Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meta Family

One of the highlights of visiting family this year was spending time at the NH Museum of History and canoeing on Bear Brook Lake with my 11 yr old cousin Bailey. This year I realized that my family, like many in the United States, has metamorphosed into something quite different from what I remember it to be. While I do have relatives who are blood relations, I have many more who are related by marriage, adoption, foster or surrogate family, friendly and neighborly association. So, looking around the family circle at the evening barbecues with my cousin and her children, we found it hard to name the exact relationship of some people present even though we call them family. For instance, Pete, if I have this right, is the former husband of the daughter of the ex-mother-in-law from the 1st marriage of my cousin's brother. Others have similar complicated connections, but this one was the hardest to describe, although the man himself was an obvious fit in the family circle. More to the point, he has a son the same age as her son, and they like each other. Someone who can muster up with a playmate of the suitable age for the children comes with a premium! I think we are not alone in this new shape of family. This is a common metamorphosis happening to many American families. I grew up in the age when the nuclear family was the norm, so I still try to categorize people as brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grammas, grampas etc. In my mind I think of people as unclish, auntish, cousinish, brotherish...etc. I am a celibate religious, but I am also gramma to two delighful Korean American children who need one ... and who think I seem to fit the part. The positive side of all this is that it frees us to be the relation that best fits who we are. But, what does this new reality do to a child's understanding of the Holy Trinity? Can we fathom a Holy Trinity made up of the Stepfather of the Bride to Be, the Son of the 1st Cousin of the Ex-Mother-in-Law, and the Holy Spirit? What would it mean if we really began to think of each other in terms of who we need to be for one another rather than who we happen to be by circumstance? Does this new reality free us to be the mother, brother, sister, father that hears the Word and puts it into action...just Jesus intended?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Home Visit

Our Constitutions provide for us to make a home visit to see our family once a year. If they live out of state, we typically do not do this every year. Most of my family lives in NH and I visit them about once every three years. I also have a Korean American family who live in upperstate New York. This is because I helped to raise who a girl named Song who was an international student at Notre Dame High School when I taught there before I entered. Now she is grown up and has two children of her own. Her two little children are Samantha, age 4, and Noah, age 3. They call me grandma. This makes me feel very old, but I like it because it sounds so cute the waya they say it...even when they say it over and over again. Their other grandparents are in Korea, but they never get to see them because it is so far away. So, they love having a grandma who can come visit and do things with them. They cried a lot today when I had to leave to go visit my family in New Hampshire. Even though Song and I tried to make it as smooth as possible. We had a great weekend together! The picture here is of Boldt Castle in Alex Bay. We took a boat ride out to see the castle and went to the Food & Wine festival. They both are too little for school and need a lot of attention! They tend to do the opposite of what they are asked to do. The person who invented reverse psychology must have been thinking about children like these two! Samantha is the little girl who asked why all the time. Every question is Why? Even after the answer is given, she's right back to you with Why? again. I forgot how persistent little children can be! I am praying for Song to have patience and a good sense of humor. Those two characteristics can get you through a lot of challenges! I'm glad she has a nice home and a good job and supportive friends nearby, and a boss who understands the challenge of raising little children. Today I'm on my way to New Hampshire to see the rest of my family.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


At the end of my retreat in the Redwood Mountains I find myself in a deeper state of consciousness and fuller sense of being. I am abiding under the wings of the Alpha and Omega. Even though my excursion to the beach did not lead to the breathing in one with the rhythm of the ocean I had hoped for, my breathing is attuned to God as the plenum out of which all things come and to which all things return. I have an artistic visualization of that as the wings of the Alpha and Omega, a cosmic reality embodied by a new consciousness rising up in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a new image of the spirit taking wing, in humanity. There is a freedom and a bold creativity in that new understanding. I do not need to travel to the ocean to connect with it. God is indeed all around me and within me, breathing in and through me. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the Mystical Body is our Catholic way of naming this cosmic understanding of the creation of all that is. We are not lightyears away from this reality, it is our being. We are that which is, the I am. But we can only sense this when we can gently set aside the "little" me, the "ego" who wants to claim and control us. I can let the deeper truer me be the gentle mother who sees my own little self kindly like a little child pulling at my skirts saying, "Me, me, me! Watch me, mommy!" Although this new image of the Alpha and Omega stretches my imagination, I have deep faith in its goodness and its truth because I know that it yields the fruits of the Spirit by which I have learned to recognize the Truth. Where there is love (agape); joy (chara); peace (eirene); patience (makrothumia); kindness (chrestotes); goodness (agathosune); faithfulness (pistis); gentleness (prautes); and self-control (egkrateia), there is Truth. My prayer is that all can find their way to being in this Truth for the greater good of all that is and healing of all that divides and dissembles. Here is a good site to learn more about the fruits of the Spirit

Friday, June 11, 2010


The big bang theory has implications for a new way of understanding God as the plenum, or the ground of all being. Our retreat director proposed that we are part of that ground of being that is in a continual state of expansion as a result of the initial explosion of the big bang. Because of this we have an innate sense of oneness that comes from our understanding of the way it was before the explosion of the big bang and resulting expansion. None of this is contrary to a theological understanding of the origin of the universe, if we consider that all that is expanding is God. As many mystics have said in different ways, we are in God and God is in us. We might expand that idea to a belief that all of matter is God too. We do not know enough about space and much of what we think we know is untrue. The truth is we do not know the shape, size, actions or essence of space. There are many theories, some popularly accepted and some wildly speculative. I sense that the shape of space is more organic than geometric and that it fluctuates or ripples. There are some recurring patterns, but the pattern of the big picture is beyond our present ability to discover. We know that it is both contracting and expanding. It appears to be infinite in capacity, but may have limitations beyond what we can discover. I imagine that space, or what we are calling the "plenum" has all the senses we have and some we have yet to discover. I can accept that the plenum from which we come and into which we return is the source of all grace. I believe all its actions are good even those that might appear not to be good to us. I think it is made of fire interacting with all the elements we know, and those we do not. But, I know that the Hubble Telescope found indications in space of celestial activity before the big bang. This has led to speculation that there may be waves of big bangs before the birth of the universe that appear as ripples or ribbons in space. There is no popular consensus yet about this pre-bang space although there are numerous theories. There may be multiple universes or a multiverse. Some of the theories are briefly explained here: What we are beginning to find in space discovery is series of big bang points, like portals through which multiple universes appear to be expanding and contracting . . . a breathing or birthing motion. The question that I have is this. “If God is the plenum and the big bang through which God became manifest did not only happen once, but rather is preceded by countless other contractions and expansions; is it then also true that God is not the fecund emptiness out of which all comes and to which all returns, but rather a process of birthing or breathing that continually manifests and transforms all that is?”

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Today I focus my awareness on seeing. A blue heron flies overhead. I return to the duck pond again to contemplate the patterns in the duckweed. Circling it again and again, I observe it from a distance, from above, from the edges. It is roughly oval in shape and about the size of a soccer field. The plant I am calling duckweed covers most of the surface, it shifts slowly during the day sometimes being like a thin veil over the entire surface, sometimes in patches speckling the surface and sometimes it all moves to one end or the other. The father duck is no longer there, but the mother duck and ducklings are still feeding on the duckweed as they glide slowly along the surface. For the past three days the father duck has been nowhere to be found. The rest of the family hides in the tall reeds, but he is not there. Today after feeding for a while, the mother duck takes up the place of the father duck on the stump in the middle of the pond and preens herself. The little ducklings continue feeding, braver now to move further away from her. They come close to where I am standing by the edge of the pond making gentle little quacking sounds. I continue circling and turtle jumps into the water disguising itself with duckweed. It pokes its head out occasionally to see if I’m still there. The water is very clear but the bottom is covered with thick brown silt. The green plant and brown silt make it uninviting for humans to swim in. I do not see any fish, but the heron had been fishing here for something. There is an occasional bubble on the surface from something breathing underneath. The patches of duckweed must look like clouds from underneath. I see their reflection on the bottom of the pond, creating shady places. The turtle’s experience of the pond reminds me of our experience of the cosmos. It cannot explore too far and much of what it sees is a mystery. The mother duck leads her ducklings for their first venture out of the pond to feed on the grass. They get bolder and move further away from her as they explore this new food. She shows them how to pull down the blades of grass and eat the tips where the seeds are. They try to mimic her but are not as adept at it, stumbling and shaking their heads as they try. Occasionally, one of them is able to pull something up and eat it making a great display of their success. I marvel at how quickly they are growing and wonder about where the father duck has gone. I think he must have flown away. Soon the ducklings learn to fly too. I hope I am here to see it . . . and that the cat is not.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


All the senses have both an exterior and interior reality. I hear, taste, see and smell many things at once, but I register only a few of my perceptions in a given moment and select which ones to think about and store in my memory. The locus of each of four of these senses is in my head. My ears, mouth, eyes and nose send information directly to my brain. The rest of my body remains relatively uninvolved in what I hear, taste, see and smell unless I choose to involve it. With feeling it is right away obvious it is different because my entire body is covered with the organ that feels. My skin is the largest organ in my body and sends more messages to my brain in a given second than any of my other senses. This creates a challenge when I become conscious of what I am feeling. I am a bundle of nerves! It takes more for this organ to get my attention than the other three senses because it would be information overload to register all of it at once. Starting out on a hike in the redwood forest that is adjacent to the retreat center, I notice there is precipitation in the air. Thousands of tiny little droplets are pummeling my skin. I see the cat has caught a bird and is prancing around with it very proudly. I feel sad for the bird, but feel no blame for the cat. That is its way. It looks so proud of itself. Overhead a hawk is circling. It has a lizard in its beak. I wonder about the coincidence of two proud hunters showing off their catch and think it must be the time of day that makes this a good time for hunting. The overcast skies means the hunters have no shadows to forewarn the prey. A breeze begins to whirl out of the northwest. I have only gone a few meters down the trail when I feel a sharp vibration under my feet and the air thrums with some deep \ loud creaking noise. My feelings serve to alert me to look and listen to discover more about what I am feeling. The vibration continues but grows fainter. I take a few more steps and there is another trembling under foot followed by a loud creak. This time I realize that it is the sound of a large tree creaking in the wind. All the trees are swaying in the wind and I don’t know which one is pushing against another to make the sound. The vibration I feel must be from the ground where the roots are. The wind picks up, the ground quakes under my feet and the air begins to vibrate around me. Birds swirl overhead. One more creak, prolonged this time, and the tops of some of the trees in the forest begin to tumble away from me, down into the ravine. Crash, crash, crash, boom! A tree has fallen and the ground is still. Inside I have a new feeling of reverent awe at being present at the death of a tree. Chickadees and Jays come swirling around me. They look in my eyes and sing out as if to say “Did you see that?!” They swirl ahead of me down trail and off in the direction of the tree that fell. I cannot follow them although they seem to invite me to go deeper into the woods off the trail into the ravine. I know in my bones it would unsafe. All is still and I feel grateful to be alive.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I’m out with my nose in the air, actively sniffing what is around. It feels like a comical thing to me, but I’m determined to awaken my senses and be with the wonder of creation through them more fully. Like some kind of animal other than human, I’m sniffing around in the air. I have to say, except when there is a powerful smell that might mean food or danger, my nose usually just takes it as comes and doesn’t exert itself much in doing its job. Walking the perimeter I find that the air here is sweet almost everywhere I go. There is a seemingly infinite variety of sweetness. God is blanketing the earth with sweet smelling flowers, even the trees rotting on the warm forest floor smell sweet. Following my nose I find a greenhouse, an organic garden and an arbor with honeysuckle and grape vines with a bench to sit and take in the aroma. On my contemplative walk, I stop to admire the scent of every plant and tree. Later in the day, I go to the beach to let my nose smell the ocean. I begin to wonder if it is only my nose that smells. It feels like more than to me, my throat, sinuses, lungs and stomach are involved in smelling too. Maybe even my heart smells in the midst of all that. At the beach, the first thing I smell is the decaying flesh of a poor sea lion laid out dead in the sand. Many people are sitting all around it as if it doesn’t exist. A couple nearly stumbles upon it and look at it curiously expecting it to be alive. I steer clear of it and head upwind. The ocean has a less clean smell than I hoped. I remember the Atlantic sea air and the salt marshes. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has research on “Seeing, Hearing and Smelling the World.” I’m drawn to the research on how the sense of smell is powerfully linked to memory: I notice this ocean does not have the nice salty smell at all compared to the ones I remember from my childhood. This is a disappointment to me every time I come to the Pacific. I still have my nose in the air when it dawns on me that my nose is more judgmental than my other senses. Of course this ocean is just as great and the air is just as fresh, but I rank it lower because of the way it compares to a smell in my memory. I notice that I am far more willing to suspend judgment about whether or not a thing tastes, looks, feels or sounds good than I am about whether something smells good or bad. My nose makes snap judgments that I react to automatically and rate with interior pleasure or disgust. I am dismissive about smells. I notice this today and muse on the connection between making automatic smell judgments and what we mean when we say someone has her nose in the air.

Monday, June 7, 2010


After savoring a lunch of wild rice and mushrooms, cucumber salad, and a strawberry sundae, the duck pond draws my attention because I notice the ducks are making an odd little slurping sound. A brown and black father duck sits on a stump in the middle of the pond surveying his duckdom with diffident grace. On the other side of the pond a whitish mother duck wanders all over the pond nonchalantly with six rambling ducklings who take after dad right behind, more or less. As they move through the water they are slurping up the green plants on the surface of the water. Soon dad slips into the water and joins them in the feasting. He stays a distance from them and they move away from him as he moves forward. They do not look at one another. The ducklings follow the mother duck but resemble the dad. They have no interest in him or what he is doing. From one end of the pond to the other the ducks leave an intricate lacework of trails in the green plant. I begin to wonder what the green plant is and why they like it so much. My intuition tells me it must be good because they look healthy and content. I search online for green algae and ducks and find a link to The Charms of Duckweed. It is easily confused with algae because it is so tiny, but it is actually the world’s smallest flowering plant and produces the world’s smallest fruit. It is higher in protein per square foot than soybeans and easier to grow. It is edible for humans and is being used by environmentalists to reduce nitrates in waste water. Here is the site It is fascinating to me! So much so that I find that I can’t get the duckweed out of my mind. All day duckweed keeps coming to mind. I want to shift to something new, but for some reason it keeps coming back. I am aware of this and try to let it come and go. But even in the middle of the night it comes back. At 2:30 am, I begin to call it “stuckweed.” It is very interesting and I’m grateful for it, but I’d like to think about something else … like God maybe. What message is there in this duckweed for me? The retreat director encourages me to stay with it although I’d rather not. It seems silly to be thinking about duckweed all the time. We’ll see.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


It is the birds that first become so noticeable when I open my ears to all around me. But soon, my thoughts take me off to recent studies in neurology that has proven birds regenerate neurons in their brains seasonally. Like humans they learn their first repertoire for communication from their parents through listening and repeating. The listening and responding centers of their brains are much like ours. Scientists say they now know that birds generate new neurons in the brain for song learning in the autumn and put them into use in the spring as they try out new songs to attract mates and compete for territory. This gives medical researchers hope for finding a way to people suffering from Alzheimer and Parkinson’s to grow new neurons for communication to replace those destroyed by disease. Each bird has the song of its family, but with its own unique additions that can be detected electronically. I am listening to the songs of the purple finches trying to detect individuality among them but also marveling at them and enjoying. Floating on my back in the swimming pool, I am trying to listen to the birds’ listening. Suddenly a fledgling finch comes and lands on the fence looking at me curiously. She is all covered in tufts of fluff from her nest and looks a bit tuckered out from this early attempt at flight. She sings nothing, but she is listening as her mother and father both sing out encouragement and possibly a cautionary song to her. Then, poor thing, she flies off straight into a window with a little boom. But she is quickly up again and off. I think, this is a good early lesson for a bird, before she can get up much speed or confidence in her flight. No damage done. Her parents seem not at all alarmed. Perhaps they brought her to this fence for that purpose. After a bit more bird brain thinking, I return to rest in God. The Smithsonian has more on bird brains

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Contemplative Retreat

This week I am making a Contemplative Eco-Spirituality Retreat at the Presentation Center in Los Gatos with Jan Novotka. My plan is to spend time in silence listening to God through the melodies of the universe open to the metaphysical mystery of God present in all of creation. More about Jan and her music can be found here: My only goal this week is to attune my breathing to the rhythm of the cosmos and to pray for special intentions. On this retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains there are ten sisters from our congregation and ten from other congregations. What follows are some of the highlights of these days as I focus on awakening my senses and deepening my cosmic understand of God. I promise to pray for all of you venturing in this new communal realm of creativity that the Spirit of Wisdom will speak to you clearly and effectively through your interactions on the web and that God will protect you from all harm.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

God Give Me Time

I have many different roles and tasks that require concentrated time and energy. I use a fairly simple organizational system to manage my time that you might find helpful too. Here it is: Make three shelves in your mind. One for the things you have to finish by the end of the day. One for the things you hope to finish by the end of the week. And one for things which, if God ever gives you the time, you will try to get back to. This week God has given me time! That rarely happens, so I'm very happy to be able to work on two back burner projects I've been wanting to get back to for some time. I found a good user-friendly study of the two newest generations: Millennials (b. 1980-2000)and Generation X (b. 1965-181)and applied it to our Congregational profile to learn how to understand and support my younger sisters better. And I am creating a searchable online database to organize all of our sisters' preaching and make it available for future use. I feel very happy to be able to work on these two Congregational projects and bring them to completion!