This story of grace from Jim Krisher.

 

 
I was doing a retreat day in early Lent for inmates at one of the medium security correctional facilities here in Central New York. I had started with a meditation I’ve often used in prisons,
in which I invite the guys to re-enter a past experience of being loved by another person. It’s a meditation that has led men to tears, and the sharing of powerful transformative moments in their lives.

On this occasion, one of the men told of how in his prayer he had been brought back to the day when he was convicted in court. The jury had returned a guilty verdict, and he was bustled outside to the waiting police car. He told of how as he was being put into the vehicle, he looked up to see

his mother, his grandmother, and his sister standing o to the side – all three of them gazing at him with great tenderness, and they were sobbing. In that moment, he said, he felt such a powerful sense of their love for him that it almost overwhelmed him.

“It’s just so incredible,” he said, “that on that darkest day of my life I would be given such a beautiful awareness of how much I am loved.” It was clear that God had deeply touched him again through the memory of it, and he was visibly moved.

View video edition.

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This story of grace from Jim Krisher.

Nicholas Herman was 18 years old when he had a conversion experience.  It came to him not as a result of studying or hearing a convincing preacher. His conversion was the result of simply looking at a tree.  On a winter’s day, he stood considering the nakedness of the tree’s trunk and branches, and he realized how soon it would be budding with new life.  And as he thought about this, Nicholas was struck with wonder at the grandeur and providence of God. He later described it as a vision of Love so powerful that the devotion in his heart had never surpassed the intensity of that moment he spent looking at a tree.

Afterward, he was convinced that God could be encountered in everything. He set his heart on trying to always live in the awareness of God’s presence and to let nothing distract him from this awareness.  In fact, Nicholas claimed to be more united with God when he was busy about his chores as a cook in a monastery than when he engaged in formal prayer in the chapel.

And so it was that Nicholas Herman, also known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, quietly became a mystic amid the pots and pans.  He died 3 centuries ago, leaving behind a wonderful little book called The Practice of the Presence of God, which has proved to be such a blessing to so many!  (We have it in our Spiritual Renewal Center library.) View video edition.

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graceferner

Grace Ferner

Here at the Spiritual Renewal Center we have since the beginning of the ministry experienced the grace of God through the dedication, generosity and love of the many, many women and men who have volunteered here in a wide variety of capacities. We surely would not be able to continue this good work without such help!

Most recently we welcomed the services of a new volunteer, twenty-year-old Grace Ferner. Grace has Down Syndrome. Her father Gary, a local pastor, has been receiving spiritual direction here for many years. This past summer, he called to ask if Grace might help by coming in to water and care for the many plants that have a home in the Center.

And so began her Christian service with us. Twice every week she comes in with her
water cart and sprayer to water and feed and trim, and if necessary, re-pot plants at the Center (with a little help from her assistant, her dad.) Her smiling face blesses all who meet her, and our plants are all thriving under her loving care.

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This story of grace comes from Dr. Jim Trippi, an early board member of the Spiritual Renewal Center who now serves as a cardiologist in Indianapolis.

“I just don’t feel so good,” he said when he came to the Gennesaret Free Clinic mobile unit in downtown Indianapolis.  I was the volunteer physician that day, and our small staff included our driver Phil, and his sweet wife Erin who distributed sundry hygiene items to the dozens of persons who lined up to receive what we all take for granted.  It was my privilege to watch this scene unfold.

boots-1193477_1920He said his feet and back hurt and then he started crying in the privacy of the exam room.  I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that guys like this are some of God’s favorites. When I asked him if he had been drinking and smoking too much, he nodded.  I offered ibuprofen for the back aches and asked to see his feet.  He seemed reluctant, saying  I would not want to see them because he did not have access to a bathroom.   I persisted and found feet that had not seen a bar of soap in too long.   “Let’s scrub up those feet and get you some clean socks.”  We had hundreds of pairs weeks ago, so I thought there must be a few left.  But none were found in any of the usual hiding places.  I said a little prayer for this sorry guy.  Then, with apologies I told him that we would just have to put his dirty old socks back on. That’s when Phil rushed in, “Look, I just found a pair of new socks! It must be the last pair.”  This “sudden finding” of needed supplies has happened so many times – you would think I would learn to expect that God would provide for his loved ones.

My patient promised that he was really going to take better care of himself.  I do hope so.  As he exited the vehicle, Erin said, “We love you.”

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This story of grace from Sr. Rose Wagner

When she arrived for her spiritual direction session, it was obvious that she was anxious and a bit distracted.  After a couple of minutes she almost apologetically confessed candles-1323090_1920that she hadn’t been praying and was finding it difficult to feel in touch with God.  “I almost didn’t come today,” she said,  “because I don’t know what to talk about.”  But, she did talk of how she felt that she had done – or not done – something that  was separating her from God and that God was displeased with her.

We talked about the “ups “ and “downs” of prayer and that there are times of light and times of darkness in the prayer life of anyone who is sincere about their spiritual life.

I suggested that we look at a passage from Romans 8:26 where St. Paul writes, “The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in speech.”

This reassuring Word led to a sharing of the graciousness of God who is constantly loving us, and how even when we cannot seem to pray,  One infinitely greater than ourselves never ceases to pray within us.  So we can relax in God’s care for us! She left with deep gratitude for her new insight, and determined to allow the Spirit to continue to be her prayer.

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Thanks to Sister Marise May for sharing this story of grace.

A woman who comes for spiritual direction was talking about a visit she’d had with her maternal aunt.  Always a difficult person, the aunt now lived alone in another city.  Family members always gave her a wide berth because she could be so caustic and negative in her treatment of others.  This niece likewise avoided her, having heard so many stories of how harshly she had treated her mother, the aunt’s sister.  However she felt some responsibility toward her aunt and decided to pay her a visit.  One day after much prayer she got up her courage and made the drive to where the aunt lived. To her great surprise she was received very warmly, and the two had a most pleasant visit.  Her aunt expressed delight and sincere gratitude that her niece had come to visit.  When she left the aunt, she felt such gladness that she had made the effort.

Three days later she received word that the aunt had suddenly and unexpectedly died!  The woman turned to God in great thankfulness for nudging her to visit when she did!

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This month’s submission is from Lana Riley, a spiritual director at the Center.

“I know only that I do not walk the path alone.”

communion-798378_1920 These words were part of the opening prayer of the Spiritual Renewal Center’s silent directed retreat weekend.  I had encouraged one of the women that I see for spiritual direction to come to come for this retreat, and give herself the gift of silence and time to reflect on her relationship with Jesus.

That weekend she shared her very sad and troubled childhood with me.  She told of how the memories and the impact of abusive experiences during her young years had prevented her from accepting God’s unconditional love throughout her life. Her sharing of this story was not easy, but there was something powerful about the silence, love and care of the retreat experience that helped her to open to God’s presence and begin the healing of her past.  It turned out to be a breakthrough weekend for her!

She shared it with me in these words:  “The garbage of my past has obscured my vision of what my life could be – but that perception of life is changing. God has filled me with so much peace; and that is huge for me.” When she went home at the retreat’s end, she left with a profound new understanding that God had always been with her, loving her all along.

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I had just finished speaking to a parish group, when a woman approached me to talk. “You speak DSCN1535about God experiences,” she said, “and I don’t think I’ve ever had one.”  We chatted for a while, and then she told me a most poignant story.

Her 28 year old son had died in 1993 of AIDS. It was at a time when people didn’t know much about the disease, and even healthcare workers were afraid of it. The resulting isolation of patients and their families made it all the harder to face the ravages of the disease and the inevitable death sentence it then brought.  One day, she told me, her bedridden son started to tell her about all the people who were crowded in the hospital room with them – people who were visible only to him.  When she realized what was happening, she asked him: “Is your grandma here too?”  “Yes,” he replied, “she’s standing right there.”  This loving mother courageously advised him, “If she asks you to go with her, don’t hesitate – go with her.”  Soon thereafter, the young man slipped away within himself, and then died. She found great comfort in knowing he was not alone at his transition, but was welcomed by his beloved grandmother and the company of the saints.

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stockvault-candle-in-church128080The woman had been struggling with God for a long time in the face of the suffering of many she loved and her own suffering as well. She’d just returned from a retreat at a monastery in New England, and she told of how while there she had engaged in some honest but difficult prayer.

I asked her, “And did you sense that God was with you as you prayed?”  She paused briefly, then spoke a simple but heartfelt “Yes.”  I asked her, “What was God like in that moment, as you prayed?” After a much longer pause in which I could see her reconnecting with that experience and tasting more fully its significance for her, she said slowly, “Kind. God was very kind.”

In the years that have passed since that conversation, as she faced other hard times in her life, I’ve witnessed how she has trusted in that kind God of her retreat-time prayer. Like all authentic God-moments, it has continued to sustain her and bring her peace and joy.

I placed my hand on this woman’s shoulder and said with a smile, “Don’t tell me that you haven’t had any God experiences…that’s what grace looks like.”  She smiled in return as we both savored the richness of God’s Presence.

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prison-fence-218456_1920It happened during one of my visits to Midstate Correctional Facility where I occasionally go to lead a spiritual session with the inmates. I began this particular gathering with a meditation based on an ancient invocation: “Jesus, Lover of every human face.”

During the sharing, I heard a very poignant story from the guy who was sitting on my immediate right. He told of how for many years he would not look at himself in a mirror. He said he didn’t know why he wouldn’t – he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He even grew a beard so he wouldn’t have to shave, which would’ve required looking at himself in a mirror.

Yet that very morning, another inmate had challenged him on this – “I don’t understand why that’s a problem for you – you’re a good looking guy. What’s wrong?”  And so that very morning he’d forced himself to spend some time looking at himself in the mirror, and he was able to accept what he saw, and he thought of how God loved him.  And that very morning, he had shaved off his beard.

“It just blows my mind” he said, “that I came here for the first time tonight, and you start with this meditation on how Jesus loves my face!” And it just blows my mind too, when I think about that brother, sitting there on my right with his clean-shaven face, and his big smile, and his really amazing story – a man who had come home to himself at last, and seen himself as beloved. View video edition.

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This submission comes from an anonymous friend of the Spiritual Renewal Center.

aloneMy life was a mess. I was living at Le Moyne Manor, which is a halfway house for people coming out of inpatient treatment for addiction. I had been going to three AA meetings a day since I left Canandaigua VA hospital sixty-four days earlier, and yet in the back of my mind I knew that I would drink again and this time it would be the end. I would die, and I welcomed it. I had lost my home, my car, my job, and had ended up in different shelters in Syracuse. I was spiraling more and more out of control and into hell.

I was seething with an incredible anger, and I remember putting my head in my hands and just simply saying: “My God, I know that I’m going to drink again but please just take away this anger.”

Immediately I felt a sense of heat in the middle of my chest, and as the heat grew, it started to feel like a sparkler from the Fourth of July. The heat was intense! I don’t know how long it lasted, but the heat spread throughout my body. When it was over, the anger, the pain, the fear, and the obsession to drink was gone – completely gone! I felt a new sense of peace beyond any explanation.

That was eight years ago. The obsession to drink never returned. I will never understand God’s ways, and that’s okay with me. I continue to attend 12-step meetings, and I love helping others achieve sobriety. I’ve deepened my relationship with God, and have completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at the Spiritual Renewal Center.

I have rejoined the human race!

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This submission comes from an anonymous friend of the Spiritual Renewal Center.

I exited the bus on Salina St. and started the long walk to Salt Springs Rd. where there was a church I frequented. I arrived early, and no one was there yet, so I walked around to the back of the church and sat on a bench near a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was then that I realized how incredibly angry I was. I was seething with anger. I didn’t know where it was coming from; I just knew that I was angry.

I was living at Le Moyne Manor, which is a halfway house for people coming out of inpatient treatment for addiction, and the first floor is for ex-cons coming out of prison. I had been going to three AA meetings a day since I left Canandaigua VA hospital sixty-four days earlier, and yet in the back of my mind I knew that I would drink again and this time it would be the end. I would die, and I welcomed it. I had lost my home, my car, my job, and had ended up in different shelters in Syracuse. I was spiraling more and more out of control and into hell.

As I realized my incredible anger, I remember putting my head in my hands and just simply saying: “My God, I know that I’m going to drink again but please just take away this anger.”

Immediately I felt a sense of heat in the middle of my chest, and as the heat grew, it started to feel like a sparkler from the Fourth of July. The heat was intense! I don’t know how long I sat there but the heat spread throughout my body. When it was over, the anger, the pain, the fear, and the obsession to drink was gone – completely gone! I felt a new sense of peace beyond any explanation.

That was eight years ago. The obsession to drink never returned. I will never understand God’s ways, and that’s okay with me. I continue to attend twelve-step meetings, and I love helping others achieve sobriety.

I have rejoined the human race!

That’s what grace looks like.

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his month’s submission comes from the Rev. Mark Lawson, one of the Center’s spiritual directors and pastor at the United Church of Christ in Bayberry.

Church doorDenise sat on the edge of a chair in my office at the church. Her lips pursed, her hands folded and clenched in her lap, she was mustering the courage to take a leap of faith.

Three years earlier, Denise’s history of depression and her heroic efforts to conceal it had overwhelmed her. A therapist helped her recognize that for her entire adult life, she had dutifully played the roles assigned to her, without ever exploring her own God-given identity. She had never dared to believe that she was lovable just for who she was. The therapist, also a Christian, recommended that Denise seek spiritual direction. Taking this advice, Denise learned in monthly direction sessions to examine her own deepest desires as the best clues about what God was calling her to do.

Eventually, she made her way to church – a spiritual community that did not know her and thus harbored no expectations of her. Gradually, Denise rediscovered faith as a developing relationship with a loving God.

But it all seemed too good to be true. “All this freedom,” she said to me with nervous laughter, “feels like guilty pleasure; like I’m having dessert all the time! I guess a part of me is still afraid of God…I’m so accustomed to religion being a way to know exactly what is expected of me. If I claim this freedom, I just have to be me and let God lead me.”

“Just be me and let God lead me.” That was the leap. Denise took it and continued to grow in faith. She became a spiritual leader in her own right, modeling for others how to receive the gift of just being whom God made each of us to be.

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Please enjoy this submission for our What Does Grace Look Like? series from Sister Helen Ann, OP.

In our monastery we get many examples of what grace looks like form the people who come here.  One shining example is of an older woman who is taking care of her sick husband at home and he has Alzheimer’s and many times doesn’t know her.  It is not easy for her but when you talk to her and ask her how she is, a light lights up her face, and her eyes shine as she says the magic words, “but I love him.”  Love overcomes all situation, and perfect love is a joy that spreads to those around us.  When I think of her, and her shining face and eyes, I pray that my love for God and my neighbor would be half as glowing and giving as hers is.

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Wild FowlThe pastor was on a silent directed retreat. In our 1st conversation, she told of the various life struggles she was dealing with in both her personal and ministerial life. She was feeling stuck, unsure of what to do next, confused, discouraged, in dark. Her face was downcast and the worried lines showed the turmoil in her soul. The conversation was much the same in subsequent meetings, as she continued to seek God’s guidance in her times of prayer. When she came in for the retreat’s final session, it was clear something happened. “I was sitting at supper last night just enjoying the silence and looking out the window at the lake,” she said. “The light was just beginning to fade and a flock of geese was coming in for a landing on the water. I found myself tracking one particular bird, following it’s descent – and I don’t know,” she said. “As I saw it touch down on the surface, it’s like something happened inside me and everything became clear – my way forward became clear. It’s like I was suddenly unburdened, at peace in my soul.” There was a smile on her lips. Her upturned face seemed younger and her widened eyes shining as if with an inner light.

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Franz JaggerstatterBlessed Franz Jagerstatter was an uneducated Austrian peasant who in the name of Jesus refused to fight in Hitler’s army and was martyred.  He left behind a beloved wife and four beloved little daughters.

The cost of his fidelity to Christ was so very great in terms of the emotional suffering he endured, and the abuse and hardships of his time in a Nazi prison. Yet the night before his execution, when the chaplain came and offered to read and pray with him, Franz politely declined. “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God,” he said.

The chaplain later testified that Franz’ eyes shone with such joy and confidence that he would never lose the memory of that glance. The next day Franz walked calmly to the guillotine, where he was beheaded. View video edition.

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soccerA young businessman, who comes for spiritual direction, told me about a recent Sunday morning when his little daughter’s soccer game ran longer than usual. He was unable to attend the 11 am service at his church and was feeling some good, old-fashioned religious guilt about it. As they were heading home, at his daughter’s request they stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts to get a treat.

The place was crowded, but his daughter was so excited to be there. Apparently, Dunkin’ Donuts had given all the kids on the soccer team a uniform shirt with the words, “Free Donut and Hot Chocolate,” printed on bottom. When they got to the counter, the girl pulled out the bottom of her shirt to show the message and gleefully collected her free treat.

“She was just so happy, so joyful,” said the businessman. And at the remembrance of it, he broke down and started to cry.

That’s what grace looks like. View video edition.

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