31 May 2019

Jean-Pierre Caussade - Abandonment to Divine Providence, How to Fulfill your Daily Duties with God-Given Confidence

Jean Pierre de Caussade 
(1675-1751), French Jesuit priest and writer

When a soul recognizes the will of God and shows a readiness to submit to it entirely, then God gives himself to such a soul and renders it most powerful succor under all circumstances. Thus it experiences a great happiness in this coming of God, and enjoys it the more it has learnt to abandon itself at every moment to his adorable will.

[succor - assistance and support in times of hardship and distress]
[adorable - delightful, captivating, dear]

God reveals himself to us in as mysterious a manner in the most ordinary circumstances, and as truly and adorably as is the great events of history or of Holy Scripture.

To behold divine mysteries it is necessary to shut the eyes to what is external, and to cease to reason.
Lord, you speak to each individual soul by the circumstances occurring at every moment of life.

When we read God's Word from moment to moment, not written with ink on paper, but on your soul with suffering, does it not merit some attention on your part? How is it that we cannot see the will of God in all this?

All is yours, all is from you and for you. I have no longer anything to look after, anything to do. I have no hand in the arrangement of one single moment of life; all is yours.

I ought neither to add to, nor to diminish anything, neither to seek after, nor to reflect on anything. It is for you to regulate everything; mine is to be satisfied with your work and leave all to your good pleasure.

Souls called by God are both solitary and free; detached from all things in order to belong to God and to fulfill faithfully the present duty according to his expressed will. They do not allow themselves to reflect, to neglect, nor think of consequences, causes, or reasons. It is enough for them to go on simply, accomplishing their plain duties and their duty to God.

- - - - -
[Note: While at the Cloisters retreat, I read this book and collected a few of my favorite comments. I thought I would share a few of them with you.]

30 May 2019

Nate Staniforth - Here Is Real Magic: A Magician's Search for Wonder in the Modern World

Another author that Tom Krettek, our speaker at the Cloisters retreat, made mention of was Nate Staniforth, a magician. I had never heard of him, but found his thoughts to be quite fascinating.

I wanted that unfiltered, overpowering astonishment that blinds you, knocks you down, wakes you up, and reminds you that you are alive. I wanted a shiver of the unknown. I wanted to venture past the safety of my convictions and find the wilderness out there beyond the edges of my own world. I wanted to get lost. I wanted an adventure. I wanted a secret door or a buried treasure or something bigger than the world I had found.

Rediscovering wonder in the world doesn't happen on its own. It's a choice, not an inevitability. It is something you have to deliberately find, and value, and protect. You can't just do it once and keep it forever. You have to keep looking.

We feel the weight of the world but not the wonder, and in time we resign ourselves to one but forget the other. Once in a while, we remember. Once in a while, something happens and we see the cracks in our convictions, and through them a sliver of that larger, wider world outside the one we have constructed.

Every child has the experience of looking up at the adults of the world and wondering What happened to you? You were my age once. What did you lose between there and here?

There is majesty lurking just beyond our struggles.

29 May 2019

Susan Cain - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Our speaker at the Cloisters Retreat, Tom Krettek, shared a few of Susan Cain's quotes on being an introvert from her book - Quiet.

And because I am an introvert, these comments very much resonated with me:

Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to. 
Stay home on New Year's Eve if that's what makes you happy. 
Skip the committee meeting.
Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. 
Read. Cook. Run. Write a story.

Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone.
Extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation.
Introversion is a preference for environments that are not overly stimulating.

Shyness is inherently painful, but introversion is not.

Enter solitude. 
Sit alone with your own ideas.
Go off into the wilderness.

We have two ears and one mouth;
perhaps we should use them proportionally.

- - - - -

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. 
But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world,
and should be encouraged and celebrated.

One of Cain's calls to action:
Go to the wilderness and have your own revelations.
The world needs you.

28 May 2019

Henri J.M. Nouwen - Reaching out to our Fellow Human Beings; Creating Space for Strangers

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (1932–1996)
Dutch professor, writer, and theologian
(unless otherwise acknowledged, all quotes are by Nouwen)

At home in our own house
In solitude we can pay attention to our inner self. In solitude we can become present to ourselves. Solitude is the climate of hospitality. Once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others.

In solitude we can become present to others by reaching out to them, offering ourselves to help build a community of love. Solitude does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead, makes real fellowship possible.

In deep solitude I find the gentleness to truly love my brothers.
The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.   
~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American writer, theologian, poet

Reaching out
Hospitality is the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends. Although the word stranger suggests someone who belongs to another world than ours, speaks another language, and has different customs, it is important to recognize the stranger in our own familiar circle. When we are able to be good hosts for the strangers in our midst we may also find ways to expand our hospitality to broader horizons.

Listening is an art that must be developed, not a technique that can be applied as a monkey wrench to nuts and bolts. It needs the full and real presence of people to each other. It is indeed one of the highest forms of hospitality.

My friends Nawala, Sasha, and I enjoyed some good sharing while in a forest

The poverty of mind
Someone who is filled with ideas, concepts, opinions, and convictions cannot be a good host. There is no inner space to listen, no openness to discover the gift of the other.

People who articulate not-knowing makes them free to listen to the voice of God in the words of people, in the events of the day, and in books containing life experiences of men and women from other places and other times. In short, learned ignorance makes one able to receive the word from others and the Other with great attention. That is the poverty of mind, demanding a refusal to identify God with any concept, theory, document, or event, and allowing for an ongoing growth of gentleness and receptivity.

Fredrick and I always encourage one another as we discuss deep issues of life

The poverty of heart
When our heart is filled with prejudices, worries, and jealousies, there is little room for a stranger. Real hospitality is not exclusive but inclusive and creates space for a large variety of human experiences.

Having become human, Jesus stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process; he didn’t claim special privileges. 
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death.
   ~ Philippians 2:6-8, Message

Gloria and I often meet for lunch, to encourage one another and to discuss a chapter in the current book we're reading.
On this occasion, I also brought some ashes so we could recognize the beginning of Lent.

- - - - -
[Note: While at the Cloisters retreat, I read this book of Nouwen's and collected a few of my favorite comments. I then decided to somewhat illustrate them with some of my recent photos. His stuff is always excellent!]

27 May 2019

Cloisters on the Platte; finding clarity through a three-day Ignation silent retreat

I attended a three-day Ignatian silent retreat, along with 80 other women, at Cloisters on the Platte

In the stillness, clarity emerges
In the breath, answers reveal themselves
In between, there is peace

Distractions that come from all the noise in our lives makes it difficult to connect with God and find our purpose in life. A silent Ignatian retreat provides an opportunity to draw closer to him, gain perspective, and hear God's clear voice.

Such retreats draw on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, creating an opportunity and environment to pray and reflect over an extended weekend. A yearly exercise in faith that dates centuries, making a retreat helps you renew your relationship to God and discover newfound faith and clarity.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Spanish theologian and founder of the Jesuits

Basic principle from Ignatius, for our spiritual lives: 
Trust that God speaks to his people and realize he has something to say to me.
Therefore, I must create moments of stillness and silence so I can listen and truly hear him!

Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet,
always ready for whatever our Lord may wish to work in you.
~ Ignatius

The interior of the chapel at Cloisters where we had our various sessions

Wait in awe of God in every single moment.
Be attentive and be silent. You will be amazed.

Fall in love with Christ, and stay in love with him. 
It will affect everything.

When you ask God to help you meditate, 
many things will simply fall into place.

~ Tom Krettek, speaker for our retreat

Clockwise after me: Beth, Catherine, and Felecia

We four gals ended up coincidentally staying in the same lodge while at the retreat. We also coincidentally sat at the same table in the dining room for all of our delicious meals. We chatted and got acquainted at our first meal on Thursday evening... when we were still allowed to speak. A few weeks after the retreat ended, we all got together for dinner in Fort Calhoun... and talked and laughed. We anticipate being at the same retreat again next year!

Exterior of the chapel where our sessions were held

'Stations of the Cross' is a form of devotion originating in the 4th century, when Christians were first permitted to worship in the Roman Empire. At that time, pilgrims flooded to Jerusalem to pray along the same route that Jesus traveled from his sentencing to his crucifixion. That 2,500-foot path through the old city became known as Via Dolorosa, Latin for the 'Sorrowful Way'. In the 5th century, images of the key moments along Jesus' path were created. Those paintings and sculptures helped Christians who could not travel to the Holy Land be able to reflect on Jesus' last day and message.

At Cloisters on the Platte, there are 14 superbly done sculpture settings for ones viewing and contemplation. As you walk the path, you are drawn into the story and can reflect on the narrative provided through head-phones. When in Kenya, I often go to Resurrection Gardens in Nairobi, to view their Stations of the Cross. The ones at Cloisters have been so wonderfully crafted, and truly draw you into the various scenes of Christ's agony and sacrifice for us.

There is no escaping the unfolding brutality. At this particular station, guards bind Jesus to the cross and drive nails into his flesh. His cries of pain pierce our hearts; we want to run from this nightmare but feel compelled to stay close by him. Only then may we hear what Jesus struggles to say. "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."

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If you've never done a retreat, I would heartily recommend you make time for one! There are a variety of options but if you choose Cloisters on the Platte in Nebraska, here's their website. If there's no space for the weekend that you prefer, you can opt to be put on the waiting list. The odds are good you might still get in.

During a 20-minute session with a spiritual adviser, and later as I sat still in my room and silently reflected on his comments, I gained clear direction about when my time will be to leave Kenya and come back to the US.

In that stillness, clarity truly emerged and I have peace!

The answers you seek never come when the mind is busy.
They come when the mind is still, when silence speaks loudest.
- Leon Brown, baseball player (born 1949)

07 May 2019

A fun two-day getaway at Brackenhurst Hotel with a friend, including getting lost - and locked - in the forest in the dark!

Brackenhurst is in one of the many highland areas of Kenya, at over 8,000 feet in elevation. Tea plantations are located where the land is endowed with the perfect conditions - good red soil, consistently nice rainfall, plus bright and sunny days. Tea production is one of Kenya's primary crops, and the harvesting is done primarily by hand.

Another tea plantation

This lovely building at Brackenhurst is where we ate our meals

We squeezed in some GeoCaching around the lovely grounds, all the while enjoying the beauty of nature

Cool view of the sky and trees through the holes in this leaf

I love chameleons, especially Jackson's Three-Horned, and watched this one for a while on a driveway.
Be sure to see his gait (a way of tricking predators) in this 38-second video I shot.And watch his eyes go back and forth!

The meals at Brackenhurst are amazing, but one day we were tempted to get something at the small café.
HA, HA! These pieces of cake were much larger than Susan and I expected :) 

I made this cache at home, out of pop bottle caps.
I brought it along to replace one that had gone missing in Brackenhurst's forest.

We did a lot of hiking in the small forest, finding 2-3 caches. After the final one, I expected us to exit via this gate.
 Oh, my! We found it locked! And... it was far too dark to make our way through the many winding trails.

When I made our room reservation, I kept the phone number of the receptionist. I called her and she called this kind
security guard. It turns out they actually don't keep the key on the premises, so our only way out was to climb
back up the hilly, winding trails. We were very grateful to him and so very glad he had a flashlight!