PRAYER AS A PRACTICE IN CHOICE

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“If you keep the pouch, it comes with an obligation. Every day you must go outside and pray. The pouch needs to be taken out to greet each new day.” ~Wolf, a Native American who had given a tobacco pouch to the author as a gift. The following are excerpts from CALLING THE CIRCLE, by Christina Baldwin

“Pray? What prayer?”

“The pouch will teach you to pray.”

Calling the Circle is the book that is speaking to me at the moment. And this part of it about prayer is especially important to me and timely. Jean and I just began a special prayer practice, and many questions have arisen. Although we’ve both been attending church for 35 years, neither one of us ever really learned how to pray in an effective way that felt right to us. Christians have the Lord’s Prayer, alcoholics in AA have the Serenity Prayer, and every religion has its standard prayers. But prayer by rote or out of duty is not what we were longing for. We both wanted something that came from our hearts out of our unique experience. 

“Creator of all, thank you for this day.”

“Thank you for the sun that rises and sets, for the air I breathe, the food I eat, the sustenance YOU provide.”

“May all that I do today contribute to the healing of the world, and may my heart be open enough to allow the world to contribute to my healing.”

“Bless the earth and all her creatures. Bless the loved one and the stranger. Keep us safe thru times of danger. Make us ready, hold us steady.”

These are the prayers the author learned from the pouch. They seem so simple, straightforward, and obvious, and yet, how often have we stared blankly at the floor at a loss for a way to start. Maybe one of the keys is just to go out ~ to put oneself in the world, and then to look around. The prayers will come. 

“Then I speak the names of my beloveds and ask direction and holding in all our concerns. I ask for guidance in my own life; I pray for peace, and for the gathering of our kind that we may make the leap before us.”
The author said the pouch and this 10 minute ritual has changed her life in significant ways. She has discovered a spiritual connection she calls “rootedness” ~ something that we each need to discover for ourselves ~ which she explains as “honoring the lineage we come from, and reclaiming what is native about human spirituality in all its variations.”

I recently heard from a friend about the healing power of filial piety. She told me about a Japanese man who was teaching people to express gratitude to their parents for giving them life, and in that one statement they could forgive their parents for their mistakes and shortcomings, no matter how severe. I was inspired. I wanted to heal my relationship with my own parents, as I knew I had unresolved issues that were still creating problems in my life as an adult. Jean and I started a prayer to honor our parents. We put their names on the rim of the circle, along with our children, our spiritual mentors, and ourselves. In the center we light a candle, representing the Spirit of the Heavenly Parents, both Father and Mother. Then we offer a full bow to our parents, thanking them for giving us life, and offering our concerns and wishes for their peaceful presence and guidance. It’s a simple and surprisingly comforting act. In the orient, it’s a common tradition for most of the population to greet their ancestors on the yearly celebration of their death day. Although we don’t offer any special food, or gather as an extended family like they do, we are gathering our family together in heart around the candle, and offering our sincerity, forming a circle of energy that impacts our day. Ideas come while we sit and hold council together, while we tell our stories and ask our questions. The heart makes a connection in some small way, and we arise feeling energized and with our purpose more clear.

Baldwin talks about finding and making an ‘authentic gesture.’ Each of us may find a different way to do that, as it must be a gesture that resonates. The meaningful spiritual gesture helps us find a place in our life, and from there we can derive the meaning we are seeking.  The prayer pouch of the Native American, a bow of filial piety to our ancestors ~ there are many ways. The author uses the word indigenous, meaning belonging to a place. We may never have thought of ourselves as indigenous people. Many of us have moved far from where our ancestors once lived, even from our own childhood homes. We’ve uprooted ourselves again and again in the course of growing up~ leaving to study, or to marry, or to work.

Today while we were talking about this idea, Jean mentioned that it feels good to come back to his father’s house every time we come to Belgium. It’s always in the same place, on the same street, in the same neighborhood~ it’s where he grew up, with the church on the corner and his old elementary school right behind. Although changes have been made, many things remain the same. Some of the old familiar furniture is still there, and so is his father, and his brother, and his niece. Coming here has a feeling of coming back to his roots. It’s a special blessing I don’t have, but I can appreciate its value.

I like this chapter in the book about prayer. I often thought of prayer as a private matter, but in Calling the Circle, Christina reminds us of another dimension. Through the pouch she learned that prayer is a choice and an obligation to the community. When she forgot to take the pouch outside, she felt a part of the web of prayer was torn. And that web embraces us all collectively. 

She suggests three elements of prayer: 1) something that has meaning to us; 2) something that honors Spirit; and 3) something we do consistently. The challenge is not perfection but persistence in the face of the distractions of our lives, and there are always many. Prayer is a kind of centering that we do to settle into being where we are, fully present and attentive; Prayer is where we remember ourselves, naked and unashamed, and reconnect with our roots ~ its a spiritual practice that allows us to become indigenous. Prayer is where we find our balance in the circle of life, and know that we are not alone, but part of something greater~ something WHOLE and something GOOD. 

For someone who has offered many mechanical prayers at church, or found a tearful prayer as if by chance, I know I have a lot to learn and I am searching. I’m grateful to be discovering an authentic gesture that works for me, and for us as a couple. We have committed ourselves to our new practice for a two-week period, while he is on vacation from teaching, gently feeling our way with as little self-imposed burden as possible. We are also being careful not to let it become something of a duty that we do without intention.

Every day we have received some kind of inspiration from the circle. Our first day I got the inspiration to call Jean’s cousin (his mother’s nephew) about doing a photo shoot with him and his horses. He had asked me about it before, but nothing had been arranged. I got up, made the phone call, and we set the date. We’re going next week for two days back to the Flemish part of Belgium from where Jean’s mother originated. We’re leaving on my birthday. I felt happy to be doing something creative that I love to do, and to connect further with a part of Jean’s family we rarely see, and I couldn’t help feeling we were being guided by the unseen hands of his mother, Hilda.

The second day I felt the energy and guidance to arrange for a Debacker April Birthdays celebration. There are 4 of us. It has taken quite a slew of phone calls and a visit with Jean’s younger brother to discuss the plans~ it’s hard to find a date when everyone is free~ but we are almost there. I challenged my fear to ask Michel to cook ~ and I sighed with relief when he told me he already had a menu planned. We will all meet at Bon Papa’s house, and now my thoughts are about how to bring the spiritual dimensions of the circle there with us, to honor BonPapa, and give him a chance to share the wisdom of his life before he makes his final departure from this world to the next. I will ask the council today when we pray…

The third time we offered our bows, I found myself in front of Mom and Dad’s names. They got changed from the left to the right side this time. I looked at my mom and thought of two of my big questions: 1) about embracing the Shadow and 2) about enemy marriage partners vs people who are easy to love. I offered them both to the council. They understood, and I’m sure they will have something to say in time. The next day Jean led the prayer, and I asked for guidance about healing. The next day’s question was, “What are we doing here?” It was Jean’s question this time. I wrote it down and we thanked our parents and the council for listening.

Yesterday’s prayer was for Bon Papa and my mother, Marilyn. They are both alive, and both feeling their time of transitioning approaching. I prayed to create a space for them to share their wisdom with us before they go. And out of that prayer came a plan to interview them both, one on SKYPE and the other at home down the street.

Our prayer this evening was the most inspiring yet. We took turns Jean and I, and it was back and forth, and back and forth as we kept thinking of things to add. I told the circle that Jean had said something today that touched my heart, and made me think about the meaning of our long suffering together. I prayed that we can truly restore the wounds of our ancestor’s marriages, not just our own. Jean prayed for a job where he can use his talents and make better money, and then he prayed for the same thing for me. We prayed for Emilie, and for Joachim to be successful in matters of the heart and soul: forgiveness, gratitude, peace, and love, overcoming the temptations of jealousy, fear, anger, and hatred. We laughed when we got up, both stiff from kneeling, and bowed to each other, and blew out the candle to close the circle.
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HABITUDES FOR COMMUNICATORS

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 Habitudes for CommunicatorsHABITUDES FOR COMMUNICATORS: Images that form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, by Tim Elmore

I came upon this book serendipitously. You know how things seem to connect? You are having an experience that matches exactly with something you read about the day before? Jean will be giving a talk in a few weeks, and he was wondering how to prepare~ then this book just fell into our laps. I’m inspired because we have also just started a small group and I’m looking for things to inspire our discussion and help us to create genuine relationships with each other. Here is an excerpt from the first IMAGE given by Tim Elmore. The book is wonderfully designed to be not only inspiring, but easily applicable~ guidelines are given to assess yourself and your personal authentic speaker/communicator skills.
Image ONE: WINDOWS AND MIRRORS

Communicators must use window and mirrors when they speak. When a communicator provides a window for people to see into his/her life, listeners receive a mirrow to see their own. Speakers must indentify with the people. Steve Jobs told 3 stories about his life, taking less than 15 minutes to deliver the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.

When speakers hold a window up to their soul (their humanity) listeners identify with them and become engaged with their story. Because the communicator is secure enough to pull back the curtain on their own life, everyone feels safe to lean in and examine their own.

Effective speakers identify with the people who are listening. They may tell a story about themselves; they might reveal a fear, a hope or a weakness they possess. Through the raw act of being transparent, they attract listeners to identify with them. (HONY)

Window and mirrors is all about becoming transparent. Being real and revealing. It asks us to go beyond the sterile transmittal of information. It reminds us that what people really long for ~ what is magnetic to most audiences~ is a genuine spirit.

People are looking for a communicator more than a public speaker.

Talk it over:

  1. Is it difficult for you to open up and become vulnerable in front of an audience? Why?
  2. How much should a communicator open up and share weaknesses? How transparent should a speaker be with an audience?
  3. John Maxwell suggests that speakers should be real to the point that the audience doesn’t begin to feel sorry for them and distract from the point being made. What is your take on this idea? Is there a better gauge?
  4. Can you name a time you saw a communicator become authentic and win over a crowd?

 Assess Yourself

Dr. Martin Seligman says that the critical determinant of success in life is resilience in the face of adversity. Awareness, contemplation and a sense of humor are your best friends in attempting to learn from difficult experiences and make sense of them for listeners. Evaluate yourself on how personal your communication is using the following criteria on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being weak and 10 being strong.

 1. I am keenly aware of my own flaws and weaknesses. _____

 2. I reflect on lessons I can learn from difficult experiences. _____

3. I maintain a sense of humor and can laugh at myself. _____

4. I am emotionally secure enough to share my flaws/weaknesses. _____

5. I’m generally good at sharing stories from my life, even failures. _____

6. I can sense if my listeners need more transparency as I speak. _____

TRY IT OUT

There is a rule that works in most social settings: people will only become as vulnerable as their leader. We must be willing to reveal the kind of information that we’d ask of another person. Telling people your background, your likes and dislikes, and your fears and hopes is part of the give and take of genuine conversation. It’s how we get to know people. This week, practice this habitude in conversations and in any speeches, talks or sermons you deliver. Develop two strong personal anecdotes and insert them into your comments to others. Take a risk and open up about your humanity. Then, meet in a community and discuss how it influenced others to be transparent as well.

 

IN SEARCH OF THE CHEON IL GUK WOMAN

IN SEARCH OF THE CHEON IL GUK WOMAN:                                                                        Reflections while reading Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN~

by Robin Debacker

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“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”(p. 158)

I haven’t always been aware of a gender bias per se. Like Ms. Sandberg, when I was a college student I felt we had been liberated and had moved past all that. I also shied away from any association with the word feminist, as those women seemed like such man-haters.

Now, however, I’ve become more aware of the disparities (in the workplace, and in the culture at large) and the subtle and not so subtle messages that women keep receiving from their male bosses, their partners, and even other women.

I recently offered to give the Sunday message at church, as I was inspired about all the Goddess/Feminine Principle writings out there that I’ve been discovering recently, and thought I could talk about the Cheon Il Guk Woman easily (Cheon Il Guk being a term Rev. Moon coined to refer to the place where the male and female principles are equal, balanced and harmonized.) However, on Saturday night I found myself curled up in a fetal position moaning about not being able to face the audience the next day. What happened? I had not expected to feel so SCARED.

I was surprised by the introduction that the MC gave me (he is a man), about the message today being “a little subversive” and so we best prepare ourselves^^. I wondered, why would talking about the feminine aspect of God or humans be considered subversive, but then I remembered, it IS subversive, and that’s the point. Women have not had that freedom, and we all know it on some level. Women feel scared to speak up, and men feel scared when we do.

The fact is that I didn’t know for sure who or what the Cheon Il Guk Woman is, and that was hard to admit publicly, or even to myself. I am confused and have been for a long time about my own femininity, and what it means to be a woman. In my 20’s I became aware of feeling resentful toward my mother for not being a better example in that department, and later toward my husband for not being a stronger masculine force. I’ve felt more like a man than a woman in the relationship with him, often being approached or addressed first when we’re together, and that is confusing at best, and depressing at worst. 

Part of the program involved breaking into small groups of 2 or 3 people to talk about what the word “feminine” means to each of us, and share what we think is blocking women today. I sat with 2 other elder women like myself. One of them said that her daughter and friends complain that the matching candidates all seem to be more like boys than men. I knew what she was talking about, as it was my experience with my husband, but I didn’t have an answer.

I got through the talk, but I felt sheepish about not having said much more than that we are all still searching for the Cheon Il Guk Woman. Who is she? I wonder if she’s gotten over her resentment, or if I can get over mine. I do know she’s still fighting, and gaining ground, and that I’d like to be her friend and supporter.

Looking back on this experience, and reading Sheryl’s book, I’m reminded how important it is to have “the conversation.” To lean in to the problem rather than avoid the painful part of conflict resolution. We need to examine our church culture, our school culture, our workplace culture, and our family culture in order to identify the barriers that are holding women back, and to point out gender inequalities when they happen. It feels scary, on both sides, but everyone benefits when we do.

 

Tea Talks #37~ CONVERSATION STRATEGIES!

When I first discovered these books I was teaching conversation skills at a university in Korea. I was blown away the very first day, and have never looked back since. Try them. You will be glad you did!

Discussion Strategies: Beyond Everyday Conversation

Conversation Strategies & Discussion Strategies
Pair and Group Activities for Developing Communicative Competence
David and Peggy Kehe, Pro Lingua Associates (PLA)

Discussion Strategies, Beyond Everyday Conversation presents a series of strategies we all know and use regularly in everyday conversation (rejoinders, follow-up and clarification questions, comprehension checks, etc.) The course approach, where each lesson builds on the one before, provides repeated opportunities for students to practice what they have learned. The teacher’s role is one of facilitator and coach, while students practice initiating on their own. The goal is communication, not accuracy, and the topics are chosen for their high-interest and relevancy to students’ lives.

Task-based structure empowers lower level students, while providing a healthy challenge for all levels (lower-intermediate to advanced) so this series works well in a mixed level classroom. Fully engaging, this is a must-try conversation strategy course that works! Liberate your students to discover that they really can speak English!

A companion book, Conversation Strategies, is for lower-level students, and is FULL of great lesson plans for teachers who are not sure how to get their students talking. You and your students will love it!

Level 1

Level 1

Tea Talks #35~ The Secret Life of BOOKS

If you’ve ever had your life changed by a book you’ll be able to relate.

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Fasting: the ultimate diet~ This books tells of the virtues of fasting. It helped me through a tough time in my life, when eating less and reflecting more was what I needed to do to get my life back on track. I began a 7-day fast that would change my life and set me off in a whole new direction….
I read it in 1978, but it’s just as applicable now as it was then.