Gratitude as a Lenten practice

“In 12 years of research, I have never interviewed a single person with the capacity to really experience joy who does not also actively practice gratitude.”
Brené Brown

Practicing gratitude is simple. It does not requite any special skill, like riding a bicycle for example would. We can write our gratitude notes in a journal or on small pieces of paper that we put into a jar (“a gratitude jar”). While the practice is simple, it is good to be reminded of the value of gratitude.

Research has shown that gratitude can improve both mental and physical health, and “not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health”.* A number of studies revealed other benefits, such as improvement in self-esteem, better sleep, reduced stress and even a help in overcoming trauma.

I have been writing a gratitude journal for a few years now. When I read through it I notice I am often grateful for small things. Or maybe better to say ordinary things, like sunshine, a fox in my garden, hot water – hot water features quite regularly in my gratitude notes. Green grass, a conversation with a friend, a pressed Autumn leaf in my notebook, especially since I found it at the beginning of Spring.

In “One thousand gifts”, Ann Voskamp describes her practice of writing one thousand gratitude notes into a journal. This practice gradually transformed her. When she was young, something tragic happened in her family and it marked the rest of her life. As a grown up woman, she had lovely six children, a husband, they lived on a farm, but her daily living was marked with anxiety and worry. Until she started to write the gratitude notes in her journal. She started noticing that her days were filled with beauty. Interestingly, a lot of the things she wrote about were also every-day and simple. 

           “243. Clean sheets smelling like wind
             244. Hot oatmeal tasting like home
             245. Bare toes in early light”
           [Ann Voskamp, “One thousand gifts”, p. 55]

We have just started our Lenten journey. Lent is a time where we reflect on Jesus’ time in the desert. We journey with Jesus towards His final days on earth, His death and resurrection. I have never been in an actual desert, but I am sure that even there we can find things to be grateful for. Some deserts bloom with flowers during certain seasons.

There can be an oasis in the desert, and it must feel almost like a little miracle to come across one. Perhaps those who travel in the desert become aware of the essentials they need. We can be grateful for company, water, food, a shelter for the night. Even if we are not going to go physically into the desert, we can experience that life sometimes provides ‘desert-experiences’. During the difficult times, too, we can practice gratitude, and it may help to ground us into the experience of God’s goodness.

In Lent, at least liturgically, we don’t sing Alleluia, which is exclamation of relief and ultimate victory. But the prayers are still filled with praises to God. Those praises, as well as noticing gifts of each day, are a bit like new buds on the trees as Spring is gradually bursting into bloom. The more blossoms we notice, the more grateful we feel.

If we take gratitude as our Lenten practice, noticing goodness in life will guide us from the praises of God’s goodness towards the Easter Alleluia. We might even notice that some of the desert places within us bloomed as we did that.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Advent – when light makes a difference in the dark

Each Sunday in Advent, we light a candle on our Advent wreath, flickering and shining their light into our churches and homes. As the evenings grow shorter, we can see the candles clearly. They appear brighter and more distinct to us the darker it becomes, and as nighttime falls, they appear quite brilliant in the inky surroundings, little beacons of light in a sea of darkness. And the light from a single candle can be seen from a great distance in total darkness.

According to scientific study, the human eye could detect the flicker of a candle in total darkness, with a direct line of sight, at 46km away, or 30 miles. It seems an impossible task for a tiny little flame to emit light that can be seen from that distance but it can. And the strange thing is that that little beam of light can be seen further the darker the world around it is. Truly light can cut through darkness, the light only becomes stronger the darker it gets.

In our day to day lives, it is all too easy to become a little down trodden, to become overwhelmed with our own worries and concerns. Yet we are not alone. If a small bulb or a candle can shine far out into the darkness, how much further can the light of Jesus’ love shine? As the mirrors of a lighthouse amplify and direct light into the darkness, so too can we take that light that Jesus brings to us and reflect it in how we live our lives and in how we share our lives with others, in how we treat others. In this season of Advent, we can reflect that light and that love into the darkest corners of our world. Jesus is the bearer of that light, his healing love is there for all, yet it is up to us to open the door and let it shine into our lives, into our world.

Rev Ross Styles

Grief at a time of Advent

Grief is never easy. But some times of the year it may be amplified. I have friends who recently lost people close to them. It’s hard to see their pain, and yet only by witnessing the pain – ours and someone else’s – will we find healing in it. 

Whether the loss was recent or from the years past, the closer we are to the season of Christmas the more painful some memories become. On the other hand, Advent in its gentleness, like candles lit in the dark nights, can provide a cloak of comfort. Advent is a season of gentle contrasts: darkness in which light comes, longing for hope into which hope is born, desire for peace that comes out a deep anguish and a need for change. It is Christ coming into our humanity, bringing us His light, hope, peace. But this coming comes softly, like the frost on the winter grass. 

If you are in a season of grief and if the pain of memory knocks on your door each morning, know there is nothing wrong with you. It is not only human, but also healthy to allow ourselves to feel all the nuances of emotion we experience. Grief is painful, but only by walking through it will darkness of the night lead us towards the dawn.

Often when we light a candle, its wax drips, like tears. Light a candle, sit next to it, and allow your emotions to surface. Weep if you feel like weeping. Know that God is with you. You are not alone. You are never alone. Let Him cradle you in His love, comfort you, love you. God can hear all your questions. He hears the screams of your pain, and screams of the silence of your heart. You are not alone.

Yet if you are well enough, but you know someone who is in pain: sit with them. Allow them to talk. Don’t be quick to offer answers. Dry their tears. Be there. Show them that God cares by you caring for them. And know that God will sit down with you. He will cradle you both in His gentle presence and lit your inner candles in these dark nights. 

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

“Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for healing

Jesus thought us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven”. In this day-and-age when social media is so prevalent in our lives, the news travels quickly from one part of the world to another. And bad news travels even quicker, or at least it seems that way at times. We don’t even have to go as far as listening to the news. It is enough to talk to people we know, or to look into our own lives, to see that we need healing, this world needs healing. In other words, this world is crying out to receive more of God, more of His presence and more of His kingdom here in our midst. We need the prayer that Jesus thought us to become reality, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.

Initially in the garden of Eden, before the Fall, there was no illness, no distress, no anxiety, no discord, and we all long to return to that place in one way or another. It must have been amazing to live in that kind of environment – it sounds like a life where everything is in its right order and there is perfect peace. And yet, that’s not how the story ended.

Now we live in the moment of history between the harmony our ancestors enjoyed in the garden of Eden, and between the promise of heaven, where “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will be removed forever (Revelation 21:4).” Each and every one of us needs healing. Healing is not only for those who are terminally ill or who have experienced deep traumas. We have all been scarred with some experience that has affected us, or still affects us, and that needs to be brought to God so that He can put the balm of His love and the balm of His truth over it. Jesus healed when He encountered people, and that is also how His kingdom spread. Every experience of healing here on this earth is an experience of heaven, a touch of God’s presence. It is an experience of God’s kingdom coming to inhabit our reality now in our daily lives.

The key to allowing God’s kingdom to inhabit us more fully is, I believe, in the Gospel where Jesus visits His friends, Martha and Mary. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). You can imagine the scene: Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. There is something peaceful about that…the exchange of love is happening. Mary is fed in the presence of Jesus. Then comes Martha, worried, distracted with what needs to be done, and she does not notice this atmosphere of peace and love. Not until Jesus points it out. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).” 

The difference between Martha and Mary is in the attitude of their heart. In the presence of Jesus, Mary is exposed to the depths of His love. This kind of love-relationship with God cannot be taken away from us, yet it also cannot but spill over into our interactions with each other. Mary’s attitude does not mean she will not do anything, but rather that her doing will have a different flavour. Out of this love-relationship with Jesus we bring God’s kingdom to this earth. Martha, or any one of us when we are worried, disappointed, hurt, in any kind of need, are invited into a similar relationship with Jesus, where we can bring our worries, stresses, discouragements, needs and over time encounter His healing and His peace.

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

A tribute to Rev Robert Lawson

Robert was a friend. I met him first via Facebook, before ever meeting him in person. Later we would meet through the ministry of healing. He had a great online presence, and connected with many people that way. 

Presence and gratitude are two realities that make me think of Robert the most. You could feel he was present to you in a conversation, but he also brought a deep awareness of God’s presence with him. We would meet for coffee, sometimes before the Thursday healing service in Christ Church when he was the celebrant, sometimes in town. A few years ago I was going through a deep healing of a painful memory, and Robert was among those who knew about it. A significant moment on my journey of healing happened and I was grateful to God. I remembered how Jesus said to ten lepers, “Go and show yourself to the priest” (Luke 17:14). In my case, I wanted to share what happened to a priest as a sign of my thanksgiving to God. I was meeting Robert for coffee and decided he was going to be the priest. I also asked him for anointing and he brought the oil with him to a coffee shop. It was easy to be real with Robert because he was real. There was nothing of pretence about him. After a deep conversation in the coffee shop, Robert anointed me, which was a support and a blessing to continue on the journey of healing. And even among coffee-cups, God was present.

In Christ Church Cathedral, during the healing Eucharist, Robert often prayed in thanksgiving about his journey with cancer. Not many of us would know how to give thank for things that are humanly difficult, but Robert had an insight that this journey brought him closer to God, deeper into his true self and closer to others too. Now that Robert is gone to be with the Father in Heaven, I think I will often associate Thursday healing Eucharist with Robert’s prayers of thanksgiving. This is very fitting in that prayerful context as ‘eucharisteo’ in Greek means ‘to give thanks’.

I have to admit, I will miss Robert. Many of us will. If you are reading this and you are not a family member or a close friend, I want to give you a permission to grieve. If tears come, let them. I was thinking of him last week on the bus going home, and I cried. This does not mean we don’t believe that Robert lived for God and has returned to God. It means that his presence here on earth meant a lot to us. Sometimes we acknowledge it by recalling a memory, sometimes with a few tears.

Both Robert and myself were inspired by St John of the Cross and found great comfort in his teaching on the dark night. It is counter-intuitive to think that difficulties in life can bring a deep healing to our soul. And yet, it is the nature of Jesus’ cross and resurrection that God lets Himself be found when we least expect it. Robert lived in such a way that he found God in all of his experiences. At his funeral it was said how he learned to live in the moment. We have so much to learn from Robert. Also at the funeral there was a five minute silence after the Holy communion, which I am sure Robert asked for. It is through silence that we connect with God and allow Him to enter our reality. Robert was teaching us this even in his death.

Thank you for your friendship, Robert. Jesus told us, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). I pray Robert enjoys exploring those that are in the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven, and until we meet again may he RIP.

Condolences to his family and friends on behalf of the Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland.

(The picture is taken from Robert’s Facebook page as his latest profile picture)

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

A gift of vulnerability

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brené Brown

Often we Christians think that we have to hold it all together, that we have to be happy and satisfied because if we are not there might be something wrong with our faith, or with us. This anxiety or guilt arises in many life’s circumstances. Perhaps we don’t hold that belief openly or even very consciously, but it affects how we deal with difficult situations in life. At times life is not easy, but it is easier if we can talk to someone about it. God also invites us to come to Him as we are, not as we think we ‘ought to be’.

Jesus understands all and every emotion we may be experiencing, from happier ones to the more difficult ones. We can always be honest with God and tell Him everything exactly as it is. Jesus tells us, “come to me all who are thirsty, all who need rest”. Our vulnerability can be a point of connection with others, where we meet heart-to-heart. It does not have to isolate us from others. Often it brings us closer together. For example, by bringing our vulnerability to prayer, or by talking to a trusted other in a confidential manner, we connect with each other and we feel less alone. This may seem scary at first, but less scary than feeling alone. There is a power of healing in simply being heard, being listened to, because through it we are acknowledged. We experience that we ‘matter’.

Many of the healing stories in the Bible show people who were vulnerable. In Luke 8:43-48 we read, 

“A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

This woman was vulnerable, both in her actions and in her words. Brené Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”. In other words, it is brave to be vulnerable. This year, let us allow each other spaces where we can be seen. The power that rises out of vulnerability is not merely ours, but Christ’s, and He never leaves us as we are.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Remembering God who became a child

In his book Seek That Which Is Above, published in 1986, the then Cardinal Ratzinger says that
“Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope… It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

During Advent then, we are called to remember Jesus coming as an infant in a manger and to anticipate his coming again as the culmination of the kingdom of God. We reflect on God’s past, present, and future redemptive acts in history. We celebrate the coming of Jesus the Christ – whose life, ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated the reign of God – and we await its fulfilment. That is what sustains us in a world that makes no sense. We know that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of God’s promise, and we know that his ultimate reign will surely come someday.

As we await that ultimate reign, we are called to live as if it were already here. We are called to be “a community rooted in energizing memories and summoned by radical hopes.” 

We believe that Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.” He continues to be “with us” at every moment of every day. During the season of Advent there are many ways in which we can become more open to the Lord’s presence. They include spending time in daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, worshipping together as a community, and attending to the needs of our sisters and brothers. 

During this time as we prepare to give gifts to others, we are invited to reach out with compassion to people in need, aware that in serving the hungry, the homeless, the sick and imprisoned we are truly encountering Christ.

Lesley Robinson.
Rev Lesley Robinson is CMH:I Board member

Stop and let Advent happen

“One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home.”
Michelle Blake 

Tune in into your heart and recognise the sentiment you find yourself in at this time of year. Are you joyful? Rushed? Worried? Peaceful? Looking forward to Christmas? Dreading Christmas? Thinking of all you need to do?

Maybe none of these apply, but you have your own list of things that give you joy, and those that take it. Last Sunday was the first Advent Sunday. I was walking in Dublin, and soon found Grafton street to be too busy, as if everyone had to ‘do’ something that day. I went to a near-by church and found shelter in His quiet presence. 

In many ways, this is a busy time of the year for many people. Advent, however, invites us to slow down. Slowing down is not only so that our soul can take a break from busyness, but more so that we can direct our focus towards God. It is like carving a way for God to invade our reality by allowing Him to be with us in our day-to-day lives. See what works for you. Five minutes of silence three times a day. Reading a Scripture passage reflectively, allowing God to speak to you. Nurturing our hearts with God’s presence will help us prepare for Christmas interiorly.

The world at the time of Jesus was not a perfect place, and it is still not perfect. Yet among all that turmoil, all that is not right, all that needs changing – Jesus comes. Take comfort in that. Over the weeks, as His light will be increasing allow it to increase also within you. With His light, we can start healing the darkness in the world.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Sabbath, a discipline of rest

Jesus thought us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Connecting with God through various moments of our day is when we can put this prayer into practice. 

How would our life be different if we made a conscious effort to pause, a few times a day, in order to bring our awareness to God’s presence in and around us?

Most of us have busy lives, so pausing for a moment of quiet, will at least at first take an effort. But it will also mean opening our hearts towards God, and allowing the reality of heaven to inform our earthly reality of every-day-ness. This can happen as simply as letting the beauty of the world invite us into brief moments of inner rest. A tree outside the window, its leaves warm yellow and red in Autumn, can be a pointer towards God and the beauty of God’s creation. I look at the tree, and allow some of God’s love to sip gently into my heart. I treasure the love God has for me, and now I can share it with the people I interact with. “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”.

In his book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, Peter Scazzero reminds us of God’s commandment to keep a Sabbath every week. He says, “The Sabbath calls us to build the doing of nothing into our schedules each week”. Scazzero mentions the four principles of the Biblical Sabbath: stopping, resting, delighting in God, and contemplation. I am not sure about you, but I often take a ‘day of rest’ when I am sick. I usually find it restoring. Yet I need to revisit my approach to Sundays, to what most of us would consider a day of rest in the week. Sabbath is to be rooted in our resting in God. It most specifically invites us to allows the quality of heaven to penetrate our daily lives for twenty-four hours each week. “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. But we don’t find it easy to put this into practice. It is countercultural. 

Every seventh day we are asked by God to pause, to imitate God who rested after six days. This day of rest can then inform our week, and smaller moments of rest we may want to incorporate in the rhythm of our lives. In any given year God gives us “over seven weeks (fifty-two days in all)” of rest (Scazzero). Imagine, seven weeks of rest! Seven weeks of allowing God’s reality to penetrate ours more fully. Seven weeks of allowing “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” to become reality.

Most people take January as an inspiration to change something in their lives, by taking on the new year’s resolutions. I think November is a far better starting point. At the end of a year there is no pressure that ‘we won’t succeed’. We can try out something new, slowly. In this case, we can try incorporating rest, especially resting in God into our routine. By January we will have gathered some of the momentum, so it may not be as difficult to continue. 

I think if we all attempted to take this on board, our inner worlds would change. We would have more peace, more love, and we would bring the quality of God’s presence everywhere we go.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Taste and see

In Autumn we are gathering the fruits the earth produced, grateful for its provision. Autumn is an in-between time, between the warmth of the summer and the dark nights of winter. It is a time of gratitude for this year’s gifts, and a time of letting go, when leaves change their colours and they fall. It is a time when we can be grateful for the fruits that this year bore in our own lives. Those fruits are inner, less visible, and they require times of reflection in order to be noticed and savoured. 

Sometimes the earth has to struggle through droughts or excessive amounts of rain, through conditions that are not always ideal for the crop, plants, flowers, trees. And yet even then the earth still produces its fruit. We, too, sometimes struggle through challenges in life, and while none of us enjoys going through them, they can be opportunities for growth, and opportunities for healing. I know I have grown more through struggles, than I have grown through the good times. More difficult times also expose our need for each other, and our need for God. Life has both, and though we label life’s challenges as ‘negative’, and the easier times in life as ‘positive’, all of the human experiences can produce fruits that are ‘good’. 

The Psalmist tells us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8). This evokes something physical, something that we can see, touch, and even eat; something almost Eucharistic. 

When Jesus encountered the disciples after the Resurrection He “showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:40-43). It was to show them, physically, that His Resurrection was real. They would have the bones of the fish Jesus had just eaten as a reminder, and in a way as ‘a proof’, that this was truly happening before their eyes. God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, our heart, mind, soul and body too. Our physical reality as well as our spiritual, inner life are important to Him. 

No matter what you have been going through, whether gathering fruits from a bountiful season, or labouring to see fruits that come from the times of struggle, know that God is with you. He is near. Whenever we allow Him, it is He who produces fruit in our life.  

Taste and see what the Lord is producing now.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland