The John O’Donohue Connection

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Apparently Irish poet John O’Donohue, well-known for his Celtic spiritually, was a good friend of some of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In fact, he’d come to San Antonio, and elsewhere, at their request. I only learned about this recently.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, given that many of  the Sisters came over from Ireland years ago. Some may even have been from County Clare where he was born.

Sr. Brigid, my spiritual companion and probably my biggest supporter in San Antonio,  knew him well. She hails from County Kildaire, where O’Donohue spent his early years as a novitiate. At my farewell luncheon I listened to her and other friends tell amusing stories about John as if he were an endeared brother.

I sat there wondering, how could this be?

I mean, not only because I love John O’Donohue’s poetry. Although that’s certainly true. Ever since I came across his writing a couple of years after his death in 2008, I’ve claimed him as one of my favorite poets. From the first lines I read — and I can’t even recall which poem it was — my heart lifted. My imagination blossomed. My longing awakened.

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But beyond being excited and delighted about the Sisters’ special friendship with O’Donohue came another realization.

Many months before I ever considered leaving my home in Virginia I would choose and reflect on selected poems taken from his wonderful collection called To Bless the Space Between Us. One of my favorites was, and continues to be, a blessing “For Longing.”

This poem resonated with something in me I couldn’t name. But I felt it in the depths of my heart and soul. O’Donohue put me in touch with my divine longing.

Musing over those lines of poetry created a restlessness that encouraged me to take risks. To seek something beyond the familiarity of home. To imagine the possibilities of truly following my heart.

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Ironically, O’Donohue’s words brought me to Incarnate Word Missionaries. They connected me with the Sisters he held so dear. And in doing so, have enabled me to learn some of the most important lessons I needed on this journey. Lessons about trusting myself and trusting my inner being, which I know as God responding to my longing. And lessons about what it means to follow your heart when nothing about doing so seems to make any sense.

Once again I see the synchronicity of events. And I’m shown something much more — the connection between heaven and earth.

The most beautiful thing about us is our longing; this longing is spiritual and has great depth and wisdom.

John O’Donohue

 

“For Longing”

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Encounters with the Holy

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“To die alive is to take risks. To pay your price. To do something that scares you…”

I came across these words from an interview with author Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist  — a book that synchronistically showed up right in the middle of my difficult discernment process.

In his interview, as well as in the fictional tale of Santiago, the shepherd boy and hero of The Alchemist, Coelho describes what it means to live fully alive before we die. Of what it means to be willing to take risks. To open our hearts and be vulnerable. To venture forward into the unknown. Yes, we feel scared, but we do it anyway. Because that’s what it means to follow our “personal legend.” A calling we hear deep in our hearts that results in the finding of our true treasure.

Most of us are afraid to do this. I know I was — at least before I started out on this journey. But each day I seem to be growing stronger, more courageous. And certainly more trusting, of God and of myself.

Because as I listen in the silence, I can hear my Heart speak. And when I follow that guidance, despite my fears of what might happen, I find that I’m given what I need to continue. Again and again. Just as the alchemist tells Santiago in the desert:

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” 

Every second is an encounter with God. That’s what I have been discovering as I’ve listened and paid attention. Grace is in all of it.

That became even clearer over these past several days as the end of my time in San Antonio draws near.  I feel the sadness of leaving behind this ministry with Incarnate Word Missionaries. Of letting go of a commitment I made and of people who have become dear to me. It’s not easy. Nor has it been easy to deal with the challenges I’ve faced. And the challenges that I know are ahead in El Paso.

Last Friday I met with Sr. Brigid, my spiritual companion while I’ve been in San Antonio. I tell her she has been my light. Someone who listens and supports and says, using only a few words, exactly what is most helpful.

In turn, she tells me things I need to hear. That I am a strong woman. That my faith and my journey are “remarkable,” considering everything I’ve faced here and, how, rather than go home, I’m still willing to go forward in trust. I hear her affirming me in a way that I need right now. It’s one of those encounters with the Holy. It both humbles me and shines the light on my treasure a little more brightly.

On Saturday as I’m moving out of the apartment, the director of the program calls me from Mexico City. She’s clearly concerned about how I’m feeling and what’s in store for me. She knows I’m going to El Paso with no certainty of what I’ll be doing and how I’ll manage. She says there is a place for me if I choose to stay. Her care for me touches my heart, and I realize the impact I have had. Simply by being myself and following my heart. Another encounter.

Then, last night I received a call with a completely unexpected and humbling offer. My concerns going forward to El Paso were addressed in an amazing way. I didn’t know how to respond. I hung up the phone in tears. A major encounter with the Holy.

I’m shown once again how the Universe really does provide when you follow your heart’s intention for the highest good. Just as Santiago was promised. And just as I have been telling myself. Because throughout this journey my mantra has been: “I have everything I need as I follow the path of my Higher Self.”

This remarkable journey is proving exactly that. With every encounter. As I listen to my heart.

 

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Continue reading “Encounters with the Holy”

A Place to Lay My Head

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Up until now I’ve had the surety of a place to lay my head. The security of room and board. That all changed when, a little over a month ago, I decided to pursue  the possibility of serving a different ministry than the one I started out with here in San Antonio. Still with Incarnate Word Missionaries, but in a different capacity.

The reason?

Since arriving last July, I have been discerning and questioning, why am I here? I found the ministry in transition, with only one mom and child to serve, and, for various reasons, I clearly felt it wasn’t the best use of my gifts and talents. Most importantly — my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t experiencing joy in the sacrifices that I’d made to be here. Yet, I knew that joy was possible. I’d felt it in El Paso.

Then I discovered Women’s Global Connection. Also a ministry of Incarnate Word Missionaries, WGC supports projects empowering women in countries like Zambia and Peru. And they had a need for a writer. It seemed like a good alternative.

So, I spoke to the director of the program and the Sisters in my current ministry and we all agreed. I should move on. The Sisters gave me until the end of October to get situated in the new ministry. I thought a month was plenty of time.

Until I realized that housing would be an issue.

It seems the only “official” housing for lay missionaries here is associated with the program I’m leaving. That means other Sisters, another intentional community, or some kind person would have to be willing to take me in. The director of the program searched for housing options for me. I searched too. By the end of the month, nothing had materialized.

But that’s not a bad thing. Because as the deadline drew near, it pushed me to go deeper into my heart. And ask those tough questions. Again. Questions like, what is the best use of my gifts and talents? What do I really want? What is my purpose here?

The response pointed me back to El Paso. Where a piece of my heart remains.

Although I needed to take this risk in coming here, San Antonio is not where I’m meant to land. Another, and greater, risk is being asked of me now. I hear my heart telling me to stop holding back. To acknowledge and trust my gifts. To use them in the service of others. Especially my writing.

And I hear the voice calling me back to serve on the border. And write about the issues that need our attention. Issues that need a compassionate voice. The issues of immigration. And human trafficking. And the lives of those impacted by the decisions we make every day.

It will mean taking an even greater risk, though, because I don’t know how I’ll support myself. I don’t yet know for sure who will take me in. I have the possibility of a place to stay beginning in December. But lots of unanswered questions remain. Can I trust my inner authority? Can I trust the God who brought me here? This Loving Presence that wants me to realize the fullest expression of who I am? I’m on this adventure with God. Heading toward something I can’t reason or explain. And sometimes I do feel scared.

I wonder, isn’t this the definition of faith?

Speaking of faith…

With my other ministry ended, I started serving Women’s  Global Connection, which I’ll continue doing through the month of November.  The Sisters have graciously allowed me to stay in this apartment a little longer than October 31st, but I need to move by the end of the week. I couldn’t have told you for sure where I was going to be sleeping next week.

Until today. One of the staff at WGC offered me a room in her house for the month. Talk about getting what you need when you need it!

Now I have a safe place to lay my head for another month. It’s something I always used to take for granted.

But on those nights when I started feeling anxious, wondering where I’d wind up, I thought  again about the children at the border — those migrating with their moms and those traveling alone. I wonder if they will be so fortunate. How many of them will have a safe place to lay their head tonight?

 

 

Trust the Flow

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 Trust the flow of the river.

As I teeter on the edge of this threshold, preparing to step into something that remains unclear and uncertain, Richard Rohr’s daily reflection speaks to my heart. Just as so many of them have these past several weeks, reflecting on liminal space and trust.

Röhr says, faith is “the ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover…

“It’s a process we don’t have to create, coerce, or improve. We simply need to allow it to flow.”

Not so easy when the river is dense with fog. You are listening within and believe you are following your heart, but you’re a bit anxious of what’s in front of you. Like Röhr says, “That takes an immense confidence in God.”

Since I arrived in San Antonio I certainly have been refining that faith and confidence, along with a deeper trust in my inner knowing. I have learned — with slowly improving skill — to hold “a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension.”

It’s all part of the adventure. Of the journey of realizing a personal calling. And of realizing that “the river is God’s providential love.”

As I prepare to move on, I’d like to share images from my favorite places in San Antonio: Brackenridge and Woodlawn parks and the grounds of the Oblate School of Theology.

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An Invitation to Love

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Driving home from Washington Dulles airport last March after my two months of service in El Paso, I experienced an odd thought: This isn’t home anymore.

Despite those gorgeous green mountains gathering around to welcome me, the lush countryside overpowering my senses after that dry, sandy El Paso landscape, and even the thought of my dog Cody whimpering and running around in circles to greet me, Virginia no longer felt like home.

I wondered — what exactly am I coming home to?

Recently I picked up the novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, to perhaps gain some insight from my friend Bilbo Baggins with whom I’d associated when I began this adventure. I found this line towards the end of the book, after Bilbo has returned home. Gandalf, the wizard who set Bilbo off on this adventure in the first place, could have easily been speaking these words to me:

“My dear Bilbo!” Gandalf tells him. “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”

No, indeed, I am not the hobbit that I was.

My journey to El Paso has changed my life. I knew it would even before I left. The question is—and has been for some time now—what is next for me? Yet I have asked this question with anticipation, hopefulness, and a spiritual awareness that I am being invited to something more.

I heard this invitation last year when I first visited El Paso for that week-long “border immersion” trip. And I felt the pull in my heart to respond to that invitation. That’s what got me back there.

Now I’ve heard, and responded to, another invitation. This one from the Incarnate Word Missionaries. Last week they invited me to be a lay missionary with their program in San Antonio beginning this August. It involves working with mostly Hispanic single moms and their children living in a transitional housing program called Visitation House. The name of the house refers to “the visitation” of Mary, who having just said “yes” to God’s plan of giving birth to Jesus, embarks on a long journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is several months pregnant after many years of wanting a child.

This is symbolic for me on many levels, not the least of which is a dream I had while serving in El Paso. In this dream, I find myself pregnant, at my age, with a new life that I feel unprepared—and unwilling—to handle at this point. Until the baby is born and I am cradling him in my arms. Looking into this newborn’s eyes, I feel such immense love. In that moment, every fear, every doubt, every apprehension simply melts away. And I totally accept this new life.

The day before I said yes to this invitation from Incarnate Word Missionaries, I spent some time in silence, to simply listen and be present to God. I wanted to be sure, after all. I mean this is no small commitment. It involves risk. Starting someplace new. Stepping into the unknown. And opening my heart even further.

Afterwards, while sitting in that silence, I pick up one of the books in my prayer space: Ted Loder’s The Haunt of Grace, and inadvertently turn to a chapter called “New Rules of Engagement.”

When I see that the chapter is about how Joseph in the New Testament had taken a risk by marrying Mary, I almost stop reading. How does this apply to me, I wonder. But something entices me to continue. Then Loder talks about the angel in Joseph’s dream, and how we have our own angel telling us the same thing: “Do not be afraid. Listen to your deepest longing for love, for meaning, for relationships that are deep, trusting, satisfying, challenging, and joyful, for a world of justice and peace and beauty. In a haunting way, our dreams call us to engagement, to move from the outskirts to the center of our lives.”

I hear that message deep within me. Don’t be afraid to take the risks. Don’t be afraid to step into the center of your life. Don’t be afraid to follow your longing.

But then Loder quotes lines from a poem called, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and I hear Spirit speak directly to my inner being:

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silence of the full moon, ‘Yes!’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.”

So, I said yes to this invitation. I am ready to trust my deepest longing. To love and serve something greater than myself. To stand in the center of the fire. And feel fully alive.