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The Rev. Dr. Mary Lorraine Coufal

In a recent dream I was to give a presentation on the stages of dying.  I planned to focus on the 5 stages  that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had written about in her book On Death and Dying (c. 1969).  Those stages  she addressed were denial, anger, bargaining, depression (mourning about the dying process/loss) and acceptance.   I also planned to use the song “Teach me about Dying…and I’ll teach you to live” by Deanna Edwards from her cassette Peacebird (c. 1974).

When Dr. Kubler-Ross did her research on death and dying, the dying process wasn’t much researched or discussed.  Around that time Deanna Edwards was writing songs addressing similar issues.

Since then many others have written books and music about dying, mourning and losses.  We all experience many kinds of dyings and deaths in our lives:  leaving home, losing a job, loss of dreams, health, pet, friendship to mention a few.  Each of us deals with these dyings in our own individual way, based on our life’s experiences and our personalities.

On waking I wondered about this dream.  It didn’t seem that the presentation on stages of dying were so much about physical death as about situations that feel like dying or deaths in our daily lives.

I see these stages not so much like moving from preschool through high school, but more as a spiral.  When we are dealing with losses sometimes we may be in denial. Or we may  be in depression or mourning the loss, or perhaps in some part of acceptance.  Another time we may feel anger at the loss or attempt to do some bargaining,  later coming to a deeper level of acceptance.  How we cope with the losses is determined by how important each loss is to us and how we have dealt with life’s other struggles.

By acknowledging our feelings as we face our losses, we not only can learn about deaths  and losses in our daily lives but grow in awareness of what it means to live each day at a time.

Reflecting on the stages of dying can be helpful for by looking at each of the stages, we may see where we are in our process.

We don’t forget what was important but somehow by letting it go, and not wishing it was still there, we can move towards some kind of restoration or acceptance and find a new normal.

Our prayer may be brief.

Comforting One, as we face these dyings in our daily lives, help us grow in awareness of what it means to live.  Remind us to take each moment at a time and that you are with us.  Fill us with your peace as we go through these losses in our lives.  Amen.

 

September 25, 2016 0 comment
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I was sitting quietly one Saturday morning, listening to sounds around the apartment complex.

One neighbor’s air conditioner is buzzing.

Another’s dogs are barking, howling and whining.

Birds are chirping off and on.

Then I became aware of the whispering winds.

Their soothing sounds of the waving breeze reminded me of musical chant with the phrasing louder and softer, flowing gently.

I remembered the psalm verse, “You make the winds your messengers…” (Ps. 104:4)

The message I hear this day is that God is here in sound and beauty.

My beautiful cat was lounging comfortably on my legs.  She stretched out with her chin on my knee.

Suddenly we both were surprised by my cell phone ringing.  I thought it was off so I’d have a quiet day.  I let it ring.  My cat put her head back on my knee and we continued to listen and enjoy the whispering winds and chirping birds.  I thought of the wonderful gift of being able to hear.  I offered this prayer.

God of Whispering Winds,

I thank you for the gift of hearing.

I praise you for the gentle breezes and all the sounds of life.

You give us a new start each day.

Thank you for the gift of this morning.  Amen.

September 20, 2016 0 comment
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Chosen by a Kitten

After my first pet, a much loved cat, died, I spent some time grieving her death.  When I felt ready, I made many trips to different shelters looking for an older cat to adopt.

One morning I stopped in a new shelter and sat in a room with several cats and a 6 month old kitten whom I ignored.  The older cats all ignored me.

Miss K, as she was called jumped on my lap and contentedly curled up and let me pet her.  Intrigued and not really wanting a kitten, I left.  I went to a couple other shelters again.  I didn’t find the “right” cat.  None of the cats really interacted with me.  I thought about Miss K and how she had chosen me that morning.

Later that afternoon I decided to return to the first shelter, thinking that if Miss K was still there, I’d adopt her, even though she was only 6 months old.  Since she was so friendly and social, I was sure one of the many families visiting the shelter would have adopted her.  But when I returned, there she was!  She again quickly jumped on my lap. My heart went out to her.

I thought of how God chose us, and often leads us in unknown ways.  Scriptures on God choosing us that came to mind were from John and Ephesians.  We read in  John 15:16; “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit…” I John 3:2  “Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now…:”

Sometimes I forget God has chosen me and each one of us to go forth and bear fruit.  Going forth and bearing fruit might mean going out to others.  On the other hand, it might mean sitting and praying quietly as I gently pet my kitten.

This gives me the opportunity to reflect on Ephesians 1:4 “God chose us…before the word began, to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, to be full of love.”  Miss K chose me to give her a loving home and to love me in return.  Loving all of God’s creation, human and other, is another way of bearing fruit and sharing God’s love.

I invite you to explore how you are God’s chosen one bearing fruit and sharing God’s love.

September 5, 2016 1 comment
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I’ve had a dream recently in which I’m to take a written test of several pages.  In waking life, I’ve struggled with taking tests though I’ve always passed.

In the dream I’m having a couple problems.  The directions are in very fine print so small I can barely read them.  The other problem is that some of the questions are about events I’ve not been interested in so haven’t paid attention.  One event in the dream was of an award in 1992.

As I prayed with this dream I wondered how my vision of God’s working in my life is too small.  How can I see more clearly and see the bigger picture of life?

What situations am I ignoring that would deepen my relationship with God?

I thought back to 1992.  What would be beneficial for me to remember?  Two significant events came to mind.  In early 1992 I took a written four day exam.  Though it was difficult, I passed.  The second event was that I was ordained a transitional deacon.  Both were life-changing as I made final preparations for priesthood ordination.  I reflected on the many ways I was aware how God was with me, especially at that time.  There were times that seemed like God had forgotten about me.  Looking back, I now can see how God was directing me though I wasn’t aware at the time.

I wonder what long test am I about to take?  Will it be long in duration?  Will it be of short duration but feel like a long time?  How will my life be changed?

I need to be mindful of God with me in whatever comes.  These reflections helped put in perspective many current situations that seem like tests.  God is always with us, even in the midst of struggles.  Remembering God’s presence will help to have a broader vision knowing that God is in control.

Hidden God,

Thank you for night dreams that help us reflect on your goodness.  As we encounter situations that seem like tests that come in our lives, remind us of your presence and guidance.  Give us a broader vision and greater understanding of your love and guidance.  Amen.

August 21, 2016 0 comment
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I’ve seen some doves flying in the trees near my apartment recently but I’ve not seen them close up.  During a recent  spiritual direction  phone call, a dove landed on my balcony railing.  This was significant to me for our conversation was about spiritual communication.

In Christianity, a dove is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  So my first thought on seeing the dove was that God was reminding me that the Holy Spirit is present in my session.

A couple moments later, the single dove was joined by two more doves.  In Christianity, three is a symbol of the Trinity.  The second  dove came right up to the window on the floor of the balcony.  The third one almost flew into the window but turned before it hit the window.

As I reflected on the three doves, I wondered, “Was God saying, “Let me in?  I’m here but you aren’t paying attention?”

My prayer was, “God, I want to pay attention.  I know you are present.   I need your help to open the door of my heart to be more aware of your love. Amen.

August 15, 2016 0 comment
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Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.  Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.  Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is fitting and my burden light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

The past few months have felt intense.  From all appearances, it seems the intensity will continue.  I have felt weary.  At times I’ve felt life burdensome.  I need to be refreshed.

In the midst of busyness and needed activities it’s necessary to take time to remember what is really important.  I believe it’s important to take time to reflect on one’s spiritual calling, to reflect on how God is present in all of life. Some may do this near lakes or oceans.  Others get refreshed by camping in the woods or mountains.   I do it by taking specific retreat days to be quiet, reflect, pray and enjoy nature.  God leads each person differently.

I need the quiet, silent, alone time with my comforting cat to examine how God has been giving me life and sustaining me.  I become aware of times when I forgot God was in control.

During these quiet days, there may be challenges as I focus on whatever yoke God is offering.  I may feel peaceful.   Other times I may feel like I am in a dry desert.  Am I willing to stay with the feeling?  Am I willing to listen to what’s in my heart?  What I may hear is to be aware how my daily calling is really fitting with God’s help.

So I pray:

Compassionate and Merciful God,

Thank you for these quiet days.  Keep reminding me that where I am is where You’ve called me to be.  You are present in the midst of busyness even though it may feel like You are absent.  As You refresh and renew me during these reflective days, help me deepen my awareness of Your constant help and presence.  Then, guide me to share Your compassion with others who are weary and burdened.  Amen.

 

August 5, 2016 0 comment
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While quietly sitting with my calico cat curled up on my lap, I reflected on the peaceful scene outside my window.   My reflection led me to write this prayer psalm.

Bless the Creator, O my soul!

O Holy One, you give us beauty in colorful nature.

I praise you for the hungry goldfinches eating thistle seed,

their gold and black feathers highlighted in the sun.

I praise you for the energetic humming bird

flying among the purple and pink petunias and deep red geraniums.

It’s rapidly moving wings keeping it steady

as it drinks the flower nectar.

I praise you for the silver leafed maple tree,

the solid oak tree and the multi-branched elm tree.

Each provides a different emerald background for my brilliant balcony flowers.

I praise you for the luminous sunlight

around the white fluffy clouds

below the light blue sky.

O God, how wonderful is all your creation.

May we always respect, value and appreciate all you have made.  Amen.

August 1, 2016 0 comment
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I woke up tired on a cloudy, snowy day.

I woke up thinking of a duty I had to do in the near future.

Why did it seem so heavy?

I felt like much of my future depended on performing it successfully.  Even though I remembered some past unpleasant experiences connected with this duty,  I’d done them well.

Why was I so anxious that morning?

I said I trust in God.

I believed God would help me through it, pleasant or unpleasant.  But my anxious feelings remained.

I struggled to understand.

I prayed.  I asked for God’s peace.  I struggled.  I hoped.  I petted my cat.  I played the piano.  I breathed deeply.  I wrote my thoughts.

It was hard to let go of the anxiety.

I prayed and knew that God was with me.  Yet, the feelings remained unchanged.  This is life.

The sun broke through for a brief instant and hid again above the clouds.

The snow continued to fall.  It didn’t seem so pretty on that dreary day.  My heart was heavy.

I looked for a certain scripture that I thought would be helpful.  Instead of the one for which I was searching, I came across this passage in Matthew 6:32b-34.

“Your heavenly Father knows all you need.  Seek first God’s dominion over you, God’s way of holiness and all these things will be given you besides.  Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow.  Let tomorrow take care of itself.  Today has troubles enough of its own.”

I tried to focus on living in the present moment, an ancient Christian practice, knowing that God is present.  This is easier said than done.  I remembered reading a book many years ago called  The Practice of the Presence of God.  It was written by  Brother Lawrence a few centuries ago but is still applicable today.

So I ended that day still feeling like God was absent though I knew that wasn’t true. At the same time knowing that each moment is the important one.   I reminded myself to focus on the Holy One’s presence and be assured that God is always present with me even on dreary days.

July 24, 2016 0 comment
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Late last summer a friend gave me a small different kind of geranium plant.  Instead of the usual red petals making up the blossoms, these flowers had what looked like tiny red roses clustered together to make up the blossom.

I kept it and nurtured the small plant through the winter and spring in hopes it would live and blossom.  It looked pretty spindly at the end of winter.  But after the frost, I put it on the balcony where it gets several hours of sunlight.  It grew into a lovely green plant but no buds or flowers.  I kept watering it and fertilizing it.  I almost gave up hope of having more than a nice large green plant.

Finally in the middle of June several small buds appeared.  They aren’t large blossoms but they opened up to small, beautiful, red, rose-like clusters.  The plant is now full of these lovely blossoms.

Their slow growth to blossom reminds me to be patient with myself.  It teaches me that growth usually is slow to become permanent.  Waiting is important.

Portions of Psalm 40 from The Message:  by Eugene H. Peterson  speak to me of the importance of waiting.

Psalm 40

“I waited and waited and waited for God

At last he looked; finally he listened.

He lifted me out of the ditch.

Pulled me from deep mud.

He stood me up on a solid rock

To make sure I wouldn’t slip.

He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,

A praise-song to our God.

More and more people are seeing this;

They enter the mystery,

Abandoning themselves to God.

Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,

Turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing.”

Ignore what the world worships,

The world’s a huge stockpile

Of God-wonders and God-thoughts.

Nothing and no one

Come close to you!

I start talking about you, telling what I know,

And quickly run out of words

Neither numbers nor words

Account for you.

Doing something for you, bringing something to you –

That’s not what you’re after.

Being religious, acting pious –

That’s not what you’re asking for.

You’ve opened my ears

So I can listen…”

Thank you, Understanding God, for giving us beautiful new flowers that inspire us.  They remind us that growth can be slow and that you are always supporting us in the process. Keep opening our ears to listen to you.  Amen.

 

 

 

July 6, 2016 0 comment
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Much is being written and talked about being grateful today.  With all our social media opportunities one can find many sources of grateful quotes or passages.

I remember hearing the quote attributed to Meister Eckhart that if the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.

It’s easy to be grateful when all goes our way.  However when we experience struggle or suffering it’s more difficult.  We can say the words but it’s hard to feel them.

Being grateful and sad at the same time may seem like a contradiction but we can have many different feelings at the same time.

When we’re struggling with a situation we need to acknowledge what the struggle is.

Denying it doesn’t help.  Once the issue is identified, we can explore it more realistically.  Then, even though the situation remains, we can be thankful for other things.  We can be thankful for nature such as sunshine, colorful flowers, plants that grow in offices with only florescent lighting.  We can be thankful for pets that welcome and comfort us.  We can be thankful for the health or limited health we have.

We can be thankful to the people in our lives, those who planted, harvested,  transported, sold, etc. the food we eat.

Most of all we can be thankful for God who loves us just as we are.  Psalm 138 is one of the grateful psalms that we can pray. (From The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version: Oxford University Press  c.1995)

Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O God, with my whole heart;

Before the gods I sing your praise;

I bow down toward your holy temple

And give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and faithfulness;

For you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

On the day I called, you answered me,

You increased my strength of soul.’

All the rulers of the earth shall praise you, O God,

For they have heard the words of your mouth.

They shall sign of the ways of God,

For great is sthe glory of God,

For though God is high, God regards the lowly;

But the haughty, God perceives from far away.

 

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

Your preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.

You stretch out your hand, and your mighty hand delivers me.

God will fulfill God’s purpose for me;

Your steadfast love, O God, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

June 22, 2016 0 comment
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