Living Peace in a Wild World

Our family returned last week from La Casa de Maria Family Retreat. The theme this year was “Living Peace in a Wild World.” It was a beautiful week: relaxing and exhausting at the same time. I usually come back from Family Retreat full of ideas I want to share, but this time, I struggled. With at least a half-dozen drafts sitting on my desktop, none of them were quite right. Also, it’s summertime, which makes it extra hard for me to buckle down. I have to take care of all my usual responsibilities, but afterwards… my kids are around, the sun is shining, the water is calling. You get the picture. And now it’s Sunday morning, Monday night, Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning.  I hope you don’t mind if I just get the conversation started, even if it’s not as polished as I’d like it to be.

The retreat team had our first meeting to discuss the 2017 theme just days after the election of President Trump. Emotions were high and if we wanted to work together, politics had to be off the table. The retreat wasn’t for another eight months, but we agreed they should remain that way. But at the same time, we wanted to address what is so clearly needed in our world right now – PEACE. How could we and the families on retreat more truly become the peacemakers our faith calls us to be? How could we learn to be part of the solution, instead of the problem?

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Matthew 5:9

Each day at La Casa, we tried to address that question.

On Monday, we talked about how to make peace with others in the wider world by recognizing that what we have in common is far greater and far more important than what makes us different. We can’t hold hatred, prejudice, and self-righteousness in our hearts and be peacemakers. It just doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to hold space and grace for difference – of color, orientation, nationality, religion, politics. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but that respectful dialogue is essential. In fact, when we drop our impulse to attack, or condemn, we can actually learn to appreciate and celebrate “the other,” (which obviously makes for a more peaceful world). The day ended with this great reminder from Heineken.

On Tuesday, we explored how we can make peace within our families by recognizing that we have each been made in the image and likeness of God. We used a quiz to discover our “True Colors:” Good as Gold (reliability and rule-following), Genius Green (justice and investigation), Beloved Blue (relationship and heart) and Optimistic Orange (spontaneity and freedom). Although it was fun to find out more about ourselves and family members, the point wasn’t about identifying our “color.” Peacemaking comes by recognizing that our differences aren’t weaknesses, but rather strengths we can appreciate. Respecting each other’s unique gifts and ways of operating in the world is actually a way of honoring God’s divine plan for difference and diversity, embedded in the very fabric of creation.

On Wednesday, team members gave beautiful testimonies reminding us of this big truth.

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Life is never simple and the more we insist that it make sense according to our own limited perspective and understanding, the less peace we will have. Only the wisdom of the Holy Spirit allows us to make peace with the paradoxical nature of life. The major themes of the gospels were alive that morning in the stories that were shared as we heard how the more gifts we’ve been given, the more likely we are to squander them, that losing everything can make us more willing to give it all away, that tragedy can bring reconciliation and that sometimes, death can even bring healing.

Remember the line from the hymn so many of us sang when we were small from the prayer of St. Francis?

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We might still sing it in church to this day, but have we ever considered that we can’t give what we don’t have? Peace can’t begin with me, if I don’t have it in the first place! So on Thursday, I invited the retreat community to consider what it means to find inner peace, beginning with our own bodies.

Too often, we think of science as something separate from our faith. Our churches haven’t done us any favors on that front either, but if we believe that God is our Creator and that we are beautifully and wonderfully made, then we can see how we are biologically hard-wired to make peace.

In conflict, our heart rate elevates; our muscles twitch and tense, and our breath gets really shallow. That’s how our bodies respond to stress – courtesy of the Divine wisdom of our biology. Yeah for the flight-or-fight instinct! Because of you, we survived as a species! But in a world that moves so fast and is so full of tragedy and trauma and conflict, our bodies are on the verge of high alert all the time. Conflict and stress are the air we breathe.

But we have also been given a gift in our ability to calm our central nervous system, particularly by controlling our breath. When we slow down our breath, when we make it deeper and longer, we also change the state of our bodies. We are creating peace within, which gives us a lot more freedom to decide how to react to things. That’s Divine wisdom we don’t hear nearly enough about.

I began with a guided breathing meditation from Plum Village for the little ones and then I asked everyone else in the room to chant with me. I knew it was a risk, like nothing we had ever done before, but chanting is an ancient part of our faith tradition. For thousands of years, people in in religious communities have chanted the Psalms, multiple times a day. And if you are a part of the evangelical tradition, you might think of chanting as the proto-type of the modern-day worship experience – where a worship pastor repeats the same low, steady chorus over and over again, so the whole congregation can find the same rhythm of breath and sound and experience the same emotions. Chanting allows us to regulate our breath, slow down our heart rate, and create a peaceful place within ourselves.

We used the most famous lines from Dame Julian of Norwich, the medieval English mystic.

All shall be well.

All shall be well.

All manner of things shall be well.

The response blew me away. I had hoped to get a few people chanting with me, but the whole room participated fully for several minutes. And I’ve heard from quite a few people that they’ve kept it up since they’ve been home! And to get the benefits, it doesn’t have to be chanting; any type of intentional breathing during prayer, singing, yoga, sitting, or meditation will help us increase our experience of inner peace.

One of my favorite quotes about peace comes from Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, an artist, activist and writer who was killed during the Holocaust.

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Creating peace within ourselves an essential part of becoming a peacemaker, but it’s too often neglected. I think that was one of my main takeaways from family retreat this year.

We can get so focused on making peace that we forget to be peace.

A peaceful presence will do more to change the world than any activism we might take on.

I want to close with this reflection on peace offered by a young woman at a church service I attended. She began with John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And then she read her poem:

Peace is…

Gentle breezes

The sound of slow, quiet breathing

The waves of the ocean

Peace is…

Standing steadily on a balance beam

Peace is…

The sound of the turn of a page

The softness of old paper

The quiet of a library

Peace is…

Silk, rubbing soft against your skin

Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer says, “The things that have saved us are still here to save us.”

Peace is…

Snuggling someone you love

A crackling fire

Cozy socks

A warm mug in your hands

A kiss on the forehead

Peace is…

Someone who holds you while you cry

Peace is…

A garden

Fresh air

Sunrays coming through clouds

Making a daisy chain

A butterfly, coming close enough to touch

Lying under a tree and looking up through the leaves

Braiding long hair

Peace is…

The feel of a hug

Peace is a balance between light and dark, happy and sad, warm and cold, fire and water. It’s at the center of a wheel of opposites.

I was blown away that this almost-child was so attuned to what slows her down, unites her heart with God’s heart, makes her feel safe and content, in harmony with herself and the world around her. She cherishes all that brings her peace and honors it in the telling.

When was the last time you felt at peace in your own body, in your own home, or in the world?

That’s my invitation to you this week. Take some deep breaths. Come home to your own body. Let your mind wander.

What and where and who brings you peace, so you can be a peacemaker, first and foremost at peace yourself?

If you are as brave as the young poet, share three places of peace you experience on a regular basis here, or on my Facebook link!

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Thoughts on Silence and How to Overcome It

A word here is long overdue. I’ve been writing and publishing, just in other forums. A Poetry of the Day series appeared on Facebook in the later half of April, along with some images and reflections about baptism, nature, and the nature of recovery on Instagram. I’ve also been working on a series of talks about spirituality and parenting, faith and community. Those won’t be out for a little while yet, but when they appear, I will definitely put the links out here.

Since it has been so long, I wanted to write something really good, really original and profound. A long absence should lead to a remarkable presence, right? At least in my mind that’s how it works, but it has also lead me to acknowledge the great truth:

Perfection is the enemy of the good.

With that in mind, I decided to write something and share a couple of really good things I have encountered this past week. I won’t overanalyze them, or even find a perfect thread to run between them. They are good in and of themselves and I wanted to make sure you came across them at least once.

The first is a speech from New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu. As you may know, New Orleans is in the process of removing and relocating four Confederate monuments and is facing intense criticism and resistance to this action. As a result, they have had to take extreme measures to do so safely, such as working in the middle of the night, and using the police force to protect their employees. I listened to Mayor Landrieu’s leadership on this action, his insight and the awakening of his consciousness (not conscience) on this issue and thought, “I hope this man stays in politics.” It is rather lengthy, but Tim and I were riveted.

His final words, quoted from Abraham Lincoln, are perhaps a clarion call to all of us at this point in our nation’s history. No matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, we all have a call to act:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


The second video is from Notre Dame’s commencement exercises this past week, but it’s not Vice President Mike Pence’s address. The real speech of the day came from Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart. Fr. Greg is one of the great teachers, storytellers and prophets of our day. If you like the work of Brene Brown, you will hear echoes of it here, in the embodied flesh of former gang members, felons, and addicts, who have embraced the power of vulnerability and use their own wounds to help others heal theirs.

My favorite line?

You know, what Martin Luther King says about church… “It’s not the place you’ve come to, it’s the place you go from,” and you go from here to create a community of kinship such that God, in fact, might recognize it. You imagine with God a circle of compassion and then you imagine nobody standing outside that circle. You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude.

If you ever get a chance to see Greg speak life, or to go to a Homeboy event, I highly recommend it. He radiates holiness. If you can’t see him in person, read Tattoos on the Heart and there’s a good chance you will become more whole and holy yourself. If you are open to it, it will change you forever.


A week ago, Tim and I saw U2 at the Rose Bowl with about 90k other people. It wasn’t intimate, but it was awe-inspiring. Before the music began, they had poems from people on the margins, scrolling across the screen – voices sharing their pain and suffering and sometimes also the beauty, love and joy they found amidst those things. I finally recognized one poem and one name: “Kindness” by Naomi Shabib Nye, a poem that has haunted me for the last couple years.  Coincidentally, or not (sometimes it seems there are no such things as coincidences), I ran across this poem of hers, just a few days later. It struck me with its humility and good advice.

“I Feel Sorry for Jesus” by Naomi Shabib Nye

People won’t leave Him alone.
I know He said, wherever two or more
are gathered in my name…
But I bet some days He regrets it.

Cozily they tell you what he wants
and doesn’t want
as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember “Telephone,” that pass-it-on game

where the message changed dramatically
by the time it rounded the circle?
Well.
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.

They want to be his special pet.
Jesus deserves better.
I think He’s been exhausted
for a very long time.

He went into the desert, friends.
He didn’t go into the pomp.
He didn’t go into
the golden chandeliers

and say, the truth tastes better here.
See? I’m talking like I know.
It’s dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.

I stood in the spot where He was born.
I closed my eyes where He died and didn’t die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa
was written on my skin.

And that makes me feel like being silent
for Him, you know? A secret pouch
of listening. You won’t hear me
mention this again.

Like the poet and the people she mentions, I probably talk too much for Jesus and listen less than I should.

Amen friends, I hope you’ve found something good in this missive, worth your time on this long and lovely holiday weekend here in the States.

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The Sacred Heart embodied in a Homie. Image on the wall of HQ of  Homeboy Industries