Grateful Living – A Spirituality of Gratitude

Blog by Sr. Amy McFrederick, OP

Recently I downloaded a free E-book from Gratefulness.org:  “An Introduction to Living with Gratefulness.” In his short chapter “A Vision for the World” Br. David Steindl-Rast wrote:

Gratefulness is the spontaneous response of the human heart to the gratuitously given. This gratefulness releases energy. In the gap of surprise before the first thought, the powerful surge of an intelligence that far surpasses thought takes hold of us. We can make our thinking a tool of this creative intelligence that constantly brings forth and sustains the world. If we willingly open ourselves to its gentle force, it has power to change whatever is not in tune with it. Gratitude is thinking in tune with the cosmic intelligence that inspires us in grateful moments. It can change more than a mood; it can change a world.”

My daily prayers of intercession are often about the many ways humans choose to use their amazing gifts to create, program, and launch weapons of destruction—especially automatic guns designed for  killing humans rapidly, war machines and nuclear weapons able to destroy not only humans, but also our beautiful Earth and all its inhabitants.

With the hubris of world leaders so often on display in our news–who boast of their power to do great damage or destroy each other with ‘fire and fury’, these thoughts usually open the door to doom and gloom thinking for me. At such times, it is helpful to recall a couple of lines from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer, Liberation Front: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”  “Practice Resurrection.”

The other day NOVA (one of my favorites) on PBS television was for me a moment of being surprised by a “gratuitous given.” The show was about the unmanned Voyager Space Probe that was sent “up in 1977 to get close up views of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and use the orbital thrust of each planet to speed it on its way to the next. Imagine—that was 40 years ago!

From the start as I watched, there were moments when I held my breath as they encountered unexpected challenges, both computer and physical apparatus, that threatened to abort the mission.  But somehow, almost miraculously, the problems rectified themselves and the Voyager went on to accomplish all that their designers and controllers had hoped for, sending back pictures never before seen of these far away planets with their rings and moons. In addition, having completed those missions, it did even more as it broke through the “bubble” of our solar system, and headed out into deep space.

Among its cargo, is a recording made of gold and copper. It features pictures of Earth in all its wonder, its inhabitants—animals, plants, creatures of land, sea, or air, people of every ethnicity, music of several genres, and vocal greetings in every language. The hope is that an intelligent life form in another solar system might find it, and with the help of illustrated drawings assemble the included parts to be able to gain access to the contents. Seems they thought of everything!

Watching this show was for me a prayer/contemplation suspending me in a state of wordless praise of God, the Creator of our ever-unfolding universe and Designer of humans in God’s own image.

It is always amazing to me to learn about the programming, creating and launching of such instruments as the Voyager and Hubble Telescope, which enable us to get a glimpse of the expansiveness and beauty of what we used to know only as the starry sky. Viewing the pictures they send back to Earth is one of my favorite preludes to contemplation, drawing me into wonder and admiration for “this creative intelligence that constantly brings forth and sustains the world,” and gratitude when I see what humans are capable of doing when working together for peace.

I guess it all is summed up in a wall plaque I saw in someone’s office: “HAPPINESS IS ENJOYING A SUNSET AND KNOWING WHO TO THANK!”

Voyager Space Probe
Posted in Associate Blog, News

SOWING SEEDS OF HOPE IN UNEXPECTED TIMES AND PLACES

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Do you believe in divine intervention — being placed in the right place at the right time to be a catalyst for someone in need?

I do (you may, too; but you might call it something different — fate, destiny, coincidence, synchronicity?).

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were driving through a shopping area, when we decided to stop in a jewelry store to browse.

We had no plans to make the stop, and we weren’t looking for anything in particular.

But what we found was an opportunity to encourage someone struggling with a difficult situation.

When we walked into the store, we were greeted by a salesman who asked how he could help us. I responded that we would like to look at bracelet charms. As we looked around, the salesman offered to clean my rings and asked another salesman if he would continue to help us, while he completed the cleaning task.

The second salesman came over and greeted us. During a conversation with my daughter, she shared with him that she loves to read (while looking at a “Love-to-Read” book charm). He shared that his 18-year-old daughter also loves to read.

I asked if his daughter is in high school. He responded that she is a student at a nearby university. But, he said, she is now taking some time off because she is hospitalized, experiencing complications after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Seeing the pain in his eyes, I asked for his daughter’s name and offered to pray for her.

As he responded “Olivia” and “Thank You,” I could see a glimmer of hope almost replace the pain in his eyes.

Before leaving the store, I asked if it was okay to place Olivia’s name on a prayer list. He answered in the affirmative and said: “This is why I was sent over here to help you. Thank you.”

It was clear to me that the salesman believed that the reason he was asked to help us was God’s way of showing him love and mercy via my and my daughter’s prayers.

I, too, believe that we were drawn into the store to share our prayers as a reflection of God’s love and mercy. I also know that our prayers for Olivia have helped my daughter and I think beyond ourselves and grow in our compassion for others.

When we pray for others, we must pray from the heart; out of love (unselfish concern); and with faith (knowing that God has all power and loves the people we are praying for).

I spoke with Olivia’s father on Sunday. He told me that she is home, facing a long road to recovery.

I don’t know Olivia or her father (the first time I set eyes on him was when we walked into the store that day); but I will continue to pray for them and their family because God knows them and is able to meet their needs.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”

                                                                                                                                     — Max Lucado

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Strong Relationships Begin With Open, Honest Conversation

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

The day after a man drove a truck down a busy bicycle path last week in Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring nearly a dozen, I received a text from one of my sister-friends (you know a  sister not by blood but by heart).

She was annoyed and frustrated because she knew her day would be filled with explaining that the man’s actions do not represent Islam or Muslims.

It’s the type of thing that she and I have experienced too often – being made to feel like we are being asked to take responsibility for every bad actor with whom we happen to share a faith or skin color.

I wonder how many white people felt that way last month, after the Las Vegas shooter opened fire on concertgoers, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500?

I wonder how many Christians felt uneasy when they heard that the shooter who killed three people standing in line last week at a Colorado Walmart lived in an apartment with a stack of bibles?

My sister reached out to me because she knew that I understand all too well what it’s like to hear of a tragedy like the ones in Las Vegas and Manhattan and feel devastation (overwhelming grief and sorrow for those affected by the senseless acts) and trepidation (dread that the perpetrator will be identified as someone who shares your skin color or religion).

For my sister, that anxiety runs even deeper because history has shown that Muslims face backlash and experience increased anti-Muslim sentiments after a “terrorist” is identified as Muslim. I struggle with the term “terrorist” because I’m still trying to figure out the rules – the murderer in Vegas isn’t labeled a terrorist but the killer in Manhattan is.

Why does it seem so easy to selectively lash out at an entire community of people who have nothing to do with a violent act committed by one person?

Why does it seem so easy to see some people as one big homogeneous mass?

Why does it seem so easy to vilify an entire faith group because of one person’s horrific behavior?

Why should my sister have to be on high alert for verbal or physical attack because of something she had nothing to do with?

I think it’s time (in fact, it’s overdue) for all of us to take personal and collective inventory of our own views and actions toward people of the Islamic faith.

I am thankful that my sister and I can share our thoughts and concerns because it is in our dialogue that we find a healing that reduces our mental and emotional stresses.

Healing conversations are about being present for each other and connecting with each other.

And guess what happens when we connect? – We enhance our relationship and our bond gets stronger.

So, after you take that personal inventory, ask yourself “what can I do to build a relationship with someone who doesn’t share my faith, skin color, ethnicity, culture, political views, etc?”

And then do it!

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Blessed To Be A Blessing

Blog by Sr. Amy McFrederick, OP

This morning in our Dominican Praise Morning Prayer  I read:

“Listen to the prayer of your servants,

  The people who know your blessing” –Sirach 36:21

This latter phrase stayed with me long after I closed my prayer book. Yes, I thought, I certainly do know God’s blessing, permeating every moment of my life–the gift of restful sleep, life-giving air, waking up to another day of  life on this planet, the light that makes Earth’s wonders visible, food and drink, warmth and shelter, health, friends, family and community, shared faith in Christ…

As I first began listing for myself the countless ways I know and feel God’s blessings, I was simultaneously aware that millions of my brothers and sisters throughout the world and here in our own country do not experience many of these things that first came to my mind as blessings.

Then my eyes fell on these words from Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ…”  I was reminded of the way Jesus poured out blessing upon blessings throughout his life: healing the sick, freeing those imprisoned by demons of all kinds, preaching and teaching the Good News of the Reign of God, his Abba—fully aware that his words and actions would cause his suffering and death.  When he taught the BEATITUDES he named some of the spiritual blessings that he knew as blessings, but that we may not experience or consider as “blessings” –but they are blessings that enable us not only to receive and know God’s blessings, but to BE a blessing to others.

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Blessed are the pure of heart…

Blessed are the merciful…

Blessed are the sorrowing…

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are those thirsting for justice…

Blessed are those persecuted…

Think about it. How might these “spiritual blessings” free you to BE A BLESSING?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Hope Energizes Us in Moments of Fatigue

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

The moment I heard the name Philando Castile in a news report several days ago, I felt anguish.

In a matter of seconds, the news story took me on an emotional roller coaster ride from feeling weary to feeling hopeful.

The mention of Philando Castile’s name moved my thoughts immediately to the dashcam video that was released by police in June, four days after a Minnesota police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting Castile during a traffic stop.

You remember Philando Castile, right?

He’s the school nutrition supervisor who was shot and killed while trying to reach for his identification during a traffic stop in July 2016. He, his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were on their way home from buying groceries.

I admit that I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what happened that day. But I do remember being horrified when I heard about the shooting because it appeared that Philando Castile had done everything he was supposed to do –he was respectful, polite, and cooperative in handing the officer his insurance card – but he still ended up dead.

As I searched myself for the source of my despair, I came to the realization that for me, the Philando Castile story highlights the daunting reality of being black in America – living constantly with the distressing reality that racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive and trying constantly to figure out how not to hate yourself while navigating a society that hates you, just because your skin is brown.

There is nothing ordinary about being black in America. It can sometimes be mentally exhausting to simply navigate through a day.

And then, someone like Pamela Fergus comes along and renews your faith in humankind – gives you the kind of hope you need to keep from feeling hopeless.

Pamela Fergus is a Minneapolis-St. Paul area college professor who was also devastated by the dashcam video of the shooting of Philando Castile. She is the reason Philando Castile’s name was in recent news headlines.

The professor was moved by the compassion of the adored Montessori school cafeteria manager — who paid for the lunches of a countless number of students out of his own pocket and took the time to know each student by name — to set up an online fund-raising campaign called “Philando Feeds the Children.”

A couple of months ago, Pamela Fergus enlisted the help of her students to raise $5,000 to pay off the lunch debt of children at the elementary school where Philando Castile worked.

Within weeks, the campaign had raised $50,000. Now that number is in excess of $90,000 – more than enough to pay off the debt of students in all of the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools.

Pamela Fergus’ effort raised my awareness about the nearly 20 million children who are on the free and reduced lunch program in America.

According to the School Nutrition Association, 76 percent of America’s school districts have children with school lunch debt.

School districts handle lunch debt differently. Some students have their hot lunches taken away and are given an alternative meal (like a cheese sandwich and milk). Others are required to work off their debt or wear wristbands, identifying them as being unable to pay for their lunch. It’s embarrassing that students in America are shamed in such a manner.

But back to Fergus’ campaign.

“Philando Feeds the Children” now has a goal of creating a permanent fund to not only pay off school lunch debt but to educate parents and guardians about assistance programs in a long-term effort to reduce lunch debt.

What a wonderful tribute to the legacy of a man who made a difference in the lives of the children he came into contact with every day.

I am thankful to Pamela Fergus for radiating hope, which gives me the much-needed energy to continue moving toward justice for all.

Posted in Associate Blog, News