brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on May 28th, 2020


How do I reconcile these conflicting emotions?” I asked Don, my spiritual director.

You don’t.” He held out both arms, cupping his hands.  “Rather, you hold the both/and of them like ying and yang, the sun and the moon, and let them breathe wisdom into your heart.”

I had shared with Don my conflicting emotions of grief and joy because of my dog Riley’s recent death.

On one hand, I hold the grief of losing the physical presence of my best friend and companion, and in the other hand I cup the joy that Riley is in heaven free of pain and playing divine catch with my mom and dad.

In his book, The Promise of Paradox—a Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life,  Parker Palmer echoes what Don was teaching me. Palmer says we need to name the conflicting emotions in each of our life situations and then hold them without trying to reconcile them or push them away. Eventually, a third force—a deeper wisdom—arises that teaches us the life- lesson we’re invited to embrace.

Much like the sun and the moon, which provide balance between day and night, regulate ocean tides, and create the environment for plant life to emerge, our conflicting emotions provide rich soil to nourish our growth.

When we hold the both/and of life’s holy tensions and bring them to God, we create inner space in our hearts and minds to let in Divine Light. And, mysteriously, if we listen deeply and tend our souls, the wisdom of paradox emerges.

“I refuse to let grief overwhelm me, yet I cannot be a Pollyanna and pretend joy soaks my heart,” I confided in Don.

“What does Riley’s life teach you?” Don asked.

“Unconditional love,” I replied as tears streamed down my cheeks. “Riley taught me—and his Spirit continues to teach me—how to embrace an ever-deepening compassion for myself, others, and all creation like he did. He teaches me how to let go of grudges and forgive, how to see life through the inner lens of my heart, and how to trust God’s in the tough stuff too.”

“That’s it!” Don said. “Can you let Riley and God love you with Divine Compassion? Let their unconditional love soak into your body like spring rain? Allow their love to embrace you, heal you, and transform your pain with the Divine balm that opens your heart to the presence of the inner light that guides from within.”

“Yes.”  I placed my hands on my chest near my heart. “I feel the warmth of Riley’s presence. I hear his voice and know he’s here. I’ll let him continue to teach me how to be loved and become love like him.” I paused, took a deep breath, and looked at Don. “But why does love sometimes hurt so deeply?”

“Because it’s real,” he said.

When life gets tough, don’t push emotions away or drown in them. Instead, name the conflicting emotions you’re being invited to hold, some of which might be:


·  Clinging and letting go
·  Breaking and healing
·  Judging and accepting
·  Hatred and forgiveness
·  Fear and courage
·  Mystery and clarity
·  Imperfection and perfection
·  Darkness and light
·  Human and divine
·  Grief and joy
·  Weakness and resilience
·  Loneliness and solitude
·  Death and resurrection
·  Sadness and unconditional love

As you name the both/and of your emotions, hold them in cupped hands. Then bring them to the God of Light.

Hold the paradox, listen to what emerges. Let the Creator breathe wisdom into your soul.



—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net

by brian j plachta on May 24th, 2020

“My lungs breathe even when I’m not aware of my breath. God is with me even when I’m not aware of his presence.”  
 
My friend Paul prayed those words as we began our monthly spiritual-direction session focusing on God’s movement in his life.
 
Paul continued his prayer, “Hineni—here I am—that’s the word, God, you’ve given me, which, like my breath, invites me back to an awareness of your abiding presence.”
 

I asked Paul to tell me more about the word hineni— pronounced hee-nay-nee—and it’s importance to him. He said it was the Hebrew word Abraham spoke when God called him to the mountaintop to sacrifice his son Isaac.
 
“Hineni—here I am,” Abraham said as he stood ready to drive a knife into his son’s body to complete the sacrifice God had called him to perform.
 
“Hineni—here I am,” was God’s reply as he took the knife from Abraham’s hand.
 
Paul said, “I got to thinking how God is always present to me, but I miss it—his presence—because I get caught up in household chores, making a living, and the busyness of life. But, over the last few weeks, I’ve carved out morning time in which to meditate, and I’ve become more aware of that Presence. I start each day in the quiet by focusing on my breath.  I place my hands on my chest, feel my lungs expand, and recognize my breath—the breath of life—sustains me—just like God.”
 
I invited Paul to tell me more.
 
“When I show up in the morning to be alone with God, it’s like I hear him say to me, ‘Here I am.’  And as I focus on my breath, I respond back, ‘Hineni—here I am.’  I recognize how much God loves and guides me. And I’m falling more deeply in love with him.”

 
Later, I reflected on Paul’s words. Hineni is the reply of someone called to perform an important task. “Here I am—Hineni,” said Abraham, Moses, and many other prophets when God called their names. It’s also the promise God provides when he tells us in scripture, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.”  (Isaiah 58:6-9).
 
Maybe the task God’s chosen for all eternity is to reveal his love for us in countless ways, such as:
 
Here I am in the quiet, comforting you, guiding you, showing you the pathway to inner peace.
 
Here I am in the mourning dove’s coo as she sings tender chants of delight, rejoicing in the gift of another day.
 
Here I am in the colors of the sunrise that fill your heart with the taste of my delicious light.  
 
Here I am in your loved ones who hold you and journey with you, revealing the gift of my love embodied in their lives.
 
Here I am to comfort you when you suffer, and I hold you with my unconditional love.
 
Perhaps the task we’ve been given, if we so choose, is to show up, to know the Creator’s abiding love, and respond to him, “Hineni—here I am too,”  with words such as:
 
Here I am to receive your love, Lord, to let it embrace me, let it fill me with your compassion and delight.
 
Here I am to be your Beloved, to let your favor rest upon me.  
 
Here I am to notice your Presence and let it become our sacred story.
 
Here I am to rest my head upon your breast and let you nourish me with your love.
 
Here I am to do the work of your hands, to embody your presence in my life, and fulfill my task of loving you, myself, and others with the gift of your grace.
 
Maybe “here I am” is a two-way street. It symbolizes a rich relationship in which God and we show up, become aware of one another’s presence in each moment, and embrace the important tasks we’ve been given—to abide in love with each other.

 
Sometimes when I don’t feel God’s presence, I tell him, “I miss you. Where are you?”  Often I hear God whisper in response, “Here I am,” and we smile.
 
I wonder if God sometimes feels our absence too.  In those moments, does he yearn for us, asking, “Where are you?”  and then await our reply?
 
We’re not always aware of God’s abiding presence. It takes inner work, focus, and daily soul care to shift our attention to the Great Here-I-Am.  

 

 
—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net



 
 

Note:  The directee’s name has been changed for privacy and his permission obtained.




by brian j plachta on May 17th, 2020

“Two men looked outside between prison bars. One saw mud. The other saw stars.”
 
My mother often shared that story with us kids to remind us that perspective matters. She said every circumstance in life has a both/and. It’s a mixed bag of sadness and joy, suffering and gratitude, pain and compassion. If we can recognize and hold the two tensions within us and bring them to God to help sift and sort through, we’ll discover the underlying wisdom we’re invited to integrate into our lives.
 
Today, I’m holding the “holy” tension of anger and gratitude. We’ve just learned our twelve-year old retriever, Riley, has cancer. The softball size lumps in his abdomen are growing and will likely take him to the “other side” in a few days or weeks. He’s not in pain. But, there’s nothing we can do for him but maybe give him ice cream—and love him.
 
I don’t know how to reconcile my conflicting emotions of anger and gratitude. I’m grateful for the gift of Riley’s life. We call him “goddog” because the word “dog” is “God” spelled backwards and Riley’s unconditional love and beautiful smile embody what the Creator’s pure love looks like.
 
But I’m sad beyond words. Riley owns a piece of my heart and watching him slow down, stop eating, and lay peacefully at my side as he walks this death march overwhelms me with waves of sorrow.

I just want to flip the switch in my brain and become an instant star-gazer—focus on the love and joy Riley has brought to our lives, but the mud-digger in me is sloshing in the quicksand of negativity, anger, and sadness.
 
So, how does one dig themselves out of the prison of negative thinking when life hits us hard?
 
 
The Art of Lamenting
 

Perhaps the answer is found in the art of lamenting.
 
In the Psalms, David provides us with a simple pattern to handle the conflicting elements of life. He teaches us how to lament.  
 
When confronted with the dangers and despair of life, such as Saul trying to kill him, David cried out to God. He let himself touch his feelings and express his anger and fear. He shook his fist and vented his frustration.
 
After releasing his emotions, David cried for help. He asked God to show him the way out of his perilous circumstances—and his negative attitude. Today we might call it a “help” prayer.
 
Then David waited. Listened. He opened his heart and let God speak to him.
 
Eventually, the answer came, the path unfolded, and David discerned the wisdom he was being invited to understand and incorporate into his life.
 
David became a great king and loving servant by discovering the three-fold art of lamenting:
 
Venting by feeling our feelings and expressing them;
Crying out to God for help; and
Listening for the Holy Whisper.
 
 
Lamenting vs Whining

 
Lamenting differs from whining. Lamenting acknowledges our suffering and allows us to release the pent up emotions with which life chokes us.
 
But lamenting doesn’t stop there. Like star gazing, lamenting looks up and reaches out to God for wisdom and understanding. Then, having lifted our eyes to the heavens, we see the shooting star of God’s guidance.
 
The star-gazer admits the problem, and looks upward to focus on the solution. He never denies the sadness and suffering part of life, but transforms it with the Creator’s help into wisdom and understanding. This on-going transformation leads to joy and gratitude.
 
 
Avoid the Mud Pits
 
The mud-digger focuses on what’s wrong with life—what’s wrong with him and what’s wrong with the universe. He allows negativity to drag him down like quicksand into the depths of despair, anger, and frustration. He whines and joins the unhappy mob of prisoners slinging mud at others and becomes stuck there. He stops at the problem, unwilling to seek Divine Assistance to progress into the solution.
 
Henry Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son, says we have a natural reflex to move toward negativity. It draws us like a magnet into hopelessness. Therefore, we must shove against that tendency, so we can cast off the darkness, and live in the light.
 
Be Compassion
 
In my quiet time this morning, I took my lament over Riley’s impending death to God. I shook my fist. Told the Creator, I’m angry at him and the universe. I asked him why he allowed death to be part of creation. Tears shook my heart as my eyes burned with sadness.
 
Then I asked God for his help to understand what I’m supposed to be learning as I walk alongside Riley and my family through this time of letting go.
 
And in the quiet, I heard the Creator’s voice say, “Be compassion. Feel the sadness. Cry. Let the pain out. Be compassion for yourself, Riley, and your loved ones who also grieve.”
 
“How can I be compassion,” I asked God, “when the loss of Riley feels like wolves grinding their teeth at my heart ripping a piece of it away with their fangs?”
 
“I am Compassion.” I heard the Silent Whisper. “Let me hold you in my heart and grieve with you. Together we’ll transform the sorrow so that it swells your heart with Divine Compassion.”
 
The Creator’s words reminded me that I have a choice. I can let life’s hardships embitter or better me. My heart is not being torn, it’s being expanded. By embracing the both/and of suffering and love, God’s grace allows me to  “Be compassion.”
 
Gerald Sittser in A Grace Disguised explains it this way: “I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.”
 
 
Reach for the Light
 
I wonder if my mother’s story about the two prisoners and King David’s wisdom about lamenting are pathways toward becoming the star-gazers we’ve been created to be?
 
In the movie Balto, Steve Winwood sings the theme song, which highlights the true story of how a brave half-wolf half-dog dug deep into his soul and, against the odds, delivered a vaccine to save the citizens of the remote town of Nome, Alaska, from a deadly diphtheria epidemic.
 
Perhaps the words of the song invite us to check-in with ourselves and consider whether we’re mud-diggers: focused on darkness—or star-gazers: willing to let the Light of Christ transform us through lamenting.
 
Like Balto, we’re invited moment by moment, day by day, to discover who we are—whose we are.  
 
Balto and Riley are teaching me to reach for the light, be compassion, and become a star-gazer.
 
As I lament and listen to the words of Balto’s song, which you can click on with this link, Reach for the Light, I hear the call of the star-gazer.
 

Can you hear that call too?
 
 
—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net





by brian j plachta on May 11th, 2020

“Why don’t you throw out that raggedy t-shirt?” my wife prodded as I pulled on my 1999 River Bank Run 20K shirt. “It has so many holes in it.”

“I can’t do that.” I smoothed the prized shirt over my shoulders and chest. “I got it when I ran my first 20K road race. It’s part of me.”

As I thought further, however, I realized my unwillingness to discard that rag-tag t-shirt was not about letting go of a worn-out garment. My resistance had something to teach me.

I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. In it, Nouwen describes his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting inspired by the parable of the prodigal son. Meditating on the painting for hours on end catapulted Nouwen onto a long spiritual journey of inner growth.

He discovered the father, elder son, and prodigal son depicted in the painting represent the trinity of personality traits found within each of us. It also contained an important message about the goal of our spiritual journey.


The Wandering Son/Daughter

A part of us is the wandering son/daughter. We want it our way. We seek gratification through fortune, fame, and adventure. We resist letting anyone tell us how to live our lives because we think we know how to do it. We have to touch, taste, and feel life’s experiences, and doubt we need a guide.

We leave our physical home trying to determine who we are and where we belong in the world. We look outside ourselves, hoping some person, thing, or event will help us uncover our purpose and attain wholeness and inner peace.

In doing so, we deny the spiritual reality that every part of our being belongs to God, that the Creator holds us safe in an eternal embrace, and that we are carved in the palm of Divine Love.

Eventually, however, we’ve had enough. Our dissatisfaction with ourselves and disappointment with life invite our souls to lead us back home to the center of our being where we know we’re loved unconditionally by the One who formed us. This spiritual “home” is where we hear the voice that says, “You are my Beloved; on you my favor rests.”

The Elder Son/Daughter

We’re also bits of the elder son/daughter. Smug. Self-righteous. Manipulative. Always doing the “right thing” with the wrong motives. We judge others and ourselves because we and they can’t seem to “get it right.”

We want others to affirm us, notice how much we do, and observe how we sacrifice and give—and when we don’t get equal treatment or sufficient acknowledgement, we pout.

As the elder son/daughter, we are the “good sibling.” We stayed home to tend the family and the farm. But deep inside we feel we never measure up. Our good works don’t produce the love we keep looking for from others.

At some point, we accept ourselves as we are. We embrace the original goodness that comes from the Father. We let go of our resentments, and open our hearts to the unconditional love offered by the Divine. We know everything we need comes from the Creator. We return to the house of joy.


The Compassionate Father/Mother

Like the t-shirt I resisted letting go of, Nouwen says he grappled with his prodigal and elder son personalities. He clung to his broken self, wallowed in his inability to oust his fears and insecurities, and searched for human love endlessly. Nouwen used anger and rebellion to keep his distance from God.

His ego clutched his accomplishments, letting what he did define who he thought he was. As a result, he became arrogant, self-righteous, and unforgiving.

He was stuck in his broken son mode. He continued to feel he’d messed up and hadn’t “earned” his place as a real son. So, he ran from the Creator, not realizing he was running from himself.

One day, a trusted friend told Nouwen, “Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize you are called to become the father.”

The words struck Nouwen like a thunderbolt. In all the years he’d pondered the father embracing the son in Rembrandt’s painting, it never occurred to him that becoming the compassionate father/mother is our vocation. It’s the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.

Nouwen’s friend spoke further. “Look at the father in the painting and you will know who you are called to be. People around here don’t need you to be a good friend or even a kind brother. We need you to be a father who can claim for himself the authority of true compassion.”

In that moment, Nouwen said he grew up. He dropped his broken son images and welcomed the Father’s unconditional love. He opened his heart, claimed the truth that he was God’s Beloved, and let the Spirit begin the life-long work of forming him into the Compassionate Father/Mother.

We’re Wrapped in Divine Love


God is waiting, nudging each of us to accept and grow into who we are: the Beloved. The Ones upon whom God’s Divine Favor rests.

When we embrace the Creator’s unconditional love, we take off our worn-out t-shirts. We drape our Spirits with the garment of Divine Love.

In doing so, we become the compassionate Father/Mother and grow up on the inside. We accept the unfinished parts of our personalities, but don’t let them overshadow the truth of who we are and who we are becoming.

The pathway to transformation begins when we accept the Creator’s Infinite Unconditional Love. It’s too good to be true, but yet it is true. We are wrapped in the garment of God’s all-embracing love.

We are home. We are One with the Father/Mother who formed us in the womb and rests inside our hearts holding us, guiding us every step of the way.

One with God

Before his death, Jesus’ final prayer was that we would know we are One with God, just as Jesus realized he was One with the Father. He asked the Father to help us understand we are loved unconditionally by the Maker—so agape love would be written on our hearts and lived out through our lives. (John 17:20-23).

When we embrace God’s Infinite love for us, we become the Father/Mother. We bless others. Grieve with them. Forgive them. Bestow abundant compassion upon them.


Claiming our True Self


As I pondered Nouwen’s words, I wrote this in my journal, “I am home. I’m the Beloved—One with the Father.”

The words scared me. They opened a vulnerable space in my heart. For years, I was fearful I’d use those words to become self-righteous and smug like I’d done so often before. I also didn’t feel worthy of being God’s son because of my many failures. So, I resisted the invitation to grow into my true self.

But instead of getting stuck in my ragged son-like shortcomings, I’ve now begun to ask God for the grace of acceptance and humility to live into the truth of who I am. And slowly, I feel a shift within me.

I recognize more often when I’m clinging to my prodigal and elder son. I notice their traits when they get a grip on me. And instead of running from myself and God, I open my heart with compassion and ask the Father to love into wholeness those unfinished parts of me.


Growing Up on the Inside


Scripture says it’s time to put aside our childish ways. By holding fast to my prodigal and elder sons, I neglected to let the Spirit invite me to become who I already am and who I am becoming: a compassionate father. Like Nouwen, I must put away my childish ways and grow up on the inside.

Each of us are called to become the Compassionate Father/Mother. It’s the goal of our spiritual journeys.

When we claim our spiritual fatherhood/motherhood as God’s Beloved, our lives bless others. We love without conditions. We forgive endlessly. We put on the garment of Divine Fatherhood/Motherhood and carry out our vocation: to be the human image and likeness of Divine Love in the world.

As I continue to move through this inner unfolding, I’ve found it helpful to find a photograph of myself that depicts the Spirit of the Father/Mother I want to be. I’ve placed that photo on my cell phone and lap top as a screen saver. It reminds me of who I am and who I’m becoming.

This week, find a photograph of yourself, one that invites you to claim your inner truth—you are God’s Beloved, called to be and become the Compassionate Father/Mother. Then get rid of that ragged t-shirt and wrap yourself in the garment of Divine Love.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net

by brian j plachta on April 30th, 2020

What happens when you push the pause button on a movie or video?

The movie stops. A still picture freezes on the television screen. Quiet reigns. We then have time to grab a favorite snack or stretch our legs before we return to the action.

What happens when an unexpected pandemic pushes the pause button on our lives?

Life, as we know it, pauses. We shelter in, work remotely, or, if our jobs have slowed or vanished, perhaps not work at all.

City streets are empty of morning and rush hour traffic. Restaurants and movie theatres are closed. Sports and school and even church have stopped. The world is in pause mode.

We may not be able to get the products we’re accustomed to. There are shortages of things we’ve come to believe as “essential.” And the news blares the daily death toll and warns of economic calamity. We feel powerless.

We are powerless.

Or are we?

What if we looked at the other side of this situation? We have time to read and do crafts. We have time for quiet reflection as we let go of our rush-rush life. There’s even time to rest and play.

People are taking walks. Families are eating together. Mothers and fathers are playing basketball and baseball with their children.

Webinars and zoom meetings pop up to lift our spirits and give new understanding about how to maneuver through our disrupted lives. Spirituality abounds with creative social media and video technology. Courage reigns as medical and other professionals risk their lives to care for the sick and suffering.

God did not cause this pandemic. People did.

But the Creator walks alongside us and uses everything—even a world-wide virus—to help us grow, learn, and rediscover the simple things in life. Things like reading a book, spending time in meditation, and leaning into the support of loved ones as we ebb and flow with faith and fear.

Thomas Keating, the monk who pioneered the meditation practice of Centering Prayer says daily quiet time is key to living a life of inner peace, balance, and wholeness. He said the Holy Spirit inspires men and women to return to solitude each day to reconnect with the Inner Voice of God and gain wisdom and guidance.

Years ago, Brian Casey, a lawyer-turned-lay preacher, held a week-long mission at our church. By the middle of the week, I was awestruck by his words about the unconditional love of God and how the Creator of the stars and moon, sun and oceans desires to communicate with us.

I didn’t know God had a voice! I didn’t know God wanted to speak to me! But when Jesus promised he was the good shepherd and the sheep could hear his voice, Jesus meant it.

I met with Preacher Brian after one of the evening sessions and asked how I could hear God’s voice. He told me the Creator speaks in the silence of our hearts. So, we have to hit the pause button each day and spend quiet time listening, waiting, and letting our souls rest in God so we can hear the voice of wisdom. Brian said quiet time solves everything because it allows us to hear the Divine Whisper.

Since that mission, I’ve made it a daily practice to get up each morning and spend time alone with God. It’s been a game-changer.

During these uncertain times, I have an inner place I can visit to talk with God, share my fears and joys, and get insight as to how the Creator is leading and guiding me, my family, and my workplace. This place of interior prayer has become a safe haven in this pandemic storm.

I wonder if this is the “Great Pause.” Is this unprecedented time in history an invitation to slow our hurried lives, turn off the noise of the world, and quiet our hearts so we can reconnect with our souls?

I believe it is. We may never have a better time to pause our busy lives and listen to God’s voice.

God didn’t cause this pandemic. People did.

But that doesn’t mean God isn’t here to help us through it and make the most out of this unique situation.

Create your own safe haven in this pandemic storm. Pause. Sit in the quiet and listen.

Tania Harris, a pastor who’s made it her life’s mission to teach others how to hear God’s voice says we can all hear the Creator’s voice. We just need to learn how. Check out her website by clicking on this link to learn more:

God Conversations---Heard from God lately? https://www.godconversations.com

God is speaking in the midst of this Great Pause. Listen. Can you hear the Divine Voice?

—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net

by brian j plachta on April 28th, 2020

“I know what it is to get angry, and I know the pleasure of being praised. I am often on the verge of tears or laughter. But beneath all these emotions, what else is there? How can I touch it? If there isn’t anything, why would I be so certain that there is?”

 
I sat one morning in meditation listening to those words spoken by Benedict Cumberbatch in a sound clip from the movie Walk with Me about the life of Thich Nhat Hanh. Here’s a link you can click to listen to the words too: Meditation

 
The verses absorbed me. They touched my soul. They resonated like the sound of a wind chime vibrating within my heart. A gentle breeze stirred in my belly, flowing up through my lungs, rising in my throat, and into my brain. Then someone or something circling above my head exhaled love like an invisible puff of incense streaming through my body all the way to my feet.  

 
I was certain this experience was real because it touched me physically on the inside, brailing these words without sound upon my heart: “You are my Beloved upon whom my favor rests.”
 

My eyes filled with tears of joy. In that moment, I felt God’s garment swaddling me in Unconditional Love. I was coming home—returning to that inner place where the Divine Spirit and I dwell as One.
 
 

God’s Primal Love—The First Love
 
 
Henri Nouwen says we are touched by “primal love” when we become aware of the Creator’s Divine Presence. Primal love is much like the first love we experienced when our mothers and fathers cradled us in their arms at the moment of our birth. It’s the sound of our parents’ lullabies rocking us to sleep. It’s the “you don’t need to work for my love—I love you here and now, just as you are.”

 
Nouwen says primal love is the unconditional love of the God who created us, who is as close to us as our breath—the Holy Spirit flowing in and through us. And as we become aware of this moment-by-moment experience of Presence, we come to know Divine Love’s inner touch. The Spirit’s gentle guiding hands become like the fingers of a father and mother pointing us home to our hearts where God dwells. There, we hear the silent voice of the Infinite.
 

I write about this God often. But, how can something as intimate as a relationship with Divine Love really become mine when I haven’t fully accepted it from within?

 
Like Nouwen admits in his book, Home Tonight, I too often resist God’s primal love. Intellectually I know this “first love” comes from the ultimate life-force we call God, who has loved me unconditionally before others knew or loved me. I know this primal love is an Everlasting Love. It never has nor will it ever abandon me. And I know we all are the children of God, forever loved by and through our personal relationship with the One who forms us with Eternal Love.
 
 
Yet I still doubt.
 
 
Human Love—The Second Love
 

I mistakenly expect the human love of parents, siblings, and friends to provide me with what only the first love can. I expect I’ll be affirmed, loved, and encouraged by those closest to me. And, at times, we do love each other unconditionally. But being perfectly human, we fail each other.
 

And so, I have suffered because of these misplaced expectations. I have projected limited human love onto God’s limitless primal love.
 
I then become the prodigal son. I run from the indwelling presence of God who silently whispers, “I will never abandon you. I am not a work-for-my-love God. You and everyone I have created with my love is safe within me. Come home. Return to that place inside of you where my Everlasting Love abides.”

 
 
The Twin Seeds of Trust and Gratitude

 
 
Nouwen says returning to our spiritual home is not something we do on our own. It requires the powerful grace of God—the inner work of the Spirit.
 
 
We can however, create a garden space in our hearts for the Holy Spirit to lead us home by planting the twin seeds of trusting God’s unconditional love and nurturing an attitude of gratitude.


 
I trust God is real not because I understand the immensity of the Creator’s Unexplainable and Extravagant Love, but rather because I have experienced that love. And others tell me they have too.  

 
The Creator’s primal love touches us in ordinary moments that become extraordinary. Gratitude is the grace that fills our heart when we experience the love of spouses, children, grandchildren, and friends, knowing they are the reflection of the first love.
 
 
Coming Home


 
I want to come home. I want to let Divine Love hold me, guide me, and give me the grace to return each time I wander from Holy Presence.  


 
“Come home,” is the cry of my heart. May it be your heart’s call too.
 
 
—brian j plachta
 brianplachta.net


by brian j plachta on April 19th, 2020


“Go beyond your safe place. Claim your gift of encouragement.” Sister Nancy shook her Dominican finger at us soon-to-be-certified spiritual directors. “Embrace the spiritual gifts and talents God has given you. Then watch how things align, how joy happens as you use your gifts to serve others.”

Nancy’s comments came a few years after I’d completed a Spiritual Gifts Inventory. Before then, I struggled to find my purpose. Drifting. Wondering. Not knowing.

I had been frustrated, but my Irish spirit refused to let me spend life eating potato chips in front of the television. I stumbled on and took the Inventory. Through it, I discovered my top spiritual gifts. They became guideposts that helped me understand why I love to write, teach, and encourage others.

Over time, through prayer and the guidance of spiritual mentors, the door to the next season of my life opened. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I hopped onto my Yellow Brick Road as my gifts led me down the pathway toward wholeness.

Scripture says the church’s role is to help us find our unique talents and gifts. Then, the church is supposed to help us use our talents to make the world a better place. But, I don’t remember anybody helping me discern my gifts as I was growing up. I didn’t even know what gifts were.

So, when I stumbled upon and took the spiritual gifts inventory in my thirties, I felt like I’d found a part of myself that was there all the time—it just needed unearthing.

Here’s a link to the spiritual gifts inventory I found helpful: Spiritual Gifts Inventory. Click on it and download the Inventory. Then follow the directions and fill it out.

When you’ve finished the Inventory, write down your top gifts. Go back to the document and read the description for each. Then ask yourself how you’re using your gifts in practical, concrete ways. Also pray about how you’d like to use your talents  more fully or in different ways. Then claim your gifts and put them into practice.

When we share our gifts with others, we become fully alive
. We experience joy. We find purpose. Fulfillment. And the world becomes a better place.

The universe needs you and your unique gifts. 

Use them, and tap into joy.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net




by brian j plachta on April 12th, 2020

We Rise!
 

It happens every morning. The alarm clock rings. Our hands stretch out from beneath warm blankets. Click. The ringing stops. We rub our eyes and lift our bodies. We rise.
 

Shuffling into the kitchen in our pajamas, we make coffee, pour ourselves a mug, and click on the news. After checking social media, we slap together lunches, and zip off to work or the gym.
 

What if instead at the start of the day, with a steaming cup of morning brew in hand, we move to a quiet place to be alone, to let silence find us, to pray. In that sacred space, we open our hearts and connect our souls with the inner voice of love. We rise.
 


Jesus rose daily.
He stretched his limbs, lifted his bones from the ground, and sat silently, listening to his Father. In solitude, Jesus gained strength to meet the challenges of the day. The inner voice of the Spirit provided wisdom and guidance for his journey. Filled with the love his Father showered upon him in the quiet, Jesus rose and attended to the day’s tasks.
 

Rising—the movement from a lower place to a higher one, an upward motion—occurs every day in ordinary ways. We rise to greet a friend and embrace compassion. We lift a child toward the sky and feel joy. We stand to watch the sunset and our hearts fill with awe.

 

Our rising becomes sacred when we become aware of Divine Presence
—when we realize the simple act of getting out of bed is a gift. We wouldn’t be able to experience this ordinary human function without the breath God has given us, without the muscles that lift our bodies, without the brains that coordinate our movements, and without the soul that recognizes everything is holy.
 

Jesus had a divine rising on Easter.


For Christians, his resurrection isn’t just a historical event that occurred thousands of years ago. We rise with Christ each time we awaken to the presence of God. Every time we connect with our inner spirit—when we open our hearts and notice God’s amazing grace—we sense a deeper knowing. We embrace love flowing from the Spirit. We unite with Christ’s divine rising.
 

As Christians, we attend church services and lift our hearts in praise to the Trinity we honor and adore. We eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood as heaven and earth become one in and through us.


We sit in morning meditation and prayer, realizing we’re incomplete without the divine guidance and love of the Creator. Then, filled with the Spirit, we rise and attend to the work God has given us to do.
 

Notice divine risings.
Let rising from sleep be the first resurrection of your day. Then rise and take time to be alone with the Creator. Let it become Eucharist, a time to feed on the love and wisdom of God’s spirit. Turn off the phone and radio while driving. Open your heart in the quiet. Hear your inner voice—the soothing whisper of the Holy Spirit.
 

When the day becomes overwhelming, stand still with feet planted on the ground. Notice the Creator is enfolded in each moment as you experience your breath, your heartbeat, and the compassion you offer yourself and others.
 

Let your heart rise as you focus attention on God’s divine presence. Enjoy the never-ending resurrection—the gift of the Holy Spirit—God in us—as you entrust your day to the Heavenly Father and proclaim, “We rise.”
 

 
—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net
originally published in Faith Magazine
 




by brian j plachta on April 7th, 2020


Holy Week 2020 - Under COVID-19 Conditions

“We rise with Christ each time we awaken to the presence of God. Every time we connect with our inner spirit—when we open our hearts and notice God’s amazing grace—we sense a deeper knowing. We embrace love flowing from the Spirit. We unite with Christ’s divine rising.”

—brian j plachta
_______________________________________________


Dear Friends,

Here’s a mid-Holy Week guest blog inspired by the newsletter I recently received from Don, my spiritual director, with some of my tweaks. May it inspire, you as it did me, to find new and creative ways to celebrate “being the living church.”  We Rise!


__________________________________________


For most Christians, this is the most special week of the year.


I know it is mine! It is our orientation point of all we believe and all we are. It is not simply a historical event. It is not about remembering what Jesus did. It is about what Jesus continues to be in us and through us today.


We are members of his Body, the Body of Christ. We are one with his coming to this earth in human flesh (his Incarnation), Jesus’ life, teaching, healing, suffering, death, rest in the grave, resurrection, ascension and Jesus’  asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit into his Body on earth called the Church. And in this season we—Jesus’ Body—celebrate those events by which Jesus has lovingly united us to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, to himself for eternity. This week we are in the thick of celebrating God’s love for us.


In a normal year, we might be going to church at least four times to celebrate all this:

•Palm Sunday, to celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus into the City of David, and “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (to mix a metaphor) in the eyes of the powerful people.


•Holy, or Maundy, Thursday, to celebrate so many things dear to us Christians. Jesus’ celebrating his Passover with his disciples, his promises, his great explanation of love in the washing of his disciples’ feet, his great gift and mandate to celebrate the bread and cup until he will come again (Eucharist), and finally his night in “agony,” discerning the will of his Father in heaven even as his humanness seeks another answer, the arrest in the garden, Jesus’ incarceration, and early morning trials.


•Good Friday, to be present to Jesus’ continued trials, beatings and eventually the horrific carrying the cross to Golgotha, Jesus hanging on a cross, dying and being lovingly buried.


•Easter Sunday and its Vigil, to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and our sharing in that New Life.


While celebrating Holy Week “at Church” is wonderful,
we can celebrate these events
without having to be at a Church.
And this year we must,
Why?
Because it is too important for us to skip.
Celebrating Holy Week and Easter
 are “essential activities”
for all Christians
in good times and in bad,
in sickness and in health
in quarantine or not,
in this life and in the next.


The Church is not the building we go to for worship. The Church is the people, the Christian community, which gathers. This year the Church cannot gather at the ecclesia (“Church” - literally a ‘meeting place’ in Greek, our New Testament Biblical ancestral language).

So, the question becomes where do we gather this year, and how do we do it?

The obvious answer is: we celebrate it where two or three are gathered. Where is that? At your house! That’s right.

This year the Church will gather at your house!


What about the “What are we supposed to do?” For that, we are well equipped in the electronic era. Here are ideas, hardware and software.


•Sites on computers and on TV: from your parish, your church, or one of a thousand other wonderful places being offered “live-stream” or recorded. Just “google/search” “Holy Week Celebrations” for your area and you will find something that will guide you. Go to your church’s website, and you will find lots of suggestions.  


•Here’s a link to the Holy Week services being offered on line and/or on television through the Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI:  https://grdiocese.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/holy-week-2020-livestream-schedule.pdf

Whether you have your own service, or “watch together” something on line or TV, make it “hands on.”


If in your own home, be creative musically. Any inspiration music can be found on YouTube. Take advantage of that. Here’s some ideas for each day of Holy Week:


•On Maundy, or Holy, Thursday, actually take turns washing each other’s feet. What a moving experience that will be. We all had our feet washed for years before we could do it ourselves. Many of us have had to wash our elderly parents’ feet. Perhaps you have needed recently to wash your feet. Jesus said, “As I have done this to you, so must you do for one another.” He wasn’t kidding!


•On Good Friday, be creative. Read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (18;1 - 19:42) which has the story broken up into the different speakers (e.g. Narrator, Jesus, Soldiers, Peter, Pilate, etc. 

Here’s a link to the text you can use: http://resources.ipsissima-verba.org/documents/good-friday-passion.pdf  

Make copies on your home printer and pass them around to the people in the story. Kids will love it. If they want to “ham it up” a little by costumes and crowns of thorns and a cross, great!

•Here is a link to the Irish Dominicans singing the Passion Story you can watch or sing along with: https://youtu.be/s3Btb-8HLQM.


•Another part of the service at home would be to find the biggest cross in your house, or even have some kids with mom or dad during Holy Week make a special big cross to use for this service. Pass the cross if it is small, or approach the cross; then let each person reverence it in a personal way. (Maybe with Covid-19 running around, it would not be a good idea to kiss it this year, eh?) If several rooms in the house have a cross or crucifix in it, gather them together for the service and then together go around and reverence them with a moment of silence.


•Conclude with a closing prayer from a worship book and perhaps a song from YouTube.



•On Holy Saturday, we observe the “Great Silence”  as a day of respecting Jesus’ lying in the tomb.  

Here’s a short YouTube that invites us to share in this Great Silence: https://youtu.be/gMm7dfaJnaQ



Easter Sunday, is full of possibilities. You can celebrate it either at dark on Saturday night or on Sunday.

Here’s two options:

Watch on line services: Watch the on-line services on your favorite worship site. You can also google “Easter Sunday services near me” and get a list of all kinds of various services on-line.

 
Create your own home service. Here’s a simple format you could use to create your own Easter Celebration:


Opening Prayer or Song

•Reading 1

•Reading 2 (optional)

•Gospel Reading (Here is a link to the readings for Easter Sunday: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041220.cfm

•Reflection: one person shares insights or reads a reflection about the joy of resurrection.

•Our Father- recite the Our Father together.

Blessing of the Bread (have each family place bread or crackers in front them; then one family member says a short prayer to bless the bread such as:  

“God of Life, You are one bread, and we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of this bread.

“Lord, we thank you for uniting us as One, for you are the Bread of Life, and we share in your Life through our mind, body, and spirit. Let this bread nourish us with your wisdom and infinite love.”

Break, share and Eat the Bread. (those gathered each eat a piece of the bread).

•Closing Prayer or Song.


If you are a family with kids, you have been doing all kinds of creative things with the kids since school closed in your area due to the virus. So, you know how to do this. Apply what you have been doing with other things with the wonderful world of Holy Week. Just, as my Dad would say, “Make it fun.”

For you and your kids, it may be the Holy Week and Easter you’ll never forget.

We Rise! Easter Blessings.

_____________________




by brian j plachta on April 5th, 2020

Unleash the Power of Spiritual Reading...


“Who’s your wisdom teacher?” Sister Nancy asked those of us studying to become spiritual directors. “Who do you look up to? Whose life would you like to model? Name them, and then read their books and memoirs so you can learn from their writings.”


Nancy taught us the importance of spiritual reading. She invited us to fill our lives with the rich treasures of new understandings and ideas found in the books of spiritual masters—those people one step ahead of us on life’s pathway.


I chose the writer Richard Hauser, a Jesuit priest, as my wisdom teacher. His book, Moving in the Spirit, changed my understanding of God. Hauser states there are two models for our relationship with the Creator. One’s the correct one, the other—flat out wrong.


Err! Wrong!


Hauser calls the first model the Western model. It suggests when we do good, God rewards us. But when we mess up, the Creator removes his grace and allows us to suffer.


This model is wrong Hauser states. It makes God out to be a puppet-god whose strings we pull by our good actions. The problem with this perspective is that even when we live good lives, bad things still happen. It also suggests God’s the source of the bad things that occur—like the coronavirus. 


But the God-of-love is not a sorcerer. Instead, when trouble happens, God showers even more love and grace upon us to help us maneuver through life’s difficulties.


The Spirit is a Moving!


The second model is the scriptural one, according to Hauser. This model says God is always moving in our lives, his Divine love drawing us closer toward wholeness, inner peace, and balance. Our job is to listen and determine where and how God is guiding us, and then respond by following the Spirit’s lead.


The scriptural model reminds us we are God’s Beloved. We’re unconditionally loved by our Creator, and we’ve been gifted with discernment—the Spirit within us that invites us to listen and follow God’s loving nudges.


I like to think of this as the “Where’s Waldo?” life-lens because it invites us to step back and look at the pages of our lives to celebrate those ah-ha-moments when we recognize God’s loving nudges.


Reading Hauser’s books unlocked a key to one of life’s mysteries. I realized my perspective about God was all wrong. Because of Hauser’s wisdom, I stopped trying to be the good little altar boy—the adult-kid always trying to please my daddy—and instead set aside daily quiet time to stop and listen for Divine directions.


This is How We Grow


Writer Reena Mathur says spiritual reading is a vital part of human growth. It deepens our knowledge and makes us a better person.


 If you’ve ever met someone full of life, positivity, and happiness, she says, it’s a good bet that person has a habit of reading. Reading a good book has the power to lift your mood and bring the beauty of a smile to your face.

Mathur notes these benefits from spiritual reading:

• Lowered stress levels. Reading spiritual books improves your mental and physical health. Studies have proven that people who read are more likely to stay calm in stressful situations.


• Enhanced power, concentration, and focus. Reading enhances your focus and concentration levels. The words within spiritual books offer constructive ways to empower you.


• New perspectives. Inspirational books expand your thinking and sharpen your imagination. They shower divine light and wisdom upon you.


• Deeper truths. The Bible and other inspirational books teach us deeper truths about life. They define the value and importance of our human souls. They help us understand ourselves, the world, and all creation. 

The Saints Agree

St. Ignatius says spiritual reading allows us to savor the wise words that resonate in us through our heart’s imagination. When we read, God speaks to us, says St. Jerome. St. Alphonsus tells us inspirational reading gives us access to the wisdom of spiritual masters.


Gimme Thirty!


My buddy Ben told me he reads for at least thirty minutes each day. He goes to bed a little earlier each night so he can wrap himself in blankets and devour the teachings from inspirational books. 


I’ve followed Ben’s advice. It’s life-giving.


When I read a spiritual book, my mind has something good to chew on during the day. Rather than grumbling and focusing on what’s wrong with myself and the world, I feed my soul the wisdom I’ve discerned through inspirational books. I ponder their words, allowing them to trickle into my thinking and actions.


When I fall back into negative thinking, it usually means I’ve stopped reading for a few days. It’s as if my monkey mind chatters, “Feed me an inspirational banana!” So, I listen to that nudge and pick up the daily practice of reading again.


Try It. You Might Like It.


This week—especially during these times of sheltering—turn off the distractions, and follow Sister Nancy’s and Ben’s advice.


Go to an on-line library or bookstore and ask God to lead you to a spiritual book. Let the book’s author become your wisdom teacher. Then, like Ben, embrace the practice of reading for thirty minutes each day.


Notice how spiritual reading unlocks life’s mysteries for you and helps you find the Divine flow of inner peace, balance, and wholeness.

Grab a book and unleash the power of spiritual reading.


—brian j plachta
brianplachta.net








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