Monday, October 26, 2015

Food for Thought

Saturday morning I helped to organize an "Inservice" for spiritual directors which I continue to think about.  There were so many parts of the time that I continue to ponder.

We began with a time of prayer and reflection on this quotation from Howard Thurman.

There is in everyone that which waits and listens
To hear the genuine in himself
To hear the genuine in another, too
How is it with you
Are you able to hear the genuine in another
If not, then you must do all you can
To remove whatever it is that prevents your hearing it
For if you cannot hear it in another, you will not hear it in yourself
Howard Thurman

And we began with the question of what it is that prevents our hearing the genuine in another?  or in ourselves?  And there is so many different answers.  It is so easy to be busy, distracted, full of ourselves, and on some level afraid to really listen.  

Then we watched a video of a talk by Brian McDermott titled "Contemplative Experience in Spiritual Direction."  Here are some of his thoughts that struck me.

1. In the past 25 years there have been disruptive cultural shifts caused by technology
     * The internet seizes our attention and scrambles our thoughts and keeps us on the surface of life.
     * "Skimming" has become a dominant mode of thought and affects our capacity to go deeper
     * We have gone from cultivation of knowledge to being hunters and gatherers.
     * We Live more and more with outward thoughts, denying our inner reality.

2. He defined "contemplativeness" as a long, loving look at the real, savoring that which I love.  A movement from self reflection to noticing the other and being affected by the other.   There is a difference between thinking about something and being affected by it.

3. The church teaches and interprets God.  And that is good.  It is in spiritual direction that we listen and find our for ourselves what God is doing and how we are affected by it.  Sometimes it is the difference between information about God and time with God.

After looking over my notes right now I realize I would benefit from watching this video again.  It just reminds me of the importance of "wasting time" with God and allowing God to have God's way with me.  It is just so easy to "do for" God instead of "be with" God. And the times of prayer, contemplative, reflection enable me to see and feel "movement of spirit" in ways that I cannot express in words, but experience often in  quiet and transcendent moments.

I am - as always it seems - in  discernment about my life in retirement - with a big question about what I am supposed to DO? And a morning like this reminds me, that it is most important for me to live in a stance in which I am truly open and listening.  Maybe it  is not about doing as much as receptivity. 

 I continue to marvel at the possibility for more growth and understanding  and openness to God's spirit.  And I am happy to have found spiritual directors in this journey.

"In spiritual direction, you reflect deeply on the experience of your daily life.  Gradually, as you contemplate, you may begin to recognize God's presence and grace in your life.  You may come to realize how God's spirit is truly with you every day and everywhere.  You discover that God has been waiting for you to seek this closer relationship."
Spiritual Director's International


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Retreat in Daily Life

I am on my fourth week of participating in a 30 week "Retreat in Daily Life" and it  is interesting and always in the background of my days.  I begin every day with an hour of prayer - which involves reading, writing, reflecting, meditating, and just being with God.

So far, every week has a different focus and I find myself during the day having moments of thinking about it.  This week, we are looking at people that we admire  - who "show us the way?" They are people whose life story and frequently writings have inspired me - like Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And people who I know personally, whose lives intersect with mine and I admire them.  There are many and - serendipitously? - I find myself encountering some of them this week.   This week seems to be about freedom and recognizing what they are freed from and what they are freed for.

Last night at book group we listened to a story by David Sedaris called "Us and Them" in which he spoke about growing up with  some  neighbors they thought were very odd because  they didn't have a TV.  It was very funny but it truly spoke to me about the ways that TV and other media have formed us and often limit and constrict  our lives. I for one know that it is easier to turn on the TV to decompress or fill an hour than to read, pray, write or even reach out to a friend.  And that is just one example of how "unfree" I am!

What I know is that this time of reflection is doing something with me - working on me in a gentle way to identify that MORE that God has for me in this life.    One of the scriptures for this week is Romans 8:26-30.  I keep coming back to this very:
"We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him."
This retreat is helping me to be open to the work God is doing.  What a blessing.

Note:  Anyone can participate in it.  It is found on this website -
"Retreat in Daily Life"  Check it out.

Monday, October 12, 2015


As I was driving home from Pennsylvania yesterday I knew that the title of this post had to be BEAUTIFUL.  It began and ended with a long and yet a beautiful drive back and forth from Columbus in my little Kia Soul.  I could not take a picture because I was driving solo but never have I seen more varied colors in the mountains as I drove - red, orange, gold and green.  It was spectacular!

The reunion with the "Roslyn Girls" was also BEAUTIFUL. As I drove home yesterday and saw the variety of colors and kinds of trees, I realized that was who we were together.  Women whose lives had intersected at a certain time and place and grew up to become ourselves in all of our different gifts and experiences, shapes and  colors.  Some had worked in retail, in counseling, in art, in law, the FBI, in administration, and me in the church.  Some were retired and some were still working. We shared stories of our working lives, of our marriages and divorces, our children and grandchildren, our dogs and cats.  We shared our memories from life in West Chester - with conversations about teachers, old boy friends, friends and  families.  We shared about the death of parents or present caring for parents.  A lot of memories and a lot of stories.  And as I look back on these days - a truly BEAUTIFUL reunion.

Saturday Night we went to Longwood Gardens and experienced the "Nightscape:" an immersive evening journey around the  Gardens as we encountered  moving imagery and light set to original music compositions.  Longwood Gardens has a lot of memories for me as I went there with my family and remember how much my Mom and Grandma loved it. I cannot even describe what it was like to walk at night in this familiar place and see the lights  and the flowers, the trees, the lake, the orchids, the bonsai.  It was extraordinary and BEAUTIFUL.

For some reason I took this picture of a bonsai.  As I recall it was over 100 years old! 

  I looked up about bonsai trees on Wikipedia and it says:
"The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower). By contrast with other plant cultivation practices, bonsai is not intended for production of food, for medicine, or for creating landscapes. Instead, bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation and shaping of one or more small trees growing in a container."

My 8 hour drive home yesterday was a time of contemplation as I considered how my life has been cultivated and shaped through time spent in various places as a child and as an adult.  I lived in Roslyn in  West Chester Pennsylvania from 5th grade through 11th grade and then left to finish up high school in Birmingham Michigan.  There was stability for years and then instability and there is no question that it "bent me" in different shapes and is part of who I am today.

This is the house that we lived in during those years.  I have memories of riding bikes, playing lacrosse in the front yard, listening to "West Side Story" over and over again  on the living room stereo, watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on the TV in the basement, and noisy family dinners in the dining room. I remember so many good times as I was growing up and being cultivated and shaped and becoming Margot Gersen.   I was shaped by this place and the events  and the  people  who touched my life during these years.

And so, I am today grateful for all of it and the gift of reflection today. I am especially grateful for the gift of retirement because now I have the time to go and reconnect with the Roslyn girls of my past and remember and make new memories.  It was a BEAUTIFUL gift to be together again.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Preparing for a Reunion

I am on my last day in Phoenix and looking ahead to next weekend when I will be  traveling to West Chester, Pennsylvania where I lived from 1959 - 1966 - 5th grade through 11th grade.  I will be attending a reunion with 7 women who were in school with me during that time.
I have not seen most of them for almost 50 years.
I do not remember some of them.
I have not been to West Chester for 5 years,

And so, I have a little bit of anxiety about this.  That is my background to continuing on my prayer retreat.  Every day.

This morning I began my time of prayer by spending time with a dream I had last night.  It involved me talking to a young actress on a movie set and being dismissed and rejected by her.  In the dream I thought: "You don't understand that you will not always be popular." But I still felt hurt.

And so, I recognize that there is anxiety within me about rejection - and it may be a result of past rejections during my formative years.  Yes, the challenging years  of junior high!  Could it be that events of 50 plus years ago still affect me today?  Probably.

One of the texts of this morning was a true gift to me: Hosea 11: 1-4

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

This so speaks to me today.  There is a call that God makes upon my life to bring me out of Egypt - that place of bondage.  The bondage of fear.    The bondage of low self esteem that leads to compulsive and numbing behaviors.  The bondage of anxiety.  This text reminds me that  God is and has been with me forever, God has healed me and that God continues to guide me.  Here is the prayer I wrote this morning.

O God  Here I am
     called out of Egypt
     By You

You lead me
        not by a whip or punitive word
        but by cords of human kindness  and bonds of love
You lift me up to your cheeks
You bend down and feed me

O God  Here I am
     In suspense and faith
     For you

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Time In Tucson

My bags are packed and I am getting ready to leave Tucson and a week with Audrey and Miranda.
It has been a peaceful, enriching and blessed time for me.

They moved here in June as Miranda began a new position as a supervisor in the park service. Audrey is now a high school math teacher and they are beginning a new chapter in their life.  This week has been time off for Audrey who is in a year round school and Miranda took time off so that we could explore this area together.
 I will go away with so many wonderful memories of the places we have gone. I have learned a LOT about the southwest and how much more there is to learn.

* Sunday we went to the Desert Museum which was a great beginning to the week.  I learned about cactus, rocks, water, fish, bird, creatures that live in the desert.  They even had a Labyrinth.

*Tuesday we took a trip to Tombstone which was so much fun and still very educational.  We prepared for it by watching the movie Monday night so we had the story down of the hero's and the villains.  In Tombstone we saw two gunfight reenactments (one comedy and one "historical") took a tour and had a good and entertaining time at "Big Nose Kate's" saloon.  I learned more than the movie showed - about the trial that followed the killings, about the terrible life of women at that time, and about the "bust" that followed in Tombstone.  It was a city that went from over 100,000   People to 150 in a couple of years. 
* Wednesday we went to Sabino Canyon on a trolley and were awed by the beauty of the rocks and cacti. It is a different kind of beauty from the green hills and mountains of Ohio.

* Thursday Audrey and I found the House of Prayer retreat center in west Tucson.  We came late and were graciously guided throughout this holy place which values silence and offers retreats and spiritual direction.  It was a gift to be there.

* Friday Audrey and I went to Saguaro East National Park where Miranda works. We watched a video and learned more about the history of the area and then drove the 8 mile loop which was constructed by the CCC in then1930's.  It was wonderful to leisurely stop and take pictures and just enjoy the beauty together. I came away from this proud of our country that over the years leaders have recognized  our responsibility to keep these natural wonders protected and available to all.
I had audrey look like this

But of course, the time has been more than trips and tours. It  has been truly enjoying the blessing of being with these two young women and appreciating their company, insights, and humor.  And supporting them and loving them as they meet the challenges of starting a new life together in a new place that is unfamiliar now and will  probably eventually become home to them.

I began every morning on their patio in prayer. My morning view was blue skies, a Mexican bird of paradise, hummingbirds,  butterflies and mountains in the background.  I now start my time  reflecting on the day before and awed always by God's presence in my life. I am in the beginning of the 30 week "retreat in daily life" and it has been a wonderful backdrop to my time here.

Yesterday I read these words by Larry S. Gallick :
Love must be expressed in words and gestures that the beloved can understand. The lover must reverence the beloved so much that he or she adapts the expression of love to the way the beloved can receive it. If I love a blind person, I do not speak to them in sign language. If I love a German-speaking person, I don’t speak any other language to that person except German. The lover adapts to the person and personality of the beloved.
In praying these next weeks, we watch how the loving God reveals that love through gestures of revelation. We also consider how this God adapts that same love to our ways of reception. We pray with God’s courtship of us, constantly attracting us through acts of gentle yet persistent love

And so I feel like God is expressing God's love to me this week in so many ways - through the beauty of the desert, through the love of Audrey and Miranda, through a deep friendship with Susan, and the gift of time here.

As always I say - but in a deeper way of awe and wonder - God is Good, All the Time.