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Posts Tagged ‘Canisius College’

I love Psalm 23. To me, it’s a psalm to be absorbed slowly, phrase by phrase, image by image. And that’s exactly what I was given the opportunity to do again at a recent retreat I attended, along with around twenty-five others. Together—and alone—we walked through this psalm with our Shepherd, listening, reflecting, praying, waiting, imagining, allowing our own spirits to be stilled, comforted and strengthened.

And at various stages throughout our day together, we were invited to put ourselves right in the centre of that psalm—to picture what those green pastures and quiet waters might look and feel like, to walk again in our minds into those deep valleys and sense that right path beneath our feet, and even to sit at a table with the Lord, watching our cup overflow and sensing that goodness and mercy all around us.

Now I am in no way an artist, but twice when we were invited to draw what we saw as we reflected, I did just that. At one point, I drew an expanse of green grass and those quiet waters flowing nearby, surrounded by lush vegetation. I drew myself seated on a rug on that grassy bank—and there with me was the Lord. But more than that, he was holding my next book Soul Friend—and enjoying it immensely! Now I have been looking towards the release of this book with some anxiety, even foreboding. Not only is it my first work of non-fiction, but it reveals a great deal about me and my journey over recent years and gives my own personal perspective on all sorts of events in my life. But here was Jesus, reading and enjoying it, looking at me and smiling, with a twinkle in his eyes. And he was saying, ‘Oh, Jo-Anne, I love this! I know I was with you when you were writing it, but it’s wonderful to hold it and see it completed. Well done!’

Was this just my imagination? Even if it was, surely this is a God-given gift, to be able to imagine and see beyond what is there in the natural? Even now I can picture that scene, feel the warmth of the sun there, hear that running water and know the delight of the Lord who sits nearby. And that to me is what Psalm 23 is all about—the wise and loving Shepherd walking our journey with us, refreshing us, guiding and comforting us, protecting us, providing for us, renewing us, loving us.

I encourage you to walk through this psalm again with the Lord—perhaps even now. And as you do, may you know his close, loving presence and sense his great delight in being there with you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Now and then, I believe God gives us gentle nudges to tell us it’s time to care for ourselves, to replenish what has been depleted within us, either by giving out too much for too long in one way or another or by plain neglect. As a writer, I have discovered I can keep on writing and writing and editing and editing for a very long time, along with popping up to speak on occasions, before I listen to that voice telling me I need to take time out to reorientate myself to that strong, loving presence of God in me, around me, above me and beneath me.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do just that. I took myself off to a retreat centre not far away from where I live, where around thirty other men and women had gathered for much the same purpose. Most were strangers to me, but as we were told that first evening together, ‘there can be no strangers among us – only friends we have not yet met.’ And God was very present among us.

The weekend focused on the ancient Celtic Christian ways of worship and of connecting with God and one another. We received input from our warm, gentle speakers. We had inspired poetry read to us. We listened to beautiful music played by a world-renowned ‘harper’ (not ‘harpist’, we discovered) on her Celtic harp. We heard the stories behind the music. We even joined hands in a large circle and danced together – slow, ancient dances that enabled us to intercede for the world and the church and to express our unity. We prayed together aloud in words – ancient, simple but profound prayers of the heart. We were nourished by the beauty of a creative arrangement of swirling cloth, candles of varying sizes and interesting items gathered from nature as we sat together. We were given opportunities to be creative ourselves, with coloured pencils and pastels and paper. We ate excellent food, chatting around small tables in a lovely dining room – and once without speaking at all. We sat eating chocolates and drinking mulled wine together one evening (!), as we listened to the music of the Celtic harp. But best of all, we were given opportunity for periods of silence, which we could spend either sitting somewhere in the beautiful, extensive grounds of the retreat centre, in one of the cosy corners of the building, in the chapel or in our own warm rooms.

Our souls were nourished by God in so many ways. At the end, we each shared words that for us encapsulated our time together –  words such as ‘loved’, ‘homecoming’, ‘child of God’, ‘restful landing’, ‘cherished’, ‘peace’, ‘acceptance’. For me, the weekend encapsulated all of these and more. And it showed me yet again the importance of spending time in solitude and silence to hear those words God wants to speak into our spirits, of caring for ourselves so we can best live for God in this world, of opening our hearts to see and be thankful that we belong to an amazingly loving, creative, caring, all-powerful God.

So this day, may you know the loving presence of God within you, around you, above you, beneath you. And, in the words of a traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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