Exciting News to Share!

Epic Punk cover new mediumDear Readers:

You may have noticed that my blog posts have been a bit sporadic this year. I sincerely apologize for not keeping up with my spiritual reflections, but I’m thrilled to tell you about the reason why. After 8 years of writing, revising, pitching, hoping, getting rejected, almost giving up, and revising some more…my husband and I have finally published our book!

LABORS OF AN EPIC PUNK is a young adult fantasy novel set in the time of Greek mythology, right after the Trojan War.  It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old rebellious loner named Mac (short for Telemachus), who has to undertake a series of missions, not only to keep from getting expelled from school, but to march out of the oppressive shadow of his famous father, Odysseus. We feel our story has a good mix of humor, heart, romance, and adventure.

Think Clash of the Titans meets The Breakfast Club.

Our path to indie publishing has been exciting and rewarding, and we feel so blessed to have been able to work together on this creative endeavor. Mark and I give a marriage retreat called “The Power of Two” and this labor of love is the best example we can think of to show the fruits of pairing up in artistic partnership.

If you’re interested, or you know someone who likes this genre, our book is for sale on Amazon. Or click here for a sneak peek of Chapter One! We think readers of all ages will love this story, although our target audience is teenagers, grades 7-12. No need to worry about any mature content, the book is totally safe and appropriate for younger teens.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for a more regular schedule of spiritual reflections in 2018!

Blessings of peace,
Sheri

A Cup of Tea for Advent

Christmas teapotAs the hectic pace of the holiday season ramps up, I encourage you to take a (short!) break from the shopping and decorating and sit down with a nice nourishing cup of tea. And when you do, spend some time reflecting on the teapot.

What makes a teapot a teapot?  Your answer might start with the materials it’s made of. The picture above is a ceramic teapot, so it probably started with clay baked in a kiln. Then some kind of glaze and paint.

But what if I took this teapot and broke it into pieces. It would still be ceramic, glaze, and paint, right? But would it still be a teapot? Looking at it another way, what if I took a solid lump of clay and baked it in a kiln, glazed it and painted it with this same Christmas image. Would it still be a teapot? No.

The missing element in both these scenarios is the empty space inside of it. That’s what makes it a teapot. The place that holds water and tea leaves. The part that bubbles and comes to life. Whistling when it’s ready. The empty space is critical for the teapot to fulfill its purpose.

Just like the teapot, we have an interior space within us, and that’s where our soul lives.  What happens in that space defines our relationship with God. It’s where our spiritual journey takes place. The empty space (and what we do with it) is what makes us children of God.

And so we are called to come to the Cross as empty vessels to be filled up with God’s love and grace. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes: “But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in a perishable container, that is, in our weak bodies. Everyone can see that the glorious power within must be from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

We may claim the outside surface…the walls of the pot…but the space inside belongs to God. And we want to keep our interior space as empty as possible so that God can fill us.

Fr. Anthony Ndang Ndichia, a missionary priest in Africa writes: “For God to enter our lives fully, we must be ready to create space: longing opens the heart to receive. The door to our inner self, heart, and mind must be opened: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.’ God needs openings in our lives to get through to us, to communicate with us, to stretch us to greater growth, to nourish us, to revitalize and renew us with love.”

Spend some time thinking about how you might be more like the empty teapot.  How will you make room for Jesus during this Advent season? In doing this, the weeks leading up to Christmas become an exciting time of possibility.

What is God going to do with the interior space of your soul?  How will He fill you up?

A Prayer for Everyday Grace

ocean boulders

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate. The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions. Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands. Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. I place my trust and faith in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy stone. On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me. I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

Lord, I bring to you a heart that longs for healing. I know that when I choose to sin, I separate myself from you. Help me to remember that because of the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, there are no longer any walls between us. Grant me wisdom to make good choices and the courage to seek to be reconciled with you when I do not. Help me to forgive myself and others as you have forgiven me.

Open my heart, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace!

 

*Adapted from the closing prayer for Creating Space for Grace: A Retreat For Busy Women © Sheri Dursin, 2016

You Are Loved

 

crucifixion sunrise

When I was an 18-year-old college freshman, a chaplain at my school (Fr. Michael Ford) said the following words during a homily that have stayed with me all these years:

“Expect to be loved and be loving in return.”

Back then I was young and filled with insecurities. It felt a bit presumptuous to expect to be loved. Who was I, after all, to be worthy of such love?

It reminds me of something a friend said the other day. We were talking about the new love song by James Arthur – “Say You Won’t Let Go.” Assuming he wrote this song for his real-life spouse, my friend exclaimed: “How lucky this person is… to be loved like that!” Beneath her words was the subtle implication that she didn’t feel loved in this all-encompassing way.

I heard about a recent survey looking at happiness and well-being in adults, and 17 percent of all respondents said that they did not feel loved. How heartbreaking! I wish I could have found each and every one of that 17 percent and told them how wrong they were!

The journey of Lent and its culmination in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday shows us in the most profound way that we ARE loved.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We were created to be loved by God. In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen describes it in the following way: “Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love.” Can you fathom such a love? Can you fully comprehend the impact this Divine Love can have on the way you see yourself and the way you live your life?

And then we turn our thoughts to the second part of Fr. Ford’s advice—“be loving in return.” When Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper he gave them this directive: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Parable after parable teaches us that we must love one another.

Yes—being born into God’s love comes with responsibility. One that we should welcome.

Sometimes I think our world has become less good at loving. People are defined as winners and losers rather than brothers and sisters. Cruelty prevails over compassion. Bigotry overshadows our shared humanity.

This is not what God hoped for when he breathed life into our souls. It’s not what Jesus wanted when he commanded us to love one another.

I invite and encourage you to reflect on Fr. Ford’s words during this season of Lent: “Expect to be loved and be loving in return.”

How will you acknowledge God’s great love for you?

How will you share God’s love with others?

Sacred Struggle – Journeying through the Desert

desert

My parish choir sang a hymn on Ash Wednesday that described Lent as a “sacred struggle.”  What a beautiful and thought-provoking phrase.  It suggests that Lent is not a time for putting up a front of spiritual tranquility.  It’s not a time for pretending everything is rosy and perfect.

Think of Lent as a pilgrimage—a journey—and not necessarily an easy one.  It’s time to dig deep.  To walk in the desert with Jesus.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the parched wilderness to be tempted, tested and prepared, just as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert so many years before, in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.  We are called to make this same 40-day journey.  To be tested, prepared, and renewed.  To encounter God in new ways.  And to ultimately be transformed by the experience.

Let us approach this Lenten season as an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult.  To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To reveal our doubts. To work through blocks and barriers to our faith.

Don’t be afraid to walk through the desert.  You are not alone in the journey.  When you encounter thirst and drought, cry out to God to quench your spirit.  Know, without a doubt, that God will answer.  “They were not thirsty when he led them through the deserts; he divided the rock, and water gushed out for them to drink.” (Isaiah 48:21)

A desert journey is not a time of punishment, but a time of strengthening.  Jesus left his time in the wilderness with a renewed and strengthened spirit to begin preaching the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. (Matthew 4:17)  Your time in the desert will lead you closer to that Kingdom.  To a place of deeper connection to our Divine Creator.  To a greater understanding of the gifts we receive – brought to fruition with the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

May your Lenten journey be blessed, as you come out of the desert with a renewed spirit. Amen.

Responding to God’s Invitation

 

jesus-knocking

“Stop in anytime!”

“My door is always open.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with these kinds of open invitations. They’re much too vague and raise way too many doubts for me.  What if I choose a bad time?  What if they don’t really mean it?  Maybe I’ll put it off for now.  They’re not really expecting me, so I won’t go today.  It becomes too easy to let time fall away and never really take advantage of the invitation.

I’ve always preferred something more formal.  An invitation addressed specifically to me with a specific date/time and specific details of the event so I know what to expect.  (As you can see, I’m big on specifics!)

As we begin this holy season of Lent, we are told that God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him.  Again, this sounds a bit vague.  How do we take advantage of this invitation?  When and where do we show up?  What is expected of us?

Today’s Ash Wednesday blog post is my attempt to make God’s invitation a bit more personal and… specific!

WHO
Make no mistake… God is directing this invitation to YOU.  Not to a general group of chosen people to which you may or may not feel you belong—but to you.  Our Lord says: “I have called you by name.  You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)  God promises that He will never forget us, for He has written our names on the palm of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16)  John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for each of His sheep in a deeply personal way.  “The sheep hear his voice and come to him; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)  What a powerful thing to realize that this invitation from God—through His Son Jesus Christ—comes to each of us so individually.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine God calling you gently and sincerely by name.  You are a child of God… and you matter.

WHERE
Interestingly, our holy invitation does not direct us to God’s house, although we do visit there every Sunday.  But our connection to God takes place within our own hearts.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God abides in us; and for our faith to flourish, we have to let God in.  There’s a famous depiction of Jesus standing outside a door… but there is no doorknob on the outside.  It is based on the Scripture from Revelations 3:20: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God respects our free will.  Jesus will not enter unless we let Him in.  He is always there, waiting for us, but it is up to us to open the door.

WHEN
Our invitation from God is for NOW.  Today.  Right when you finish reading this blog post.  It is a daily call to keep Jesus with us always.  God should be invited into every moment of our day.  If this is still too vague or overwhelming to contemplate, then look for ways to make it more specific.  Plan “dates” to be with God.  Set aside a few minutes each morning to pray or read Scripture.  Attend a Lenten retreat.  Take advantage of any spiritual programs offered by your parish.  Spend some time in silence each day.

WHAT TO BRING
All you need to bring is an open heart.  A willingness to let God in.  A desire to be connected to God in all that you do and say.  A willingness to live out the teachings of Jesus in your words and actions.  Jesus tell us:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4)

My prayer for you this Lenten season is that you accept God’s invitation.  That you remain connected to the Vine as we await the promise of our Savior on Easter Sunday.  That you live in God’s love just as God lives in you.  Amen.

Finding Beauty in Bleakness

january-sunrise

Today is Valentine’s Day… 45 days into 2017 and I’ve already broken almost all of my New Year’s resolutions.  This is a more impressive feat than you may realize, because every year I make dozens and dozens of them.  It’s one of my favorite thing to do; like an opportunity to create a whole new me: spend more time outside, eat more vegetables, take up yoga, learn to knit, spend more time in silence, improve my posture, try new recipes.

Something about the unlimited potential of New Year’s resolutions gives me a lift every year. And I like to believe that somewhere out there is an alternate universe where I’m doing all these things and feeling fantastic.

But there’s one resolution that I’m determined to stick to in THIS universe:

To discover—and rediscover—the beauty of God’s creation.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is not so easy to do in the winter.  Record setting rainy days in January gave us a bleak, dreary month of cloudy skies, dead grass, and bare branches.  February seems to be replacing all of that with snow, ice, and wind.  Not exactly the best conditions for taking in the splendor of God’s creation.

Unless you’re willing to look a little harder and a lot closer. A lone bluebird perched on a dead branch. Rays of sun peeking out behind the clouds. The glittering silence of a midnight snowfall. A winter sunrise, like the photo at the top of this post, taken by a dear friend on a cold January morning

After searching God’s landscape in this new way, we can turn our eyes to our brothers and sisters.  There is great beauty to be found in human actions and interactions.  The core message of Jesus was PEACE and LOVE.  Where do you see this in your daily experiences?  For me, it was recently, as I saw hundreds of faith communities across the country embody these teachings in the compassion and concern they showed for our refugee sisters and brothers.  Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)

We are all created in God’s image.  What’s more beautiful than one human treating another with compassion, dignity and love?

I invite you to join me in being on the lookout for glimpses of God’s beautiful creation in the midst of these winter months, as we move into the most holy season of Lent.

Live Like You Were Living

skydive-woman-1437056

I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of the songs, inspirational quotes, and Facebook posts that tell us to “live like you were dying.” I get the point. Time is short. You have to make the most of every moment. You never know when your number may be called. My reaction to this: It’s a terribly nerve-wracking way to live your life. This pressure to do everything we think we might ever want to do for every moment of the day. To tell everyone exactly how much they mean to us every single time we interact with them. I think if I tried to live this way I would fall asleep each night convinced I had fallen woefully short of the demands of this “live like you were dying” philosophy. For example, here are some things I did today: I cleaned my bathroom. I wrote a few emails. I made a grocery list. I stared into space for a few minutes while trying to focus on work. I spent a few minutes trading dumb jokes and harmless gossip with my sister. I watched TV.

Not exactly skydiving and poetry.

The fact is, most of us live a life marked by the ordinary. It’s how we choose to frame that ordinary, that matters. And we don’t need a death knell to achieve it. We just need a simple reminder that God loves us. That God is good. And that God chooses us and blesses us. The process of becoming who we’re meant to be is often gradual. We are each a work in progress. We look back on the ordinary moments and realize that our life is about something or it is not yet. But there’s still time. For the vast majority of us, there’s still time to make changes.

I’m not rejecting bold action in living out our faith. There will be those times when God calls us to take risks. To abruptly change course. To follow Him in a direction we never dreamed we could go. But most days we’re just chugging along the tracks of life. Doing our best. Imagine if every time you did something, a voice shouted at you: “But you could DIE tomorrow! Is that really what you want to be doing on your last day on earth?!?” My goodness. Who could hold up under that pressure? Imagine instead, that you heard a voice whispering to you:

“You are loved. You are called to love.”

This gentle reminder would reshape the way we see the world. The way we interact with others. The way we live.

There are many ways to live life to the fullest. And it’s true that some of our loved ones have been taken from this earth far too soon, while still others face very serious medical struggles. Our heart breaks with the unfairness of it all. We may never understand the reasons for it, and we wish we could take their place. But we must remember that God has given us our time here on earth for living. It’s ok to have regrets… as long as we share those regrets with God, release them, and keep moving forward, through each ordinary moment, listening for God’s voice teaching us and reminding us that love matters most of all.

It just might be a feeling even better than skydiving.

A Sinking Heart

bleeding-hearts

There are times we move through life with our hearts on our sleeves.  Wide open to receive God’s amazing love.  Moved to listen and understand, we are part of the vast family of the children of God. We offer prayers of gratitude for belonging.  We reach out to our sisters and brothers in loving communion.

With our hearts on our sleeves… we sing, we laugh, and we love.

There are times that our hearts curl inward.  Nestled deep within our souls.  We enter into a period of searching and deep contemplation.  Our hearts are wrapped in mystery.  We long to hear God’s whisper.  We know there is something God wants to teach us and we cling to the quiet so we may uncover His truth.

With our hearts drawn in… we listen, we pray, and we learn.

And still other times our hearts just sink.  We are lost in the fragments of a broken world.  Hope eludes us and despair overwhelms us.  We cannot imagine a world in which God is present and working for good.  Our rational minds tell us that God is out there, but with plummeting hearts we cannot see Him.

With our hearts in the depths… we doubt, we cry, and we ache.

If our hearts are going to sink, let them sink into God.  Not an out-of-control free fall, but a falling in faith. This act of surrender will bring us closer to God than ever before.  We give up our pain, our flaws, and our doubts, confident that God is strong enough to bear it all.  The further we allow ourselves to fall, the higher God will lift us up.

If our hearts are going to sink… let them sink into God.

Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Five)

walled-garden

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them all very much, gave each sister a gift – a small plot of land to plant a garden. With excitement and hope, they prepared the soil and planted seeds, giving them lots of water and sunshine until they sprouted into healthy plants. As time went on, the five sisters tended to their gardens in their own different ways.

Months later, the Master Gardener invited each sister, one at a time, to come and share with him how her garden fared. But the fifth sister did not appear. After waiting for some time, the Master Gardener went out in search of her, and found her sitting in her cottage, staring blankly at the walls.

“I come to ask about your garden,” he said. “How does it fare?”

“I have no idea. I prepared the soil and planted the seeds like you asked me to. And then I built a high stone wall around it to protect it from the rabbits and deer.”

“Tell me what grows in your garden?” the Master Gardener gently pressed.

“I really don’t know. I haven’t been in there in months. I just don’t see myself as a gardener. There are days I think about going inside, but it’s been so long now, that I don’t know what I would do in there.”

“My beloved daughter, I gave you this garden as a safe and sacred space. It is yours. All I ask is that you enter and sit awhile.”

The fifth sister did as the Master Gardener asked. She sat in her garden for a morning… and felt nothing. She returned for the next three mornings, and still nothing. On the fifth morning, she sat quietly in her garden and felt the sun warming her face. She watched a butterfly dance among the flowers. She breathed in the scent of earth and nectar and rain. She was overcome with a rush of feeling. A memory of the love she felt on the day she received this precious plot of land. Peace settled deep within. She vowed never again to wall herself off from her garden.

REFLECTION

A life of faith isn’t always easy. We wrestle with questions, doubts, and disagreements—matters that must be explored through deep prayer and examination of conscience. The process can be daunting. We witness those who claim to be Christian, yet do and say things that contradict the loving message of Jesus Christ. We see people use the name of Jesus to hurt and reject others. We don’t want to throw ourselves in with that lot. We don’t want to be anywhere near them. So we distance ourselves from the Church. It may seem easier to close ourselves off from the more challenging aspects of our faith. Avoidance is always easier.

Though our doubts may be justified, it’s our response to these doubts that can often drive a wedge between us and God’s love for us. But walling ourselves off from the love of God isn’t the answer. And the longer we do this, the more our faith becomes a remote and distant memory. Bring your questions to God. Bring your doubts, your anger, your dissonance. Trust that God loves you and will help you work through this time of uncertainty.

Just like the fifth sister, God only asks that you enter the garden and sit with Him for awhile.