Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas from Carmel Heart Media!

Merry Christmas 
or Happy Holidays,
whatever tradition you 
are celebrating this year,
from Carmel Heart Media.

(This picture is from a newly restored Carmelite priory in Malta. Wow, huh? Looks like part of Heaven.)

  Article about Priory Restoration Here

Carmel Heart Media, LLC

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Parkinson's and Putians- Nothing's Really Lost

Watching my father's health be ravaged by Parkinson's Disease is like witnessing my own soul shed its skin like a snake. Following a heart attack, my father was, in one fell stroke, unable to walk or to feed himself. His Parkinson's had advanced due to the medical trauma. The man who was strong for me through my life became weak. The man who was brilliant for me became difficult to comprehend. But, even at the worst, what is left is the sweet and loving essence of who my father is. When I was able to spend time with my father, I was happy to wake up in the morning to go and be with that presence. He didn't have to talk to me about anything really. He didn't have to walk around and entertain me. He didn't need to take care of me or do anything for me. Just sitting with him brought me great joy.

While I was with my father, the Carmelite tradition strengthened me. The Carmelite tradition teaches me about keeping my focus on prayer throughout the day. As I practice this, my thoughts are directed out towards others more than they are pulled in towards myself. I find myself strengthened and fulfilled by practicing more generous love and more charitable thought. This keeps me more in alignment with faith and more careful of doing the right things,

My father once bought toys that looked like little people for my brother and me (see above pic). He called them, “Liliputians,” and he told us the story of the liliputians from Gulliver's Travels. So, my brother and I called the toys our “putians.” We played with the putians a lot until we just lost them, one sad day. My father wrote this short poem about the experience he had of finding toys we lost when I was a child:

Many years have passed.
Under fallen leaves, I found,
Lost toys you cried for.

My father's love permeates this short haiku. This poem was about how much he wanted me to be happy and how it saddened him when I was not, and it was about his regret of finding something too late that would have brought me that happiness.

And that is the way I feel right now. I feel I have found something in myself that my father spent most of his life crying for. He spent his life witnessing my lost soul. My father wanted me to share my gifts and talents with the world, but instead I used them selfishly and flagrantly. I wanted him to be proud of me, even though that never seemed to matter to him. My father knows more about loving unconditionally than anyone I know, but I wanted to show him I could do something that mattered. While I just lost my toys, my father lost his daughter. Now, as I wonder if I'm losing my father, I want to show him that the ways I brought him joy, his “toys” are there. They were just buried under the leaves.

Hopefully, my father will be rehabilitated back to the way he was before the heart attack, when he was mostly lucid in his thought process. I want that for his own sake. Sadly, in my selfishness, I also want him to see the works of my reparation, but he may not. I ask God to forgive me and help me let go of that selfishness. I ask God to help me love my father just as he is for his own sake, just as he has loved me. I am too old to play with putians or to play games with the truth.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King: The Cross is the Throne

Today is the day of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Because this day interests me, I've done a good bit of reading about it from various articles and websites. One of the most novel ideas (to my formerly protestant mindset) is the image of the cross as the throne. If the cross were the throne, what would that mean?

The cross would mean that the willingness to endure discomfort, suffering and humiliation is such a powerful way to convey love that the cross is the center of the love that rules the world. Jesus offered nothing but love when those around him gave him nothing but hate. We see no sign of resentment, bitterness or anger in the words of Jesus on the cross. The cross shows us that the only victory in life is to love, with loyalty to God through all of life's ups and downs, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Jesus showed us His commitment to us through death on the cross. He demonstrated his loyalty.

Our society today is sorely lacking the guiding principles of loyalty and commitment. Half of all marriages fail. Even in today's job market, many people are still changing jobs almost as often as they change their socks. People change their "spiritual path" as it suits their whims, choosing whatever agrees with them as the truth at that particular time. Truth in our culture is relative and arbitrary.

Once upon a time, there was a man who made the deepest and most enduring commitment possible to you, even if you never loved Him back.

Many people don't like to look at the crucifix, saying such things as, "He's off the cross now. Let's talk about the resurrection." Jesus is never off the cross. He is married to it. The cross is His perfect commitment to you. Jesus rose and Jesus lives but the sacrifice He made on the cross saturates every moment we live, each time our heart beats or we blink an eye.

Jesus is a King who reigns from the cross. He needs no other throne to prove that he is God or to show he is important. The cross says it all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stress and the Compulsive Carmelite

I've been away from this blog for a while because of several changes in my life. The most important was the decline in my father's health. My father, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, intermittent dementia and heart problems, has been in the hospital all week and is going into a nursing home tomorrow, which will hopefully be temporary. Hopefully, his condition can be rehabilitated back to his previous level. My week has been rife with anxiety over my father's condition and with family problems causing great stress in general. My relationship with my father has always been the most important relationship in my life. I'm a Daddy's girl. I adore him. Even the thought of his suffering at all stabs me in the heart.

Also, a very good thing happened over the past week. I was able to receive my grant funding in order to further my efforts in publishing and also to produce e-books and apps. At first, I was ecstatic, but then the glow dissolved into the realization that I need to follow my business plan carefully and make meeting my goals happen. New world, new business, new frontier, with expectations. I felt a bit intimidated and anxious, although still confident, overall.

Any student who has taken Psychology 101 knows that significant life events, both good and bad, can be equally stressful. Stress has more to do with life changes in general than with our experience of whether we like them or not. And, changes are a bit harder for people on the autism spectrum. I've had to make a lot of changes to my routines, schedules, and conceptualization of things. Through all this time, I've been told I am handling it all really, really well.

Why? Well, it's not because of coping skills. It's not because I'm doing anything new really. Something natural is happening. Yes, really. I'm truly grateful. For about a couple of months before I first became Catholic, I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours two and three times a day. At the time I started, I was depressed and it WAS a coping skill to pray throughout the day. Now, ten months later, it has become a habit. Shortly after becoming Catholic, I began to seek out novel ways to complicate my life. I tried to do the Sacred Heart Novena nine times a day for nine days. That went so well that after 21 days, I gave up trying to do it at all. I started a checklist of all the various prayer practices I wanted to integrate into my day, and frustrate and berate myself daily and weekly by my inability to reach even 50% of my goals.

At long last, I went to my spiritual director, Father Richard. He explained to me that prayer should be “natural” and “organic.” My first thought was about hippies selling chemical free vegetables. The concept of natural prayer did not compute. Why not? Not trusting myself had a lot to do with it. So, I let go of all but two prayer practices, at Father Richard's request. I started to notice an interesting thing: spontaneous, natural prayer began to happen.

Walking downtown in Eugene presents copius opportunities to pray for people who are homeless and mentally ill. I started to notice praying for them was automatic as soon as I saw them. I started noticing myself automatically praying a lot as I walked around downtown. In a doctor's waiting room, I would become aware I was reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet, just because I was thinking of someone and worrying about their well-being. Prayer just bubbles up from my heart, sometimes at the least likely times.

Secular Carmelites commit to “ponder the law of God day and night.” How does a person make that happen? I think you need to really, really want it to happen. My natural goal is today and every day to glorify God in all I do. I am blessed with unquenching desire for Him. So, I'm learning to trust the rhythms of my heart, allowing myself to pray naturally. Humans were created to praise and serve God, so of course, it should be natural.

So, I have relaxed and I have let go a lot more. I find I'm laughing more. I find I'm frazzled less. I'm naturally praying for Daddy and for the rest of my family around the clock. Instead of worrying, my habit is to pray instead. Am I coping well because prayer is a “coping skill” I am using? I don't really think so. I'm coping well because I am an instrument of prayer God is using. Nothing could be more amazing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Growing up: It's Not About What I Want

Sometimes, I feel blocked in my prayer life. I spend a lot of time analyzing why I might be blocked, examining my conscience over and over, looking at my motives and trying to sort out what might be a sin. I've learned now just to take notes. I have a journal with a section for daily musings and a separate section for examination of conscience. I keep them separate so that I have a more focused, clear intention when I do my evening "examination."

Sometimes, I've used columns, weighing ethics of right and wrong, but I'm still focused on sorting it out. It's not like journaling about what a nice lunch I had with a friend. Even everyday notes like that can give me a great sense of patterns and progress in my life, but I write in the "journal" section for expression and the "examination" section for discernment. 

This process is really tough for me. Part of the reason it's tough is my autism. Ambiguity and shades of grey are not very easy for me to wade through. Part of the problem is that like every sinner, the voice of what I want to do is louder than the whisper of what is the right thing to do. There are people who have actually made a religion out of listening to the loud voice of what they want and drowning out their annoying conscience. Thankfully, that didn't work for me too well, but the vestiges of that sort of thinking can trip me up if I'm not careful.

While I used to panic about doing the wrong thing, I've learned to go about this process calmly. One of our Carmelite priests, Father Jan (now in Uganda), told me that God has an interesting way of working in our lives. He only shows us one thing at a time, and it's what's right in front of us. So, when we're wondering what to do, look to the present moment and to what God is saying here and now. That type of thinking has calmed me down when I've felt the frantic need to figure things out. Father Jan is also the one who helped me figure out a system of note taking and analysis, so I could look at it like a scientist and see patterns over time.

Why bother with all this? The old me did examinations of my life to see where I was holding myself  back from getting what I wanted in life, whether that be material wealth, fame, love or luxury. I would try to eliminate traces of guilt, fear and shame in order to pursue my goals with greater success.

The new me says, "Who cares?" God is SO much greater than my petty little desires and concerns. Although God ultimately wants us to experience His peace and joy, for us to come to Him solely to seek consolation is nothing more than using Him and treating Him like an object. My goal is to have a real relationship, really give and take with God. Sorry if it sounds crude, but it's not "do me, do me," anymore. Every time I meditate on the life of Jesus, I'm getting to know Him. I'm not just droning a monologue on and on about myself in prayer. Jesus is God and he is also fully human forever. I know he loves me and all, but even perfect humans get bored!

When I was in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults,) on my way to becoming Catholic, we learned in class that the purpose of Catholicism is to have a mature relationship with Jesus Christ. At first, I was surprised. I had grown up being told that Catholics didn't think for themselves and were childlike in spirituality. I learned that nothing is further from the truth. Father Bryce, one of our parish priests, taught us that it's not that Catholics don't think FOR ourselves; We just don't think BY ourselves. We think WITH theological giants through 2000 years of combined experience and councils.

More importantly, whose spirituality is more mature than that of the saints? In RCIA, I asked, "What does a mature relationship with Christ look like?" Well, we have thousands of examples throughout history of what that looks like. Various, diverse, creative manifestations of God through amazing people show us the way to ultimate meaning and truth.

I wish I could tell you why I do what I do and what I hope to gain by it, but I can't. If I could do that, I might as well find a spiritual charlatan who will know how to sell it to me. God gives us unconditional love, but WE can choose to make it conditional by refusing to cooperate with that love. Part of that love is the expectation that I do not just spend my life "manifesting my desires." Instead, I spend my life learning to discern and manifest HIS.

This link goes to a really neat method. A Carmelite nun gives an outline of how to examine conscience through using the Interior Castle of St. Teresa. Truly cool!

The Awesome Sister Carmen Explains All

The Ignatian Examen is a popular method of exploration of conscience. It's good too. 

Ignatian Examination of Conscience

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What is Union with God?

Happy All Saint's Day!

All Saints Day is a perfect day for this blog, to help me explain what "Carmel Hearts" is all about. I am an aspirant for the Order of Discalced Carmelites, Secular (OCDS, also known as a tertiary or third order.) What that means is that through this year, I contemplate whether or not a deeper commitment to the Carmelite way of life is right for me. Even if I discern that it is not, the spirit of Carmel has changed me forever and will never leave me. I will always have Carmel in my heart. So, this blog is for anyone who loves the Carmelite tradition, the lives and writings of the Carmelite saints, or just the amazing charism of the Carmelites, prayer and especially contemplative prayer.

The Discalced Carmelites were founded by St. Teresa of Avila, who is my confirmation saint. I chose St. Teresa because I'm in my forties and starting over with my life and St. Teresa's  life only began to flower in her forties. St. Teresa was an extroverted girl who struggled most of her life with prayer, but she matured into a master contemplative while in her forties. Near the end of her life, St. Teresa lived in union with God. She wrote that she did not know where she ended and God began, sometimes, and that she found herself quickly forgetting her own past, and even who she was. She had not become a God. She had allowed herself to dissolve into the majesty of God, to become a conduit for His Majesty to flood the world with grace and love.

I've always sought union with God, but I've gone about it in some crazy ways. Gurus in some "new age" traditions brag about "achieving" union with God, but it is to portray their power and strength in becoming God. This bravado attracts followers who reflect the guru's power back in the hopes to get a piece of it for themselves. I somehow thought that was what I was searching for, this "empowerment" to create "abundance" and "prosperity" and to become like a God. The more I became involved in it, the more I was taught that my role was to "become God," yet when I failed at that, I found myself worshiping the guru and if not him, the "ascended master of the week." My life was empty then.

All I ever REALLY wanted was sanity, peace and wholeness in myself. I never dreamed I would fall in love with God, who became incarnate as the greatest hero who ever lived, and that He would become my best friend. I never imagined I would find such a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment in learning to do His will.

Earlier this month, I went to the Secular Carmelite weekend retreat in Beaverton. The topic for the weekend was "obedience." At the retreat, I learned that the first step in union with God was to be in unity with His will. St. Teresa had many intuitions that her spiritual director did not agree with, so she followed his direction instead, without hesitation. In most of the situations, the decision was less important than the opportunity St. Teresa had to let go of pride and her need to be right and in control. St. Teresa made a vast array of decisions and was given great responsibility by the Church, but in those few times she was directed, she did not even argue. I learned at the retreat that St. Teresa said, "The Devil ceases attacking IF we are truly resigned.” 

Obedience is key to surrender to God's will.  Sometimes, that obedience is to superiors, but more often, for lay people obedience is about accepting life on life's terms. Give up. Wave the white flag. I did. I had no energy to fight anymore and I had no question or doubt in my mind that every other route I had taken in my life led nowhere. My first terror was that I would still be led astray because evil is incredibly subtle and tricky. St. Teresa helped me to remember to just let go, to God's care. That's the way to truly be free.

(Added Note: I am only at the very beginning- nowhere near "in union" with God, just working towards it really hard. Thank God for the saints that give us hope and show us the way!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Infinite Ways to Get Nowhere

This is a poem I wrote last February.  I've always been an "explorer" and an "experimenter" in life. I'm the sort of person who will repeat the same failed experiment in life multiple times before giving up. And yet, I have. The results speak for themselves.


It's so amazing how many ways to get lost
I marvel at the dark labyrinths and twisted roots in forest caverns
where my soul has wandered, cried and labored.

I cannot count the infinite ways to get nowhere.
There are joyful mirages and tragic truths, sleepy visions and chasing the wind.
I am an expert here.

Wasted reflections and agonized sighs,
Playful persuasions, hypnotic eyes.
I've been a vagabond of soul,
a restless spirit unsure where to go
when the past from where I started is destroyed.

But now, I have returned to me.
There are infinite ways to find ourselves,
in someone's eyes, in sunspun meadows, reaching out to reach back in,

where God's home is, in me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Change of Heart

Welcome to my new blog, Carmel Heart!

Some may remember me as the author of Borderline and Beyond, a self-help book that I revised twice over the past fifteen years. Soon, the book will be published again as the original edition. I'm looking forward to returning to my simple roots, writing what is positive and practical.

Others may know me as the woman who made over seventy videos on YouTube about autism. Yes, I was diagnosed with autism later in life and found a new way to share about coping skills, through video. Yet, when I updated Borderline and Beyond with information about autism, the essence of the book was diluted. In the future, I'll be separating the subjects.

I've spent the past five years or so in reflection. Life wasn't going the way I wanted. I had gained a lot of the material things I wanted, including prestige, and yet my life was empty. New Age teaching that I thought was of solid benefit fell apart when I realized a life “all about me” and “learning to love myself” was empty and devoid of meaning. So, I dismantled pretty much my whole way of doing things, including letting my old website go. I decided I didn't care anymore about living just for me, so I didn't do much of anything at all until I converted to Catholicism and found a whole new way of life with meaning. That meaning is nourished through my study of the Carmelite tradition.

Carmel is a mountain range in northern Israel where the Carmelite tradition began with a sacrifice by Elijah, and continued as a community of hermits on Mount Carmel with the prophet Elias. The Carmelites were founded as a Christian order in the 12th Century.

During a drought and famine, in a world that was lost and worshiping idols, Elijah brought bountiful truth to the heart and rain to the land.

Well, now I'm an aspirant for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. The goal of this blog is not religion, but rather for me to write as much as possible from the spirit and heart of Carmel. But no, I'm not planning to be preachy. I'm not re-doing anything I've done before to make it religious. Religion has changed my heart, from a hardened heart to a more natural heart. But, it has not made me want to push more ideas, just more compassion.

The question I hope to answer through this blog is, “How can we re-infuse our lost, dead culture with vibrancy and life?” Join the discussion. Add your voice and ideas.

“Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” -Elijah (1 Kings 18:37)