Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Two dear friends brought reality to this dream of a home for orphans of AIDS in Nshupu Tanzania. They need our help to enlarge this dream.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
On this beautiful day—a day of golden sun and gentle breezes with the sky cloudless and the ocean tranquil—I think of you, my friends. So often, I’ve wanted to start this letter and just as often I’ve put it off. But today’s exultation makes it necessary to write to share this joy with you. Oh sure, you might be thinking. You’re down there in Florida and we’re locked here in icy, sub-zero temperatures; of course you’re happy. This morning, I came across the following words written by Chiara Lubich (1920-2008) which might explain why I write to tell you about something as simple as a beautiful day and why it reminds me to reach out to connect with you.
“Your neighbor is another you . . . When neighbors cry, you must cry with them, and when they laugh, laugh with them . . . Love whoever appears to you in the present moment of your life. You will discover within yourself an energy and strength you didn’t know you had.”
These words struck me because you’ve appeared to me in this present moment, and with this letter, I’ve breached distance and joined you. Perhaps in reading my greeting, your heart will lift like mine does when I hear from you. When we experience something wonderful, our immediate impulse is to share it. You wake your husband in the middle of the night to witness the northern lights. You call your friend in Colorado to tell them about Ann Patchett’s newest book. You invite a neighbor to the symphony because they are fans of the classic guitar and Pepe Romero is performing in concert. We share these moments hoping that person will experience something wonderful as well.
Besides this beautiful day, I want to tell you that my precious husband has been granted a new lease on life because of advances in cardiac care, which tops my list of things to be grateful for. I celebrate the small condo in Florida where we can escape the bitter cold and I retain the use of my hands. I’m thrilled that my agent’s talented assistant, Daniel, helped me obtain a reversion of electronic publishing rights to The Scent of God. These rights will enable me to make The Scent of God available in e-book version. Meanwhile, primarily because of your belief and support, I continue to work on the sequel to The Scent of God. Scent took ten years to write and, at the snail-like but steady pace I’m working, the sequel might take just as long. I hope you will hang in there with me and spread the word when The Scent of God makes it onto Kindle and all the other e-book platforms out there. I will certainly let you know when both milestones (the e-book and the publication of the sequel )are accomplished.
Thank you for the joy I get when I think of you. Thank you for your letters, your e-mails, and all the ways you share your lives with me. Thank you for the encouragement and strength with which you surround me. May your lives be similarly blessed.
© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2014
Sunday, July 28, 2013
|Camarillo Phoenix photo by Terry deWolfe|
Several days after the recent devastating Camarillo Fire, a friend spotted this miraculous flower. As you can see, the land surrounding this plant is totally scorched. Despite the annihilation, from somewhere within the earth this lovely flower emerged and gives testimony to the miracle of transformation and rebirth tucked within every death.
We witness such miracles all the time yet so often they arrive unnoticed and unheralded. This flower reminds me to open myself to such witnesses of hope.
"If you can just appreciate each thing, one by one, then you will have pure gratitude. Even though you observe just one flower, that one flower includes everything." -- Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Thursday, July 25, 2013
A number of my readers have asked for further elucidation on the spiritual term "Kenosis. To assist, I have received permission from the director of the Episcopal House of Prayer to republish his reflections on the event. -- Beryl
A reflection from the Kenosis retreat, 2013 from Ward Bauman
"True knowledge of God is that which is known by unknowing." (Cloud of Unknowing)
One of the primary practices of all spiritual work is detachment, the learned behavior of "letting go" and not clinging. This is primarily true of wisdom, that is, spiritual knowledge.
The great paradox is that we cannot find it by grasping it. In other words, going to another conference, reading another book, or hearing another teaching will not ultimately be the knowledge that we seek and need.
This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons of the spiritual life. We in the West do not get it. It is so antithetical to everything we've learned. But this is core to coming to spiritual truth. It also points to the heart of our spiritual malady, pride. True wisdom comes only through true humility. Here the crack in our armory creates an entrance for the divine light.
Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the beginning and foundation to all spiritual work.
The Chinese philosopher, Chuang-tzu said:
Consider a window; it is just
a hole in the wall, but because of it
the whole room is filled with light.
Thus, when the mind is open
and free of its own thoughts,
life unfolds effortlessly,
and the whole world is filled with light.
(The Second Book of the Tao, Stephen Mitchell)
When our hearts are open and free of constructs, we become channels for spiritual light. When we are unburdened with cumbersome and restricting ideas, something new can emerge. When we are emptied of self-focus, we can begin to see the bigger picture. This, then, becomes the practice of prayer; in self-emptying we become free and receptive for "true knowledge."
Thursday, June 27, 2013
”Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion (or perhaps the word “clarity’ will do as well), a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.” -- Richard Niebuhr
I've just returned from a territory not my own:. A Kenosis (or self-emptying) retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer on St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, MN. The House of Prayer is an exquisite retreat house of wood and stone, with Gothic windows, quiet spaces, an oratory with a soaring tiered scallop of panels reaching toward the light. There were twelve retreatants and a retreat master--the Director of the House of Prayer: gentle, erudite, and compassionate Reverend Ward Bauman, who with his brother Lynn Bauman and Cynthia Bourgeault worked to translate The Luminous Gospels: Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip. Bauman is also the author of Sacred Food for Soulful Living, a cookbook of recipes from the House of Prayer kitchen who, besides guiding us and leading all the meditation sessions, also prepared our every meal which was the most delicious vegetarian food I've ever eaten.
|House of Prayer Dormitory section|
I entered the retreat, determined that I was going to “make it” this time. I’d empty myself and travel into the fullness of God’s presence. So intent was I on making this retreat the “retreat of all retreats” that I got caught up in trying to force self-emptying even though I knew that all meditation requires is the willingness to participate. . . that the action is God’s. Confronted with myself as full of myself, I was miserable. Perhaps I wasn't meant to achieve divine union, I thought, but if this was so, why the more than 50 years of yearning and search for this grace? Why the desire if God did not mean than I take this journey?
There’s nothing quite like smashing into oneself. It’s a humbling and grace-filled encounter with darkness which brought me to the point where all I could do was accept where I was at and be grateful I was anywhere at all. It wasn't until the final two days of this intense silent retreat that I found myself willing to be where I was, as I was, and in that acceptance I fell into God. For a time, at least. As Niebuhr says, Pilgrims are persons in motion, seeking a completion to which only the spirit’s compass points the way. The spirit is always at work even when we’re off track, leading us gently back to where we belong.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
There’s an Irish Proverb that expresses my sentiments as I open the cards, e-mails. and posts you've sent during this sacred holiday season. “When I count my blessings, I count you twice.” The messages, photos, letters, and notes tucked within each envelope remind us visibly of the ways you've enlightened my life and fill me with gratitude.
A dear friend brought me to tears of laughter the other day as she told me about the cards she’d bought to send out this year -- happy elves leaping and dancing from tree to rooftop and shouting gleeful greetings. And inside those cards, she’d be writing a “I’m sorry to tell you that . . .” message about the grief that recently overtook her life. “Whatever possessed me to buy such a card?” she sighed and we began to laugh. How good that laughter was. It reminded me that friends don’t expect our messages to be totally upbeat when our lives are mixed parcels of joy and sorrow.
This year, Bill and I decided to delay our winter sojourn in Florida until after Christmas. While snowfall has been elusive, we did have the chance to snow-shoe on an overcast winter day through forests laden with snow, accompanied only by the large tracks of a snowshoe hare. Snow captured the neat footprints of a fox that climbed the stairs to our deck, then wandered back along the trail to cross Francesca’s grave and head down to the lake. And every day, the chickadees, politely waiting their turn at the feeders along with the nuthatches and redpolls, rejoice our hearts.
For the past year, my husband Bill has been flying back and forth across North America for three weeks at a time assisting businesses achieve their goals. I’m very grateful for the three week break Christmas provides, giving us precious time together and to celebrate the holidays with my son Tom and his family. While we've not traveled to exotic places this year, our children and grandchildren have visited us here and in Florida and we've traveled to Iowa several times for Bill’s family celebrations. When Bill is home, we use every excuse to head to Duluth to dine out and take in a movie, especially if there’s a foreign film to enjoy.
A good deal of spring and summer disappeared while I recuperated from a bad fall down the stairs. Three fractures in the sacrum and hernia surgery reminded me how I’d taken my strength and health for granted. I’m back up and walking now and at work on the umpteenth revision of my third book. To spur the process, perhaps you could send hopeful thoughts in that direction.
Christmas on Lake Superior inspired me, for the first time since Francesca died eleven years ago, to decorate the house for Christmas. I had forgotten the intimate warmth of burning candles and a nativity crèche , the brightly colored Christmas lights shining through the windows. May the light of your lives shine on all you love and those who love you and may you find blessing in each day of the coming year.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
For the first time in four years, we have remained in our northern paradise to celebrate snow. Since Thanksgiving, we've gone snowshoeing on dark afternoons on trails through white spruce forests laden with snow. The only other tracks are those left by Snowshoe Hares, their large feet bounding from one side of the trail to the other and into the canopy of undergrowth that sagged with heavy snow. Seized with gratitude, I want to sing my joy but to break the silence of the woods seems almost sacrilegious. So I plod on silently, stopping frequently to savor the wonder of such beauty and to give thanks that this winter we've decided to stay until after Christmas.
Here on Lake Superior, the myriad ways in which God is with us are clearly visible, yet we so often neglect to note this presence. Advents comes to shake up our complacency. It reminds us to see the miracles that surround us as we await God’s gift of himself in the Incarnation.
We spend so much time waiting. We wait on lines in the grocery store. We wait for the Stop sign to change to Slow during road repairs. We wait for fishing season. We wait for school to start, for school to end. We wait for good jobs. We wait for vacation days. We wait for our children, their births, first steps, first words. And now we wait for Christmas and the fulfillment of God's ancient promise.
Yet we are not the only ones who wait. In a beautiful meditation on Advent, Sister Sallie Latkovich, CSJ writes that in Advent we contemplate the three ways of Christ’s coming: in history, in our daily lives, and in the second coming. “ I've been thinking that we've got it all wrong,” she writes. “This Advent I've come to see that it’s GOD who waits for us . . . waits for us to notice the myriad ways in which God is with us, always.”
I think of God waiting as I watch the chickadees, red polls, and nuthatches bounce on an off the feeders, politely taking one seed at a time, flying off to a nearby branch to open the sunflower seed, then waiting their turn to return for another. I think of God waiting as I trudge through the new fallen snow into the winter forests. I think of God waiting as in the early hours I pray the morning liturgy and open myself to all the ways God reveals his love as I move through the day. I pray that you will experience a similar anticipation as you move into your every day. May God's waiting love surround and fulfill your deepest longing. May your Advent be blessed, exceedingly.
© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2012