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

Loving the enemy – a way of healing our attitudes

“Loving our enemies is the core of the Christian message and the challenge that Jesus presents us. If we want to know what Jesus is about, and what following Jesus is about, then the call to love our enemies is as close to the center as we can get.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen

Jesus left us certain instructions that are very much counterintuitive. A commandment to love our enemies is one of them. Our world seems rather polarised at the moment, we fluctuate to those we agree with. If someone asked who our friends are, we could tell them, but we could probably also tell them who are not-our-friends. Perhaps we do not call them ‘enemies’. But those we don’t agree with: we too know them by their name.

Our churches, our Facebook feeds, are filled with people we love and agree with, as well as those we disagree with. If you have struggled with loving people that you fundamentally disagree with on some core issue, you are not alone. I have too. Yet it is very clear that God calls us to love each other. Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). To love also those we disagree with is to have God’s attitude. It is an essential ingredient needed to transform the world into a better place. And it is possibly also one of the least exercised muscles in our Christian faith. 

Bréne Brown, public speaker and research professor at the University of Huston, in her most recent book “Braving the Wilderness” says, “the choices we’re making to protect our beliefs and ourselves are leaving us disconnected, afraid, and lonely. Very few people are working on connection outside the lines drawn by ‘their side’”. Her book challenged me. While we may justify excluding or not engaging with those who hold views we disagree with, Bréne Brown says this is a dangerous approach. It leaves us more isolated, whereas we all need human connection.

Unless we constantly bring to our awareness that God loves each and every person, we will retreat in labelling and sorting each other out. We can love those that we experience as different, because God already loves them. This does not mean we will stop disagreeing on certain issues, but perhaps we can find ways of connecting beyond the disagreements. Personally I started to consciously bless individuals and groups of people that for whatever reason are not ‘my people’, and that I find difficult to love. 

If we could hold sacred the connection between us, the God-given-dignity we each have, together with the views that are central to our identities, perhaps we would be able to engage with more trust, more grace and invite God to enter into the space between us that creates separation and disconnect. I’m not saying this would be easy, otherwise we’d already be doing it. But if God was allowed to fill that in-between space, we might be able to look at each other through God’s mercy and grace.

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

Christ Church Cathedral welcomes refugees and asylum-seekers

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’—these words of Jesus may be familiar to us, yet like so much of what Jesus had to say, it can be a challenge putting the teaching into practice. To welcome, to make space for another, in particular a stranger, is not always easy. It may mean reprioritising time and resources. It calls on us to make an emotional investment, to learn about someone else’s story, to appreciate what he or she has been through in the past and to walk alongside and embrace hope for the future. 

We in the cathedral have worked over the past year towards the designation ‘Cathedral of Sanctuary’, awarded by the organisation Places of Sanctuary Ireland. Places of Sanctuary is a network of groups in towns, cities and local communities which share the objectives of promoting the integration, inclusion and welfare of refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants. To this end, we have sought ways to engage with those in the asylum process and living in direct provision, to welcome them to our city, and to contribute the cathedral’s voice to the necessary task of awareness-raising around the direct provision system and its problems. We believe it is important that we devote resources and make space to engage with those who are marginalised by this system. 

This year was our first year to mark Refugee Week and we wanted to engage in a variety of ways. The first event was ‘Prayers of Lament, Prayers of Hope’, an evening of quiet and reflective prayer. This offered space for scripture, song and silence, and those attending were invited to write down a prayer, light a candle or simply be present in prayerful solidarity. 

We also partnered with the Irish Refugee Council to host a free screening of Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s visually impactful documentary Human Flow. We were delighted to further our ongoing relationship with Our Table, an asylum-seeker led group whose aim is to highlight the need to end the direct provision system in Ireland, by facilitating change through conversation over food. Our Table were on our grounds for four days selling their delicious food creations, prepared by founder, asylum-seeker and Ballymaloe-trained chef Ellie Kisyombe. Their events also included an appearance by author Melatu Uche Okorie whose book, This Hostel Life, is a reflection on her experiences in direct provision. We very much consider Our Table as part of our community now and we hope to continue to partner with them in the future.

Pictured are Our Table members using the cathedral’s crypt kitchen.

Abigail Sines.
Rev Abigail Sines is Dean’s Vicar in Christ Church Cathedral

Decluttering and mental health

We are in time of the year when some people do ‘spring cleaning’. Not just in Ireland, but in other parts of the world too, this winter was prolonged and we are looking forward to the days turning more spring-like. Weather can affect our mood so finding activities that give us energy may help while we wait on the temperatures to get warmer.

Some of us enjoy rummaging through our house, finding things we may not want to keep, revisiting memories attached to different things. Clearing the house can be therapeutic, when we find the time to do it. Personally I don’t always do it in spring, but periodically a few times a year. Whenever I end up clearing whatever accumulated over the months, it takes my whole attention for a few hours, or even the whole day, and the end result usually has a cathartic effect. However, not everyone finds this process easy or even enjoyable.

In January I was at a talk where someone who helps people declutter their houses spoke about different reasons why we hoard things. From love of history some people will keep books or magazines they no longer read, to emotional attachments or associations to a loved one who is no longer around, we have different reasons why we sometimes allow clutter to pile up. One thing I would have liked hearing during that talk is compassion for those who find it hard to let go, for whatever reason. It is true, there are benefits for our health, mental and otherwise, when we clear our living space. Almost like we can breathe again. But at times it will be hard to let go of things we are so used to having around us, and that is okay.

Perhaps it may help creating a ritual that honours the memories that various things in our house evoke. We attach meaning to memories and things, and perhaps some of those are good to keep. Yet if we want to clear the space of things we don’t need, but we have resistance against it due to how meaningful some of it is, creating another meaning for each of the things may help us proceed. Lets say we have three tea-pots that we don’t use, but they remind us of happy times and a lot of memories are attached to it. We could tell a story about it to a friend or even write the story on the paper for ourselves and then decide to give the tea-pots to a charity shop. A new meaning might be that someone else will be blessed with creating their own memories. Similar can be with the piece of clothing, or furniture.

But it is not always going to be that difficult to let go. Put the music on, create space in the week when you can do some spring-cleaning, and try and enjoy. We can start small, with one section, one drawer, or one room. Next week we can do a bit more. In the process we may realise that clearing things externally, helps us to organise our thoughts and emotions internally. We may create room for more joy, more peace, more space for prayer, more space for love.

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

A Healing Tree

St. James’s Church, Castledermot, is situated on the site of monastery founded around the year 800 by the father of St. Diarmuid and is an active church in West Glendalough Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, Church of Ireland.

Dean Philip Knowles, Priest in Charge encouraged the parishioners of the group of parishes of Narraghmore, Timolin, Castledermot and Kinneagh to hold a Christmas Tree Festival in St. James’s Church. Parishioners were encouraged to seek support from local organisations to erect and decorate Christmas Trees for the festival. The festival was officially opened by Martin Heydon TD. The church was transformed into an oasis of relaxed calm and colour and thirty trees were placed in windows, pews, corners and the sanctuary. 

As part of the commitment of the parish to the Church’s Ministry of Healing, the Healer Prayer Group of the parish agreed to participate in the festival by erecting a “Tree for Healing”. A simple four foot high fresh Christmas tree was provided and situated in front of the church altar which housed the most beautiful Christmas Crib. The figures of the crib were colourful pottery and made by a parishioner who attends a class which added to the whole scene of peace and expectation. Everyone who attended the festival was invited to write their prayer request for healing on a colourful slip of paper, which was pegged to the tree. This space was peaceful, prayerful and most colourful and was especially pleasing to the children. Parents encouraged their children to write a prayer to God for a family member who was ill—children responded very positively, in fact most people participated and helped to decorate the tree with their prayer request.

Whereas the main objective of the event was to provide funds for the rebuilding of the wall around the church, it must be acknowledged that the Healing Tree provided an opportunity for prayer and spiritual reflection, for a deepening relationship with God, forgiveness and grace and thanks for healing. Two thirds of the prayer requests were for healing. Other requests were for the homeless, for God’s creation, world peace, mental health difficulties, those suffering from dementia, those providing suicide initiatives.

On Sunday 28th January all the requests for prayer were placed on the altar for the service of Holy Communion and the prayers were prayed together. The experience excelled all expectations for me both spiritually and prayerfully and for all who participated and attended the event. Parishioners provided refreshments in the parish hall and Christmas handcrafts were for sale. The organisers were greatly appreciative of the peoples’ generosity.

Avril Gillat.
Avril Gillat is CMH:I Board member

Starting the year with gratitude

Gratitude … takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive,
is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.
For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.
And that is what makes all the difference.
Thomas Merton

Nowadays we can hear a lot about the benefits of practicing 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.

Personally I have experienced that on a bad day my mood can shift to having a better attitude when I take time to bring to mind all that I am grateful for. The practice of gratitude is one the best gifts we can give ourselves. It costs us nothing and is very simple to do. It does, however, require a little bit of effort, discipline if you like, but as anything worthwhile, it is valuable to invest time in it.

Gratitude does not deny negative things that happen in life but it puts them into perspective and helps us to face them with renewed inner strength and more determination. In Philippians 4:8 we read, “beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”. It further says that if we keep doing these things, “the God of peace” will be with us. God is with us always, but when we practice gratitude it will help to bring God’s goodness into our awareness.

If we want to make gratitude part of our daily routine, we can do so by writing a gratitude journal. We can treat ourselves to a journal that appeals to us aesthetically, and then start noting what we are thankful for on its pages. Each day we can write a few things that we are grateful for that particular day. Another way is to have a gratitude jar. We can take an empty jar and decorate it to make it personal. Then every day on a little paper we write something we are grateful for and put it in a jar. At the end of each month, or at the end of each year, we can open the jar and read what we wrote.

Gratitude will bring a new dimension to our lives, a deeper flavour to our life’s experiences. It helps us notice new growth, it turns despair into hope. May something stunning blossom for you over the next twelve months – even if it is ‘only’ you.

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