Monday, February 29, 2016

Vintage Light

I am grateful to have had several good conversations, over phone, email, and in person, about the passing of my friend, Kim.  One email conversation has been with someone I have never met. She is a Sister of the Holy Names and I have been in communication with her through my application for a spiritual direction intensive this summer.  She ended her last email with the comment, "She has put out the light because the dawn has come."   I think about all of us who love someone as carrying some of his or her light as we continue this journey.  Eventually, we, too, will put out the light, but hopefully not before we have shared this collective light with others, just as Kim did.  She celebrated the wise ones who came before her.  Let us continue the tradition. 

 Thank you all who have taken the time to talk, hug, read, write, and cry.   
I love this photograph.  I see the Holy Spirit coming down, and I find comfort for us all.        
For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.
Psalm 36:9         


Sunday, February 28, 2016


Yes, you will go out with celebration, 
and you will be brought back in peace. 
Even the mountains and the hills 
will burst into song before you; 
all the trees of the field 
will clap their hands.   
Isaiah 55:12    
I never have truly resonated with the image of trees clapping their hands.  Yet, at times, I do hear singing.  May the day come when we listen to creation, rather than always trying to put it to our use.  Blessings on this day of rest.  If it is not your day of rest, do take one soon.  The trees want to sing to you.  


Saturday, February 27, 2016


Last week I was able to spend a few minutes at The Mercy Center in Burlingame, so of course I had to pay a visit to the bookstore.  There I found a prayer card with the words below. They are a merciful reminder that incarnation is ongoing, and we are part of it.  How we treat one another, ourselves, and creation is how we treat God. This is what I call being part of the living body of Christ today. You may have other ways of describing that which really is beyond words, and that is just fine.  Our goal is not to cling to definitions for they will always be imperfect. Our journey and purpose is love.  Blessed be.    
Mercy Awakened  
When Mercy gave her hands to serve, 
She found the hands of God. 
When Mercy spread her cloak to warm, 
She found the fire of God. 
When Mercy welcomed the poor, 
She found a homeless God. 
When Mercy offered food and drink, 
She found a hungry God. 
When Mercy entered prison cells, 
She found a lonely God. 
When Mercy offered healing hands, 
She found the touch of God. 
When Mercy heard her call to serve, 
She found a humble God. 
When Mercy breathed her quiet prayer, 
She knew the breath of God.      
Rosaleen O'Sullivan, RSM       
Love is the source and goal, faith is the slow process of getting there, and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure. 
Richard Rohr, OFM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Homeward Bound

Yesterday, I learned a dear friend finally was able to let go of her body.  She and many others, of course, but she was the one I knew and loved. Feeling not quite ready to make the drive home, I sat for awhile in a restaurant and I thought about such things.  Our comings and goings and the uncountable in betweens.  All around me people were eating and laughing, and I took comfort in that. Suddenly, a very young child walked up to me, waved, and said, "Hello!"  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to return the greeting.  She then went on to the next table, smiling and greeting the diners.  Her mother followed close behind and we laughed. She rolled her eyes; evidently she frequently follows this tiny queen who yearns to greet a very large world.    
I thought of Kim once more, and her love of children.  I felt a gentle nudge that reminded me that life always continues.  I think I almost heard her voice and beautiful laugh that had been stilled for months.  
It was time to go home. 
I didn't tell you earlier because I was with you every day. But now, I am on my way to the One who sent me...In a day or so you're not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will.  
John 16 (The Message).  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Faithful Presence

On a walk a few days ago, I turned a corner to discover some large orange tulips literally shining in the sun.  They were sitting in a pot on a porch, and I could not help but go up the front steps to get closer. They were obviously planted in a perfect spot by someone who imagined beautiful flowers growing, had some knowledge about what tulips need, and was faithful to that knowledge.   
I have just started reading an interesting book, The New Parish, How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soernes, and Dwight J. Friesen.  I think the following statement (page 46)  rings true, however you are called to be present in this world.       
This brings us to our proposal for the new parish. It is simple. Follow Jesus into your neighborhood with fellow followers of Jesus. Allow the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ to form your imagination for faithful presence.  
That means taking your bodies, your location and your community very seriously as God in Christ took them. Faithful presence invites you to act on the belief that God is giving you what you need to be formed as disciples within your location.   
Imagination, belief, and a willingness to be present are a beautiful trinity that can allow our lives and others to be deeply rooted.   When we agree to take part and let our hearts be engaged, we take our place in the ongoing incarnation of God's love.  Imagine the beauty that can unfold, right before our eyes.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


This week I met with a group that I have grown so fond of.  The core group is quirky, outspoken and they are of constant surprise to me.  We meet in a room at the back of the long-term care community. I like the room because it looks out onto a works-in-progress garden.  However, it does take awhile to get folks down a long hallway, but that is proving to be a spiritual practice for me. We walk slowly and talk.  This week I walked with Nancy.  When I asked her how she was doing, she replied, "Well, I am ok.  I would like a beer, though. Or chocolate. I like my room, though."   

We settled in, sans both chocolate and a drink (it is Lent after all), and we began to talk about Jesus.  Nancy said that she liked Mary. She liked praying to a woman. Anita said that she loved Jesus. He just feels good. We talked a little about Jesus' time in the desert, and Anita said she never understood that story. Just then an assistant came in and told Anita she had a phone call. As she was being wheeled out, I said, "Just remember, Anita, God will always show you the way. That is what the story is really about."  She replied, "Oh, I do like that!  Remember, we love you, honey."  I thanked her and said that is the most important part of the story.   

Theresa then told a story about coming to the community. She said she had been in the hospital in a coma. I asked her if she remembered anything during that time. "Yes. I remember God. I remember he showed me this home and said I would be safe here. He even showed me some of the people. So when I got here I already knew I would be okay."  We talked about how God will always bring us to a safe place, no matter what is going on.  Deborah then said, "You are part of us."   I replied that yes, and how grateful I am for that. 
Lunchtime quickly came, and after I helped get a few of the more frail into the dining room, a very polite older gentleman took my hand and said, "I will walk you to the front."  As we walked the slow walk back, he told me he grew up on a farm in Czechoslovakia.   I felt a deep loss swell up as he said, "We must remember war is very terrible."  At that moment I wanted every politician to walk that slow walk with us.  We walked a few steps more in silence, and then he asked, "Will you come back?".  "Of course. I belong, remember?"   
He smiled and said, "This is good."   
It surely is.    


Friday, February 12, 2016

Trusting the Music

I watched with gratitude as one of the caregivers wheeled Mark into the lobby.  I knew he liked to sing, and at one time he must have had a fine, strong voice.  I went over to greet him and to invite him to come sing with us. His voice is so soft now I had to lean towards him to hear him respond, "Oh, I would like to, but my family is coming to pick me up."  I encouraged him to join us in the parlor, and I would watch for his family's arrival. He gratefully agreed.   

Afterwards, I asked him what was his favorite hymn.  He replied with the name of an old hymn that he sang as a youth. Neither the pianist nor I had even heard of the hymn, but our other volunteer responded that she knew it, and she encouraged him to sing with her.  The two of them sang a sweet duet a capella.   

Afterwards, Mark quietly said, "I trust these hymns." The volunteer asked him what he meant.  "I believe the words are true." We agreed.   

I often witness elders waiting for family members in the lobby. It touches my heart because many are willing to wait all day as their family members juggle work and other commitments. In many communities, there is a lot of waiting going on.  

I wheeled Mark back into the lobby, and per his instructions, I carefully positioned him so that he could easily see his family drive up.   

I am grateful for Mark's trust. I am grateful for volunteers who are willing to take part. I am grateful for the reminder that Christ shows up in the small moments of our lives, especially when we are looking the other way.     

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dying to Live

Yesterday I sat with a woman who is in her early 90s. When she was a young woman she fell in love with a man from a Catholic family. She converted to appease the mother-in-law, raised her family Catholic, but never really felt fed by that faith. When her husband passed, she stopped attending mass. However, that did not give her a sense of freedom, but rather a gnawing sense of guilt and even fear. This is the gift of the third part of our lives that too often gets overlooked and disregarded. 
 Our soul is timeless and far more adventurous than we realize. We need to practice surrender, letting go, and dying. Otherwise, we never really live fully and freely. What was so interesting about this conversation was that one of things she hated about Catholicism was the confessional. However, yesterday she was confessing. Not to me, but to herself. And hopefully, to God.

John O'Donohue

One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.
John O'Donohue
John O'Donohue in conversation with John Quinn
Kirkstone Pass
Photo: © Ann Cahill

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Indignation Not Required

This morning I woke thinking of the Sunday after my mother's death. After my parents moved to Odessa, TX, Dad started attending a small Southern Baptist Church in his neighborhood. Even when Alzheimer's was really taking a toll on my mother, on Sundays he would get her up and prepare both her and the house so that he felt he could leave her alone for an hour or so. He would then put on his by then slightly too large suit and tie, and after asking God to make certain that nothing would happen while he was gone, off he would go.
On the Sunday after her passing, he asked if I would go with him. The pastor was ill at the time, so one of the deacons was preaching. Dad was greeted with much warmth by the deacon and the rest of the congregation. We took our places towards the front of the sanctuary and settled in. However, much to my annoyance, the deacon proceeded to talk about hell and how even when we get to heaven our loved ones might not be there because of their errant ways. The more I listened, the more aggravated I became. I decided I would talk to the deacon after the service (talk may be a generous term; I really wanted to express my opinion that his sermon was insensitive and it did not take into account that Dad was a very recent widower). However, after the service, I could not even get close to the deacon. Although it was a very small congregation, it was as if he was surrounded by throngs of people. Dad asked if we could go home. I knew then I just had to let it go.
On the way home, I asked Dad what he thought of the sermon. He responded, "What?" This surprised me. His new hearing aids were proving to work well in the close quarters of the car. I paused, and realized that Dad had been quiet all morning. I then asked more loudly, "Did you put in your hearing aids this morning?"
He smiled, and said no, he seemed to have forgotten them.
"Did you hear the message?"
He smiled again, and confessed that no, he really had not heard much. I had to laugh. Seemed that neither God nor my father needed my righteous indignation.
Blessings on your Lenten journey. If every day we strive to be able to answer yes to the questions below, our fasts will be rich indeed.

Friday, February 5, 2016


On my walk this morning, my thoughts were very much with a friend who is ill.  My heart was heavy.  Yet, light bouncing off yellow flowers caught my eye. I bent down and paused before turning to make my way home. I looked up from the golden altar and heard children laughing as they made their way to school.  A moment of church; I knew I was not alone.   
To You, who remember us when 
we are downtrodden and discouraged, 
Your Love sustains us,
And brings light into the darkness, 
Your love sustains us. 
To You, who are Loving Companion Presence, 
Your Love sustains us.   
Psalm 136 
Psalms for Praying 
Nan C. Merrill    

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Lightness of Lent

February 10, Ash Wednesday, will usher in the beginning of Lent.  I always appreciate Lent's timing. The Christmas season and Epiphany have come and gone. The greetings of "Happy New Year!" grow quiet and our schedules again fill with appointments, weeks and even months in advance.  Just when it seems to be "business as usual," we are reminded to pause and reflect once more that truly there is no such thing. If we attend an Ash Wednesday service, we will hear the words quietly spoken to us, that we are of dust and to dust we shall return.  That knowledge should really help lighten our load, but in the inexplicable ways of humans, we too often prefer to increase our burdens and struggle on. Lent gives us permission to set at least some of these burdens down.  
I woke this morning thinking of someone I met several years ago.  I shall call him Joseph.  He was in his late 70's and was struggling with some hearing loss. Regardless, he was still singing and playing piano, and he helped with some SpiritCare services.  He was not driving then, so I was surprised when he told me that he attended a small Filipino church about 20 miles from his home. He had even given his car to a friend, but fortunately, his friend did feel some obligation to drive Joseph where he needed to go.  However, since both of them were Caucasian, I finally had to ask why they traveled so far when so many churches were closer. He simply responded, "Because they talk about my Lord Jesus."   
Joseph told me that he grew up in a wealthy family. He was able to travel much of the world by performing and teaching music. His talent, flamboyant personality and artistic flair helped garner him many invitations.  Yet, there was some unhappiness in his life, and stress, unease, and addiction also journeyed with him.  
He credited seeing Rembrandt's, "The Return of the Prodigal Son," as his point of conversion. It is a strong painting, and probably being able to see it in person would bring most of us to our knees. I do not know much about that pivotal experience, but I know as he gazed upon the surrender of the son into the loving embrace of the father, Joseph understood that there was hope for him.  I think  he may have felt love for the first time. He sobered up. Years later, as his memory began to fail, he would often quote Psalm 16: "The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage."     
Lent is a humble acknowledgement of our mortal boundaries and a celebration of our divine inheritance. On March 19, I will facilitate a short workshop ( 11:00 a.m. to 1:00  p.m.)  at First Church in Redwood City. In our short time together, we will explore in community who Jesus is to us.  I look forward to hearing both the stories and the questions.  If you would like more information or have a story to share do not hesitate to let me know.  I promise that you and your stories will be treated with love and gratitude. 
I read today that Rembrandt may have painted this beautiful painting during the last two years of his life. Maybe, he, too, was experiencing the longing of being home once more.  
Blessings on your journey,
Sue Ann