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Finding Hope Through Gratitude

I believe in the message of hope. I believe in hope in the midst of despair. I believe when we are despairing, God despairs with us. And that underpins hope, because if God suffers with us, there is meaning in that hopeless experience.

A compassionate God offers us a steady supply of hope, but we do not always avail ourselves of it. Our means to do that is through gratitude. Gratitude is what brings hope into the present moment. Hope may seem a distant promised land but gratitude gives us awareness of the manna we are eating in the wilderness at this very moment.” 

These words were the opening of a paper I wrote for a ministry class some years ago but the words ring as true to me today.  As we wander in the wilderness of Covid 19, there are many for whom gratitude may seem a stretch.  Maybe you have lost a loved one and the virus has prevented having the closure of a celebration of life surrounded by friends and family. Maybe your job has been shut down and you have children to feed. Perhaps you are experiencing deep depression or panic attacks fueled by our present circumstances.  How do you find gratitude within yourself in this present moment?

“In this present moment” is the key.  In this present moment, ground yourself.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Ask yourself: where are my feet? That may seem silly.  Do it anyway.  Recognize your feet as connected to solid ground (or imagine them connected if something prevents your putting them flat on the floor). 

Ask yourself:  where is my head? What thoughts am I feeding?  Name at least one thing for which you are grateful.  Continue searching if something doesn’t come immediately.  You might look to the book of Psalms or some other reading that you find uplifting.  I have sometimes turned to Psalm 42: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God, for I shall yet again praise him for the help of his countenance.” If all else fails, think of someone you can do something for and be grateful for that motivation. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.

            Shalom, Kate

P.S. Bonus healthy snack from Hope’s Cafe:  slice an apple and sprinkle cinnamon on it. Dip it in yogurt. 😊

Self Compassion

As a therapist, I saw many people who evaluated themselves in very negative ways.  Seeking ways to help them re-evaluate their perceptions, take corrective action where needed  and develop “healthier self-esteem” was part of treatment.

              An approach being advocated by Kristin Neff, PhD, emphasizes increasing self-compassion instead of focusing on building self-esteem:  “The self-worth from self-compassion is much more stable over time than the self-worth that comes from self esteem because it’s not a judgment of good or bad.  It’s just being kind to yourself.”    

              In my therapeutic role, I often gave handouts of “My Declaration of Self-Esteem” by the late Virginia Satir.  But I think her document could accurately be titled “My Declaration of Self-Compasssion.”  She wrote:

“In all the world there is no-one else exactly like me.

Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone chose it.

I own everything about me; my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself – I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes, because I own all of me.

I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me and other aspects that I do not know, but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do – I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me – I am me and I am okay.”  

We are often encouraged in these divisive times to be kind to others.  May we remember as well to offer kindness to ourselves. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Perhaps you recall the Saturday Night Live Skit of “Stuart Smalley” played by Al Franken.  Franken published a book in 1992 of Stuart Smalley Daily Affirmations full of the humor of that character, humor being one of those life-giving qualities that can help us stay grounded and kind towards our own humanity.

Savor and Swish!

I sit relaxing with the door open to the screen porch, listening to the gentle lullaby of the wind  in the trees and the steady blessing of rain soaking the earth.  I happen to be eating some chocolate fudge pudding (which might or might not be accompanied by a fudge brownie!)  I am savoring the sweet chocolate sensation on my tongue, the music of wind and rain, the caresses of fresh air wafting through the doorway.  I am in the moment.  And I am struck by the simplicity of savoring. 

              I think of evenings with our grandsons sitting on the balcony of the condo awaiting their mother’s return from work. We greet neighbors; watch the sky as it is set ablaze by the setting sun; experience the sight of the shifting clouds as they take on myriad colors; take pleasure in our grandsons’ antics; savor one another’s company.

              One can indulge in an expensive, elaborate meal.  But one can just as easily savor a bowl of hot soup of a chilly day.  We can enjoy a symphony at a favorite venue. But putting on some music and dancing around your living room offers an opportunity for simple pleasure as well.

              Just this week I witnessed the first fireflies of the season.  I stood on the porch, entranced by these delightful creatures, who are neither flies nor bugs, but are beetles like ladybugs or rhinoceros beetles.  I savored the moment.  It cost me nothing. 

             Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago, is the father of research on “savoring,” or the concept that being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events can increase happiness in the short and long run. “It is like swishing the experience around … in your mind,” says Bryant, author of the 2006 book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.

            His research and the research of others has identified many benefits to savoring, including stronger relationships, improved mental and physical health, and finding more creative solutions to problems.

            How descriptive!   Let us savor and swish!

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Bryant is in the process of analyzing a wide range of studies on savoring to determine what works and what doesn’t. Already, he has distilled his research into 10 succinct ways for us to develop savoring as a skill. Included in the ten is the suggestion to get absorbed in the moment:

            “Studies of positive experiences indicate that people most enjoy themselves when they are totally absorbed in a task or moment, losing their sense of time and place—a state that psychologists call ‘flow.’”

“Manifest Destiny”

This term was brought back to me this week in a different context from the one I remembered in American History.  You may well recall that manifest destiny referred to a widely held cultural belief in the 19th century that America was destined, inspired, even divinely ordained, to expand its borders to the Pacific and beyond.  That kind of arrogance lives on, however, as I discovered in the column Roadside Assistance by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, published recently in the magazine Spirituality and Health.

              Roadside Assistance consists of folks’ letters to Rabbi Shapiro and his answers.  This particular questioner suggested that she and her friends were into manifesting their future through the power of their minds.  They were feeling sorry for folks who just manifest poverty and illness and unemployment.  But they didn’t think that government handouts or charity would influence those people to choose differently.  So what sort of world, they wanted to know, does the rabbi manifest?

              The rabbi was both succinct and quite blunt: “One without people who hide their selfishness and privilege behind the mask of manifesting.”

              When I was about 10, I recall seeing a rather disheveled woman in ragged clothes.   She may well have been homeless, was certainly poor.  From the comfort of our car as we drove by, I commented: “What kind of garb is THAT?”  My memory is that I had only recently come across the word “garb” and saw that as an opportunity to use it.  But my statement came out as very demeaning and mean-spirited.  My mother quickly disabused me of the notion that I had any right to be judging her.  More sharply than she generally spoke to me, she said: “That is probably the best clothing she has.”  I felt appropriately shamed. 

              This world does not operate on a level playing field.  I once witnessed a visual demonstration of this.  Some college age students were going to be in a race.  But first they were to respond to some directions such as:  if you grew up with the two parents you were born to, take a step forward; if you always had sufficient food in your household, take a step forward; if you were able to get your education without any hindrance, take a step forward.  There were many directions along these same lines.  Pretty soon, there were some who were well ahead of the others. 

              If we are willing to face this reality, we can use our energies to develop compassion…..and perhaps to work to manifest a different world:  one where our differing abilities are respected and the common good is sought. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  The question posed by the inquirer in Roadside Assistance may be repugnant. But, if we are honest, we likely recognize our own capacity for this.  Challenge yourself this week to “catch yourself in the act” of judgement.  You might even have a Judgement Jar for a fine each time you catch yourself.  At some point, if the money accumulates, consider giving it to a good cause.  😊nifest

Happy Continuation Day

This week I succeeded in completing another “trip around the sun,” my personal year-long journey like the sun’s orbit around the earth.  I could think of this as another birthday (which I do)…..but I could also think of it as my “continuation day” (which I also do).  And what, you might ask (unless you have come across the term), is that?

The best description of the meaning of this term I found on a site called Going Outwards and Inwards:  “…. matter cannot be created or destroyed it simply changes form.  It’s more accurate to think in terms of continuation. Before I was born I existed inside of my mother and before that I existed within my mother and father and before that within my grandparents and onwards back within my ancestors.  I am the continuation of an unfolding fabric.”

 Thich Nhat Hhan, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, wrote that one’s birthday is simply a celebration of one’s continuation day.  Every day is a continuation day.  Perhaps we might call the birthday a “marker” of an ongoing process. 

The older I become, the more I am intrigued with those to whom I owe my opportunity to “continue.”  Whose lives do I carry on within my own?  One life that piques my curiosity:  my maternal grandfather, who died before my parents married. He wanted to be a minister.  He studied at Oklahoma Baptist College (later University, which I eventually attended).  He developed some kind of problem with his eyes and his doctor said he must quit his studies or he would go blind.  Quite possibly it was something that today would be easily corrected.  My grandmother, I only learned as an adult, was disappointed not to become a minister’s wife.  She sent my mother to Ottawa Baptist College, hoping she would meet and marry a minister.  But my grandfather died during my mother’s freshman year and she returned home and married my father, a linotype operator she had dated prior to going to college.

 I was sent to OBU, where my grandfather had studied, with the same hope that my grandmother had had for my mother.  I did not marry a minister.  Yet after decades as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I felt drawn to study for ministry and became ordained three years ago.  I wonder what Harley Ross Jordan would think of the granddaughter he never had the opportunity to know, who took up the vocation to which he had aspired but was denied. May I honor that legacy as I begin my next “trip around the sun.”

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “We all exist as part of a wonderful stream of life.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear

Conscious Aging

My early thoughts on aging were influenced by what was then mandatory retirement at 65.  I recall several men in the vicinity of our neighborhood who retired….and promptly died.  I had the impression that was the nature of aging:  one quits work (quits being productive) and death follows. I wasn’t entirely wrong.  When one’s identity is so tied to one’s work, retirement can engender a sense of uselessness and defeat that can contribute to an early death.  

              John Robinson, author of Bedtime Stories for Elders:  What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us about the New Aging, writes that aging “is not a time of stasis, retreat, or simply decline. Rather, aging appears to be a profoundly transformational stage, a journey into an entirely new dimension of life.”  Perhaps that would be more nearly accurate to say it is “not intended” to be a time of stasis.  We are designed to keep growing but we may not always be able or willing to do so as we age. 

              However, “conscious aging,” the founder of Sage-ing International suggests, involves a “second maturity” that makes the years beyond sixty perhaps “evolution’s greatest gift to humanity.”  In 1900 the average life span was forty-five and only four percent of the population was over sixty-five.  Today, nearly 80 percent of people living in the United States will live to be past sixty-five.  Robinson writes that everything we know about aging may be wrong or outdated. 

              This transformation Robinson describes as subtle.  One of the clues that transformation is occurring is “moments of silence, stillness, and timelessness, when it seems as if the mystery of eternity is leaking into your everyday world; moment when time stops.”  This brings to mind a poem my husband wrote on one birthday after he returned from a hike in the woods, which he has given me permission to share:

              “My consciousness opened the windows of the world on this early December day.

              The wind sang through the nearly naked branches of giant oak, rustling brown leaves in an ethereal rhythm of worship.

              Transforming white clouds raced across the deep blue sky, chased by a warm south wind that gently caressed my cheeks in magnanimous embrace. 

              I breathed the freshness that permeates the forest after rain, and heard the perpetual song of water rushing into infinity.

              I recognized that the peace of this moment is anchored in eternity.”  Terry F. Stulce, December 2005.

              Curiously, this was written on his sixtieth birthday, just as the founder of Sage-ing International mentioned the transformation tends to begin.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Father Richard Rohr writes, “Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing; and full seeing seems to take most of our lifetime.”  What do you now see in a different light than you did in the first half of life?  What clues do you use to know when you might need to invite a different perspective?

(From Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life , A Companion Journal by Richard Rohr).

The Power of Silence

As a therapist, I spent countless hours listening.  It was sometimes a temptation to break my silence too soon, risking the disruption of the client’s process of self-discovery.  As Dr. Alan Lickerman has written, “Silence gets you out of the way and creates a space others will fill in with themselves.”

            I counseled a lot of couples which typically involved teaching/facilitating partners to get quiet enough long enough to hear what the other person was truly expressing.  Relationships of all types are dependent on the ability to be silent, to listen, to open the ears of the heart.  The site Quora describes silence as having “a certain energy to it like no other energy source.”

          Relationships need this energy.  But we also benefit as individuals when we draw on it. Even Forbes magazine encourages business people to make use of this, stating: “You don’t need other people to reap the power of silence. Take time out of your day to be silent. Hold a moment of silence when you wake up in the morning. Go into a room during the workday, and close the door for a few minutes. Pause just before you go to bed.”

          We are often quick—too quick—to say we “don’t have time.”  Really? We need to think about what we are actually saying when we express that. We have time for whatever we make a priority.  And, truly, it doesn’t take a lot of time to make a lot of difference.  Even a few minutes before you begin your day or just a few deep breaths to center yourself in the midst of your day can call you to a more grounded space. 

          Think of silence as a kind of energy, as essential as the air you breathe.  If you haven’t already discovered the difference it can make, accept the challenge today.  And blessings on the journey.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Google “Breathing in, breathing out lyrics” or go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iRJEMzQ4To

You will find a brief meditative song that may assist you in taking some silent moments.

Wheat and Chaff

As I sort through years of all that has accumulated over the course of my life, I consider the term “winnowing-fan,” a word which comes from the Greek and literally means “consumer of chaff.” 

              A winnowing-fan looks nothing like what we think of as a fan—but both are used to create currents of air. The farmer puts the unsorted grain and chaff into the basket, and shakes it until the lighter chaff is propelled over the fan’s lip, while the heavier grain remains inside.

              As the old saying goes, “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” (or whatever variation of that you might have heard growing up).  If you have ever sorted through all your belongings, perhaps you recognize the process of the winnowing-fan:  making judgements on what is “chaff,” nonessential, and what is “wheat,” those things that lend deeper meaning to your life.

              During one of my residencies in the Shalem Program for Spiritual Guidance, we were on silent retreat for the weekend.  We were not to use our phones but I noticed my husband was calling.  He knew I was in silent retreat, so I expected it had to be important.  When I answered, he told me the woods behind our house were on fire and he had been warned that he should be prepared to evacuate, taking with him whatever we deemed most important.  What did I think was most important, he wanted to know.  What a startling question! 

              When I paused, he said, “I was thinking of packing up the quilts.”  Strange as that answer may seem, our walls as well as our beds are covered with quilts.  We have one that was made for his mother as a friendship quilt in 1933 when she was pregnant with his beloved sister, twelve years his senior.   Many of the squares are signed by his relatives.  We have a quilt my mother made on the wall and one of hers on one of the beds.  We have a quilt made by family friends who once had a quilt displayed in the Smithsonian.  My quilter friend Mary has graced our home with many of her creations.  So much of our life together is represented by our quilts. 

              Thankfully, as it turned out, firefighters were able to contain the fire and we didn’t have to make any sudden decisions about what to save.  But the question still stands as I seek to divest myself of so much:  What is wheat and what is chaff? 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  The winnowing-fan

Quandary

The word “quandary” has been on my mind lately—because I have been in one.  The Oxford dictionary defines this as “a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.”  I had to laugh because the example given to use it in a sentence was “Kate is in a quandary.”

Recently I offered to send a 21 day discernment process I had put together last year to a friend whose church is in a “quandary” now.  In leafing through what I had written, I came to day ten’s entry which included these questions:

  1.  When I (we) look back a year from now, what would I (we) like to have done?
  2. Am I (are we) aware of all the options?
  3. What are the possible consequences of each option?
  4. Am I (are we) telling myself (ourselves) the truth? (Too often we tell ourselves what we want to hear).
  5. Does this feel right? (Is thinking about the option energizing or draining?)
  6. What would I (we) do if I (we) weren’t afraid?

Well, one might wonder:  Why Hadn’t I Thought of Using This For Myself?!  So, I got out my journal and began to write.  All of these questions I found helpful, but some were particularly illuminating.  What would I do if I weren’t afraid?  I think back on my senior year in college.  The recruiter for Peace Corps was on campus. As a reporter for the school paper, I was sent to interview her.  She and I instantly “clicked.”  She strongly encouraged me to apply.  And I wanted to.  But that would have meant being far from the safety and familiarity of home.  I couldn’t (wouldn’t) bring myself to take the risk. 

Looking back, I can see that just the leap from college student to employed person out in the world was daunting enough to me.  Going to a foreign country seemed like a bridge too far.  But I also see that I sometimes rule doable things out as too difficult, impossible even, without giving those things time to percolate, time for a path to evolve. 

So should you ever find yourself in a “quandary,” I recommend these questions.  Ponder them.  Get out pen and paper and respond to them.  You might well discover some enlightenment on your dilemma, perhaps even resolution to it. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Raise a toast to Hope’s Café!  This post represents one full year of blogs coming to you every Friday!  😊

Radical Hospitality

            The phrase “radical hospitality” caught my attention in a recent post on the website Abbey of the Arts, a site I discovered this year.

           Radical hospitality tends to inspire “walking into trouble” as Sister Simone Campbell,  head of  the Nuns on the Bus tour, describes her faith.  This use of faith as a verb instead of a noun was also  espoused by  the late Congressman John Lewis who famously said, “Make good trouble, necessary trouble.”  Their actions exemplify this practice of putting extraordinary effort and emphasis on making people feel welcome, of accepting the challenge and risks of extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones.

             In 2013 my pastor took sabbatical and I was hired to be the pastor in his absence.  My very first Sunday in the pulpit, a homeless man came in off the street.  We welcomed him as we would anyone but were a little wary.  We had had a service disrupted once by someone who was seriously mentally ill and that left an indelible impression.  Two ushers seated themselves nearby where the fellow had found a pew and stretched out, covering himself with his coat.  He appeared to be asleep throughout the service.  But when it came time to offer prayer requests, he suddenly popped up, saying he wanted to share something.  I hesitated a split second and then said, “Of course.  Please do.” To our surprise and delight, he held us spellbound as he sang a beautiful hymn.

            Hospitality can yield pleasant surprises, such as this one was, but also some disconcerting  ones.    When a cross dresser arrived for worship we were happy to welcome him but were startled when we learned from him afterward that he had served time as a pedophile. He reported that he was meeting regularly with his parole officer, whose contact information he freely gave.  Now we had the safety of our children to consider.   In consultation with our parents of young children, we put a plan in place to ensure he was not around the children but we continued to welcome him to our services.

            Though these examples were within our walls, the nature of radical hospitality actually calls us to reach out. Once when our governor had put forth a plan to extend health care, our congregation in concert with others, marched in support of it. I accompanied the pastor to the office of our representative prior to the vote to urge his support. When we take radical hospitality seriously we are alert to opportunities to extend ourselves in the cause of making this a more welcoming place for all.

   However, the post from the Abbey, which started me on this topic, pointed out another aspect which seems fundamental.  The Abbey author suggested a reaching inward to offer radical hospitality towards ourselves, recognizing the burdens we bear—old wounds and griefs, anxieties and anger–emotional scars that could use some tender care.     This is the soil in which compassion within us grows, enabling us to respond to those we encounter, authentically, effectively, in the practice of this hospitality so needed in our world. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  1) Consider if you yourself need some radical hospitality.  How might you nurture yourself to grow a more compassionate attitude within? 2) Pay attention to needs that present themselves to you and assess where you might offer radical hospitality.

Monkey Mind

Sometimes on Sunday mornings when I have the opportunity, I join in a Sangha group on zoom.  Sangha is a Buddhist community that gathers for meditation, study and mutual support.  In the 20 minutes of meditation that precedes the study topic, I often have what is referred to as “monkey mind.”

              According to Buddhist principles, the “monkey mind” is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused.  I experience it as a jumble of thoughts leading me on a not-so-merry chase.  So this past Sunday I began to play with the image of a monkey performing its antics, swinging from branches, careening from one tree to another.  Eventually I imagined the monkey just sitting on a limb.  A client to whom I had lent a meditation CD I had recorded once told me that whenever she played it, her cat would stretch out contentedly in front of the speaker.  So I imagined the monkey stretching out on the limb for a nap.  While I never could quite get the monkey to sleep, he did seem to doze a bit. 

              Focusing on the breath is always the path to quieting the mind.  There are many techniques that have been suggested but I discovered one Sunday I had not heard recommended before.  As you breathe in, gently open your palm.  As you breath out, gently close it .

              Behavioral researchers find that using our hands for activities stimulates brain activity, promotes mental health, and relieves stress.  Kelly Lambert, neuroscientist at the University of Richmond made up a term she called “behaviorceuticals.” instead of pharmaceuticals.  She used this in the sense that when we move and when we engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain.

              Everyone can discover for herself or himself what techniques work best for meditation.  But, to borrow a phrase, it never hurts to have one more “tool” in the “arsenal.” 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Another tip involving the body is to ask yourself “Where are my feet?”  Put them firmly on solid ground.  If your circumstances don’t permit that, imagine planting them on terra firma.  This may seem a little absurd if you have never tried it.  But it can pretty quickly connect you to the present moment, key to meditation.