Tag Archives: spirituality

Finding Home Amid the Struggle

Seven months in DC. I have entered the new year with prayers for hope, feelings of
excitement, and a vision of possibility. I have struggled with growth, with lack of close
friends near by, and with understanding my vocation presently. God has shown through
brightly, and I have finally entered a space to allow myself to bask in that light.

In the beginning, I had the best of welcomes from my new community in DC. They emailed
me introductions, they made signs announcing my arrival, and they even made me a video! I hardly could
believe my dream of living in DC would have started like this!

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

The sheer importance and radicalness of my decision to live in DC started to sink in almost immediately. It didn’t take that long to move in my stuff. I had plenty of time to myself, and being new
somewhere meant I had lots of exploring to do. Yet, like travel, I prefer to do such an activity with others. Here I was in a community of people, but many people were either unavailable or uninterested. Suddenly, the awkwardness of being
the new one–in a group of people who were established in their relationships and routines–
started to ruff me up. I was the one that needed to invite myself into conversations, or
invite others to come and explore with me. It wasn’t that people were not being generous,
but that people were hoping I would use my time to either get to know my surrounds at my
own pace, or hoped that I would be immersed in learning about my responsibilities.

After one month in DC, I had my fill of being without friends, and started getting impatient
about how long it would take to have a close relationship. I didn’t want to wait for
friendships to happen, I wanted them to be plentiful at that very moment. This struggle
was good, since it begged me to pray for the well being of all the great friendships I had
back in Southern California. I thought about the time it took to make good friends back in
Orange County, and wasn’t surprised to realize that there was once a time I didn’t have
many relationships and was in the same mental space as I was currently in DC.

Thankfully, there is a habit of formal companionship that my community of L’Arche offers
and requires for all community members. I had plenty of opportunity to check-in with my
supervisors about how I was handling the transition. I had imagined doing big things for
L’Arche, and being a person that they could accurately say, “What a huge gift Gil is for us!” I
had created a load of expectations, and now these expectations were points of sorrow and
grief for me. I was not living up to who I thought I would be, and started harshly criticizing
my personal value.

This self-critic became drastically intense when I had made some poor decisions and lead to
my supervisors giving me constructive criticism. I immediately became angry and defensive
at the suggestions they gave me, and also started feeling a weight of pity squishing down
any hopefulness about moving to DC in the first place. One haunting mantra that kept
repeating itself: “Man, I guess I am not good at anything regardless of where I go.” My self-pity
flowed into a uneasy and hurt state of being that all my colleagues recognized. I wasn’t
enthusiastic, I was abnormally quiet, and a vibe of sadness hovered around me. Mid-October
through Mid-November was definitely the hardest month yet.

Nicholas visits me

Nicholas visits me

Then around the beginning of the start of the Thanksgiving holiday season, I was blessed with a visit from my cousin
Nicholas Wagner. It was such a break to have someone that I knew to hang out with me and be free to do anything in the city.
Suddenly, my room was a homely space where my cousin and I shared stories about family life, about our personal journey, and what our hopes were. It was very obvious we shared some of the same DNA make up as we got to know just how passionate
we can be about life in a very particular way.

During that same time, I was interested in an upcoming book discussion, so I had bought
the book called, The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. I am very
familiar with this author because he had been in a L’Arche
community before he died, and all his works are promoted
constantly in L’Arche. I was excited to speak about this author’s
views with others. As it so happens, I never did get to the book
discussion, but I was floored at the material within the book. I
read with such intrigue and slow pace as if every word was sacred,
speaking to my heart, and shining a light through the darkness of
my negative emotions. It spoke of the need for people to create
time for solitude to befriend our shadow self. It pointed out that

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

people who do not have a healthy sense of self esteem tend to be
angry or greedy. People who do not know their inherit value as a
gift from God because God made them often look to other people
to tell them they are good, or work for others to make them feel
they are valuable. Anger comes into play when a word of
constructive criticism is offered, or when another person
gets recognition and a feeling of being unrecognized
pervades the mind. This awareness of my lack of self-esteem
wasn’t necessarily my first time acknowledging
such a fault existed, but it was definitely a deeper consciousness of it this time. And it
meant a world of difference.

I started spending more quiet time, time of solitude, away from computers and people, and
started to just be alone with myself. A heavy traffic of conflicting and disturbing thoughts
occupied myself most of the time, but eventually, it became quiet within me, and a very full
lightness filled my heart. I started to feel ok with not fulfilling my expectations, and felt ok
with just being present where I was. I felt free in accepting my present state appreciating
its simplicity, and excited about possibility ahead.

I entered the Season of Advent with fervent prayer for hope,
and I certainly got it. I continue the beginning of this
new year with the same level of hope and an extra sense of
delight that I am where I am supposed to be. I have more
surrendering to do, and definitely some unforeseen
challenges to grapple with. Nonetheless, God is so very
merciful, and is calling me to dive in.

I am so very grateful for my new home in DC. Thanksgiving
was a wonderful celebration of families and friends coming to
L’Arche in gratitude and hope. Christmas was just a
continuation of people caring for each other, in the spirit of
hope and love, celebrating
relationships and God. I even was blessed to have theIMG_5743
inspiration and energy to cook a Christmas Day turkey
dinner! Everyone seemed content. Much joy was shared in
the gift of being with each other.

Home is where we can welcome others and celebrate. I have
become part of this home, and I am home.
May your 2015 bring about just as much hope and
inspiration as I am blessed with.

©Brian A Taylor

Ontario House, L’Arche GWDC 2014

Be Reciprocal Givers and Receivers

I totally understand how easy it is to be the giver rather than the receiver.  When you are the receiver, there are questions that arise like, “What’s the intent of this gift?”  “How do I repay this gift?”  “How am I worthy of this gift?”  Those are probably only some questions that pop up.

Often, receivers are unwilling, right?  “No, don’t get me anything for my birthday, just come hang out.”  Or, “Oh, you really didn’t have to give this to me!  Please (as the receiver hands back the gift), this is too much!”  We in the United States, as far as I know, are so reluctant to be a receiver.  Most of us would rather give.

Would you ponder this with me, and admit that part of the pleasure of giving is that the giver is in control, and therefore it’s hard to surrender to become a receiver?

This aspect of generosity is something that Jean Vanier has advocated against, along with other famous people who dedicate their life to charity, such as St. Vincent de Paul, and Mother Teresa.  They advocated that the givers need to become the receivers, otherwise the givers hold a control over those whom they give to, and their Christian charity becomes tainted with a type of domination.

I notice this type of domination all the time in my field of care giving.  I am the one who has so much “control” in a situation when helping my clients with disabilities.  I am in control how food will taste if I cook it, and I am in control of how clean a place will look after I leave.  I am in control of what activities I make time for, and I am also in control of the way an activity is done.

I was working for a few days with an older couple.  Let’s call them Larry and Susan.  Larry was the main client who needed the most assistance, but since Susan also needed some assistance as well, I was expected to help both of them.  Larry and Susan had issues with balance and movement of all their joints.  They were unable to do simple things such as tie their shoes.  They were both at risk of falling down at any time, so the caregiver would have to watch their movements closely.

I was told that they needed to do a shower at least 3 times a week.  Larry was much more accepting of assistance than Susan was.  When it came time for showers, Larry was ok to be the first one, and would obey my simple commands like, “Ok, let’s stand on the count of 3.”  Susan, on the other hand, was not so keen on the shower.  I let her postpone the shower day, but when it came to the time itself, she was still not happy about the thought.  I paused, and I waited for her to explain why she wasn’t interested in the shower.  “I just don’t know what I’m doing.”

And there it was.  Fear showed its ugly face.  She was as unfamiliar with the shower routine as I was since I just began working in her home a day before this situation.  Susan didn’t want to be a receiver of my offer for a warm and relaxing shower.  She’d rather skip it and stay away from risk.  She was not being a giver: I needed her trust, and it was not being given to me.

After some gentle persuasion, and upbeat promises like, “I promise it will be warm, and it will be quick,” she began to walk over to the shower.  But even when she got into the bathroom, she started whimpering, like a scared child; the shower was no longer a comforting activity for her in her old age.  “I’m going to fall!”  She made more distressed noises, and I respected her with silence.  I moved slowly and I talked to her with an upbeat and reassuring voice in hopes of being able to complete the shower routine.

holdinghands elder youngerSusan ultimately gave me her trust.  She was the giver as much as I was.  Susan allowed herself to be vulnerable and surrender one of her most precious gifts: her trust.

I let that situation stay with me as a powerful lesson of surrender.  There’s too many times I have not wanted to surrender: listening to positive critique, giving trust to a stranger asking for money, forgiving a driver who doesn’t let me switch lanes.  I, like so many people, want to demand justice and be in total control of the situation, or at least fight for control.  Here on the opposite end was Susan, giving up control and security to a stranger who promised to honor her gift of trust.  It seemed that the best way to accept the gift was to not think little of it, but instead receive it with astonishment and gentleness.  As much as I was going to give her the best quality of care, I also had to become a mindful receiver of this woman’s vulnerability.

If I can find those times of silence and reflection, I can unpack these delicate and fleeting moments that I encounter with people that I care for.  This Lenten season, let’s practice reciprocal giving, and reciprocal surrender.

The house of my sojourning.

There are some blogs that are just fun to read, and then there are blogs that are frekin so amazingly heart-felt that you can’t help but share it….and then there are blogs that you wonder whether that person is just writing about you because it’s way too alike your own thoughts, ponderings, loves, and doubts!!
This is the second time I am “reblogging” this particular Blogger named Grace. She is AMAZING because she has such a better way of describing so much of what I also have experienced. And she just turned 33. I turned 33. So, read this, and know that I am not just merely passing this along as a good read…..it’s actually so much of what I am feeling right now!! Enjoy her post, and pass it on: ….

Bridging the Gaps in My Faith

…from a recent phone conversation…

Me: So what has your faith life been like recently?

Amy: Oh, I’ve been enjoying two churches, believe it or not!

Me: Really?

Amy: Yeah, I have really been enjoying [Church B] because the pastor does a great job at presenting the message, and I also enjoy all that they are offering.  I still go to [Church A] because I have been going there for so long, but I also just enjoying all that [Church B] has too!

Me: Wow, that’s really cool Amy!  In fact…it sounds exactly what I have been doing recently too.

I have been ecumenical and inter-religious ever since high school.  I have attended Christian groups, and some Christian services.  I am a Christian-Catholic, and unfortunately that’s a huge difference between Christians.  In college, I was the Public Relations Officer for the Muslim Student Association because they needed someone willing to do the communication, and I befriended a few Muslims.  I admired people in general who were willing to have passion behind their faith.

Passion dictates so much of what we do with our beliefs.  Those seeking out more from their faith are struck with a sense of passion.  Those involved with their faith community are energized with passion.  Read the poem at the end of this blog that further emphasizes this point.

eastside worship space

eastside worship space

Passion seems to seek us, and strikes, leaving us desiring more.  It struck me with my first attendance at Eastside Christian Church.  My housemates were already becoming regulars at Eastside.  I only heard about this church through them.  I never was able to go with them due to prior commitments.  Sometimes the commitment was to go to my own Catholic service while everyone else went to Eastside.  Then, one Saturday, as the group was about to leave, I just said, “Hey, I think I’ll join you.”

It was the music.  It was the professionalism.  It was the vibe of high energy and enthusiasm that the community gave off as you entered their worship space.  I was intrigued.  By my second visit, I was hooked.

Passion also can turn into fidelity that withstands the test of time.  This is not always the case.  I have been passionate about many things like USC football, or Angels baseball, but in the end, my passion was only as good as the team’s winning streak.  Yet, when passion was sustained for a long period of time, it then has loads of potential to become fidelity.

I have been passionate for my Christian-Catholic community for a very long time.  I got the love-bug for my Catholic faith when I was in high school.  It carried me through college, and even lead me to consider becoming a priest. (Read the blog post, “Not a Wasted Decision” to learn about my process of discernment in joining and leaving the priesthood path.)

I have shared with other Catholics about my current trend of attending two services a week for the last 3 weeks.  Some wonder if I am wavering in my Catholic faith.  I believe that’s a valid concern, but a concern I don’t have for myself.  I actually attend Catholic Mass almost every day, and have been doing so for the last 5 years.  I love so much of what the Catholic church offers…

But lately, even that hasn’t been enough.

Eastside is a well-run Christian community.  They have plenty of things to get involved in, and their services are just darn invigorating.  If praising God is supposed to be fun, don’t you think it would be invigorating too?

It is unfortunate that when I do attend a Catholic Mass, most of the time I find myself among the “walking dead.”  “Dead” meaning no passion.  Just enough energy to show up.  But I’m not sure if they know what it means to be in love with God.  I find myself singing love songs to God all by myself.  Imagine that!  Sing a love song about someone so loud, in public, and see if you don’t feel a little awkward.  That’s the same feeling I get singing at a Catholic Mass.  I have been yearning for more passion for a little while now.

Listening to my friend Amy speak about her own faith journey was comforting.  I bet there are plenty of us who are part of a couple of faith communities for the sake of trying to sustain the passion.

Passion.  We know when we have it, and we are certainly almost like another person without it.  I believe that my current church attendance at two different churches is more about sustaining my faith than changing it.

What about you?  What do you find lacking in your faith community?  How can you bridge the gaps you encounter?

“Nothing is more practical than finding God” by Pedro Arrupe, SJ

Nothing is more practical than finding God

That is, than falling in love in a quite absolute,

Final way.

What you are in love with,

What seizes your imagination,

will effect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

What you will do with your evenings,

How you will spend your weekends,

What you read,

Who you know,

What breaks your heart,

And what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love; stay in love, and it will

Decide everything.

Recommended Book: Following Jesus

Following JesusFollowing Jesus by John Shea

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is deceivingly thin! But true wisdom does not need many words.

What you will find in this book is a manual for how to be a disciple of Jesus according to scripture. It has a broad subject, but John Shea narrows the concepts down to nine chapters, averaging 12 pages each.

This book was definitely amazing because it opened my mind to deeper understandings of Christian living. In many ways, that is a rare event because of all the theology I have soaked up for my Masters Degree I completed only a year since reading this book.

One example of insight was when John Shea brought up the story of the Good Samaritan, and asked readers to type out the story or write it down on a sheet of paper, and then keep it with them. The reader should re-read the story occasionally through the days and weeks, and hopefully the question, “How can I unconditionally love my neighbor in this instance,” will come up as a guiding principle in our speech and actions.

I never had anyone tell me to do that with scripture. Simple, yet profound!

The best part is that you do not have to be a theologian to read this book. The hard part is whether people will try to whiz through the material or prayerfully read it. I found myself doing both, but I went back and re-read any parts that I speedily devoured.

One more hard part is that although John does not write as an academic, his thought-process is very learned. Not everyone will easily digest his wisdom.

Here’s a quote to ponder on as well as to get a sense of his writing style.

“Spiritual knowing works like the physical heart. The heart…pumps blood throughout the body. After the pumped blood has circulated throughout the body, it returns to the heart to start the process all over again. Again and again, the heart gives life to the entire body. Our spiritual center…pumps life into the whole mind-body organism, renewing it over and over again. In order for the mind and will to stay filled with life, they have to return to the spiritual center and then go out from it again…. Spiritual knowing happens when we open to the flow of life in the center of our being and it enter and elevates our minds and wills.” -p.89 (Second printing edition, July 2010)

View all my reviews

Sometimes It’s Better to Be Mundane

There is truth and depth in living simplicity.  I dare say, there are some of us who always want more.

Simplicity can be mundane for me.  I have the personality that seeks out adventure and spice in doing my normal routine.  I have successfully broken my normal routine moments throughout my days, my weeks, and my months.  I admit it could be a coping method for feeling inadequate, but alas, I am enjoying myself and my life.

Yet, living some moments and routines in a simple way has been very liberating.  As I have sought to do extravagant prayers for 9 days, or the 30 day prayer, or the search for finding heroic ways in fulfilling my obligations, I have also felt defeated in such practices.  The vicious cycle goes like this: I will start the new prayer and the new task, and fail to be consistent with it.  Then I give up doing anything at all that may resemble an attempt to get back to my resolution.

This obviously leads me to be less in touch God.  As if there was no such way to achieve a balance, I tend to shoot for the extreme opposites.

The following podcast is from a woman who has wrote about finding solice in daily simple prayer.  In her book, Acedia and Me,  she speaks about how our faith can be tested more than we want to believe it is, and in those moments of great testing, we need to do at least something to keep our daily prayer going, and eventually keep the motor of faith oiled up so that it will not rust.

http://americamagazine.podbean.com/2013/03/25/april-1-2013-podcast-everyday-faith/

  • Daily Prayer (focusedandfree.com)
  • America Magazine: Founded in 1909 by the Jesuit order and directed today by Jesuits and lay colleagues, America is a resource for spiritual renewal and social analysis guided by the spirit of charity.

It’s Not Just Coincidence, But Providence

My friend Phil and I decided to meet up on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  He and I had not spent much time together recently, so a long “hang out” session was overdue.

I made us some gourmet coffee, he grabbed some pan dulce, and off we went….but we didn’t know where.  My mind scrambled for ideas:  should we go to a Starbucks?  (No, we already had coffee.)  How about a park?  (Maybe.  It was a little warm and we would be better off in some shade.)  Did I feel like going to a mall?  (Geesh. I hate having to be indoors if the weather is beautiful.)

I really wasn’t sure where to suggest we go.  “What are you thinking, Phil?”  “I haven’t a clue.”  That was 5 minutes into our trip.

It dawned on me that maybe we could enjoy the day driving.  Watch the scenery and just cruise; not on surface streets of suburbia or the freeway (I wasn’t insane).  I suggested that we take a scenic drive through the depths of Orange County’s back country.  I had done it before with a dear friend who showed it to me and proved it looped around to a major freeway so we didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

We were soon on the scenic route.  We started talking about fishing at the sight of Irvine Lake.  We were then upon “Cooks Corner,” a famous biker hang out.  Phil asked where the monastery or abbey was.  I hadn’t the faintest idea, but knew that if we were to go there anytime, now was a good time since it was out in the very same back country we were driving through.

I started to grab the phone to look up directions, and Phil pulled off to the shoulder and came to a crawling stop.  I looked out the driver’s window, and there before my eyes was a driveway with a gate and a white brick wall that said “Norbertine Fathers.”

“Um, wait, I think that’s it!”  And so we ascended up the driveway in search of something.

When people visit churches, monasteries, chapels, there is always a “search” that has spiritual roots.  The search for meaning; the search for a place to unload our prayers; the search for sacred silence.  For my friend and me, it was a search for all these, and even for things that our souls and bodies needed but hadn’t placed a word or phrase to that need.

Most of the grounds seemed closed off to the public to respect the atmosphere of the cloister, which means respecting the men who were in their rooms or walking around outside in a state of prayer.  So we headed straight to the chapel.

When I sit down at a church to pray or to prepare for Mass, I tend to be conscious about where I sit.  In this case, I didn’t want to be in the back, and I also didn’t want to be right up front since that might have caused any of the Fathers to come up to me and ask if I wanted to join the priesthood.  I walked until about the middle, genuflected, entered the pew, knelt and prayed.

I thought about how neat it was that we had decided to spend some of our afternoon in prayer, visiting a church that was definitely out of the way.  I basked in the joy of the moment being able to offer up prayers for my friends, family, and myself in a very particular way since I was at an Abbey.   I like this idea that we seemed to have always been on this day’s pilgrimage as if it was planned out, and that it reached climax by having us travel up this small hill to go and pray at this St. Michael’s Abbey.stmichaelabbeyinterior

After a good deal of time passed, my friend nugged me and pointed to the stain glass window that was at the end of our pew.  It was Saint Gilbert who was being honored with this one stained glass window.  Whoa, that’s my name!  Of all the pews I could have chosen, I chose the one with my name on it.  God definitely wanted this.

Our time up on the hill didn’t end there.   I found a very small spot with a bench, shade, and view of the canyon we were traveling through.  We took some more time to rest, adore, and discuss the various Catholic ways of approaching hierarchy and obedience; A random but very informative conversation.

The wind cooled the air, the sun gently lowered itself to kiss the hills, and time itself missioned us to our necessary obligation of going back down the hill, and getting back in touch with our realities of obligations.  Alas, it was not all bad going back to facing what challenges speckle our life.  At least for me, I knew one absolute thing:  all this was not coincidence; truly it was Divine Providence, nourishing us in ways that were enough for our next part of the journey.overviewstmichaelabbey