Zen and a New Semester of Nursing

IMG_2195Tomorrow is Saturday and I need to finish painting the hall and then I need to get my syllabus revised and my class online. Tonight I only plan to sit. I need to clear my mind of the all the perfects I’m always seeking.

There was a time when I wanted the perfect briefcase or backpack whichever had all of the things I thought would help to organize my coming and going from work. Then I wanted the perfect purse. It had to be the right size so I didn’t try and put the kitchen sink in it and have pockets so I could find the important things among all the junk. There are many other perfect things I looked for wallets, ladders, gardening carts, and notebooks to mention a few. In reality what I’m looking for is something that brings a little order to my life. The search continues.

The theme of order consumes me at the beginning of each semester and it shows in predictable ways. There is almost always, depending on the time of year, either a gardening project or a painting project the week before classes begin that must be finished. One doesn’t need to look very deep to figure out the psychological roots of the behavior. It is all about order and progress. Whether it is gardening or painting there is a clear beginning and end. I can see the beauty that is added to my environment and it calms me. I pick up the brush and my focus is on a straight line, even color, making every stroke the same. The concentration blocks out all other thoughts. I’m present with the brush, the paint, and the straight lines. Nothing else. I begin my semester with a small accomplishment and a calm and centered mind.

Tomorrow I will take this sense of calmness and order and put it into a syllabus knowing that while I will never create the perfect syllabus for my course I will try to make the lines straight for the students, eliminate the junk, add beauty to the content in a way that engages their minds and spirits, and attempt to make all of the pieces blend together so that the individual strokes are invisible. I hope they will use it to create their ideal of a perfect knowledge toolbox. But tonight I sit.

“I forsake all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that which I cannot think.” – Johnston, The Cloud of Unknowing

Sitting in the darkness I am able to let go of all the junk. My life is clear and calm when I sit and the desire is extinguished. There is no perfection and no frustration. Though I do not know God’s will, I do know that I am to serve, forgive, and be compassionate to others. I am formed moment by moment with each stroke of the brush. If I sit long enough with enough calmness maybe one day all of the brushstrokes that have formed me will be invisible. Tonight I sit so tomorrow I can serve.


On Retreat: Life, Love, and Spirituality

I went on a retreat to St. Andrew’s Abbey over Thanksgiving weekend. It was one of those things my husband arranged because he thought I would enjoy it and as always he seems to know me better than I know myself. The retreat combined three things often missing from my busy life: beauty, time alone with my husband, and silence.

Beauty is all around me but on most days in my rush to and from work, from meeting to meeting, and from community events to errands I fail to notice. My days, like those of most professionals, have more demands than hours. This academic year I made a decision not to bring unpleasant work home with me and instead spent one hour every evening walking. The more I walked and shut out all the to-dos running through my thoughts the happier I became. I can walk and meditate,  walk and listen to music, or walk and listen to books on tape. Sometimes, I just walk, looking at and listen to my community.

When we arrived at the Abbey one of the first things we did was visit the tree garden. When my husband was a young graduate student he took a course on St. Augustine with Fr. Eleutherius Winance, O.S.B., who was on the founders of the Abbey. He had invited the class out to visit and showed them the tree garden he had planted. At the time the trees were not as tall as my husband. He fondly remembered Fr. Winance and was taken by the beauty of the place. Almost 40 years later the trees are majestic and stand out against the desert landscape. It was easy to see how the memory of this peaceful tree garden had been engraved into the memory of a young man and why it drew him back.

The beauty continued from the tree garden up the hill and through the stations of the cross. Even in the winter, the sun in the desert is intense yet I wanted to stay. I walked the stations two days and a portion of the third day. Each day I noticed something new and yet each day I thought less and felt more.

During the evening someone always built a fire in the large wood burning fireplace. The smell of the wood, the crackle, and the flames flickering has always been something that I find both beautiful and soothing. I love that I can flip a switch and have a fire in my fireplace, but it isn’t quite the same without the smell and the sound. It lacks the ability to take me back to my childhood and time spent at family gatherings around my parent’s fireplace.

Time alone with my husband when neither of us is working is far too rare. I sometimes wonder if work is an obsession or a calling for each of us. I’m sure it is a passion. It isn’t always easy to follow my calling with love and patience when it pulls me away from my bashert and so I have learned to make every minute special. The geography between us is bridged by love and a shared view of the importance of helping those in need, leaving the world with a little more knowledge, and adding as much beauty as possible.

Silence allows the heart to hear. Rustling leaves and the sounds of birds were only interrupted in the morning by the bells calling us to lauds and then breakfast in silence. The silence seemed to slow the beginning of the day and allow us to enjoy the time sitting across the table from each other. As we sat together to share surprisingly superior coffee and a light breakfast the lack of sound was not a lack of communication. It was an opportunity to listen to what can only be heard in silence. The silence was enhanced by the lack of internet, television, radio, and cellular reception. The functioning phone booth should have been a clue. Maybe that phone was a symbol that the world was still present, but it would take an effort to engage with it and in that moment the last thing I wanted was for the world to intrude.

I wonder what most people want and expect when they go on retreat? I thought it would be a relaxing time to let go of the world and explore my faith. Yet when I left it wasn’t my faith or my church that I felt closer to, but rather my husband. He showed me the tree garden that Fr. Winance had planted almost 40 years ago and I understood why it had impressed him as a young graduate student. We shared our love of the desert, the quietness, the simplicity of the surroundings, and most of all the joy of being together free of the world.

Retreats don’t always bring us closer to God. Sometimes God uses them to brings us closer those we love.

When our vacation ended I returned to the mid-west and my husband to northern Virginia. We are physically still in different cities, but now when I am quite I am much closer to him. When I turn off the world he is only as far away as a meditation in a tree garden. In simplicity, we are bound in a space of shared love. It isn’t always God with whom we need to be closer. Sometimes, it is good to remember that we live in a community and in communion with those we love. I left the retreat in love all over again and open to more fully loving those in my communities. My husband knew me better than I knew myself.

I vow:

  • to leave something beautiful in the world for others.
  • to take time each day for silence.
  • to be a guide and not just a purveyor of information to students.

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Henri Nouwen


Liberal or Conservative – I’m Catholic

Is it the nature of human beings to divide ourselves? Race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and all the other categories we impose in our lives. How often do we want to know a person’s profession and the profession of their spouse? Do you have children? Where do you go to church? Where did you go to high school or college?

I firmly believe that our differences make us stronger. We can do so much more if we have both physicians and nurses; pastors and lay people; and math and art teachers. I don’t know anyone that would think we should only have firefighters and no police. All too often our society seems to believe we would be better off without liberals or conservative or without Catholics or Protestants or Muslims, or whatever it is that isn’t our faith.

What we share is what binds us. What divides us makes us weaker. I am proud of my faith and that I am to the left of center and am ever grateful that I have friends on the both ends of the continuum. They show me daily how one can have very different views and still share my faith and my love for this country. However, I’m saddened by those that use faith and politics as a stick with which to beat others or who profess their bullying as love. I am equally saddened by those that did not learn as children that name calling is inappropriate and never helps anyone. Most of all, I am saddened when people are so enamored by a single perspective that they are no longer willing to see the evidence in front of them. Yes, you can see this as meaning the other person, but until we all spend more time looking inward rather than outward we will be on the wrong path.

I am a liberal that remains politically independent. I thought George Bush was a good man, but didn’t agree with many of his policies. I think Obama is a good man but don’t agree with all his policies. I firmly believe that everyone that spends their career in public life does so with a desire to make us better and to serve our country. Then they get their and rather than serve are so busy making sure the other doesn’t succeed that they forget they are there to serve the people and not a party.

If we look at our politicians, and we don’t like them, then we should look inward. They are us. When they lie, it is because we lie. When they say racist things, it is because we are racist. When they demonstrate no ability to balance a budget, it is because we can’t balance our budgets. When they are more concerned about their success than the country, it is because we are more tied to our parties than our country. If they don’t understand foreign policy, or religious freedom, or the tragedy that is gun violence, or the horror of racism, sexism, and religious phobia it is because we don’t understand those issues and don’t take the time to learn and I mean learn not read social media posts. They are us, and we are them.

If we want to change politics and return to a country of faith, then we must change as individuals. It is easy.

  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t take what isn’t yours.
  • Balance your budget.
  • Serve your country.
  • Attend your faith-based service regularly.
  • Respect the freedom and conscience of others and don’t impose your beliefs on them.
  • Don’t kill and by don’t kill I mean don’t kill or prepare to kill.
  • Love God, country, family, and your neighbor.
  • Show respect for those that don’t agree with you.
  • Be polite to everyone and not just those that make it easy.
  • Don’t take more than you need.
  • Share the credit with others.
  • Find the goals you share and work toward them even if it is on parallel paths.
  • Don’t question the faith or love of others.
  • Study the Constitution and your faith-based texts.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • See all children and elders as your responsibility.
  • Love and respect cultural and political differences and put aside labels in your words and your heart.
  • Be willing to lay down your life for another.
  • Let go of fear.
  • Pray or meditate daily.
  • BE A GOOD CITIZEN

 


Faith, Feminism, and Head Coverings

As a proud feminist, I believe in equality of all human beings. Equality is fundamental to human dignity. This week I watched with great sadness as men and women alike criticized women for what they did or did not wear.

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.20.36 PMI’ve never understood why people get so outraged about what a woman wears on her head. After all, we don’t worry about what men wear. When a man wears a head covering to show respect for God and Judaism we do not question it and know it is done as a sign of respect. And yet, when a woman wears a head covering to show respect for God and Catholicism she is both criticized and praised. However, if she wears a head covering to show respect for God and Islam she is resoundingly criticized.

There are many places where we consider it appropriate to wear a head covering. The most beautiful of head coverings are seen at the Kentucky Derby. People actually enjoy the hats and some of us watch the race just to look for the best hat. Likewise, while a shrinking number, women do still wear hats to church. Certainly, women in the military wear the required cover just as do men.

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.21.58 PMWe should ask ourselves two questions.

  • Why do we criticize a woman when she covers her head out of custom or respect for religious preferences and yet we do not do the same with men.
  • Why is it acceptable for a man to cover his head at a holy place within Judaism, a woman to cover her head when in the presence of the Holy Father, and yet inappropriate when in a Muslim country?

Whether male or female covering one’s head to show respect for God should not be criticized. Respect is essential in a civilized society.  While I’m sure most of us question how civilized we have been acting the last few years surely we all recognize that we should do better.

If you call yourself a feminist then you should not criticize any woman because she chooses to show respect for God. Nor should she be criticized because her faith or her respect for the faith of another leads her to cover her head.

Let us all show such respect for others that we are at least willing to try and not offend them when visiting.

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” —Hillary Clinton


Sad Divisions Cease

I was reminded in Mass to bid our sad divisions cease and to seek the God of Peace.  Maybe this year we should sing all verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel and meditate on the words.

may-we-always-seek-the-god-of-peace

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!


The Hypocrisy of Abortion Politics

Human dignity rests above all on the fact that humanity is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to men and women as soon as they are born. For if people exist it is because God has created them through love, and through love continues to keep them in existence. They cannot live fully in the truth unless they freely acknowledge that love and entrust themselves to their creator.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965, #19.

We learned this week that pro-life is an obsolete word that is without meaning. It isn’t obsolete because people of faith do not believe that abortion is morally wrong. It is obsolete because it has been co-opted by opportunistic politicians that are no more opposed to abortion than anything else they espouse and then do absolutely nothing to change. Worse, they focus solely on the act of abortion and ignore all the factors that lead to abortion.

The Catholic Church is consistent in its teaching that life begins at conception and many faith traditions agree, but certainly not all. Officially abortion can be forgiven, but it can also result in the most severe punishment in the Church – excommunication. It is maintained that from the moment of conception a human embryo is fully human and deserving of all the protections of any human being. If one viewed this statement simplistically, it seems compassionate. We must treat this new life as if it were the same as a school child or a treasured grandparent. It is when one realizes that in saying “all the same protections of any human” it must necessarily mean that the mother is subservient to the human embryo so what is clearly meant is the same protections as a man. She must give up the control of her body to that human embryo, which is why some people make caveats for rape, incest, and life of the mother.

hypocrisy of abortionPoliticians and pro-life and pro-choice advocates were outraged by the statement of Donald Trump when he suggested that women who have abortions should be punished. It is no surprise that pro-choice advocates and most women were outraged. However, for pro-life advocates and politicians who build careers preying on the faithful, it is nothing short of hypocrisy. Those that claim outrage against Trump’s statements need to consider what he said and what they claim to believe. Claiming the woman should be punished is consistent with what I would expect of someone that believes that the human embryo is the same as a child or an adult in rights. If a mother killed her 6-year-old or her neighbor, it would be expected that she would be punished. If one believes abortion is murder, then it would be expected that the person who committed or hired someone to commit murder is punished. However, what isn’t consistent is not also punishing the person that incited the murder – the father, or the driver that waited in the getaway car while the murder was committed. If one believes life begins at conception, and the human embryo is fully human and deserving of human rights rather than potentially human from that moment, then one should support Donald Trump’s original statement.

The Compassionate Alternative

Wanting to punish a woman for having an abortion shows a complete lack of compassion for a woman in trouble. Isn’t that what we teach with excommunication. When we say we punish the woman and not the man we are clearly setting different standards for men and women, doctors that do abortions and women that hire them, and mothers, fathers, and significant others that drive women to the abortion appointment. If one truly believes that abortion is a mortal sin, then to condemn the woman as a murderer is too easy and self-satisfying. It is too easy because it allows us as a society, a faith community, and as individuals to do nothing to help her through the pregnancy, to dismiss her as immoral, and to condemn her and those who assist her as murders and consign to the criminal justice system. Calling abortion criminal allows us to continue to advocate against abortion without showing the same concern for women before pregnancy, during pregnancy, or after birth.

The child/fetus in the mother’s womb is drawing its life directly from the mother, and she must be nurtured, nourished and protected. Only then will the child develop to its full capacity. Not only is it necessary for a mother, a woman, to be cared for during her pregnancy, but we know through medical science that nutrition is essential even before conception. What we are doing for all women of childbearing age we are also doing for the child she will one day nurture. When we fail her, we fail to defend the integrity of the human embryo that will grow into a child.

We can begin our compassion by ending the use of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. Let us start saying what we believe. In stating our beliefs, we may find common ground that brings us together to find solutions that don’t criminalize acts of fear and desperation and further grow our flawed criminal justice system. Here is what I believe:

  • Women are fully human – not less than men or human embryos or human fetuses.
  • A human embryo has all the genetic material of a human being but is not sentient from the time of conception.
  • The human embryo/fetus is drawing its life from the mother.
  • Self-determination should be a right for all sentient beings – rights come with responsibilities to make moral decisions.
  • However, pregnancy is a choice in most circumstances – rape, incest, and the life of a mother are special circumstances that force choices between the good of the human embryo and human fetus and the good of the mother.
  • Contraception meant to prevent implantation is not equivalent to abortion – it does violate the teaching of the Church, but can result in a reduction of abortions.
  • Poverty, abuse, lack of child care, few education options for women with children, fewer job opportunities and discrimination against women with children, and inadequate support for those that are pregnant impact a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
  • Abortion is a moral decision – women are endowed with consciences and can make moral decisions.
  • Pregnancy is stigmatizing – society values fertility, but not the always the pregnant woman especially if she is unwed or poor.
  • The objective act of abortion being immoral does not equate to the person carrying out the act being either good or evil.

The compassionate solution cannot be to build a wall between women and legal and safe abortion and expect it will end abortion and after we stop the access then explore laws to help women care for their children. We should begin with compassion and start by passing laws and making policy changes that will encourage giving birth and value pregnancy.

  • Paid maternal leave for six months
  • Affordable child care based on income
  • Educational support for pregnant teens and new moms
  • Adequate nutritional assistance for all women of childbearing age
  • Free adoption
  • Women’s health care in all communities that is free to all women of childbearing age
  • Corporations that don’t disadvantage women with children

If we put the same passion into supporting pregnant women as we do into preventing abortion, the result may be surprising. I look forward to the day we are praying in the streets outside of community health centers and family practice clinics insisting that they provide women’s healthcare including maternity care or that we march on Washington every year to insist that all women have paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. This week taught us one important lesson – justice must include compassion. It is inhumane to treat women seeking abortion as criminals.

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Catechism of the Catholic Church on Abortion

Abortion

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77“by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”81

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safeguarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”82

2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”83

“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”84

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity”85 which are unique and unrepeatable.