On My Way

On my way
The earth is loved into bareness
Walked by thousands of feet

On my way
Along the acequia
I’m companioned by the calls
Of peacocks and roosters
Living into their duty
To make certain
There isn’t a soul left sleeping

The sun peeks over the Sandias
Finally illuminating the
Dawn-rising balloons
Giants that, by now,
Float near the river

Pristine blue dome overhead
And I’m overcome
By the beauty and luck
Overflowing in my days
–Stephanie J. Gretchen

Photo and content © Copyright 2017. Blessed Journey Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Day 1: Pre-amble

Day 1I am leaving Maryland today. There’s a sense that I’ve started my journey, my pilgrimage. I have that feeling of shifting perspective.

I said goodbye to my dear brother, sister-in-law, and niece this morning. They stood waving in the driveway as I pulled away. They’ve been my home base for the past few months. What a treat it has been to spend this chunk of time with my niece as she perches on the edge of adolescence.

I’m sitting in Panera waiting for my car’s tune up to be completed. Then I’m off to a board meeting in PA. Seems funny to go in the total opposite direction (north and east) for the next few days. At the same time it feels grounding to go to Pendle Hill, a place that is steeped in Spirit, beauty, and centeredness.

I’m so aware of each interaction I’m having. It’s like watching my life in slow motion. This morning I’ve been gifted with joyful souls, caring for me and wishing me well. Little do they know the weight of their words or the distance of my journey. I take their words and the dragonfly’s acrobatic dance outside the window as a beautiful harbinger of what’s to come.

Oh yes, I’m ready!

Photo and content © Copyright 2016. Blessed Journey Blog. All Rights Reserved.

A Pilgrimage of a Few Steps

IMG_6587

The road to growth can be a circuitous route.

I recently went to a two-day spiritual event. The spiritual tradition was fairly new to me, although I had heard of this spiritual leader many times before.

On the first day I waited for 6 long, hot, tiring hours for my personal blessing. As the day wore on I found myself wanting to slip into exasperation at the seeming chaos, and reminding myself that this event was about loving kindness and maybe I should try a little of that. I felt surprisingly fussy and exhausted from the wait, the height of expectations, and the struggle of trying to understand the speaker. As I drove home that night,  I felt like I truly had been on a pilgrimage that day. I was in bed by 9:30 that night.

I played with the idea of not going the following day. I was tired and cranky and felt like I had been all revved up with no place to go all day. Did I really want to subject myself to that again?

I pushed on and went anyway. The following morning’s yoga, meditation, and teachings were wonderful. It was fascinating to learn more about this wisdom tradition, to understand a little more about this different road to God.

After a delicious lunch we went into a two-hour teaching session where I fought hard to understand what the speaker was saying. It was also late afternoon, the room was warm, and the lights were dim…food coma. I struggled to stay awake. After the teaching there was an hour-and-a-half-long meditation session in a darkened room. I lasted about 15 minutes before I popped out of the Depth. For the next hour and fifteen minutes I fought one dragon after another, changed positions, and tried every trick in the meditation book. I kept coming back to the prayer, “I know you’re there God. Help me find you.” I was totally unable to connect. I jumped out of my seat as soon as she concluded. I was out the door before you could say, “Namaste.”

As I exited the building, I saw a beautiful bird feather on the ground in front of me. I paused. I got into my car and a catbird jumped onto the hood and started tapping on the windshield right in front of me, “Knock, knock, knock, are you there?!” I heard the message—Work is happening, progress is occurring even when the space feels empty. It’s like when there’s a rainy day, just because there are clouds doesn’t mean the sun is not there. God was with me all the time.

This was not one of those rainbow and butterfly spiritual experiences, but sometimes the road to growth is a circuitous route.

Photo and content © Copyright 2016. Blessed Journey Blog. All Rights Reserved.

The Labyrinth and Care for Self

IMG_6035Sometimes I’m just blown away by how clearly Spirit moves in my life.

I was at a retreat recently and decided to walk the labyrinth one morning as the sun was rising. Since it was early morning, I was aware that the soles of my shoes were particularly noisy on the pea-stone gravel the labyrinth path was made of. I thought, “Oh, I have socks on, I can just walk the labyrinth without shoes. That way I won’t bother anyone.”

So, I prayed and started walking. I had a nice rhythm going and was deep in prayer until about a third of the way in, I noticed my feet were starting to hurt. It wasn’t painful, but I was aware of my feet being uncomfortable.

I thought, what do I do now? Step, step, step. Do I stop here and walk directly to the entrance to retrieve my shoes? Pray, breath, step. I continued to say my prayer in pace with my walking. Step, step, step. Do I walk back, following the path to the entrance? Breath, pray, step. Do I muscle on and just keep doing the labyrinth? Pray, breath, step.

I vacillated between praying, and wondering about going to the entrance or the center. What to do? Then, I stopped. I was at the entrance, right next to my shoes. I’m not sure how I did it, but thankfully, there I was. I had to laugh at myself. I said out loud, “Got it, God! Thanks!” The lesson of the labyrinth, the answer to my prayer, the gift of that moment was—“Steph, take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be hard.”

The spiritual journey doesn’t have to be a trial. It doesn’t need to be about self-sacrifice, putting others first, or pain.

In the comfort of my shoes, I walked to the center of the labyrinth and sat in silence as the sun rose, thankful for the chance to learn this lesson in a physical, gentle, and simple way.

Yes, take care of myself. It doesn’t have to be hard.

Photo and content © Copyright 2016. Blessed Journey Blog. All Rights Reserved.

The Art Of Following Your Bliss

2014-01-18 10.57.55I think most of us have heard the phrase, “Follow your bliss.”

I’m not sure if it’s just me or a human thing, but when I hear that I have often thought, “Yes! That sounds like a good idea. Great advice. Follow what you love and you will be living your Truth, what you were put on the planet to be.” But, does anyone else experience a hiccup when attempting to live that?

HOW does one live one’s bliss? Does that mean I am chilling on the back porch, writing blogs, and eating a little chocolate? What does it look like when it comes to balancing my bliss and my need to fulfill my promise to the mortgage company or my sweetie and my new company? It feels like my bliss is to make my son, my customer, and my neighbor happy, but I can’t figure out how to humanly accomplish that when they all want/need me at the same time. Where does Bliss end and responsibility begin? Or does it? Is there a way to live my Truth so it all works?

I do know that feeling when I’m on the Bliss Trail. When I’m on to what I’m supposed to be doing here in this lifetime. It’s that butterfly-tingly-zing. The energy races through my core. Yahoo! This is it!

I’ve recently gotten that feeling again. I’ve been letting the idea of becoming a spiritual director/companion season a bit. Well, I now know it’s time. When I was casually looking at the different programs I got the zing feeling. So, here I am, embarking on a new leg of the journey. Zing! Taking one step at a time. We’ll see how the bliss and life’s other components work together!

 

© Copyright 2014. Blessed Journey Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Flow From Me Like A River

2014-06-01 15.31.56I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
(Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

Being a Companion

As seen on the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation blog site.

By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin

2013-02-15 13.59.23How does one support a dear one in your life who is torn apart by something you can’t fix or even fully understand?

There have been times in my life when a loved one has been struggling through an experience that I have never had and can’t totally fathom. I want so much to support this person, but feel encumbered by my lack of experience in the area of their pain.

At times, just physically being with them or carrying the tools of open-hearted listening and physically and emotionally being there are of some solace. No words are necessary, they wouldn’t help anyway.

But there are other times when the person is seeking active support. How do we do that?

I don’t know what suffering from depression, for example, feels like. I can’t think of ways that might help when they ask for it.

As I hold the suffering up in prayer, and hold myself up in prayer as a caregiver, I can feel the Light flowing into both of us. Sometimes that feels like enough. Sometimes their pain is so large nothing feels like enough but I take some solace in knowing they are not alone on this journey and neither am I.

Parker Palmer touches on this in his book Let Your Life Speak. He talks of one of his depressions where a friend was able to just BE with him. “He never tried to invade my awful inwardness with false comfort or advice; he simply stood on its boundaries, modeling the respect for me and my journey—and the courage to let it be—that I myself needed if I were to endure.”

This is “the kind of love that neither avoids nor invades the soul’s suffering. It is a love in which we represent God’s love to a suffering person, a God who does not ‘fix’ us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another’s solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper than any human being can give.”

When times are scary and dark, hearing, “I am with you” can get us through.

The Blessing of Anger

2014-05-02 17.01.38Here’s one I wrote for Shalem’s blog  I hope you enjoy it.

The Blessing of Anger.

By Stephanie Gretchen. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

It’s so easy to think of pleasant, lovely things as spiritual. But, what is the holiness of anger? What about jealousy, frustration, being curt? We all get there, we all experience that snap and realize we are in that painful, acidic place. So what is the purpose?

It can certainly be a red flag that we’ve got some work to do in an area. Is it a Holy nudge to work on the real issue at hand somewhere beyond the justifications?

Someone may have truly done something disrespectful or unkind to us, but what is our response? What is our part in the tension between humans? What is there to grow from in this fecund arena called relationship?

What if we are the brutish one? What is Spirit showing us?

I was talking with a friend the other day and they asked me to do something I really didn’t want to do. It wasn’t immoral or painful or anything, but I just really (really, really) didn’t want to do it. So, I said no. I need to actually mark that on the calendar, because that is an unusual event. I’m usually on the self-sacrificial end of the spectrum. The person “mentioned” something about me being selfish. I had a trigger response (body to mouth, no head) and said, “Yes, maybe I’m being selfish, but what I know is that I’m establishing a boundary.” I was angry at being called selfish, but what I realized was that the gift in this was that the anger helped me stand firm in my nascent skill of standing up for myself in this new way.

Hard emotions are not always pretty or clear, but perhaps if we remember that they can be a guidepost or a flag that says, “Pay attention,” we can not only get over that hump, but maybe even dissolve it all together. These too are gifts, reminders that God is with us here too if we are just open to it.