Friday, September 23, 2016

The Simple Life

As part of my reading for my Spiritual Formation course, we read a great little book on spiritual discipline (Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster).  It highlights a group of spiritual disciplines that can help us get closer to God.  One of these disciplines really resonated with me right now: the Discipline of Simplicity.

The idea is pretty straight forward.  We need to learn to simplify our lives more.  It's a crazy, chaotic world we live in.  We seem to fill it up with things to keep us "busy".  This busyness I believe contributes to some of our stress, anxiety, and tiredness.  The theory of simplicity is not so much to remove things from our lives, but to put them in their place.  For example, while having a smartphone is good, do we NEED the latest and greatest as soon as it comes out?  And is the smartphone a tool for our use or do we let the smartphone rule us?  How many of us can put down their phone from the time you get home from work until the next morning?  I can feel your anxiety already through the screen.

What brought this to the forefront for me was a conversation with my Facebook pal Julie.  She expressed anxiety about whether she should start watching some series that was "highly recommended" and a "must watch".  I agreed that I too was a little anxious about just finding time to watch all the shows on my DVR as it is without adding anything new.  And it dawned on me.  Why the hell am I stressing out about watching a television show?  And what areas of my life have I been stressing out over for no reason?

So I've decided to try and simply things a little.  Partly for my own sanity.  With two diaconate courses this semester I need more time to get that work done.  But beyond that, I need to take care not to get too stressed out for the sake of my wife.  I can be a real pain in the ass when I feel overwhelmed.  So the first thing I did, for now anyway, is get off of Facebook.  Why?  Because stupid memes, political posts, and just trying to keep up with my feed were starting to get to me.  I'd be annoyed for hours over some stupid thing someone shared that I found idiotic.  I even uninstalled the Facebook app from all of my devices.

I haven't retired from social media, but my Twitter and Instagram feeds are pretty small.  Manageable.  And not terribly annoying.  I've also cut back on my musical activities.  I knew that had to happen but it kind of handled itself.  One of the band members could no longer go on so that was as good a time as any to call it quits.  I'm still working on balance with school and my Christian group, but as that's more a ministry, I think I can work that one out.  I'm looking for other areas to simplify and get more time for reflection and prayer.  And time with my family.  It's a work in progress.

I must say, however, I'm not really missing Facebook all that much in the short time I've been off of it.  There are a couple of people I'd like to keep up with.  I suspect that if I get back on, I'm going to be hiding or unfriending quite a few people.  Honestly, I probably accepted far to many friend requests from acquaintances I don't really know any more, like high school classmates.  Nice people and all, but ones I never really spent much time with even in high school.  We shall see.

For any of my Facebook pals that wish to touch base for any reason, you can always email, message, or hell, even leave a comment.  May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious to you, and may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week of September 4

This week I'm trying something new based on a recommendation from Father Paul.  He called it the TNE approach to spirituality.  You thank Jesus for your blessings that day, tell Jesus what you need, and then state where you experienced Jesus today (TNE = Thanks, Need, Experience).  I've been trying to do that as part of my evening prayers.  I think it's pretty easy to think about what I'm thankful for and what I need, but where I experience Jesus is a little more difficult.  Some days it was pretty easy, such as after Tony's funeral.  But other days, like today, it's much harder.  Today was just an ordinary day.  Mass in the morning, a few things around the house, a block party, visiting with my mom.  I think I need to look more closely on where and how I can see Jesus in these every day interactions.

I'm feeling that I need to work more on the spirituality of the every day.  Things like looking for opportunities to see Jesus in others.  Offering daily tasks and situations to the Lord.  Taking more purposeful time pray, reflect, and try to be in God's presence.  I wonder sometimes if I'm going through the motions.  For example, I read the daily Scripture readings each morning.  But am I just reading them or am I letting it sink in?  I certainly don't take dedicated time to reflect on them.  Perhaps I'm letting myself be too busy to make the time.

Julie hit on something with a Facebook post this week.  She mentioned having anxiety about binge watching shows due to the time it takes to truly focus on what you're watching.  It made me wonder if I'm trying to fill my spare time with "things" so I don't make the time to quiet myself and actually listen to God.  Am I being anxious about going deeper into my faith?  I keep saying its important.  Or am I just feeling that I'm not being Christian enough?  Like I don't measure up to the spiritual awareness of others in my diaconate class?  I don't know.  But that probably needs further reflection.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Week of August 28

Tony passed away on Wednesday, September 1.  Since seeing him in the hospital the previous weekend, and especially have seeing him in hospice, I've been a little out of sorts.  Two things have been on my mind of late.  The first is on forgiveness and family.  Talking to family members has brought back some old hurts and reminded me of other unhealed or unhealthy family relations.  I think about how insulted I felt when Vinnie didn't send flowers to my dad's funeral.  Of how my uncle Joe treats my Aunt Irma.  About wanting to make a "statement" at their funerals some day by my actions.

Since recently going to Reconciliation, I'm trying to be more attuned to where I sin in my life.  I didn't realize I was still hanging on to this bitterness.  That I probably should forgive them for how I think they've offended me, regardless of whether they reciprocate.  I also think about the lack of relationship with Kirk.  It's something I don't really think about since it doesn't impact my relationship with my sister or my nephews.  But is there something there?

At Fishers of Men yesterday, we watched a video discussing the line from the Our Father "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that trespass against us".  Am I truly forgiving others?

I've also begun reading Celebration of Discipline for class.  It's placed me in an odd mood.  I can't put my finger on it, but I feel agitated and a little upset.  Like it's pointing at me showing me all the things I should be doing and am not.  Questioning decisions I'm making as to whether I'm doing things for me or because I'm trying to trust in God.  I keep saying I trust in God and am trying to do His will, but am I really?  Am I just going through the motions?

One thing I did take away from class with Nancy on Thursday is that spirituality is work.  I think I need to work on my spirituality, once I figure out just what it is I'm supposed to do.  Hopefully the class will help me to grow and point me in a direction.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Listen (to What the Flower People Say)?

Or just what the people say?

I believe this is one of the times the Spirit is wacking me in the head to tell me something important.  It happens every so often.  Here's what I've been hearing lately.  When I started down the path to applying for the diaconate, one of the first things Ellen told me was that I would need to learn to listen to people.  Then, at a meeting with my spiritual adviser, I was asked how I pray.  When I explained, the question I was asked was "do you just listen to God?"  Now, I'm reading books for two different courses and they're all focusing on listening.

See the pattern?  I do.  So, I'm of the impression that the Spirit is telling me I need to listen more.  To God.  To others.  To my wife.  To my family.  To my friends.  To my co-workers.  It looks like a skill I'll need to develop more.  And I believe learn how to do it joyfully.  I've heard a lot of references to St Therese of Lisieux lately.  She's known as the "little flower".  Her spirituality is basically finding the joy in all the little things you do and glorify God in your every day tasks.  Not worry about trying to do "big things".  I've downloaded her autobiography and now just need to find time to read it.  We'll see where it goes.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Week of August 21

There were two significant things this week that affected me.  The first was the opening Mass for the coming school year at St. Bernard's.  The diaconate formation process is a discernment.  I've been asked my many people, including the kids, as to why I'm going through this process and why I want to be a deacon.  Nick asked me on Sunday what made me realize this was a call.  It's difficult to explain but I've found that if I'm on the path God wishes me to be on, I have a sense of peace about it and things seem to go right for me.

In preparing for Mass on Tuesday, I felt that sense of peace and that I was in the right place doing the right thing.  So, for now at least, I believe I'm on the right path.  What concerns me is whether or not I'm doing too much.  Last week and this week I have things on my calendar, mostly music related, that result in me having no time to do anything after work.  That may be a problem with finding time to get all my assignments done.  One of my classes will require a bit of work outside the classroom working with other students.  With so many rehearsals for things I've committed to, it might be too much.  I'm trying to discern whether being in a rock band is what I should be doing.  I enjoy the music and my fellow bandmates, but I'm not sure if I'm doing this for fun or to go somewhere.  I'll need to further reflect on that.

The second thing this week was going to confession for the first time in a long time.  I'd actually gone last fall on retreat but I didn't consider that a good confession as I was more concerned with work related stress than any sins that were weighing on my conscience.  This weekend I took as step towards actually unburdening myself of what I consider sin.  I've begun working on my penance.  I don't know if I'm supposed to feel differently that before or not.  I don't feel like a big weight has been taken off my shoulders or anything, but then again I wasn't feeling anything major weighing on my conscience either.  Perhaps confession is like my experience with the Eucharist as I grew in my faith many years ago.  Sometimes you need to continue receiving a sacrament and reflecting on it before it truly has an impact.  We shall see.

One other thing surprised me this week in reading for Pastoral Care.  The chapter was on feminist pastoral care and women's issues.  It showed me first of all that I really need to focus on listening to others and not to jump to my own conclusions or inject my opinions or prejudices.  But what really struck me was whether or not I was truly listening to Ellen when she talks to me or needs me to listen to her.  I can get so wrapped up with what's in my head or what I need to do next that I don't always take the time to focus on her.  I need to watch out for that and make sure I give her the time and attention she deserves.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Week of August 14

This week has been a reminder to stay in the moment and not worry overly much about the future.  It was a week filled with music rehearsals for upcoming Masses and events.  I went into the week a little overwhelmed and feeling that I may have over extended myself.  However, once we actually began a rehearsal, things were much more relaxed and some of the anxiety went away.  It was particularly rewarding to work with Mike and Doug again.  Besides being excellent musicians, they're great people that I don't want to lose touch with.

Rehearsal with the choir was also very rewarding.  It was a mixed group from all the St. Pius musical groups so it was great to work with people I hadn't played with in a while.  Also, working with the choir is far more relaxing as the only expectation is that I play the music.  With no planning needed, it's far less stressful.  Planning music and dealing with issues within the group still is a source of anxiety that makes me wonder how much longer I can do it.  Couple that with trying to work with a rock band and I again wonder if I've over extended myself.

We had a blessing in getting tickets to see the Bills/Giants game in the suite owned by Ellen's employer.  While work intruded into part of the game, just being able to get away and enjoy being there and in the moment was a blessing.  I have a habit of worrying about the future so I need to remember to enjoy what is going on now.

Classes start up again this week.  I'm looking forward to it but the work that will be involved on top of everything else I have going on may make things feel like too much.  This coming week I have something going on every night and it's all music or school related.  However, I still feel relatively at peace.  I'm trying to trust in God and pray each day for faith, peace and trust.

I've been trying to take Fr. Paul's advice concerning prayer.  Along with this journal, I'm trying to spend some prayer time listening instead of going through my list of intentions.  I'm not sure what, if anything, to expect, but I know that insight has come to me in the past when I stop thinking about things too much and just quiet my mind.  It tends to wander where it will and can give me good insight.  I believe that is when the Spirit is speaking to me.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Week of August 7

One of my struggles this week was of trust.  Trust that God will take care of me.  Trust that I'm doing the right things.  I'm not sure exactly what caused me to worry, but it really brought me down.  It was one of the usual things, financial.  Overall, God has taken care of me but lately it seems like we're getting hit with large expenses.  It doesn't help that I felt we shouldn't have taken the vacation that we did.  While it was enjoyable and we all loved the experience, I sometimes feel that we would have been better off keeping the money available in case we need it.

And this feels like the root of my lack of trust.  I keep saying that everything that happens to me is part of God's plan.  I believe He put me in my last job to remind me that money isn't everything.  I'm now doing work I really enjoy, but the difference in pay is significant.  It's hard sometimes to trust that God is still looking out for us and can take a little and turn it into a lot.  Or make sure that the jar never runs dry.

Part also may be feeling a little overwhelmed with commitments.  I believe I'm called to music ministry.  But I've committed to a few other Masses outside of the usual ones and it is shaking my confidence to deliver.  I always want to do the best I can but feel like sometimes the load is on me to make sure it all comes together.  Planning the music, playing referee between the musicians and staff, an upcoming event cantoring for the Bishop.  That has me quite nervous.  When I agreed to do it, I didn't know the Bishop would be celebrating Mass that evening.  If I had, I might not have agreed.  Now it's a little more than a week to go and I don't know the music and am not sure there will be time to rehearse it.

Again, where is my trust?  Every other time I've played, it's all gone well.  Any mistakes are minor.  But I can't shake feeling that something will go horribly wrong.

Mass helped a lot today.  We had a visiting priest who at that beginning of Mass told us to lay all of our troubles, concerns, and fears on the altar and give it to God.  I tried to do that.  I did bring me a measure of peace today.  Although reflecting on it again does bring back some of the trepidation.  I need to try to let go of the worry and fear and try to make wise decisions.  I also need to focus on doing whatever I do (work or ministry) well and in the service of others.  Not an easy thing but I need to just keep going forward.

It's hard to think of my blessings this week beyond the usual.  I'm always grateful for Ellen and her presence in my life.  I'm grateful for friends and family and the people I get to work with and play music with.  I know I need to get to confession so perhaps it's time to reflect more deeply on that and just go.