Tag Archives: spirituality

Wish Upon a Boddhisatva


japanbodhi Japanese Boddhisatva.

This blog is the continuation of an unpublished biography of Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese literary genius who won a Nobel Prize for literature.  When he was young, he lost his mother, and then his father. While living with his grandfather, his sister died, and now his grandfather is dying. The teenager, Kawabata, copes as best he can, and even though he has no interest in religious superstitions of his day, finds himself seeking help from a Boddhisatva.

Scroll down to end for holy messages…


Now, Grandfather took ten minutes to urinate, and when he did, he cried out even more. Yasunari did not know if he could bear it, but somehow he did.  After all, Grandfather himself had said, “I have lived shedding tears.”  So this was not so very different from the way things had always been.

Nothing in Grandfather’s life ever seemed to create joy or become successful.  He had tried raising a tea crop and failed.  He had written a book, “A Theory of Divination and the Structure of Dwelling Places and its Effect on the Dwellers.”  It had not been published.  He had sold off all the family holdings to a saké brewer called Matsuo and used the money to reconstruct the house.  None of Grandfather’s attempts to earn money had ever been successful.  His life seemed friendless.

 Yasunari did not feel as if he had many friends either, except perhaps his books. Yasunari realized, though, that Grandfather was not useless, nor had he always been selfish.  Grandfather thought his book taught people how to be happy.  Yasunari did not challenge Grandfather’s ideas.  He never belittled him, either.  Yet, there was no way he could accept his Grandfather’s religious ideas.

Even when Yasunari waved the sword around in the air to rid it of demons, he struggled with his own beliefs. Yasunari wondered why he could not make himself call in a medical doctor to help Grandfather.  He did not consciously resent his father who had been a physician.  Yet, after thirty days, when Grandfather had had no bowel movement, Yasunari had encouraged Omiyo’s talk with the fox god, something supernatural he didn’t believe in.

Grandfather did not like doctors.  Yasunari suspected that Grandfather resented his son, Yasunari’s father, for learning new ways far different from the old traditions.  On the other hand, Yasunari comforted himself, what good could a medical doctor possibly do? The fox god and the rituals gave hope.  To call in a doctor might well be the end of hope.

Grandfather greatly respected the distant past.  He was proud that his family was descended from the people who had built the local temple.  It housed the bodhisattva, Kokūzō.  This deity, seated on a lotus, wearing a crown, held a sword in his right hand to symbolize wisdom, and in his left hand, he held a wish-granting jewel.  He represented wisdom as vast as space.

Yasunari understood that Grandfather had tried to live these beliefs.  Grandfather often remodeled his living quarters.  He believed that the spaces within a house represented the way of wisdom.

Yasunari felt better about Grandfather when he remembered how kind he could be.  Even in his misery, his demands and his suffering, he had been kind to Omiyo.  After her grandchild was born, Grandfather, on hearing the news, became joyful.  He was especially happy to hear about all the gifts her friends in the village gave to her to celebrate her being a grandmother.

Yasunari respected her too. “It is the way it must be, Yasunari,” Omiyo told him.  “The gods understand what is best for each one of us.  Your Grandfather has lived.  You must try to understand the whole picture.  The gods destine our journey in life.”


Monk asks, “who help you in times of sickness and trouble? Where do you turn in your helplessness?”

japanesemanIn Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व bodhisattva; Pali: बोधिसत्त bodhisatta) is an enlightenment (bodhi) being (sattva). Traditionally, a bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[1

Certainly, Jesus fulfilled the category of an enlightened being who gave his life and death for the sake of other people. For Christians, he is the child (son) of God who transforms people’s lives.


Journey to Enlightenment | THE RABBIT HOLE with Deepak Chopra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYi4hqjFfuc

Focus Energy

Jesus Loves You Flash Mob – Tbilisi, Georgia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIncFASwrJY

Be a Help

They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CobNWUXb1M

Spiritual Lenten Practices: Third Monday in Lent – March 24, 2014


“After communion one day, Jesus made me understand: Draw me:

When a soul has been captivated by the intoxicating perfume

of your ointments, she cannot run alone.”

St. Theresa of Lisieux 1873-1897


What captivates a child’s soul?   Children are drawn to the wonder around them by sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch.  A child is captivated through his or her senses.

I was recently captivated by God’s love when I had the good fortune of spending time with my two nieces.  I was captivated by their simplicity and imagination in their play.  To my nieces, their baby dolls and tea parties are real.  In their world, everything becomes alive.  Through their senses, they fully experience life.  They notice the smell of mom’s baking.  They hear the voice of their grandmother on the phone and their eyes light up.  When touching the cat’s soft fur and looking at a flower, they are mesmerized.  They know the difference between tasting broccoli and chocolate chip cookies.

I experienced an irresistible wonder of the presence of God within them.  Seeing the tender expression on their faces, I was captivated by their simple humanness.  My soul was drawn to the mystery of being human.  By tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, and seeing, my awareness of God became real.

Prayer Practice:

St. Therese of Lisieux is known for the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life.  I invite you to stimulate your soul through your senses.  Where do you sense God’s presence in your daily life? What sights, sounds, and scents invite you to be in touch with the presence of God?

Sr. Karina Conrad, CDP. WVIS Associate Spiritual Director: karico1030@gmail.com

from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality: http://wvis.org/

Expanding Consciousness



Deepak Chopra, in his book “God: A Story of Revelation” (Harper Collins, 2012) says spiritual practices change our brains and expand reality.

He mentions four spiritual paths that visionaries from Job, to Julian of Norwich, to Rumi have followed:

1. The path of devotion.

2. The path of understanding.

3. The path of service.

4. The path of meditation.

The path of meditation is the way of consciousness. Devotion begins with a feeling of joy. Understanding begins with a flash of insight. Service begins with an act of humility. But when you begin on the path of meditation, there is only being. In order to be, we need only one thing: consciousness. You are aware that you exist. Such a path would seem to be meager, if not threadbare. Being doesn’t bring images of fun to mind. It brings nothing to mind so much as a blank. Which turns out to be the secret because in that seeming blankness lies the beginning of everything. Consciousness is the womb of creation. Everything you will ever think, say, or do begins here. On the path of meditation, you open your mind to higher consciousness as your very essence. Taking Julian of Norwich as our model, we realize that this path is solitary, because meditation needs silence and self-communion. Its great advantage it that isolation doesn’t have to be physical. You can meditate in the midst of an everyday life.  Time is no obstacle when your goal is the timeless. p. 274

Three of these paths are an aspect of Christian practice: devotion–love God; understanding–Bible study, theology, wisdom; service–help others.

The fourth path Deepak mentions, meditation, is also a Christian practice but doesn’t get a lot of attention in many denominations.  It is the path of centering prayer, similar to Zen, where one empties one’s brain by not attaching to superficial thoughts, but steadily repeating a mantra.  Some people use the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.  I don’t use this because I don’t find it spiritually healthy to constantly refer to myself as a sinner–which doesn’t mean I am by any means perfect or that I don’t make mistakes and need correction.

Women and marginalized people, it seems to me, do much better to experience God’s healing grace and love.

A centering prayer I like is the breath prayer of Buddhism.

Breathing in, think Grace.  Breathing out, think Love.

And as your brain races and wanders, gently bring yourself back to your repetition.

Meditate daily, preferably for 20 minutes or so.  It is difficult but gets easier and brings serenity into your life.


Dream Pheasant

Once, in a dream, I saw a radiant white pheasant with colorful tail feathers fly up through the ceiling on its way to heaven.  I knew this bird represented the soul of a man I’d been visiting in a nursing home. His death was imminent.  He was a very sweet and peaceful person, quite elderly.  In his life, he’d made his living as a brick-layer, and later became a United Methodist pastor. He’d founded a church that is still vibrant today. 

The dream image of ascension is a common Christian idea, but while we may view going up to heaven as our goal, it is also the case that the Way of Christ and all spiritual traditions, calls us into a deeper place, arising from within ourselves.

Richard Foster, an educator, pastor and Quaker, in his book Celebration of Discipline, writes about spiritual practices. The four inward disciplines of meditation, fasting, prayer, and study, are ways to harness our brains and minds and bodies so that we are centered in a deeper connectedness to  Higher Power, one some call God or Goddess, Father or Mother, El, Shaddai, Shekinah, Allah, Brahman, and so on.  Many names, but one life-giving  source.

Contemplation is a form of meditation similar to Buddhist meditation.  Meditation in the Christian tradition usually involves reflection and prayer about a sacred passage, but in Eastern traditions, it is a self-emptying.   Self emptying–that is to say, letting go of superficial thoughts rather than attaching to them–allows a deeper awareness to rise from within us. Contemplation and Christian centering prayer are similar to Buddhist meditation: all are ways to a more engaged life not only spiritually, but in the world.

For example, study is always a way I train my brain, and when I am anxious about something, is a good way to calm myself so that I stop fretting, wasting valuable energy in a way that is unhelpful.

It is a good practice to daily spend time in some form of inward discipline–it brings about peace, awareness, understanding and compassion for oneself and others.

Brigit’s Day

Beaghmore Stone Circles Northern Ireland



February 1, Brigit’s Day in the Celtic calendar is the ancient feast of Imbolc which marks the beginning of spring. Brigit, the female figure of divinity from Old Europe, was said to “breathe life into the mouth of dead winter.”  
Brigit’s Table Grace from St. Brigid’s Monastery in Kildare, Ireland

I should like a great lake of finest ale 

for all the people.

I should like a table of the choicest foods 

for the family of heaven.

Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, 

and the food be for giving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast, 

for they are God’s children.

I should welcome the sick to my feast 

for they are God’s joy.

Let the poor sit with Sophia at the highest place 

and the sick dance with the angels.

Bless the poor, bless the sick, 

bless our human race.

Bless our food, bless our drink, all homes, 

O God embrace.

The Bell

There is one person amongst my Facebook friends who is likely to remember this bell.

I have treasured it for many years, and sometimes used it during retreats.

Here’s the awesome story– does it reveal the connectedness of humanity, of God?

You decide.

It was the day after Christmas and I’d agreed to volunteer to fill in for the church secretary at FCC in Ashland. I didn’t expect it to be too busy. So I’d brought along a manuscript I was about to finish revising.  At that time it was called The Bells. At that time it contained the story of the great bell of St. Clement Danes  which during the Blitz of London, WW II, when a bomb hit the church, fell, and cracked.

So here I was in the office at FCC finishing the final touches to this story. I typed in the final changes. What a relief. What a moment of completion.

A friend in Ashland got in touch and said she had a gift for me.

I was rather surprised.  What a lovely gesture.  So after I’d completed the story and my time in the church, which was not uneventful, by the way (but that’s another story) was over, I went over to another mutual friend’s apartment.

The gift I received was so special. Wrapped beautifully, I kept the box too, inside was a bell.  It had been used by my friend’s mother, who was very sick, to summon help to her bedside.  I believe the bell was from California.

It is most probably a bell from a monastery, one that was used to announce communion.

Can you imagine, here I was in a church finishing a manuscript called The Bells. 

To receive such a special bell rang an affirmation of grace and friendship.



In my blog Eternal Spring, I talk about not “fitting.” This is an important discernment and not to be taken lightly. We often don’t “fit” which doesn’t mean we should necessarily leave a situation.  Our alienation might be something interior that needs to be worked through.

Think of young people who are so disaffected, so unemotional, so alienated from life, that they become terrorists, preferring what they consider martyrdom by blowing themselves up along with other people they consider their enemies. We would name them murderers, delusional and confused.

Think about students who want to drop out of high school.  Often young people are bored, insecure, and unsure of themselves. Or they feel left out. It’s a difficult time for teens. Leaving school is not a good idea in our culture–without highschool, job opportunities are practically non-existent, and without a job, there is no independence. Even with low-paying jobs, there is little independence, and probably a life of drudgery which could be avoided by staying on an educational track.  

I left the educational setting of WVIS for a number of reasons.  One of them was that I’ve already been certified in spiritual direction which included Ignatian retreat leadership. Although I’ve offered and facilitated quite a few retreats, there is little desire for this type of spirituality in the area where I live, so I didn’t see much point in spending more effort and money I don’t have on something that is unlikely to be fruitful.

I will continue to offer retreats and limited one-on-one spiritual direction, which I prefer to call spiritual companionship, but mainly I am enjoying a phase of life that is free from schedules and the daily toil of a job.  I am enjoying “being” which is a time of leisure, writing, playing with ideas, and spending time with Philip and friends. 

Having said this, I would encourage people to engage in silent prayer, and be open to take retreats which can be most productive in terms of deepening awareness.

I will certainly take more Ignatian directed silent retreats. They are not always easy, but they are always refreshment for the soul and often freeing in brand new ways.  Meditating on the wisdom of Scripture in the Bible and from other religious traditions, and also from great works of literature and art is a wonderful way to grow spiritually. 

So what does it mean to grow spiritually?  It means to become wiser, to be freed from addictive behaviors, to become more compassionate, and to become fully oneself. 

Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist, used to tell his students “to follow their bliss.” This didn’t mean he wanted his students to seek pleasure, but rather to be true to themselves and not become what parents expected or society expected but to live fully as they themselves chose, but learning how and what to choose isn’t so easy because we are limited by our insecurities, culture, genetics and so on.

To deeply experience God in the Christian sense is to become filled with spiritual fruits we learn about in the Bible: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5: 22-23).  If we see growth in these ways within ourselves, we are fulfilling not only Christian ideas but those of many other mainstream religious traditions.

By all means if you are yearning for a deeper life, try taking a retreat. Try centering prayer. Do Zen. It’s very difficult to still our minds and not attach to one thought or another. It takes practice, patience and grace.  Meditating on scriptures will help shape your thoughts which is why it is important to meditate on what is truly wise, truly holy.

Eternal Spring

 Winter Robin in Pear Tree–Ashland, KY

I went to an Intensive training session at West Virginia Institute for Spirituality with the goal of learning how to more thoroughly administer the methods of St. Ignatius of Loyola to give others intensive prayer retreats in what is called the 19th annotation–which requires either a four week silent retreat directed by an experienced retreat leader, or a full year of daily meditations and prayer times following the guidance of a spiritual director with whom one meets once a month.

Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth century minor Spanish nobleman went through a conversion experience that transformed him from a soldier seeking honor to a monk seeking God. He was the founder of the Society of Jesus. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Loyola

He developed this experiential four week silent retreat for monks and religious people. Each week corresponded to a particular development in the spiritual life based on Christian and Biblical ideology:

  • Week One was to meditate on Scripture and become immersed in the love of God.
  • Week Two was to learn more fully the message of Christ.
  • Week Three was to experience the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.
  • Week Four was to experience the resurrection in some way that led to interior freedom for the participant.

Nowadays, not only religious professionals, but also lay people serious about their prayer lives are welcome to follow the Ignatian 19th annotation in daily life.

Not everyone, in a silent retreat, completes all the phases of Ignatian spirituality.  It’s quite possible to remain in Week One–experiencing the love of God without moving on to the knowledge of Christ.

My own experience with Ignatian spirituality has been positive.  I have completed the 19th annotation and also have attended several silent retreats.  All have grown me in positive ways. I have no doubt this sort of training led me into completing my Master’s in Pastoral Ministry and pastoring a church for a while.

So here I was at this Intensive, when I realized I no longer “fit.” I did not want to be there. I no longer wanted to be immersed in the Biblical spirituality of patriarchal language.  So, in the morning after much consideration, I spoke with the director and left.  This in no way means I do not appreciate the education being offered by the faculty of West Virginia Institute for Spirituality. It is excellent as is Ignatian spirituality.

As I drove home in the early morning, the sun rose and the winter branches glowed red.  I felt incredibly full of joy. I felt free as if I could learn to fly in a new way. 

This morning in my silent meditation on Shekinah, the feminine face of God, I found myself reflecting upon the need for a feminine spirituality grounded in light, a spiritual journey that leads us in circles spiraling us deeper and deeper until we enter a center where union with God is not apostolic in the patriarchal sense, but is a womb of warmth where all our needs are taken care of, where we are safe, where we are loved, where we are grown. When it is time to be born, we are not to be crucified and resurrected with Christ, but we leap from a springboard into freedom of mind, body and spirit like the flight of a robin, cyclical, seeking warmth, living in an eternal spring.

Lion Speak

Well at least one lion spoke to me, but not in words.

I was at a silent retreat.  It was a particularly special one because at the conclusion of this retreat, I was to graduate as an associate of West Virginia Institute for Spirituality.

So here I was at John XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston, WV thoroughly immersed in silence.

As a writer, my imaginative side is quite active, but this event was a surprise to me; it felt like the universe laughing with me; it felt like the visit from a holy one.

I liked to go out every day and walk around the center.  This particular day, I was sitting outside on a bench by a pretty pond when I noticed a lanky creature emerge from the back of the building, from the kitchen area.  At first I thought it was a dog.  Dogs delight me so I was very pleased.  But the more I looked, the more I realized this was no dog. It looked more like a cat except it was a very large cat, bigger than a bobcat and had a long tail.

I got up and approached the creature and he approached me. It was a mountain lion.

He watched me and I watched him for many minutes.

Then another retreatant came outside–a little old lady. The lion slunk into the grass where he watched her pass.  If she saw him, I will never know. Nor was I afraid for her.

After she’d moved on, the lion came back into the parking lot and I walked towards him until I was perhaps twenty feet away. He was as curious about me as I was about him.

After a few minutes, I left him alone, not out of fear but out of respect.

This lion was a wonderful symbol for me, a gift from the universe. He was the lion in Narnia, which represents Christ.  This was a powerful experience for me in many ways, symbolic of my graduation as a spiritual director, symbolic of my life as a writer of fantasy novels for children, and also breathtakingly–well not exactly beautiful–but awesome.

How does nature speak to you? When have you experienced God-moments?


God Speaks–A Lenten Retreat in Daily Life

Join Cindy Neely and Christina St Clair in a Lenten Retreat, using forty meditations from the world’s wisdom traditions. This will be a time of rest in God, deepening practice of prayer and meditation.

The first meeting on Thursday, Feb. 14 from  either 9:00-11:00 AM or 7:00 – 9:00 PM will be a time of introduction about deepening prayer and meditative practices where you will have a chance to decide if you want to sign up for the retreat. If so, you will receive a copy of the book we plan to use: Sister Joan Chittister’s book, God Speaks in Many Tongues.   The book is included in the retreat fee–$25.

Details of meeting places to be announced.

Spring of Eternal Life

Why should we pray? Or meditate? How does silent prayer help? It is a means of spiritual refreshment for the soul.

Centering Prayer is a prayer practice that, according to Father Basil Pennington, dates back to an early church father by the name of Abba Isaac.  He lived in the fourth century and devoted his life to becoming united with Christ.  The abbas (fathers) and ammas (mothers) went to live as hermits in the desert because as Thomas Merton said, “the hermits doubted that religion and politics could ever produce a truly Christian society. For them, the only Christian society was spiritual and not mundane.”[13]   They spent their time in constant prayer and meditation of Scriptures gaining much insight and wisdom, becoming spiritual leaders who taught others. They were the originators of monastic traditions.

While I don’t favor asceticism, I have been drawn to meditation and prayer, and have wanted to pray unceasingly.  This is not easy and in fact nigh on impossible for ordinary people like me, people who must do the chores, cook, clean, work…

Yet, even a brief daily time of centering prayer has been fruitful for me in many ways.

Centering Prayer is the Christian equivalent to Zen in so far as it is a time to sit in silence, and is a way for us to become deeper in our connection to God.  But what does that mean?

For me it means I am opened to fresh awareness and understanding, in ways that increase interior freedom. I am opened to a life of the heart rather than the head. What this means is that once I understand how and why I react in a certain way, perhaps because of some past event, then I am freed to not react; while recognizing my brokenness, I don’t allow it to control me. When we have no conscious awareness we have no center and are at the mercy of uncontrolled forces–perhaps benign ones, but often evil ones.

Abba Isaac is attributed with a prayer that is very poignant, one we might all remember and use to steady ourselves: “O God come to my assistance: O Lord, make haste to help me.”


God Speaks–A Lenten Retreat in Daily Life

Join Cindy Neely and Christina St Clair in a Lenten Retreat, using forty meditations from the world’s wisdom traditions. This will be a time of rest in God, deepening practice of prayer and meditation.

The first meeting on Thursday, Feb. 14 from  either 9:00-11:00 AM or 7:00 – 9:00 PM will be a time of introduction about deepening prayer and meditative practices where you will have a chance to decide if you want to sign up for the retreat. If so, you will receive a copy of the book we plan to use: Sister Joan Chittister’s book, God Speaks in Many Tongues.   The book is included in the retreat fee–$25.

Details of meeting places to be announced.