Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Publisher's Weekly Digs God Alone is Enough

God Alone Is Enough: A Spirited Journey with Teresa of Avila
Claudia Mair Burney, Paraclete, $16.99 paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-55725-661-4
Immersed in her own “dark night of the soul” brought on by seasonal affective disorder and fibromyalgia, Christian novelist Burney (The Exorsistah and the Amanda Bell Brown mystery series) discovered the 16th-century mystic John of the Cross and, through him, his spiritual contemporary Teresa of Avila. In her first nonfiction book, Burney tells how Teresa taught her to pray in a way totally unlike the method she had learned from the “church mothers” in the Church of God in Christ congregation in which she grew up. She invites readers on a pilgrimage to “meet my friend Teresa” and offers a fresh take on the Spanish nun and saint. Employing humor and a chatty style, Burney gives readers a short, light course in contemplative prayer, one that is sensitive to the possible reactions of those who, like her, come from a Protestant background. Although readers with a serious interest in Teresa will need more than Burney provides here, her book is a fine introduction to the weighty realm of contemplative prayer. (July)

In bookstores this week, lovies! I sure would appreciate your purchase.


Monday, May 24, 2010

A Rebirth

The first winds of Pentecost began to lift my spirits after Mass on Friday. Nothing was particularly extraordinary about the Mass, at least on the surface. Mostly, the same words were spoken. I knelt and rose in response to the liturgy as I always do. I battled the same distractions. I took the body and blood of Christ into myself, and experienced the joy of doing so. But when I was walking back to the tea cafe, strength surged through me. Ah, lovies, this is why we soldier on, being not weary in doing well. I may have told you, but lately I've floundered in trying to find my place as my friends and loved ones have shifted into theirs. Lisa has the tea shop. Ken works there. Will is completing his dissertation for his PhD. My work seemed so vague to me by comparison. This is the danger you experience when you spend too much time looking at God's work in other people, and lose sight of what he is doing in your life. And though I knew being the abbess of our community was more the reason why I'm here, even more than working in our eventual house of hospitality, I couldn't grasp it.

These are the words that came to me on the way back from Mass on Friday, however: "I am the abbess of an emerging New Monastic community." I said it again and again. "I am the abbess of an emerging New Monastic community." This is my work. I go to Mass most days. Why? Besides the fact that I must! That is my work. 

I write books, and even they have changed. They are more about teaching people to pray now. I swing open the doors to my heart, and open my spiritual ears, in order to offer spiritual direction, or what I call soulcare. Soon, you will see a Sunshine Abbey blog, and products such as eBooks and courses that will help you connect more deeply to God. It is good work, but lovies, I'd lost my confidence. That is, until a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit propelled me down Short Street. I feel like it's my birthday. I am reborn, and renewed. 

I am grateful.

This prayer/hymn was in my inbox on Friday, and I want to share it with you. Enjoy!


Come, thou Holy Spirit come:
and from thy celestial home
send thy light and brilliancy.
Come, thou father of the poor,
come who givest all our store.
What is filthy make thou pure,
what is wounded work its cure,
water what is parched and dry.
Gently bend the stubborn will,
warm to life the heart that's chill,
guide who goeth erringly.
Fill thy faithful who adore,
and confess thee evermore,
with thy sevenfold mystery.
Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity. Amen

- From a 13th century Latin Hymn  


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday Morning

So, I just made my first nourishing infusion. It wasn't the first lesson in my kit, but it was the one I felt was most needful. Nourishment seems to be what my soul (and body!) is yearning for. I attend daily Mass for daily bread, though honestly, in a lot of pain and after I hobbled there and back yesterday, I wondered what the big deal was. But things happen in the spiritual realm that you don't even know is going on just yet in your mind and body. Of course, mind and body are affected later. It's all healing.

The infusion I made is of nettles. These are especially good for women. I'll try to make the salves later today if I have time before dinner. Right now, I'm off to Mass, and then to the local Catholic bookstore, Benedictus, to give the owner, Patrick a pre-publication galley of God Alone is Enough. I'm hoping to do a signing there.

Wish me well!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon

Hello lovies! I haven't chatted with you for a while. It's been chilly and rainy here in Lexington, and I've had some awful flares. In fact, I'm in bed right now feeling pretty ouchie.

Did I tell you about the herbal kit I ordered? Right now I'm just trying it out, but already I'm in love with it. I'm also in love with all the goings on on learningherbs.com, and herbalmentor.com. The Gallaghers are doing a fine job gently introducing people to using herbs for pleasure, and for medicine.

I'll admit, I've watched the videos in the kit, but I haven't made the nettles infusion or tinctures. I haven't even thought about the salves! I've really felt sucky as I deal with fibromyalgia and detoxing from the meds that were horrible. It takes time lovies, and I always miscalculate time. It's an ADD thing. Anyway, I've just begun this journey, and am ready to see the naturopath here. I think this is my way. I really do. I'll try it.

Today I went to Mass. I struggled to concentrate. I'm wondering now, as I think of how to nourish myself, how it is that the Eucharist nourishes me. I'm sure that it does. I'm just missing the dynamics.
I'm leaving plenty of room for mystery here, and surprises.

Ack! Too tired and achy to continue.

Much love,

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lessons from the Flowers Numbers Two and Three

I was coming back home from the tea cafe this evening, looking at the plantains growing in my yard. I've seen these wild ones all my life, but had no idea they were one of the best topical remedies for bee stings (and they help heal wounds and stop bleeding). I wish I'd known that a few weeks ago, when I took quite a tumble and got a big honkin' owie on my elbow. Plantain is also rich in vitamin B. I was thinking about how hardy they are, they'll grow just about anywhere there's dirt. Even though it isn't a flower, it had no qualms about letting me know how good God is to provide medicine in places we may deem highly unlikely. That was one lesson. There's another.

Because I had my gaze on the ground, I noticed the glut of clovers there. I don't know what they do yet, if they do anything medicinally, but what got my attention was right in the center of them a four leaf clover proudly preened over the other clovers. It was if it poked its chest out and stood the full length of its stem just for me.

I pointed this lovie out to Ken and Kamau who were walking with me, and Ken said to Maui, "Don't pluck it." So it's still there, heralding this lesson, even though it isn't a flower either: hope and good fortune can surprise me, popping up when I least expect it, including when I'm not even looking for it. And hope is a good, good thing. A needful thing, in this particular season of my life.


Lessons from the Flowers Number One

I like to take Old Georgetown Street to Short Street to get to the Cuppa, Lisa's tea cafe. There are other streets I can take, but Old Georgetown, my street, is my favorite. I step past what looks for all intents and purposes like the hood, but isn't, past homeless Mike, who Ken and I often feed, or slip a little cash to (I wish I could give him housing. Lord, have mercy. We're working on that!). Then I step into a stretch of road full of beauty. The architecture is astounding. I don't know what you call it, but whatever kind it is, it's gorgeous. I cross the street because the buildings on that side are prettier than the artsy apartments that are no slouches, let me tell ya! One of my neighbors has created a hedge of tea roses. They are glorious. I always stagger a bit when I walk near them, a little drunk from beauty. Today, I decided to listen to what they had to say.

These tea roses were LOUD! And a little crazy, with their almost obscene profusion of blooms. They're are a vibrant pink, darker than the ones pictured above. They're almost hot pink! Their petals are wide open, revealing the crowns of gold in their centers. Their lovely generosity reminds me of children when they fling open their arms and invite you into them for a hug. "STOP!!!" the tea roses say to me, insistently. "Look at us! Aren't we grand? Smell us!" And I do. I lean into them and their sweetness rushes my senses, and they seem to sigh, contented.

I know it's cliche to, "take time to smell the roses." But it became a cliche because bears a common truth. Today I learned to stop. The world won't cease it's turning, and I can discover, no experience the exquisite joy of creation, including the beauty and amplitude of the creation that is me, body and soul.

Today, I'm beginning my gentle detox. No chemicals. Whole foods, mostly plants. Lots of water and green tea, though I'm still taking my medicine. I will stop and rest when I must. The flowers gave me permission to. I think I'll listen to them.

Much love,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Still Listening to My Illnesses (and God)

All of today Migraine hogged the microphone. Migraines are so strange, like, I used to get this weird pain in my arm before one came on. It's an odd, almost tickle like sensation, but it's intense; it hurts. I found out later it's nerve pain. I get it all over my body now when I have a bad fibro flare. I wonder what that is warning me of?

Migraine is an incessant voice that demands my attention. "Withdraw," it says. "Rest." It does not take no for an answer. It pulls me into darkness, and what could that be saying spiritually? Today as I lie there listening, migraine (and my body) told me I need more water, not just now, but most of the time. I felt nudged me to dig out a remedy a woman who heals with herbs had given me. I hadn't thought about it in the longest time. I'm certain Merri saved my life a few years ago. She's been on my mind, a lot lately. So, there I was, spraying what she'd given me all over the room; essential oils, and flower remedies she blended herself, uniquely for me. I felt led to pray the St. Michael prayer. Lord knows I felt assailed by the enemy--and I don't mean migraine. The words are:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

I felt promptly better. It isn't gone, but I am better than I was.

In the past few weeks, God has spoken the cryptic words, "Listen to the flowers," to me. This was before the anti-psychotic medicine that was making me crazy, so I know it wasn't that, and he's still saying it. I don't know about you, but generally speaking, flowers do not chat me up. I'm going to have to get very quiet in order to hear them. And maybe I brought all this on myself, loving St. Francis as I do, talking to those peonies as I planted them at Cuppa--they were mowed down, despite my prayers, when the drunk driver plowed into the building. Maybe I've always believed, deep down inside, that we're all connected to the Life around us--the flowers; the herbs; the earth and the sky; the pouring rain, and each other. I feel a storm brewing in my body way before I get the report from the weather man. Shoot, my body is a regular weather vane these days, with aching joints heralding rain, or snow, or a change in the barometric pressure. So, why couldn't the flowers speak in their own way? Stranger things have happened.

I brought an herbal medicine making kit the other day, and I've been taking the flower remedy tinctures Merri made. I mean, it can't hurt. I slather on this lilac scented aromatherapy lotion my kids made for me at a local shop. The ingredients are fresh and pure. The girls blended the lotion themselves, and even whipped the shea butter. It was a Mother's day gift for me. I'm trying lovies, to hear what God and nature are saying.

It's a start.

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"  Matthew 6:28-30

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Listening to Your Illnesses

A few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing a Christian medical intuitive. She was a marvel, and after I saw her and did what she said, a troubling heart condition that needed immediate attention was speedily relieved. I remember how she stood close to me, and tuned into the Holy Spirit. Lord have mercy, she picked up on so many things that hurt me, body and soul. How I wish I could see her now.

I've told you about my recent experience with a physician prescribing an atypical anti-psychotic to treat my depression. This was NOT good for me. My thinking was, and still is, greatly diminished by this drug, even though I've stopped taking it. A few days ago, in a moment in which my lucidity was hard to discern, both then and now, I said to one of my lovies, "I think I should get off all of this junk, and just sit with my depression; listen to it; hear what it has to teach me." She thought this was a terrible idea, and largely the medication talking.

But the thought keeps haunting me, and seriously? how does one sit with depression? How does one befriend it, when it's caused so much pain? I imagine depression is a dark shadow, hunkering in a chair, a little scary. And there I am, offering it a bit of tea. Should I say, "So, where do you come from?" Will it answer, "Oh, just from some small neurotransmitter misfiring" or "From your trauma filled life after your dad died. Will it talk first, saying, "You're just wired this way. Always have been. Always will be." Is it even safe to listen to depression.

To her credit, I will say that my friend may be right about stopping all the medications altogether. Wellbutrin seems to be effective. But perhaps I too, was on to something. In times like these, Jeremiah wouldn't have been allowed his insightful Lamentations. He'd be on Prozac, and trust me, what he had to say wouldn't have been nearly as interesting. Don't get me wrong. I'm not romanticizing depression, although I can say it has probably given me roses on more than a few ocassions. I'm just saying that a long time ago I was taught by a very wise, earthy woman that the wound reveals the cure. Perhaps depression is trying to say "This is your life, and all it's sorrows. Don't repress the sadness that is one of the most real things in your life. Feel, and let yourself be human. Then you will heal."

Which brings me to another thing. I saw Sara Miles recently, and she talked about healing. She said, "Jesus doesn't cure cancer." And she went on to list a lot of other things that he doesn't cure. Of course my mind rankled at this. Then she said, "But he heals cancer." And she went on with the same list naming what he heals. This confirmed something I knew, but have spent a good deal of time acting like I didn't. I stood at my brothers death bed, as his organs failed, one by one. He was awake, but unconscious. In that dreamy state between the living and the dead, I could see Sister Death, who St. Francis spoke so lovingly of, taking him to Jesus. Death was his healing; a mystery, not to be explained, just experienced. I visited with another dying man years ago. He said, "I know God is able to heal me. Even if he doesn't, he's able." He said this with a smile and a faith that I've found to be rare in this world. It is the kind of faith that says, "though he slay me, I will trust him."

My friend Carole says fibromyalgia is a disease of being stuck. I don't know about that, but I'm willing to listen to it, and I hope to hear what it too, has to say to me. Because listening or not, Fibromyalgia is doing what it does, making me hurt, and not just physically. If I'm stuck, and medication isn't helping me, I'd rather find out what's really going on, and move forward.

What say ye, my lovies? What seemingly negative thing in your life are you listening to? Or what thing are you afraid to listen to?


Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Fifth Wednesday of Eastertide

In truth, I missed the Mass. My head hurt so bad, ever since I'd awakened Wednesday morning. The migraine medicine only gave me a brief respite, but it never truly left. It slouched in some corner in my head, scowling, and giving me sinister stares. I couldn't can't think.

In the past week--a mere seven days, I've had excruciating migraines, visited the emergency room, stopped a medication cold turkey that is recommended to be tapered off, started another--an anti-psychotic, if you can believe that, even though I'm not psychotic, only depressed (made worse because of the first failed medication) and in pain. I did a version of the Thorazine shuffle around my house and to the tea shop, until the headaches started again, and I was glad God gave me an excuse to get off it. But my brain is rattled from the abuse it's taken, and I'm just plain tired, body and soul. All I wanted was to feel better. So I can work better.

I've finally started going to daily Mass, even though Christ asked me to about two years ago. There's a heckuva difference between intention and obedience, I've learned. Again. All of hell will conspire against your godly decision. Migraine kept me in bed in the dark, literally and figuratively, well past the time the faithful at St. Paul's left in peace. But I still had the option of going to my home parish, St. Peter Claver, for our Wednesday evening Mass. But there was all this drama at the house that erupted. When? When I started to get ready to go to church, of course. I was tempted to stay home to make sure matters didn't get worse, until I realized I couldn't do jack in my state anyway, including make a compelling argument. So I left, feeling utterly defeated. And then I saw a neighbor, a dear who has cancer and is fighting for her life. I stopped to talk to her. I figure if she's on borrowed time and she wanted to have a conversation to me, I could love and honor her enough to give it. I'm learning to stop and listen. We never know how long we'll have our lovies with us, or how long we'll be with them.

Once I arrived at the church I was embarrassed to have missed the whole thing. Deacon James and Christine consoled my by telling me the priest blazed through the celebration and it ended sooner than anyone expected. Then kind Deacon James asked me if I'd like to have communion. Let's just say he didn't have to ask me twice.

Before he served me the body of Christ, he read me the gospel passage for the day and for the first time that I can recall--then again, I can't recall much right now--the Word, through the gospel reading at church, came to me as if Jesus was speaking directly to me. I mean, ridiculously directly, so much so that it took me out of my head, and startled me with it's power. If I hadn't have been listening so carefully now that the Lord had my attention, I would have sworn I'd heard an audible voice that wasn't Deacon James's. It was weird. Okay, I know that sounds a little psychotic, so pretend we're all mystics here. And there Jesus was telling me with the kind of clarity that has eluded me all week, "I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more."

Lord, have mercy. I've felt so unfruitful lately. While my husband and dearest friends plan and do huge wonderful things, I've embraced a ministry that is small. Lately, the Lord has spoken to me in a volume that so low I strain to hear it, and he speaks single word sermons. "Wait," he says. Or "listen." Or "stop." I always hear him say, "Pray." And "love." Love is always required, but all of these words say so much more to me than their brevity implies. I'm fortunate that he does speak to me, and I realize anew that being a spiritual companion is not a glamorous vocation. The preparation is unassuming. You study. You love. You listen. You pray. You trust for God's provision--you must!--because you're not even sure if you should charge for it. You humble yourself. You wait, and start the process all over again.

So there I was, hearing the Gospel, when this passage really starts freaking me out, because not only is Jesus's voice a razor sharp contrast to my drug-dulled mind, his word slices into my soul, and dear Jesus! It hurts. I feel something fall right off of me, leaving some insidious sin in pieces at my feet and soaked in blood. I don't have to tell you whose blood. These are the words, oh so personally, he spoke to me like the whisper of a prophet in a wayward daughter's ear saying, "change."

"You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you live in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me, you can do nothing."

I've made the gross error of looking at what God was doing for others so hard that I stop seeing (and being grateful) for what he is doing for me! And that, my friends, is sin. The cloak of grace is big enough to cover us all. And when I am quiet, when I am attuned, I feel the arm of Christ, and the stability his broken for me body through his love filled sleeve supports me. I may be sick; I may be loopy and droopy, but God hasn't forgotten me. He hasn't forgotten any of us. It's all going to make sense one day, all of our suffering.

I also heard this: "Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away--he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt."

I saw this in a new way. What if not remaining in him looks like the busyness of a very ordinary life. You work hard, and then harder. You come home and bark at your family for no good reason. It's not intentional. You're just tired, that's all, but somewhere in all your good work, you forgot that you were connected to a life force in which you live and move and have your being. What if your withering started when you were laboring with all your might, even for God? What if the fire is spiritual aridity, which, if you've ever experienced, you know is hell. What if you are burnt because you're burnt out?

And here's what would have brought tears to my eyes if I were capable of crying in the state I was in: "If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will, and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit. And then you will be my disciple."

Here was truly blessed assurance, Jesus telling me that to live in  him, and let his words live in me, and what I ask for, including for his blessing in doing what my heart longs for, what I was made for, spiritual direction, will happen. I can ask for what I want, and get it. God wants me to bear fruit. I must keep abiding.

That was good news for my over-medicated, weary body and soul. It was manna for the day. I'll let tomorrow take care of itself.

In love and the vine,