Advent, December 1, 2014–reflections from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality

The choice is always ours – Aldous Huxley

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to you and will dine with you, and you with me.”                                                                                Revelations 2: 20

As we stand on the threshold of Advent, we meet the Roman soldier, encountering Jesus. He agonizes over his suffering servant at home. Midst all the responsibilities he has, expecting, awaiting, Jesus’ response. Jesus says I will come, then honors the soldier’s trust.

Change, transition, is everywhere and is constant. It’s outside us and within us. It’s in our human development, in our relationships and jobs, in our health and illnesses. All change is uncomfortable. It can wrench tears from us and it can surprise us with tears of joy. Or it can bring something more unpleasant – a pain that won’t go away.

The soldier chooses to ask. Jesus chooses to come. And the Father’s mercy, compassion, flows freely: a welcomed change.

Jesus’ love is personal. It is now, it is here, it is this situation. Life is hard. Sometimes it gets harder still. Things don’t change, we do. Change is the threshold where we can choose the way of anger, resentment, selfishness, diminishment –or—the way of being an instrument of peace.

All change is uncomfortable. We are going to suffer, so choose to suffer for what is good…

We see this in the scriptures of Advents and Christmas and in our own experiences. God stands with us at the threshold of Advent, as He stood with the Roman soldier, Mary and Joseph, the Magi, the shepherds. As they heard, and we hear now, the word of God knocking on our hearts, let us with Mary say: “let your word happen to me” (Luke 1: 38). And Jesus becomes a real, living, loving, intelligent, life-giving, love-giving/ receiving person for each of us, in each of us, through each of us for others. advent2 Prayer Practice: Choose to listen and take to heart the scriptures and other inspiring words or music each day and Journal the message God gives you. Asking with Mary: Let it happen to me.

Fr. Bill Petro, M.A. WVIS Associate Spiritual Director frbpetro42@gmail.com                                

Hoteiosho, Japanese Santa

japansanta

In Japan there is a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus. He is always pictured as a kind old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head. It is well for the children to be good when this all-seeing gentleman is abroad.

Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day.

My prequel, Ten Yen, set in Japan, is about the selflessness of love. Ten YenThe main characters, Joumi and Amaya, have known terrible hardship and have done things they both regret. Their relationship is stormy full of struggle. Will their love survive? Find out in this prequel to the Ten Yen series: (True, Ten Yen Forever (due out Jan. 1, 2015), and Ten Yen Tokyo (in process)).

For Christmas give your friends an e-book version of Ten Yen. Click here and go to Amazon and give a copy of Ten Yen to your friends as a virtual stocking stuffer. $3.99 each.

The publisher also provides a POD version for $9.99.

 

 

A Time of: Waiting, Transition, Thresholds Advent 2014

 candle

  West Virginia Institute for Spirituality

   Daily Reflections: November 30 through February 2, 2014-2015

November 30, 2014 – The First Sunday of Advent

Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13: 33 (RSVCE)

It is the beginning of Advent, a time of heightened longing and expectant waiting.   While Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah and to be alert to the Second Coming, the season invites us to a more proximate waiting for the arrival of something important in our daily lives…some new birth. Advent begs the question for me…how do I enter into the longing and waiting?

When I began to write this meditation, I was sitting on my landing watching the rain of leaves at this autumn’s final edge. The sunshine is luminous setting the vivid oranges aflame and deepening the sugar maple reds to a deep crimson. Seeds have already dropped to the ground and are buried in the darkness to rest and wait.

The next day I return to my writing. The temperature has dropped thirty degrees, the sky is gray and the air still. Within a few days the remaining colorfest will be on the ground; brown and brittle. I feel initial resistance to enter into colorless time. But the invitation awaits to be still, empty, and rest with the seeds. I recognize the temptation to quell the anxiety that empty space brings. And then, the graced longing for this advent time draws me to less. I pray to stay alert to Christ’s daily coming. 

Prayer Practice: Pray for the grace to stay alert and attend. Moment by moment attune your senses to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Notice how your interior heart and spirit space move. Pay attention to this movement of the Spirit. Breathe, rest in the darkness and silence. Christ comes.

Cindy Neely, BSN, MS

WVIS Associate Spiritual Director neelycynthia@gmail.com

(606-923-0437)

Big Ears–excerpt from Ten Yen

big ears

In Japan, having Big Ears is a very good thing.  Read more

Here is an excerpt from Ten Yen.  Amaya has just met Joumi at an American party:

Amaya came out of her reverie. Yokatta koto, my goodness, the Japanese man looked as if he intended to approach her. She needed no patron these days…For a moment, saying nothing, she merely sized him up, keeping the pretty smile on her face, strongly aware of his masculine scent. His presence, in spite of his lanky height, reminded her of a samurai. Better still, she thought to herself, he is a Buddha. He certainly has the ears. “You,” she said, reaching a tiny hand toward his lapel, and gently straightening his tie. “I will call you my Ookii Mimi!”

Ookii Mimi means Big Ears.

You can buy the ebook or a print version of Ten Yen.

 

 

Resting in Gratitude

 resting2a This Soul Blog was inspired by Psalm 65 and Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Just how are we to rest in gratitude? Is it like resting in a warm bed?

There are two blankets on my bed covered by a pretty blue spread. I feel so blessed to be warm in the winter, to be so well-provided for. I remember only one occasion when I was seriously cold at night. Although I was raised in a house without central heating in damp and rainy England, in a rambling manor house called Camden Cottage, we always had hot water bottles in our beds, a roof over our heads, and the promise of the kitchen warmed by the gas cooker in the morning. And food, though not always overflowing, was enough.

For this I am grateful.

Who and what are you grateful for?

Gratitude is a spiritual discipline. There is the discipline of surrender, the discipline of listening, the discipline of selflessness, the discipline of waiting. And there is the discipline of gratitude.

Just like those blankets on my bed, gratitude is something to keep us warm in the dark times and the good times, so we will awaken refreshed and immersed in an awareness of a greater reality, Allah, Brahman, Shekina, Spirit, God, as our giver of all things good, and of life itself.

To experience gratitude completes a circle of holiness, of love. God gives. We receive. We rest in gratitude, completing a flow of love from God to us, connecting us with this greater reality.

Awareness of God, dwelling in God’s presence is not a momentary thing we sometimes do in a church but is an experience of a deep love that grows us from the inside out.

God frees us, forgives us, and blesses us with all the good things we will eat this Thanksgiving, but gives us much greater food even than the Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce, or the baked ham and green beans, or the pumpkin and the elderberry pies.

God stills the roaring of the seas,     the roaring of their waves,     and the turmoil of the nations.

Remember, you are not alone. Gratitude is a way to feel connected to others and to God. It is important during the holidays especially to rest in gratitude by becoming deeply aware during your preparations, during hospitality, during each and every moment, that abundance is yours through grace.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing…

Jesus gives thanks for the five loaves to feed way too many people. He gives thanks not out of fear and insecurity, but out of his confidence in a God of abundance.

Take time this holiday to be present to every moment aware it is a sacred moment. When you are chopping vegetables, remember all who are with you in this simple food–the farmers, the reapers, the packagers, the supermarkets, and not least, the One who provided the seeds, the earth, the rainwater and the feast.

When you take the browned turkey from the oven and smell the delicious aroma, and slice the meat, take time to be grateful you are able to cook, to smell, to enjoy, to be with others. Remember those drumsticks and those hams come from living creatures, and this is a gift from the same God who provided manna to the Hebrews in the wilderness.

God is Mystery and Abundance of spirit.

***

Spiritual Practice

Tonight when you are resting in your bed, bring to mind all the moments where you have experienced joy.

If you are alone, recall two people you’ve seen today. What do you know about them that you are grateful for? When you see them again, if possible, tell them how you are grateful.

When you wake tomorrow morning, take time to stretch and greet the day joyously. Stop worrying about getting everything ready, stop worrying about anything.

Trust in a process of Love. Rest in Gratitude

Listen and watch a beautiful video with images of nature, and the voices of a child and an old man: Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF  (~10 minutes)

Children

Japanese refugeeJapanese Refugee after WW II ended

The heroine, Amaya, in Ten Yen, the prequel to Ten Yen True, and Ten Yen Forever (coming out in Jan. 2015 by Amanda Armstrong), which is set in the aftermath of WW II remembers when times were very bad indeed. It wasn’t just that they were a conquered people. There was no food, no shelter, no work. Amaya had to eat acorns and pound sawdust into an unpalatable powder to mix with flour.

At least the little one in the photo has on a warm coat, but many innocent people had no clothing, nothing warm at all.

***

There are no winners in war: during WW II, 60,000,000  to 85,000,000 people died; Japanese deaths were between 2,620,000 and 3,120,000.

***

This special event was held to raise money to help the children in Bosnia.  It is a prayer.

Pavarotti & Clapton Holy Mother For War Child 1996  

Eric Clapton:
Holy Mother, where are you?
Tonight I feel broken in two.
I’ve seen the stars fall from the sky.
Holy mother, can’t keep from crying.

Oh I need your help this time,
Get me through this lonely night.
Tell me please which way to turn
To find myself again.

Holy mother, hear my prayer,
Somehow I know you’re still there.
Send me please some peace of mind;
Take away this pain.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait any longer.
I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait for you.

Luciano Pavarotti:
Holy mother, hear my cry,
I’ve cursed your name a thousand times.
I’ve felt the anger running through my soul;
All I need is a hand to hold.

Oh I feel the end has come,
No longer my legs will run.
You know I would rather be
In your arms tonight.

Eric Clapton:
When my hands no longer play,

Luciano Pavarotti:
My voice is still, I fade away.

Both:
Holy mother, then I’ll be

Eric Clapton:
Lying in,

Luciano Pavarotti:
safe within your

Both:
arms.

Luciano Pavarotti:
Holy mother, hear my cry!
(Holy mother, hear my cry!)
Holy mother, hear my cry!
(Holy mother, hear my cry!)
Holy mother, hear my cry!
(Holy mother, hear my cry!)
Holy mother, hear my cry!

Read more: Luciano Pavarotti – Holy Mother Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Hyperlink to God

starry night

You are the hyperlink to God. Mystics, in all religious traditions, will tell you God is within you. Atheists, too, although not using God-language, recognize themselves as pivotal to life.

Yet God is also outside of us in the rocks and trees and stars, in the streams and bird-calls, in the supermarkets full of variety. And much much more.

We have our ideas of what God is, but God is not the white-bearded Santa in the sky any more than God is a stooped old crone carrying her basket of clothes. God/Goddess might be pleasant ideas, and maybe God is a crone or a wizened old geezer, but a richer way to experience and understand God is through yourself, through your perceptions, and through your life.

Awe, gratitude, love are some of the mighty experiences of the holy. They can be cultivated and grown within you. That is what worthy religions try to teach by nurturing ways to become holier, not more pious but holier, in the sense of becoming deeper, kinder, gentler, more loving people.

Slow down and notice your surroundings. Being present to your daily moments is important. When you are flying through life, busy, busy, busy, you are missing life. Slow down. Pay attention. Bird song or the voice of another is heard through your awesome ears, interpreted by your amazing brain, arising from a sacred source you do not even need to name.

Take time to be grateful for your ability to perceive. It is gift and goodness. Consider the many things you experience in one day from getting out of bed, to walking, eating, smiling, smelling, talking, being with others. There are so many perceptions to give thanks about, and if you aren’t a person who can thank God, then sit still and allow gratitude to permeate your being by remembering special moments and savoring them.

What about suffering and evil? Even these difficult and unwanted aspects of life move us to an awareness of the sacred within, of God arising. When we cry at losses, at pain, in pain, for others, for the brokenness of human beings, for the violation of the earth, we are empowered to consider how we might become the force of love against evil, how our lives matter. By developing our skills not only for our good and prosperity, but for the good of all the people, all the world, the whole planet, we hyperlink to God.

Allow the flow of love to move through your mind body soul into the world of teeming life and experience the sacred within the river of your life.

Hyperlink to God. Hyperlink to Love.

 

Children of Light

childrenoflight1

Soul Blog inspired by Psalm 123 and Matthew 25:14-30

In this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, the Master praises the two who have used their talents to earn more money, but the one who buried it in the ground got into a lot of trouble. In fact, he is thrown out into darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Is this fair? What did he do that was so terrible?

Rev. Fleming McGurgan says:

“I mean, given what we have seen in the stock market and heard on the news in the past few months, digging a hole and burying some cash in the back pasture doesn’t sound so crazy, now, does it? 

Everyone who laughed at Aunt Edna—

(you remember Aunt Edna–

she stashed all of her money

in an old lard can under the loose floorboard)

is having second thoughts today.  

Maybe Aunt Edna had the right idea,

all along. Maybe taking risks—with banks, with investments,with demanding bosses, with life itself—is just too sketchy…  too uncertain…too dangerous.

After all, if you hide your treasure in a lard can or a cigar box, or in a deep, deep hole behind the wood pile, you know exactly what you’ve got and where you stand.  

You may not double your investment.

You may not impress your relatives or astonish your boss—

In fact, the entire world may treat you as their very own Aunt Edna… but at least it’s safe.”

Jesus is not in the fairness business, nor is Jesus in the safety business. Jesus is in the business of growing souls, developing people and increasing their wealth as human beings. Jesus is in the business of giving everything, even unto death. Everything.

The person who is unwilling to take a risk at anything new is not going to grow but is going to remain stagnant. It isn’t just the young, the adventurous and the energetic who are able to take risks. No matter our circumstance, we can all take risks.

But what risks does Jesus have in mind?

He is talking about taking “his property” that he has entrusted to us, and turning it into something more by investing it in some way.

He is talking about getting over our fear of what other people might say, of our inadequacy in new situations, or anything at all that stands in our way to increase the harvest of goodness in the lives of those around us, and in our own lives also.

The man who is given one talent (worth about 1000 dollars, and considered back then to be almost half a year’s salary) obviously is not as capable as the other two people who are given a greater share of the Master’s property.

Still, he has just as much opportunity to increase its value as the others. He could have outshone them if he’d tried.

But the truth is he does not understand the opportunity that is before him. He does not even understand the Master. He says: “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.”

Where does he come up with the idea that the Master, Jesus, is a hard man? He is obviously misinformed, latching onto his own ideas, and his own pettiness. He reaps what he has sewn. What he believes comes back and bites him. Jesus responds to his fear by throwing him outside into the darkness.

But he was already in the darkness.

His lack of understanding was a form of darkness.

His wrong-thinking was a form of darkness.

His fear was a form of darkness.

God is abundantly giving. God is light.

Those who give without worry about who is getting what back, those who generously share all they are and all they’ve learned for the good of other people and the world will always grow in more goodness and abundance.

They become the light because they are givers of the light.

Imagine a world without light, a world when the sun never comes up, where there are no stars and no moon. Imagine a world where there are no candles and no electric lights. Imagine a world of such utter blindness that there is no common decency.

Obviously, human beings are capable of great harm as well as great good.

We become the darkness or the light of the world.

We, as Rev. Fleming McGurgan says are

“Like the servants in this story, offered by God a partnership. The 5-talent and 2-talent servants saw the partnership as an opportunity—an adventure to be explored. They knew that what the Master gave them could easily be lost, stolen, invested badly—but they took the risk anyway.  

The third servant saw the partnership as a burden—a potential landmine to be feared. He knew that what the Master gave him could easily be lost, stolen, invested badly—and so he opted for damage control.  

This servant avoided the challenge of partnership, only to find that playing it safe can be the biggest risk of all. 

…This story reminds us that we worship a God who is willing to invest in us. A God who is willing to make a bet and take a risk.

This story reminds us that if we play it safe and risk nothing in return, we actually risk everything.” 

We must overcome our fear of being wrong,

Our fear of what people will think,

Our fear of being found out,

Our fear of losing everything,

Our fear of not measuring up,

And give one hundred percent to everything we do, trusting God, who has entrusted us with talents.

Jesus showed us that even death need not be feared.

We will live eternally as fully as we have lived our lives in the here and now. But do not feel bad for sometimes being afraid. We are often afraid. We are, after all, only human. It is hard to face medical tests, examinations, new jobs, life changes. That’s all right. When you feel afraid, when you tremble, when you feel lost, when you feel as if you are in the darkness, remember Jesus on the Cross, and remember Jesus is always walking within your increasing understanding.

Take the risk:

When you are sick, be kind to the nurses and medical people. Offer your courage to others.

When you are lonely, reach out to those who are also lonely.

When you are addicted, seek help not only for yourself, but also for those around you who need your experience to help them.

When you’ve got a test to take, study hard, be prepared and give it your all.

When you are uncertain, trust loving God is with you and all-powerful God is for you.

Become Children of Light.

***

Listen to an old Gospel hymn: Send the Light   Gospel, by the way, means Good News.

Become the light in your own way. Listen to Ellie Goulding – Lights   

     

 

Kurokawa Onsen–Ten Yen

hotspringamaya Amaya, the heroine of Ten Yen (prequel to Ten Yen True) is excited to be filming at Kurokawa. She only has a minor role, but it is a start. To be in such a beautiful place and get to bathe in hot spring water is an incredible luxury after the horrors of WW II. She is very happy. Even more so because once the filming ends, Joumi is coming to fetch her and take her on what promises to be their honeymoon. But she hadn’t counted on the leading man, Ebisu, making a pass at her.

Read what happens in Ten Yen.

Click for more information from the publisher Rogue Phoenix Press:

e-book

print

ebook also available on Amazon Kindle: $3.99

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Water is very important both physically and spiritually. We need it to live. We also love to go to the ocean, or sit by a river because it is so relaxing.

No wonder it is such an important element in many religious traditions.

In Japan, Suijin (水神, water god?) is the Shinto god of water. The term Suijin (literally water people or water deity) refers to the heavenly and earthly manifestations of the benevolent Shinto divinity of water.

Listen to the following music and imagine yourself resting in lovely hot water: CHILLOUT MUSIC – Onsen   

You might just get as relaxed as this Japanese snow monkey:

Ten Yen Forever–sequel to Ten Yen series of spiritual thrillers

tenyenforevercover

Although I did not write this book, I was excited to learn it is coming out  January 1, 2015.  It’s the sequel to Ten Yen True  ($4.99) which I co-authored with Amanda Armstrong and was the first of the series of Ten Yens to be published by http://www.roguephoenixpress.com/.

It all started with a mysterious ten yen coin that found its way into my suitcase somewhere over the Atlantic when I was on a journey to visit my family.  What a journey it has become.

After writing Ten Yen True, which was so much fun, with a surprising ending, I wrote Ten Yen to explain how come the Japanese Buddhist monk, who sent Amanda and I the mysterious coin, sends four more coins to four people who need, well, help. We all have issues of course.  Ten Yen True is about how people can help or hurt one another–with, as I said, a surprise ending.

Ten Yen, the prequel about the Monk and the love of his life, Amaya, has a surprise ending too.

Ten Yen Forever will knock your socks off…so put it on your to read list.

And check out Amanda Armstrong’s website which features free short stories.

Spiritual Practice

Listen. Still your heart and mind, chant.

Namo Amitabha~Pure Land Buddhist Meditation    (8.39 minutes) 

And here is another chant (11 minutes) which will undo bad karma, so it is said.

It is said to repeat the name of the Amida (Amitabha) Buddha is to guarantee a place in the Pure Land (Heaven).

Lotus Pond Photograph

What you think, you become, so train your mind in holiness. Prayer and Meditation focus our minds and hearts, help us to be still and to keep the mind focused on what is holy such as Amida Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, or even fiery Kali.

Supernatural Sundays: Mysticism, Healing, Spirituality and Books