A Spiritual Practice For the New Year

forgiveness for ourselves

I have grown up with Pat Conroy, living through the horrors of his family life in The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, and Beach Music. Copious tears have accompanied the reading of each saga of abuse and dysfunction in the Conroy family.  In the spaces between the words I knew that it was not really fiction.  Now that I am reading this year’s publication of Conroy’s autobiography, The Death of Santini, I know not only that the sagas are true, but that they are only half the story.  This is a story of reconciliation.  Pat forgave his father, and himself.  This, I am in awe of.

So, forgiveness is on my mind today.  My meditation led me into those realms of forgiveness and I share the practice that came from it.  My intention is to slowly review my life in stages and let the people who have consciously or unconsciously hurt me, gently stroll through my mind.  These are hurts that have been healed, some already forgiven, some still waiting.  It is not a time to use my ego to freshly analyze each hurt; rather, for me it is a process of the spirit, wherein, being truly present to it, I choose to let it go. If I feel it is not time to forgive, I just move on to the next person, knowing that I will return to analyze and pray about that hurt again at another time.  In this practice, I remember to forgive myself as well.

The first time I used this practice the experience was both powerful and gentle.  When the two most poignant hurts came into awareness I felt pain and cried, but it was quickly healed.  I think we have to forgive more than once, and at each forgiveness, we let go of more resentment and it is easier.  As I write, I have become aware that I forgot a hurt that rivals the hurts doled out by Santini! No wonder.  It has a layer of nearly impenetrable scar tissue protecting it….Been there, done that.  In these few days before the dawning of the New Year, I intend to repeat this practice daily.

Practice: Center yourself in a way that is meaningful to you.  When you feel ready, name a person from an early memory who hurt you, and say while inhaling and exhaling:

Breathing in, I forgive you, ___________________(name)

Breathing out, I release resentment.

Breathing in, I forgive you, _________________(your name)

Breathing out, I release resentment.

Repeat this until you know that it is time to move on to the next person.

May peace be yours in this New Year!

Submarines and Food Stamps: Called to Nineveh

“Jonah” is a poem I wrote during the first Gulf War, which was raging during my tenure as a nonviolent resistor to the nuclear weapons at Subase Bangor in Puget Sound.  Living beside the railroad tracks leading into the base, I witnessed monthly  shipments of missile propellant fuel destined for Trident submarines.  Admiral Trost said that the subs were necessary to “protect the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.”  Nevermind, that most people do not share that affluent lifestyle, and they are in poverty partly because taxes are allocated to these weapons, while food stamps are drastically cut.  My spiritual practice is to try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the weapons to protect it.

The poem reflects the despair I felt then and now, but it offers hope that resistance can breed resistance.  It was dedicated to Steve, a submariner who applied for, and received, conscientious objector status. We are called by conscience to go to Nineveh.  Will we go?



For Steve, Who Broke the Silence

How obscene.
How obscene that submarines slither through unseen.

Journalist to Pentagon briefer: “Sir, is it true that
A cruise missile was fired from a submarine?”
General Kelly:  “We never discuss submarines.”
They slither through unseen.
As unseen as the bodies in Baghdad.
How obscene.

Today I sit on Hood Canal-
Mountains, sun, spring wildflowers.
Euphoric, here where
Submarines slither through unseen.

As if to confirm the paradox
Two patrol boats pass.
Do they escort the Leviathan?
I can’t hear it.
I can’t see it.
The beast breaks silence,
Its dark, hulking frame mimicking the
Great Orca of Puget Sound.

Shivering, shedding silent, shame-full tears…

I re-member:
When the beast descends this time
It goes down depleted.
Another Jonah has tumbled out,
And his “No” will echo forever in
The belly of the whale.

© rita h. kowats



“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”  Meister Eckhart

Today’s wisdom from Meister Eckhart comes to me as we continue to wrap our minds and hearts around the bombings in Boston.

We are most fully human when we are compassionate.  The smallest attempt to understand another’s suffering, and to feel some of what they feel, is stepping into the life of God.  As a high school teacher I began to see disturbing indications that this virtue is falling out of practice in our society.  I believe that we need a dedicated curriculum to the meaning and practice of compassion, as a way to deal with our increasing focus on violence as a problem-solver.  Northern Ireland adopted such a curriculum with great success.  The children who studied it have grown up with a commitment to maintain a lasting peace between Protestants and Catholics.

What about us- adults past school age?  Do we look upon compassion as a positive habit we can and should develop?  Is an act of compassion an act of Godliness for us?  In order to respond compassionately, we have to be aware of the need.  To become aware, we have to practice stillness.  Stillness gives us the space in which to truly see the other as they are, and to choose if, when, or how to respond.  To recognize suffering, we need to make opportunities which teach us.  I may prefer to read only nonfiction which teaches my brain how to analyze; however, if I never read fiction or see great film or theatre, I miss the opportunity to study human beings in their worst and best moments.  I don’t learn about my pain in relation to others’ pain.  We can develop a habit of thinking and acting compassionately by daily setting it as an intention: “Today I surround myself with God’s light, that I may see the suffering of others and respond to it with love.”

Tonight my practice will be to set aside my tablet to view the news and listen consciously for ten minutes, to stories of victims in Boston.  Then I will ask myself to imagine how they are feeling right now, how their families are feeling.  And I will pray with them in solidarity.  I believe that this little practice will ripple throughout the world,  contributing to an attitude of compassion that one day will prevail.

May compassion be the first outburst of God in our lives.