In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” an outstanding British runner becomes an Olympian. He explains the connection between his faith and his running, “When I run, I feel His (God’s) pleasure.”
I can relate to this experience. As a lifelong athlete, I have played tennis, run marathons, done triathlons, and competed in long-distance open water swimming. In the past two years, I have taken up something new to me – outrigger canoe paddling -and cut back on other sports. You could say that I am serious or obsessed with paddling and not obsessed with other sports, for now. It is said that the cure for an obsession is to get another one. (Mason Cooley)
When I paddle, I feel God’s pleasure.
There are a lot of aspects to paddling. There is belonging to the community of the club and individual team. There is a culture of inclusivity and friendliness as well as competitiveness. Racing together adds to the camaraderie of the crew and the team. At regattas (shorter distance racing), we spend the day together cheering each other on, eating pot luck, taking photos, and talking story with one another. I am signed up for some trips for longer distance races where we will hang out together, like Around the Rock/Alcatraz in San Francisco and the Queen Liliuokalani on the Big Island. Belonging to community is a spiritual need for people and the paddling community meets that need in many of us.
Many folk in Hawai’i are part of the paddling community; it gives me an automatic rapport when I meet new people. When I bought a pair of water shorts today, the salesman and I had a good chat about our different teams and the arrival of the Hokule’a, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe completing its three-year circumnavigation of the earth. My canoe club New Hope will be paddling thirteen canoes out to greet the Hokule’a tomorrow morning near Ala Moana Beach Park, where we will join with other canoe clubs on the water. The return of the Hokule’a is a historic occasion, which inspires great pride in the Hawaiian residents.
Paddling is also in-spiriting or inspirational. The water is clear, turquoise, green and blue, allowing us to see tropical fish, honu (sea turtles), manta rays and occasional sharks. Sometimes, the waves toss us around or cause us to huli (turn over), reminding me of the power of the ocean. It is an environment to respect! The horizons of green mountains, sandy beaches and the enormous sea speak to me of the immensity and beauty of creation and the Creator. Is it any wonder that I feel so enthusiastic (en-theos, the root of the word enthusiastic, means “in God”)?
Focusing on paddling technique and synchronicity with my teammates is all-absorbing. I am paying such attention to counting or stroking or steering that all other concerns and worries fall away. I feel the canoe ideally gliding with our strokes or feeling heavy in the water when we are not paddling in synch. “Reach, place, push down, pull back, return…1,2 on the stroke, 1 on the return,” I am concentrating. Being in the now is all that matters. Paddling is all about mindfulness to the present experience, which is the heart of the abundant life. The rabbi whom I follow said, “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance.”
So, when I paddle, I feel God’s pleasure in my being part of the community, being inspired by creation and the Creator, and being in the present moment. May you feel God’s pleasure today in whatever is good and beautiful that absorbs your attention. May you be inspired and live with ease as you focus on the present moment. And may you find peace.
In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” an outstanding British runner becomes an Olympian. He explains the connection between his faith and his running, “When I run, I feel His (God’s) pleasure.”
If you come to the windward side of O’ahu, you are welcome to visit “Akua’s sanctuary” there. (Akua is Hawaiian for God.) Today the weather is rainy and windy. However, you can still see the waterfalls flowing down the 2000′ cliffs of the forest-covered Ko’olau mountains. Their surface looks like a green shower curtain with white streaks in the folds, whenever it rains abundantly. Rain is considered a blessing, as are rainbows, whale-sightings, views of honu (sea turtles) and other things.
If it were not so rainy and windy today, I would invite you to go for a recreational paddle on Kane’ohe Bay, the green, turquoise and blue ocean surrounded by the Ko’olau mountains. We would gather at the beach and take out our outrigger canoes to paddle to Coconut Island, where we stop to swim around in the marine sanctuary. It is like a gigantic tropical aquarium of colorful creatures feeding around the coral reef. It is a sanctuary, a good place to be, not do. We are in a cathedral of nature, expressing the grandeur of the ocean and mountains. The view reminds me of the Welsh fisherman prayer, “My boat is so small and your sea is so great.” As a community, we visit this place and enjoy a moveable feast of the eyes and soul.
During this season of Lent, I do not feel compelled to give up desserts or dairy or meat. Instead, I am drawn to the soul food of active wonder. Where is God being revealed and known? Where is God acting or persuading? I want to pay attention to wonder and awe.
Let me, let us be in nurturing relationship with God in wonder, awe and beauty.
May we be fed by appreciation of nature’s creativity and complexity.
May gratitude come easily to us.
Let our behavior follow in generosity and love.
Usually, I have trouble sticking with a meditation practice. Even five days in a row feels pretty good to me. A new phone app has been helping me to approach mindfulness with fresh enthusiasm by getting instruction from Joseph Goldstein, a Buddhist teacher. This is probably my eighty-fifth try with mindfulness, since it became very popular in medical centers. I used a body scan meditation with cancer patients in 1990 as part of my doctoral thesis. John Kabat Zinn, Ph.D., had just published a best-seller “Full Catastrophe Living” about meditation for everyone based upon his chronic pain studies. Harvard researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., also came out with “The Relaxation Response,” describing his study of physiological data from meditation practices. So, taking a type of meditation, which is embedded in the Buddhist tradition, and using it with a general audience is not new.
Like flossing teeth, sticking with any practice that I know is good for me is not easy. It is simple, but not easy. (Although, prayer comes pretty naturally after forty-seven years as a Christian.) Today, my focus on my breath was mildly disturbed with random thoughts of my “To Do List.” I let them pass like the white clouds overhead. I successfully ignored all the election news; that never even entered my mind during the meditation. I returned my focus gently to the breath, like returning a wandering puppy to his bed. It was restful.
It is wonderful to be meditating on my polished coral lanai in Hawaii, which is a very spiritual place for me. There is an unhurried, relaxed sense of time here. The warmth makes it easy to be casual in shorts, tank tops and “slippahs.” Next to the green-ridged Ko’olau mountains, I hear birdsong, feral roosters’ crows and an occasional airplane in the distance. Tall red wax palms, taro, red ginger, pink anthuriums, ornamental pineapple and more vibrant plants thrive in our garden. Grace, spaciousness and calm inform these surroundings. Beauty lives here. Beauty indwelling with nature is another name for God.
Focusing on my breath brings me to a sense of grounded-ness. I live here with God’s creation; I am also a small part of God’s creation. In my own spiritual tradition, God breathes into humans to give them life. “Ruah,” a feminine word in the Hebrew Scriptures, means wind, breath or spirit. In one biblical story, God appears as a gentle breeze. Ruah is both imminent and beyond us. In the Christian Scriptures, the Greek word “pneuma” has the same translation. God appears quite notably in the Spirit. So, this focus on the breath is rich with meaning and common to Judaism and Christianity as well as Buddhism.
Whatever your spiritual tradition, may you breathe easily and deeply today.
Wherever you live, may you find Beauty today.
Whenever you pause, may you be grateful today.
Beginning a new work is a hopeful time. I am teaching Spiritual Care this summer at a hospital in Billings, Montana. Of course, I feel hopeful about all the learning that will take place. We are studying cultural humility as a theme for the summer by visiting the Crow and Cheyenne people on their reservations. Seventeen per cent of the hospital’s patient population is Indigenous People. Serving the people here will require a better understanding of their perspectives. Being in relationship ethically takes entering into the worldview of the people one serves. So, a strong desire to get to know people in their own culture is a benefit.
This is a Spiritual DNA trip for me too. My father and his family come from the Crow reservation in Hardin, Montana. After my Dad died, I visited the area once. Coming upon the Little Big Horn Museum, I thought it might be interesting and stopped in. Upon entering, I immediately saw a huge poster-sized photo of my grandfather and my father, who had been black-and-white photographers. I began to cry. My Dad never told me about this museum, if he even knew about it. Here it was, full of his photography of tepees, Crow men and women on horseback, handsome Chiefs, fancy dancers, women in elk-tooth shirts and children dressed in beaded leather clothing. This was the photography of my childhood home; I recognized it. The family logo marked the bottom corner of the enlarged photos adorning the museum walls. The elderly docent came rushing over after seeing me in tears, “Can I help you?” She was alarmed until I explained that it was a shock to see all these photos, especially the one of my grandfather and father, which was new to me. She was excited to see a relative of my grandfather, the mayor of Hardin in his day. She looked up some newspaper clippings about my family. This was part of my last visit to the reservation. Will I learn more about my Dad and my lineage this trip?
I am also in the midst of writing a book about Spiritual Care and stories of patients who are at the end of life. Enjoying the work, I am now rewriting several chapters for my literary agent, so that she can sell the book to a publisher. Several coffeeshops in downtown Billings will be my new workspace, as well as a desk in our little apartment across from the Federal Courthouse. Although I have written chapters in books before, this is my first full-length book.
Thomas Merton has this advice: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
Merton recalls me to the personal relationships, which will be the heart of my experience in Billings. Ultimately, the meaning of these three months will not be in the work accomplished in teaching, learning and writing. What is written in the heart as we get to know and care for each other is what matters most. There lies the value in what we are making – life together, encounter by encounter.
Cultural Humility and Native American Culture will be the theme of this summer in the Big Sky Country of Billings, Montana at St. Vincent Healthcare, where I will teach Clinical Pastoral Education to chaplains, seminarians and clergy of various faith traditions. For three months, we will care for patients/families and visit different Native American reservations to learn from “the living human document,” as the founder of CPE Anton Boisen described. For me, this will be a Spiritual DNA trip to return to the Crow reservation, where my father was raised. If you are interested, consider applying to the Rev. Wes Montgomery at TriCities Chaplaincy. Phone: 509-783-7416, ext. 2018
I will be speaking at Caring for the Human Spirit Conference, sponsored by HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, in San Diego on Monday, April 11th from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. My co-researchers Dr. Laura Dunn and Chaplain Allison Kestenbaum, who also studied Spiritual AIM with advanced stage cancer patients in palliative care, will be co-presenting. Participants will be able to:
1. Understand Spiritual AIM, which includes outcomes’ and utilize the new manual to learn this model in a fresh way
2. Understand the process of creating a manual to teach Spiritual AIM
3. Develop an awareness of previous qualitative and quantitative research findings from a mixed-methods study of Spiritual AIM and current/future research, including manualizing the model and teaching it to professional chaplains
4. Learn about next steps in research
For more information, go to: http://www.healthcarechaplaincy.org
Hawaii has always been a place where I feel connected to what is beautiful, spiritual and made by the Creator. The ocean water is warm near the shore and the air is pure. My body, like Goldilocks, loves the climate on windward O’ahu, where it rains often, but not long. I was drawn to Temple Valley for its connection to the ancestors, since mine have passed away and my love for them remains significant in my life. Wherever one lives, there are ups and downs. However, nature is truly outstanding and inspiring in Hawaii.
I wrote a poem about the life of God in me in this place. It does take a few notes to understand, if you are not familiar with O’ahu:
“Akua” is God in the Hawaiian language.
“Na Mokulua” are two islets off Lanikai Beach.
“Ko’olau” are mountains on the windward side of O’ahu.
Orbiting around anxiety,
feeling powerless to do more,
I do what I can and
surrender the situation again.
I speak to Akua.
A monk seal’s black head pops up
from the surface of the sea.
Bright and curious eyes, white whiskers,
he stares and seems to smile
at us in the outrigger canoe.
Akua speaks to me.
Swimming in gentle, turquoise ocean,
the sun is warm on my back.
The watery sand is white beneath me.
Na Mokulua sit proudly on the horizon.
This moment is perfect.
I speak to Akua.
Sudden dark clouds catch us driving.
Torrents of rain begin to fall
and quickly pass over.
The sun appears across the Ko’olau;
a giant rainbow, a blessing is bestowed.
Akua speaks to me.
– Michele R. Shields
C.S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Now is the time for New Year’s resolutions. Do you groan inwardly or do you greet this idea with enthusiasm? If you are ready to set some goals for the next year, I have some tips to help you be successful.
Schedule time for your New Year’s resolutions. Happiness guru Shawn Achor says that it takes twenty-one days to develop a habit. It helps to do a new practice at the same time of day for the practice to become a habit. I have found that writing, for example, at the same time of day helps me to be more regular about it. If I cannot manage that, I can still schedule into my calendar the time to write. I do not go crazy if I miss a day, but scheduling definitely improves my ability to put my bottom in the desk chair to write.
Set realistic and attainable goals. I sometimes fail to exercise, but only if it is a rare sick day or travel day. So, I do not mind setting a daily exercise goal. However, if I were not an athlete, I would set a more moderate goal, such as every other day for exercise. I would also suggest picking an exercise which you enjoy and find easy to do (i.e. you do not have to regularly drive to a ski resort). I am aiming for lifestyle improvement, not perfection.
Why do you want to resolve to do these things? What is your motivation? It could be to improve your relationship or health or spiritual life. Getting in touch with your inner motivations helps you stay on track with your New Year’s resolutions. This year, I thought about what is most important to a sustainable, enjoyable life – being present in the moment and being loving to God, others and me. I also thought about why I want to write my book – to help other people to care spiritually for loved ones and friends at the end of life. It is all about what makes the resolution so important.
If you write your resolution in the form of a question, you will be fourteen percent more likely to accomplish it, states a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Will you give up sugar in 2016? Will you lose ten pounds this year? As you look at your questions, you feel compelled to answer them every day you see them on your mirror or refrigerator, “I will.” Ask a friend to become your accountability partner and to question you with your New Year’s resolutions.
At this point, I would like to ask your best wishes and prayers for me with my New Year’s resolutions. Please feel free to ask me how I am doing with these:
1. Will you focus upon truly listening to Jim (my husband)?
2. Will you slow down to be present and to love? (See my last blogpost “True Confessions” for background)
3. Will you finish writing your book?
4. Will you have a daily quiet time and exercise time?
May you make meaningful New Year’s Resolutions and stick to them. And may God bless you in the New Year!
At holiday time, there seems to be more frenetic driving on the city streets than ever. People zoom through yellow-to-red lights and block crosswalks in the next block. Quickly changing lanes without signaling is common, while cutting off other cars. On a one-way, three-lane road, seeing someone make a left turn from the far right lane always surprises me. These folks must be very stressed or hurried. I have felt that way, when I was working for a regular paycheck job with plenty of responsibility. I know my driving got sloppy, but was it that bad? No. Instead, I banged up the car while parking in our assigned spot of the apartment building garage. Several times!
Today, I came across this and it hit me right between the eyes:
“There is a close connection between speed and impatience. Our culture has become so speeded up today that no one has time to be patient. People in a hurry cannot be patient – so people in a hurry cannot really love. To love, we need to be sensitive to those around us, which is impossible if we are racing through life engrossed in all the things we need to do.” (Eknath Easwaran in “Blue Mountain Journal,” Winter 2015)
I had to read this again slowly. How often am I in such a hurry that I cannot really love? How often am I so engrossed in all the things I need to do, racing through life, that I cannot be sensitive to those around me? This brought up my character traits of impatience and self-centeredness, which I know as rather unattractive parts of my personality. These traits prevent me from being truly present to others.
My husband Jim and I participate in a couples group intent upon improving our marriages. At our last meeting, we focused upon communication and truly listening to our partners. We each shared about the barriers to truly listening, like being preoccupied with smartphones, televisions, computers, iPads and other electronics. Putting work first or the “to do list” or hurrying also get in the way of what we say matters most. During the following days, this conversation made me focus on slowing down and putting down my electronic devices, when Jim started speaking to me in order to really be attentive to him. I was not 100% successful, but I improved. I could tell that Jim was making an effort to listen well too. “Love is an act of the will. That’s why you say, ‘I will’ at the wedding ceremony, rather than ‘I do,'” I tell couples whom I am going to marry. (I am a clergyperson.) And love takes time. My New Year’s Resolution this year will be about slowing down to be more present in the moment and to love better.
May you live life at a sustainable and healthy pace.
May you intuitively learn how to balance your needs and the needs of others.
May you be able to love yourself, your neighbor and your Higher Power in equal measure.
When I was jogging across Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, I had crossed four of six lanes on the green light when suddenly, a driver in a car zoomed through his red light nearly hitting me in the crosswalk. My life did not flash before my eyes. There was no time for that. I registered only surprise. After that, there was anger at the driver for running the red light and then gratitude that my life still went on. I thanked God that I had no resentments toward anyone. And the people about whom I care knew that I loved them. If life had ended just then, my relationships were set straight, as far as I knew. I felt relieved deep down to know that. After all, I do not know of any spiritual traditions that recommend carrying resentments or fostering broken relationships.
This is the time of year in my faith tradition that encourages us to look for the unexpected. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann said, “Pray and watch…Expect the unexpected,” in a film by The Work of the People (www.theworkofthepeople.com). We are meant to look for the surprises in everyday life. Be attentive. We might see something Divine at work in the world, and not only have a brush with mortality! For example, my little Havanese dog just came over to lick my face in a gesture of affection as I write this. My spiritual director Diane always calls him one of God’s messengers embodying the welcome of God. This dog surprises and delights me.
The biggest surprise, the most unexpected thing of all, is the embodiment of God. At the end of this season of Advent, God comes to us in the form of a helpless child, born to a totally inexperienced mother, who is a teenager and homeless at the time. (We need to be shown how to live and love in relationship with him.) It is a very strange story, surviving for thousands of years, being celebrated by lots of people who do not even believe it. Yet, for those who believe, it reminds us that God does surprising and unexpected things for which we would do well to watch.
May you expect the unexpected.
May you seek the surprises in everyday life.
May you welcome the Divine in whatever form God comes to you this season.