during the days of quiet God comes in the solitude and reveals something significant to me. The week before I went on vacation I went to confession and talked with the priest about a resentment I was carrying around in spite of numerous attempts to let go of it. Father pointed out to me that God’s grace was already at work because I was feeling the feelings, due to the injustice involved, but not acting on them.
Sometimes I have difficulty hearing the positives that someone else says to me. As I recalled these words from Father, I remembered that the priest stands in the person of Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus was speaking to me through the ministry of the priest. What consolation came through this silent reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the grace that comes from it. Oh! By the way, the resentment is finally gone.
Peggy J. Keilholz is a member of the Preaching Team at King’s House
God’s Gracious Creatures (June 9, 2016)
I heard their familiar ‘coo’ song. They were a pair— flying around. They landed on the porch railing. I felt excited and wanted to open the door to welcome them back. This would be their third year, nesting on that uneven pile of sticks they call a nest. But I did not want to frighten them away. These are the parent mourning doves. Are they the same ones? Who knows. They could be. After all, they do look pretty much alike. Or, it could be a second generation. I surprised myself at the warmth of my welcome and how blessed I felt by their trust..
They came. They settled. One of them laid two eggs. Both of them took turns sitting. Holy Saturday – the chicks hatched. The parents were generous meeting the feeding demands. The chicks grew very quickly and there was almost no room in the nest for parents and young.
These lovely birds nest at the top of the porch pillar, on a ledge in a protected corner. The nest is very visible from my front door. As the process continued the neighborhood became interested. The young mail man took pictures. Neighbors stopped by to watch the growth. They came from across the street and upstairs and next door. One day – it was a colder day – the mother had her wings out and peeking out from both sides, well protected, were these young ones…confident and unafraid.
Sometime the second week after Easter, the nest was empty. I knew it was coming; but I felt the sadness of ‘letting go’. I received a call from a neighbor, “Do you know that your doves are in my front yard? They are together.” That felt safe.
One of them had seemed a bit behind – even sick. The parents were no longer feeding it. Wild Birds said that if the bird is sick, the parents will not feed it, and it will die. Nature.
But later that week I met other neighbors in ‘my Schnucks’. “Hey, neighbor. Your doves are in our yard and on our front porch.” That was two days ago. The chicks seemed to have moved on into life. And then, today I did hear a distant but familiar ‘coo’ song… maybe there will be another time of nesting. There were three clutches last year.
How did God know we would take such delight in fellow creatures? How did God figure that our sense of oneness with all of creation – which delights God to no end – would include welcoming back for a third year these beautiful mourning doves who have blessed me by trusting the corner ledge of an old St.. Louis porch?
Sandy Spencer is a Spiritual Director and a great friend of King’s House
Merciful like God (May 26, 2016)
During these months of the Easter Season, readings from the early Church Fathers have been used. I chose a favorite of mine: St. Peter Chrysologus (“the golden-worded one”), especially for this “Year of Mercy:”
“I appeal to you by the mercy of God, made by St. Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared…to be a Father rather than someone ‘lording it over’ us. God insists on His mercy, rather more than punishing anyone, or emphasizing severity.”
Falling back on all the Scriptures we’ve been hearing these past weeks, we hear Jesus talking about Himself, always wanting us to see Him inseparable from God His Father. And in so doing, He joins Himself to us, never to forget our being joined also to the Father. We remember Philip the Apostle’s request: “Show us the Father,” and Jesus’ quick response: “Whoever sees me sees the Father.” Pope Benedict XVI liked to say: “Jesus is the face of the Father.” And that inspired me a couple years ago to try painting my version of that, two pastels that hang now together in my chapel. The “golden-worded” St. Peter Chrysologus says: “I want you, members of my flock, to see Jesus in the Father, and your own body, your bones, your blood.” And he goes on to say: “You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as Lord, but why not run to me as your Father, and to Jesus as your Brother? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing His passion and death. Do not be afraid! The cross and these nails no longer hurt Him, but only deepen your love for Him and Me. Through His wounds He draws you into His heart.” In the month of June we pray: “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in you.” And we add this year: “Have mercy on us.” And our Church Father concludes with Jesus reaching out to us:
“Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your brother, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.”
Somehow, dear friends, I sense deeply in that admonition is contained the secret for our approach: to family members and friends of our ours who have drifted away from the practice of their faith, or to other friends not particularly religious who seem to be searching for more depth in their lives than the everyday work and play. They may not display this in so many words, but I suspect that you see it in their eyes at times, a hungry look, a question without words. It’s time to respond to that, if we want to be their friends, truly.
Bishop Stan Schlarman is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council
God of Diversity (May 12, 2016)
“The future is in the respectful co-existence of diversity”. Pope Francis’ words call me to look seriously at both the gift and the challenge of diversity. I belong to a community of sisters who are international and I had the privilege of spending time in a number of other countries. The common folk that I lived and shared life with taught me so much about diversity. From the huts of Africa, to the jungles of Brazil, to the streets of India, I learned that the customs, the foods, the religious approaches to God are very different from my own. They are beautiful, but the challenge to eat different food, pray in a different manner or wear other types of clothes was always there. However, their hearts, their hopes, their dreams for a better world showed me we are more alike than different and I experienced it as a gift. Their fears for the future of their children and their worries about rising prices for food and heating are the same as mine. I believe we are given diversity as a gift from our God who calls us to see anew the wonder of His world, the beauties of mountains and rivers and flowers, trees of every sort.
What about you? What experiences have you been given to encounter someone different from you in color, race, religion? Can you see it as a gift from God who tells you that the earth is filled with diversity of peoples, of nature and of grace?
As I was thinking about this article I found a beautiful quote I share with you: “If you want to know where God is, find the space in your heart that is open to all humankind.
God is waiting for you there.” I pray that we can meet God in that space together. I do believe that the future of our universe and everyone who inhabits it depends on accepting that diversity.
Sr. Joan Marie Voss, ASC, is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council
Earth Day Echoes (April 21, 2016
One echo I’ve always been pleased to hear coming from King’s House is its concern for the earth and the environment. In fact, I’d say King’s House can serve as a poster child for these causes. As we approach Earth Day on April 22, along with the countdown to its 50thAnniversary, I can personally vouch that King’s House concern for the earth’s beauty antedates the Founding of Earth Day itself.
As a St. Henry’s student in the 1940’s, I vividly recall being assigned to work on the grounds of the newly purchased retreat house property. In other words, King’s House has a long and proud history, since the care for the grounds has continued apace until our outstanding showcase level of today.
However, it is with sadness that I temper our enthusiasm. There’s a sad underbelly to efforts at improving the beauty of the earth. In one of those memorable moments, I recall the shock of hearing the NPR announcement of an environmental activist being murdered for her work.
The story reported that currently at least two people a week are being killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction. As companies search for new land to exploit, some people are unfortunately paying the ultimate price for standing in their way. At least 116 environmental activists were murdered in the past year.
Regrettably, I have no solution to suggest. Perhaps, as we enjoy the beauty of King’s House, we can also thank God for what we enjoy and prayerfully remember people like Berta Caceres who won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for ecological actions, but was killed within the year.
Fr. Tom Singer, OMI, is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council
Passion! (April 7, 2016)
Early in December I was gifted with Joan Chitister’s 2016 calendar A Fire in Their Hearts. I quickly opened it to April, my assigned month for this reflection. Joan’s April hero was Catherine of Siena and her April quote was “Be passionate about God’s will for every living thing: every wetland, every child, every inner city, every woman, every moment of life.”
Joan and Catherine as many others are heroes for today’s world who are passionate about life despite, or rather are integral, to all the challenging realities of 2016 all around us. Rather than being in denial or escaping as each moment of our lives evolves, it seems that places like King’s House and all our own sacred spaces provide hope, as well as opportunities to bring those heroic qualities to situations of our lives, the simple as well as the very complex.
How to nourish and embolden that hope? An opportunity comes to mind. Many years ago a sophomore SSND homeroom teacher suggested the ministry of the “5 cent” stamp. Could that be extended to today’s “49 cent” stamp (with apologies to the electronic age)? A word, a thought, a message to enkindle that “fire in hearts” with a note, a card, a letter. Voices today are pleading for the rebirth of personalized communication, however that can evolve.
Thanks to all the Joans and Catherines and you, passionate ones of the world,as all quietly or boldly move out from all our sacred spaces.
Sr. Grace Marie Mueller, SSND, is a spiritual director in Belleville and a Parish Life Coordinator at St. Luke’s Parish.
Paschal Mystery – New Life (March 24, 2016)
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a girlfriend about “the cross”. We were discussing a challenging time in my life and I was sharing my gratitude for the opportunities that over time had come from the difficult experience – my own personal Paschal Mystery. After listening intently to my story, my friend said something that I have thought about many times. She said, we don’t need the cross anymore. I immediately closed my eyes and tried to imagine a world without loss, without pain, and without challenge. At first glance, it seemed pretty amazing, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to question the possibility of growth, change, and transformation without the catalyst of the cross.
As I reflect on my own life, the process of dying and rising, death and new life has been an integral part of my development and spirituality. When I have the courage to allow the process to unfold, I experience the unconditional love and mercy of God. This week we are reminded once again that death and darkness do not have the last word, but it is our choice. Rising is allowing God’s grace to enter into our lives instead of wallowing in the darkness. Rising is following the example of Jesus who was brave and put his trust in God.
If Holy Week is not enough of a reminder of God’s infinite love and mercy, take a walk. The Paschal Mystery is not just a human thing. It belongs to all of creation which is evidenced to us in the emergence of new life in spring after the death of winter.
Geri Boyer is a member of King’s House Preaching Team and Facilitator for the King’s House Advisory Council
Don’t Mess With My Clock! (March 10, 2016)
This coming Sunday we are instructed to move our clocks up an hour for daylight saving’s time. I am a person who doesn’t like my clock being messed with. It’s hard enough to get good patterns down for rest, prayer, and waking without this odd, semi-annual intrusion into mother nature. After all, birds and squirrels still bustle in the feeder outside my bedroom window at sunrise, regardless of how I set my clock inside. How come they don’t have to change? IT’S NOT FAIR!
Here we are, over half way through Lent, each of us called to change – to be converted more toward God’s sense of mercy and compassion – for the good of ourselves and for others. It’s not about whether we think we do or don’t have to change. It’s not about what’s fair, and that is a good thing.
If it were fair, we might have to give up everything that we have been given by God. And we might have to reclaim everything we have been forgiven, as well. God’s love and forgiveness aren’t about divine fairness, they are about unmerited love, forgiveness, welcome and embrace. We always come out ahead in this deal: good measure, shaken together, poured into the folds of our garments.
This year, Pope Francis invites us to a deep experience of God’s mercy – towards ourselves, our loved ones, our enemies. Perhaps it’s time to move the time of forgiveness an hour earlier, or even better yet, to this present moment. After all, we are not called to receive and reflect moments of mere fairness. We are called to receive and reflect on moments of grace. And the acceptable time for grace is always “now,” regardless of clocks or times zones.
Fr. Jim Brobst, OMI, is Area Councilor for the US Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and a member of the King’s House Advisory Council.
Turn, Turn, Turn
In spending time with my God, I have come to realize that my “Lents” over the years have changed. No longer are they times of turning away from, but rather turning toward.
As a child I hated Lent because it meant giving up lots of things. For me it was candy, television, favorite toys, etc. Then I couldn’t wait for it all to be over so I could return to all those things. Now I really look forward to the growth in my life of turning toward.
I turn away from the negative behaviors that let others know I can be a real pain in the “tushie” as my granddaughters say. I pray to God for the grace to stop the special brand of “snarkiness” that seems reserved for my husband, children, and extended family, so that I can really turn toward and embrace the love and care I have for them. And so it goes, turn away from wasted leisure time, turn toward the Gospel to spend time with the Word. Turn away from the anger and frustration of the political season and turn toward prayer so God can lead me to the candidate who will best lead us to our full potential as a nation. Turn away from judging and finding fault in others and turn toward praying for them to be their best selves. We all have our own list of “toward things” and “away from things.” These are just a few of mine.
My spiritual director has guided me to “gaze upon the face of Jesus” for just five minutes each day to radically change my life, but my Jesus doesn’t always behave. I look into His eyes and sometimes I see the faces of His suffering children: the refugees, the immigrants, the poor, the abused and neglected, all those who are most fragile in our world and live on the margins of society. All those are the face of Jesus I must turn toward.
Now, as each Lent ends, I work to retain those grace-inspired moments that I have embraced to make the rest of my life one of gratitude and forgiveness as Father Ron Rohlheiser has taught me—to run “like the wind” away from my old sinful ways, to run toward the embracing arms of God and ultimately make those arms my everlasting home.
Barbara Calandro is a member of King’s House Advisory Council (February, 2016)
LENT – A Merciful Season
Ash Wednesday begins another liturgical season of Lent. Only a few weeks ago we were celebrating the Christmas season. We were expressing joy; joy at the coming of the Lord. Now we will enter forty days of reflection. For many of us it will be forty days of trepidation and sorrow as we replay Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. A journey which will, as we all know, result in Jesus’ suffering and death. But we also know how the story ends. It will end with the joy of the resurrection. And it is our hope in the resurrection which will result in our final celebration.
This season of Lent is an opportunity – it is an opportunity to be merciful; an opportunity to be kind and merciful to ourselves, to others and to God. Are we carrying a hidden fault, a sin that we should have admitted years ago? Does our fear of imperfection keep us from accepting God’s mercy? Does our pride prevent us from admitting that we are not perfect; that we are not God? Does our pride keep us from reconciling with our family and our church community? Humble yourself and make room for God’s mercy.
Do we bury our heads and our hearts in the law? Do we make room for mercy in our quest for justice? Do we preach a gospel of hate with our righteous indignation, our thirst for vengeance, our need to be right? Do we exclude others from the possibility of God’s mercy because of their color, race, creed or sexual orientation? Are we disrespectful of women? Men? Do we let pornography, addiction and foul language rule our life? Do we put ourselves before others and their needs? Do we abuse ourselves and others? Do we exhibit bullying behavior?
Do we put our wants, needs, addictions and desires before our worship of God? Do we disrespect God? Is God last on our list of “Things to Do”? Do we go to church on Sunday? Do we take our kids to church on Sunday? Do we fail to pray, to worship and to give thanks to God for our very existence?
Lent is our opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness. God is mercifully waiting.
Michael Durbin is a King’s House retreatant and a member of our Advisory Council (February, 2016)
A while back before the weather turned frigid, and after a night of strong winds, I walked to a nearby bank. There was a section of road where the wind had blown down some old rotten branches, which shattered on the pavement below. I noticed that one little piece of a dry stick, about an inch tall, was not lying on the road, but rather was standing.
I was intrigued. This odd sight stopped me in my tracks. Did someone carefully place it there, or did it just happen to land that way? Why and who would spend time, in the middle of the road, to place this one little stump of a twig upright on the pavement? But what are the chances that it would land like this?
I walked on. A few cars passed me by, going both directions.
On my way back, I noticed that the twig-let was still standing, so I took a photo of it. (See above). Then I picked it up, expecting it to be embedded in the asphalt, but it wasn’t. It was lightly sitting, and when I tried to put it back, I couldn’t get it to stand up again. So I put it in my pocket and brought it home. I felt like a kid, delighted at something simply because it is, even though I knew not how.
I find it hard to believe that someone placed this little piece of wood in the road just as I found it. But that it would have landed like that on its own seems equally implausible. Yet I felt graced to be the one to witness or discover this whimsical little arrangement on the pavement. It reminds me that:
I live in a world where wonder is an invitation into delight and gratitude …
where the inexplicable can happen against all odds, and in happening…
remind me that playfulness and whimsy tap into the heart of why the Creator created.
May the coming weeks bring you opportunities to be surprised by a world enchanted with the whimsical and surprising… by something which touches the kid-heart within.
Fr. Mark Dean, OMI, is on the Staff at King’s House (January, 2016)
Mercy! Happy New Year!
I came across this insight from Frederick Buechner the other day, “In Hebrew the term dabar means both “word” and “deed.” Thus to say something is to do something.” It is not something new, but it struck me in regard to this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Pope Francis lately has made the term mercy a verb, using forms like mercying, and even, mercifying. The Holy Father is quite clear in his emphasis: we are to be people of mercy, people who practice, offer, and exemplify mercy in action.
The first step for me is to “make room for mercy” in my daily practice. I will “insert” or “inject” an intention into my morning prayer: “God, help me to be merciful today. Help me to bless each person I meet, especially my family members and co-workers, with the gift of mercy.” And lastly, I will whisper, “and help me to be merciful with myself.”
May your new year of 2016 be rich in mercy!
Brother Pat McGee, OMI, is the Director of King’s House (January, 2016)
“Is Santa real?”
How to answer this question? My own mother’s response was, “Santa is love.” As a second grade teacher and mother to my five siblings and me, she was confronted with this question countless times. As a teacher, she wove the spirit of her response into relevant curriculum concepts. For example, in science lessons she explained that even the most talented heart surgeon, administering life-saving procedures to his patients, holds only the tissue in his hands. She asked her class: “Does the doctor see love, goodness, trust and happiness as he operates on the human heart?” “No,” replied the class. “Do you know love, goodness, trust and happiness in your life—the most dynamic functions of the human heart?” The answer was an emphatic “Yes!”
As I grew up, my mom opened my eyes to a dimension in life beyond what the hand has touched and the eye has seen. When her grandchildren began asking The Question, she wanted a more permanent record of her insights, so she wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Post-Dispatch. Published on Christmas Day, it said, “Yes, my dearest child, there is a Santa Claus! You will find him not only in the packages that you unwrap, but in the greatest gift we give—the gift of ourselves to each other!”
Children know love when they see it. Our cultural images of Santa portray selfless love and thoughtful concern for others—qualities all of us, at any age, can emulate. Giving up Santa means the end of a sweet, innocent time. Yet, the love lessons of Santa can instruct us all of our lives.
Maria Rodgers O’Rourke is a member of the Preaching Team at King’s House (December, 2015)
When I saw that I was scheduled to write my reflection in mid-December, I thought, “Perfect. I am a winter lover so the timing could not be better.” Little did I know that this week’s temps would be in the 50-60s! So . . . you will just need to imagine a typical winter day with “jack frost nipping at your nose” to enter into this reflection.
Why do I love winter so much? The season brings back lots of fun-filled childhood memories of sledding, snowball fights – even shoveling the driveway. As an adult, my fondness stems from other motivations. Winter calls me to slow down, whether due to icy sidewalks or the shortness of days. The early darkness invites me to rediscover the need for rest, for silence, for solitude with our God. Often, once we arrive home from work, school or play, we are reluctant to go back out in the cold. Why not do a little pondering while we are hibernating? The season of Advent and the rebirth of the Christ Child in our hearts summon us to do some “end of the year evaluating”: Where have I discovered God this past year? What blessings have I received?
The best part of the winter season for me is SNOW! Nothing better than the surprise of an unexpected snowfall. I see it as God’s beautiful, breathtaking way of transforming the world.
May you be transformed during this magical winter season and holy time of the year!
Bette Meyer is a member of the Pastoral Department at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows (December, 2015)
As we come into these final days of November, fall seems to be loosening its grasp and winter seems to be around the corner. Days are getting shorter, many trees stand bare now… and yet there remains some vestiges of color. In taking photos of fall foliage, I have discovered that the best shots come from placing myself where I can see the sunlight shining through the leaves, rather than on them. It is like the difference between seeing stained-glass windows from outside the church (where the sunlight falls upon the windows) and seeing them from within the church (where the sunlight shines through them).
Sunlight falling upon the fall leaves is pretty… but light shining through them is spectacular. In the former, I see only the surface of things. But in the latter, there is a depth of beauty, as the leaf is illuminated and its inner intricacies revealed.
The end of November also brings us to the feast of Thanksgiving. This year I want to have a gratitude which shines not upon the surfaces, but shines through to illumine the real depth and beauty of what is around me. Everything I see or touch has a depth which far exceeds the surface appearance. The food upon the Thanksgiving table contains the labor of field workers, transport drivers, stock-shelf suppliers, as well as those who prepare and bring to table the meal. The people gathered around the table carry within them the history of family struggles and joys, of dreams and fears, of strengths and diminishments. This inside/hidden dimension I also want to be thankful for, for it is all part of God’s gift to me… the myriad pattern of stained glass through which grace shines. It is beautiful…
Fr. Mark Dean, OMI is on the Ministry Team at King’s House (November, 2015)
“Stay Awake!” “For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We hear these words a lot at this time of year.
In November, it is particularly hard to stay awake and be prepared. Our bodies are trying, with varied degrees of success, to adjust to the loss of daylight savings time. The days are getting shorter. Cool, cloudy weather makes a nap seem like such a good choice. It is easy to be lulled into a sleepy, unfocused state. And yet, we are encouraged to stay sharp for a very important reason. “For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
While most preaching will remind us of the need to be prepared for the Second Coming or for meeting the Lord at the time of our death, it is just as important is being prepared to meet the Son of Man in our daily lives. In the past week, we have discovered him shining forth in the lives of saints, famous and not so famous – in their words and in their actions. As we have recalled our beloved dead, we have caught glimpses of the love and compassion of the Son of Man peeking out of our memories of parents and grandparents and other relatives and friends. Very soon, we will find Him as we gather around altars and family tables to celebrate Thanksgiving.
In the next few weeks, some of you will encounter him in stores during your early Christmas shopping. (Some of us will choose to wait a while longer to see Him there!) He can sometimes be seen wandering the streets on a cold night or lined up at a food pantry. I suspect He will be found at the Advent Vespers here at King’s House. You never know where you might find the Son of Man, so you need to keep your eyes open. “Stay Awake!” “For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Doug Boyer is a member of King’s House Preaching Team and a Deacon of the Diocese of Belleville (November 2015)
LISTENING TO EACH OTHER’S STORIES
“If we have no peace,” Mother Teresa reminded us, “it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Seeing that quote just recently reminded me of conversations I have heard, Facebook posts I have seen, and the rhetoric that we are getting bombarded with during this upcoming political season.
As I study Scripture and read some of my favorite spiritual writers, I am constantly reminded that we are not only called to reach out in love to those who look, act and think like us but also (and maybe especially) to those who don’t!
Do we have no place in our hearts to understand that someone else’s life journey can be drastically different than our own? Yes, it’s so much easier to judge and condemn people but aren’t we called, expected, and even challenged by the words of Christ to take the time to listen to their stories with a compassionate heart?
I heard a speaker once say something that truly resonated with me; he said that the most toxic words in the English language are “if only”. I would suggest that two other toxic words are “Yes, BUT….” When I hear that it tells me that a story hasn’t been heard but just used as an opportunity for debate.
I started this reflection with a quote and will leave you with another one. “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” (Steve Maraboli in Life, the Truth, and Being Free)
Judy Williamson is a member of the Pastoral Team at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, October, 2015
When I was a child, summer was my favorite time of year. For the obvious reason in that I was off from school from Memorial Day through Labor Day and that I loved to swim in my Grandparents pool. Now that I am older, I would have to say my most favorite time of year is autumn. If God was trying to get my attention, he certainly got it through the brightly colored trees and beauty that surrounds me.
Recently God really grabbed my attention through a honeydew melon. My Dad passed away in October 2014. I was cutting up a ripe juicy melon one day and I had remembered a moment from my very early childhood. In order for my parents to entice me to eat fruit when I was two and three years of age, my Dad on weekends would make a boat out of two slices of honeydew melon and a maraschino cherry was always the captain of the boat.
This memory was a memory that has never crossed my mind until recently. I thought it was a message from my Dad but later I realized that it was from God as up until this moment I had no signs from my Dad that he is okay. I had been asking God each day if my Dad is okay. God needed to help me to see so he hit me over the head so to speak through a honeydew melon! Now I am really paying attention and I see God all the time in everything even a honeydew melon.
God is with me throughout every season of my life. He is with me in the happy moments, aggravating moments, insecure and confident moments, disappointing moments, the sad tearful moments. He is with me throughout every season of my life and every day of my life. Sometimes if we are not paying attention we miss God in the every day. At times I breeze through my day without seeing clearly what God is showing me and telling me. I pray that I will never be too busy to notice the beautiful and meaningful things that God places in my path to delight me.
Carol Oldendorf is a member of King’s House Advisory Council (October, 2015)
Called to Serve
I spent much of my working life as an addictions counselor. Over the years I felt that the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel had a specific bent for me since I grew up in an alcoholic home with not one but two alcoholics as my parents. As I became an adult, I realized more and more that I had lasting behaviors that I had developed as coping mechanisms. Possibly good at the time to survive but not so good when one no longer lives with those alcoholics. So as I pursued my own “recovery” to let go of past behavior, I learned that I was not alone. At Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings I met a new family with shared experiences. I spent those first few weeks just crying to hear that others also sat in a car outside a bar on a Saturday night waiting for parents to finally come out and then get home in time to get dressed for Sunday mass followed by stopping at the local tavern to have a bit of the hair of the dog that bit them and then get home. I spent many hours in group therapy while a counselor intern combing through any memories that might help me help others.
I don’t want to dwell on my childhood for I have long ago processed my experiences and forgiven my parents who were good people with a terrible disease. I just wanted to give you background on why I felt called to help other alcoholics and their children. In my work I became well acquainted with all aspects and variations of the Twelve Step programs. There, in this community, all members learn of the value of service. When you or I are stuck in our own personal hells we need to do service for others and then we tend to forget our own misery, perceived or otherwise. As our Holy Father suggests, we need to “smell a bit more like the sheep” – in other words get in there and spend time with those who need our time, talent and treasure. I gave many hours to those who suffer with addictions and as my life moved on I gave hours to many other places and causes like my work for Caritas Family Solutions to help abused and neglected kids and my work with low economic seniors in assisted living or…so many others… even my work here with the Oblates at King’s house.
It has been a long time since I have felt sorry for myself because God has given me a call and the heart and the gifts to help others, to be of service. To always remember that I must be servant to all as we were recently reminded in our Sunday Gospel. Whatever you have to give–give. Whenever you can serve–serve. Whenever you can smell like the sheep, jump in there and roll around ! You will be glad you did! And while we are serving, let us pray for our Holy Father who will step on American soil to be with his sheep here. He is the best shepherd I have encountered in a long while. I thank and praise God everyday for all the opportunities He gives me to serve others and forget about myself.
Barbara Calandro is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council (September, 2015)
Recently, I have found myself pondering the matter of choice a lot. I wonder if you do the same.
I am reminded of a former professor. I was either a freshman or sophomore in college, taking a course in Educational Psychology from a fine old gentleman named Dr. Gayle Hufford. Often he would repeat this useful piece of everyday wisdom, “Don’t blame God, mother, or country; you choose!”
While I do admit my easygoing readiness to blame God, mother, country, the weather, anyone else or anything else for my changing predicaments, I am much more attuned to the inescapable truth that I am responsible and I can choose!
Now and again I find myself having morning coffee with God and looking over my options for the day. I picture God sitting with me, and saying, “Now, are you going to choose to let me be a part of your morning, or are you going to go off half-cocked again and soon find yourself restless, irritable and discontented?”
Flipping through a book this morning, here’s the bookmark I stumbled upon: “Lord Jesus, I yield my life to you right now. I ask you to show me the desires of your heart. I want to think as you think and desire only what you desire. Please draw me closer to you today.”
Finding this was a “God-thing”. Adding this to my morning practice is a choice I make. I can choose to turn to God or not, I can choose to be helpful or self-centered, I can choose to bless or to curse. I realize that I must choose again and again, making the effort to habitually “live and move and be” in God’s presence!
Brother Pat McGee, OMI, is Director of King’s House (September, 2015)
A God Experience
One evening as I returned home from giving directed retreats at King’s House, I found a little bird at the bottom of our front steps. It did not move as I entered the house. The sister I live with had entered one hour earlier and found it there. Thinking it had died we tried to remove it and found it jumping and crying out. Our good neighbor (who is Native American) came to our rescue.
Studying this bird for a few moments, he picked it up, let it cry. But he kept talking to it, telling it that it was overheated from the hot concrete and needed water. He took it to the hose and gave it water as he continued to talk to and soothe the bird. Finally, the bird stopped the noise and kept his eyes focused on this man. Somehow that bird knew a moment of being cared for and held so gently and lovingly.
He brought the bird back to us and told us that animals have feelings and the bird understands and knows what is happening. He placed the bird in an area that was very prickly so that no other animals would bother it until it healed.
As I prayed that evening, I knew I had witnessed a healer at work. And I knew that this was a symbol of how God loves me and holds me in the Palm of his Hand at every moment, especially in times of distress. I knew it was a God moment for me and since then, I have shared it often with people whom I serve in Spiritual Direction.
God uses surprising ways every day to remind us who He is and who we are. God tells us that He uses the simple folk to be His Hands and Feet and Heart now. And aren’t we the simple folk?
Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Care of the Earth came to life for me that evening. I realized in a new way what it means when we say that we are connected to every living being and we are all ONE in the Mystery of God.
Have you ever had such a God experience? Share it with folks. In our broken, wounded world today, we need all the reminders we can have to tell us that there is a God who holds all of us in the Palm of His Hands.
Sr. Joan Voss, ASC is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (Aug, 2015)
It Matters to Me
Many of us who live in or near the city of St. Louis are following the news this week with a mixture of hope and anxiety. The first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death on August 9 has been commemorated by countless peaceful protests and religious gatherings. But on Sunday night, violence and looting erupted in Ferguson, ripping a scab off the city’s wound.
My heart breaks for all the local leaders who worked hard to ensure gatherings would be healing and respectful. I want to help, but I am on the outskirts of this movement and I don’t know what to do. It is not my battle. Or is it?
I asked one of the leaders, a local seminary professor and mother of two, what I could do to help. Her answer surprised me. She didn’t want me to join the protests on the street. She didn’t ask me to give money to any organization. She didn’t hand me a petition to sign. She said: “Please help keep the conversation going.” Her fear is that people will grow weary of conversations about race and reconciliation long before we’ve made progress.
This, along with prayer, is something I can do. I will keep listening and learning. I will to try to empty my mind of bias and judgment. And I will try to remember that we are not two communities, but one: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor 12:26).
Alicia von Stamwitz is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (Aug, 2015)
A Thin Place
Over the past week, my family has experienced a blessed event in the birth of our first grandchild, Connor Jacob. I have spent many hours since his birth holding him tightly in my arms and gazing at his sweet little face. Although Connor has been on the planet just a few short days, I feel as if I have known him for a lifetime.
The understanding that “God dwells in each of us” has had a significant impact on my spiritual and personal development, but I’m not sure I fully understood it until this week. While cradling Connor in my arms, I realized that the God that dwells in me was connecting to the God dwelling in him. I felt as if I had known Connor my whole life because I have. Enveloped in grandparent love (pure unconditional love unencumbered by the responsibility of raising a child), I experienced “a thin place” where there is no separation between heaven and earth – humanity and God. While in the presence of this beautiful baby, I experienced the presence of God.
Like baby Connor, we all have the capacity to reveal God to each other, and we have the opportunity to make that connection with every person we encounter each and every day. “Thin places” aren’t rare. It’s just that they get covered over by ego, judgement, worry and fear. They exist where unconditional love shines through. If we really want to experience God, all we need to do is live from a place of love.
Geri Boyer is a King’s House retreat co-presenter, co-leader (with husband Doug) of our monthly Taize prayer gathering, and facilitator of our Advisory Council. (July, 2015)
Grief and Making All Things New
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
I lost both my parents in less than six months of each another in 2014. I’d barely caught my breath after losing my Mom when I had to say good-bye to my Dad. These goodbyes at times were unbearable. I felt broken. Yet, there is beauty that exists even in the brokenness—to feel overwhelming loss and to know that Jesus was comforting me, holding me all the while. Jesus was carrying me through the pain, and in time he will make me new again. Just like in his own death and resurrection.
Since my parents’ deaths, many different people have told me I am strong. How could they see this? I felt as I was losing my grip on my life; didn’t that show? I sometimes feel as though I should be visibly scarred from this pain. I’d ask each person: “How can you tell? Look at me.” Finally, a friend responded to my question, and told me I was handling my parents’ deaths with grace, bravery and courage. “I am?” I said, shocked. “Yes, you are,” she replied, “and I know you will be there for me someday and your other friends as well.”
My faith has always been strong, but I can say after going through (and continuing) this journey my faith has quadrupled. Jesus carried me and is still carrying me through this time in my life. Not a single hour goes by that I don’t think of my parents, I miss them so much, and I long to be with them again someday. I know I will be. In heaven there is no mourning; Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new.
Carol Oldendorf is a retreatant and a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (July, 2015)
Once again, as spring arrives, I am awed by the beauty I see around me: buds opening, flowers blooming, birds resting on the branch of a dogwood tree singing in total joy, the breeze softly moving in the quiet of the day. This spring, I see for another time the gifts that are given to me so freely by a God who loves me tenderly.
Rumi, a Mystic Poet born in the 13th century, says that we must close both eyes so that we can see with the other. I believe this is the eye in the quiet core of our being where our spirit resides. It is from there I see in a new way, I connect with all of Creation. I learn anew the messages my heart wants to teach me about connections, about relationships, about those things that are essential to growth in my spiritual journey. I find that I am thinking more positively, and being less judgmental in my thoughts. I believe this wounded, broken world of ours needs people who see with ‘the other eye’ and share their sight with others who are also searching. My prayer becomes more hopeful that we can help bring about a sense of wholeness and belonging that will create peace.
God calls each one of us to be Light, to share with another what we have been given. Pope Francis calls us to share our wealth with the poor, to come to know and love each person, regardless of our color, our beliefs, our sexual status, our country and nation of origin. In this God who loves us all, we become one.
I found this delightful poem by the Persian Mystic Poet Hafiz:
Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth
‘You owe me!’
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.
Try looking and listening to what your heart might tell you for the first time, or in a new way. Share the wealth.
Sister Joan Voss, asc, is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council (June, 2015)
“Daddy’s Little Girl” – that would be ME! It is my privilege and my joy to write a fitting tribute to God and to my Dad as we observe Father’s Day this month. I am forever grateful for all the blessings I have received from these two Fathers who art in heaven.
My Dad, Jim Boyle, spread joy, grace, humor, and kindness everywhere he went. I am filled with gratitude that I learned to view the world through the eyes of this holy and humble man. Most of what I learned about love, I learned from him. He taught me much about living life to the fullest and equally as much about accepting illness as part of that life.
Dad viewed people as God does; everyone was precious and unique to him. A professional musician, Dad had a special song for each person he loved. When I walked into a restaurant, he’d play “Daddy’s Little Girl.” A favorite aunt told us, “I twirled on the dance floor many a Saturday night as Jimmy Boyle glanced my way with a wink and played A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.”
My Dad left a huge imprint on this world. It saddens me that he had Alzheimer’s disease at the end of his life and never seemed to be aware of the difference he made.
It was so touching at his visitation and funeral to hear how deeply his life had influenced others. As one family friend remarked, “It was beautiful to see what precious memories this man, who had lost his capacity to remember, had left to those who knew him.”
I love you, Dad. May the angels be playing your favorite song.
Lorraine “Rainey” Fahey is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (June, 2015)
Over the years while my husband was on active Army duty, we made many friends—some slipped away and some stayed a permanent part of our lives. Our friends Willa and Verdel were ones who stayed. Coincidentally, they are African American. We talked often about the racial divide, and once, Verdel shared with us that his birth certificate from the state of Mississippi stated that he was a “Colored Boy.”
Last year, Verdel and his wife returned to St. Louis to spend Thanksgiving with his elderly mother. After a wonderful celebration, his mother unexpectedly passed away. He called to tell us of her passing, and my husband asked about the arrangements. He gave the details, but said we should not feel obligated to attend because in the congregation we “would be just two little grains of salt in a whole lot of pepper.” We assured him that that was not a problem—we were his friends and would be there.
The evening of the funeral, we had time to talk with him and Willa, and met many of his friends and family. We heard stories about his wonderful mother, and realized that he was right: We were the only two grains of salt in a great big pepper shaker. Many of the people were very friendly and welcoming. One woman was very cool when I asked her a question about the church, but I can understand that. We weren’t what she expected to see! The service was a wonderful celebration of Verdel’s mother’s life, and we raised our hands in song and praise with those gathered.
We bid our friends farewell and discussed the experience on the way home. We agreed that being out of our comfort zone once in a while is not only good, but necessary, for Christians. I remembered a verse from scripture and the call to be “salt of the earth.” I also believe that pepper and all spices in the cupboard in between are essential to “flavor” the Body of Christ. What a moment of grace I received simply by being friends with people who are more like me than different. Here’s to the spice of life and enjoying all the banquets sent to us along the way!
By Barbara Calandro, a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (May 2015)
Mothers’ Day recalls how lucky I am to have mothers in my life.
One of my favorite memories of my Grandmother is sitting with her on her porch swing or her rocking chair praying the rosary. Every evening she prayed a rosary in thanksgiving for sparing the life of her youngest son after he was wounded at Iwo Jima. My grandparents did not know for months if he would live. During that time she promised to pray a daily rosary if she could just see him again.
A wonderful memory of my Mother was her love of her statue of Mary that stood in the backyard of my parent’s home. The statue could easily be seen from the kitchen sink where my mother spent many hours talking to Mary. Mary’s cloak was painted a beautiful blue and my mother refreshed the coat of paint often. She encouraged a bush to grow in back of the statue as a sort of halo and there were always flowers at its base. All my siblings and eventually the grandchildren respected Our Lady’s presence. After my mother’s death, the statue was adopted and moved to one of her grandson’s home.
At the time of Mother’s Day, I realize these memories of my Mothers (both earthly and heavenly) have left an indelible mark on my soul. I know and have experienced the value of a Mother’s love and intercession. This month I know my mother and grandmother will shower their love on me from heaven and I realize Mary, the Mother of Jesus, will intercede for me always.
Mothers, pray for us.
By Sandy Bellon, a co-presenter on the King’s House retreat ministry team. (May 2015)
Holy Men and Women
As a young man, I had the privilege and opportunity to meet a spiritual director within a religious community who helped to change my life. The impact of his influence and direction was not apparent at the time, but it is today. His influence provided me with an example to follow in my vocation as a spiritual director.
My spiritual friend helped me understand that God’s kingdom is present in the human and the holy of everyday life. How we serve God is most often measured by how we serve each other. If I devoted myself to a religious life, and loved that life, it would be holy service. If I devoted myself to a life in the world, wife, children and grandchildren, and I loved that life, that too would be holy service. The life becomes holy based upon the intention and the commitment to the life of service we choose. Whatever life of service we choose does not diminish God’s love for us. God truly wants us to fully flourish in service to one another; God desires our happiness.
We all have been graced to meet and learn from holy men and women throughout our life. We may take this for granted or we may accept it as a gift. We may not recognize it at all, but upon reflection we begin to see how special and important that person was to us and how he or she made a difference in our life. We do not have far to look to find examples of holy men and women. They are in our family, in our parish, in our community, and in our homes. Take time to cherish the holy persons around you. Tell them how much they mean to you. Let them know they make a difference to you; that you are a better person because of them.
His Eminence, Francis Eugene Cardinal George, O.M.I., passed away this past week. There is no doubt that this man was dedicated to his church and to his profession. He loved his life and he loved his church. He lived his life as he felt God intended. I respect and I admire him and most especially I thank him for the example that he provided to me and the church. May God bless him and all of those whose lives have been changed to serve others.
By Michael Durbin, a member of the King’s House Advisory Council. (April 2015)
This was the first Holy Week and Easter in almost 40 years that I did not cantor or sing in the choir. I was feeling overwhelmed by life and tired, so I decided to give myself a break. I didn’t sing a single service. There was no new music to learn, no liturgical notes to study, and no last minute rehearsals. On Easter morning, I simply went to Mass. I sat in the pew with my grown children, surrounded by neighbors, friends, and a few retreatants. I thought I would be sad giving up something that I loved so much, but all I could feel was the tremendous joy that burst forth from the first “Alleluia” as the cross floated down the aisle leading the great procession. It was as if I was experiencing the joy of Easter for the very first time. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I listened to the readings and sang the responses in concert with the entire congregation.
I’ve always been a big fan of the paschal mystery – not the dying part but the rising. As we all know and experienced over the last week, there is no resurrection without death. Having just experienced the glorious resurrection of Christ, we can continue on through the ups and downs of life knowing that light and love prevails. And that my friends is the GOOD NEWS.
By Geri Boyer, King’s House retreat co-presenter, co-leader (with husband Doug) of our monthly Taize prayer gathering, and facilitator of our Advisory Council. (April 2015)
God made all things to be enjoyed by us. If you want to experience the presence of the heavenly Father, take a walk through nature, or listen to beautiful music, or watch children play and their waking up to something new, or listen to stories of God’s graced-Presence that grown people tell happened to them, or just observe general acts of loving, caring ministry happening around you.
Of all animals created on this earth, only rational animals can appreciate beauty; not lower animals. Because only rational animals are made in the image and likeness of God who created them, so we Christians believe. And it must be by beauty – and by order—that God’s laws for us human beings are judged, ultimately.
1 John 2:29 ff says: “If you consider that God is righteous, you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by Him. See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him…as He is. Everyone who has this hope on Him makes Himself pure, as He is pure.”
To God we human beings are beautiful to behold and treasured above all else He has created. Because we were created in His image, to look like Him in the image of His Son, and eventually to be divinized by our God who loves us. “The Beautiful” must always be sought in His Creative Plan, not in one of our own making.
By Bishop Stanley Schlarman, Vicar for Priests of the Diocese of Belleville and a member of the King’s House Advisory Council (March, 2015)
What God Looks Like
“What does God look like?” If you spend any time around children, especially grand-children, you are likely to get some pretty interesting questions; some very thought provoking questions!
I immediately want to wax philosophically, and theologically, about faith, God the Father, Jesus the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I will respond with the Trinity, as if trading one mystery for another makes it easier. But no, that is not what my little friend has asked. “What does God look like?” he repeats. Oh boy! I think for a moment and take a deep breath; God forgive me if I screw this up!
I respond: “God looks like the twinkle in your eye; the dimple in your cheek; your turned-up nose and the smile on your face. God looks like the way you run, the way you talk, the way you laugh, and even the way you cry. God looks like the way Mommy kisses you goodnight and the way Daddy asks you to eat your peas.”
My grandson looks interested, so I continue: “God looks like the way Grammy gives you chocolate doughnuts and the way Grandpa sits quietly with you as you watch TV. God looks like the Nuthatch at the bird feeder and the squirrel jumping from tree to tree. God looks like the smell of fresh baking bread and the rays of a warming sun on a cold winter day. God looks like music that makes you want to dance. God looks like the hug that gives you comfort when you are hurt. God looks like your cousins who squeal with delight when they see you.”
My grandson now looks pensive and responds, “Okay, can I go play?” I have said enough. Probably too much. I am off the hook. Until next time.
By Michael Durbin, a member of the King’s House Advisory Council (March, 2015)
I Like Lent
At the risk of seeming contrarian, I suggest Lent has a bad reputation. Perhaps the spirit and sense of Mardi Gras have added to this unfortunate attitude toward what is intended as a Holy Season. We seem to think we have to cram in all the fun and good times we can before the days of wrath descend upon us.
Personally, I see a lot to like in Lent. First, I see Lent as a gift, a grace that most of us can well use at least on an annual basis. That Lent has clear scriptural roots reinforces my positive attitude. In effect, Lent invites us to imitate the experience of Jesus, going into the desert for forty days to prepare for his public ministry. While there, Jesus not only fasted but was also tested by Satan. The good news is that, as St. Mark tells us in the first chapter of the first Gospel, “angels waited on him.”
Most of us live busy lives. By backing off a little from some of this busy-ness, we can free ourselves to focus on the more important aspects of our lives. We might even have angels wait on us!
Why not try to “Re-invent Lent” in 2015?
By Fr. Tom Singer, OMI, is a member of the King’s House Advisory Council (February, 2015)
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking of my early childhood years, when we would prepare for this special day by making a Valentine Box. Usually this meant covering a shoe box with aluminum foil, and cutting a wide slot in the lid, through which Valentines could be deposited. The box was often decorated with hearts and cupids and arrows, cut out in construction paper and glued on. Sometimes glitter or colored pipe cleaners were used to jazz it up.
The evening before Valentine’s Day I would be at home, writing out Valentine greetings on the cards my mom had bought. So as to know how many cards to buy, she needed to know how many classmates I had (and not just how many friends were in my class), because everyone was to be included in the card exchange. No one was to be left out or skipped over. The next afternoon before school let out, we would all parade around the classroom, slipping cards into the decorated boxes on each student’s desk (and the teacher’s, as well!).
Thus from early on, Valentine’s Day became a time to celebrate not just particular friendships, but also to be aware of all in the class, and to ask “Who is being left out, and what message can I share with those whom I usually ignore?” Still good questions to ask. Today I wonder how this Valentine’s Day can be shaped not only by my heart (or preferences), but by the heart of the One who rains on the just and the unjust alike.
By Fr. Mark Dean, OMI, King’s House Staff (February, 2015)
I find myself hitting the restart button a lot! This is not the same as the snooze button. Lately, I have been keenly aware of a stubborn lazy streak and lack of discipline in my prayer life – and I’m quite positive I’m the only one!
The good news is: I can hit the restart button. I am grateful to a bunch of friends who remind me that I can restart my day whenever I need to! Prayer, meditation, mindfulness – each is a practice of “presence” and, as Anne Lamott says, “presence is in attention and in the flow of breath.” (Small Victories, p. 100) So, today I will make a renewed effort to be one with God while taking a walk outside, and pay attention to the growing lights and lessening shadows around me and to my own flow of breath, and I will thank God for my life this day. Join me, won’t you?
By Brother Pat McGee, OMI, director of King’s House (January, 2015)
As the Christmas decorations came down, Ordinary Time began. “Ordinary Time” is all those weeks on the Church’s liturgical calendar that aren’t included in the major seasons of the year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Cold, gray January seems to say: party’s over; back to work; eat your vegetables; bundle up.
The lights and greenery of the holidays remind us that winter will bring forth spring. Our faith assures us that Easter will follow Good Friday. But for now, we trudge through the ordinary days. May the new life born unto us at Christmas reveal itself in the days’ details: the warmth of a cup of coffee clutched in our cold fingers, or the glimmer of dawn breaking in the bank of clouds on the horizon. And may we remember to give thanks for these.
“The God of the Incarnation,” the one we celebrate at Christmas, “is more domestic than monastic,” writes Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in The Holy Longing. God is found in the stuff of our lives—in the holy days, and the ordinary ones, too.
By Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, retreat co-presenter and communications manager at King’s House (January, 2015)