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Father Paul Keenan

Serenity's Amenities
by Father Paul A. Keenan

A few moments ago, a friend shared with me the beginning events of her morning. It was her day off, and she had arisen early to run an errand for another friend. As she was reaching for a box of aluminum foil that was in the cupboard behind her refrigerator, she managed to knock over a potted plant, breaking the clay pot and splattering plant and dirt all over the kitchen, barely missing some food she was getting ready to wrap. Her vacuum cleaner had broken a few days before and she had not yet replaced it, so she had to go to a neighbor and borrow a broom, then sweep up the broken planter and the dirt, buy a new planter and potting soil, and repot what was left of her plant. This was not exactly the calm and peaceful morning of leisure she had hoped for. As you might well imagine, she was plenty agitated as she told me her tale of woe.

Heart Storming by Father Paul Keenan

We’ve all had mornings like that, and we know exactly how my friend felt as she related her story. For any given occasion of this, it’s difficult to know whether it "just happened to happen," whether it was meant to teach us something, or whether we somehow "made" it happen in order to subconsciously sabotage ourselves. Most of the time, that can be pretty hard to figure out. There’s also the Frequency Factor. In some people’s lives, such incidents take the form of odd occurrences that happen every once in awhile. But for others, life appears to be an ongoing sequence of chaotic events; and in their lives disorder reigns supreme. Serenity, for them, is just a word in a dictionary or a far off dream.

When it comes to Serenity, while most of us may want to imagine ourselves walking Buddha-like through life’s calamities, we know that’s not a realistic picture. Whether our moments of disorder are random or ongoing, we know that all too often we rage, pound our fists and completely lose our composure when life, in ways that are seemingly endless, trips us up. Why, oh why, we wonder, are our lives so out of control? Why are we so tied up in knots all the time? Wouldn’t it be great if we could become Chaotically Challenged?

I’d like to suggest that perhaps we could think of two kinds of Serenity. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them Unplanned Serenity and Planned Serenity. Unplanned Serenity is the kind we use on a daily basis when life throws us for a loop. Planned Serenity occurs when we have the time and leisure to remove ourselves from the world for a while in order to heal.

Most likely, we are more familiar with Planned Serenity. We are accustomed to thinking in terms of vacations, spa time, going on retreat, taking a sabbatical or in some other way "getting away from it all." There are a million ways of breaking with the routine and giving ourselves time and space to relax, to reflect and to rest. Some people take a day off each week, go to the mountains or to the beach or take classes in yoga or meditation. Others create a quiet space in their home or use their commute-time for getting in touch with their inner self, finding peace and composure in practicing the presence of God. However they do it, they have a definite place in their schedule for quiet reflection and prayer. It fortifies them and enables them to face the day. Over time, this regular "Serenity Period" provides them an opportunity for deepening their awareness of the spiritual life, and becoming familiar with its principles. They begin to see themselves as spiritual beings and go out into the world with a whole new vision of what life is all about.

Good News for Bad Days: Living a Soulful Life by Father Paul Keenan

We need those times of quiet reflection. But there can be a problem with them. Have you ever gone away on a retreat, had a wonderful experience, and arrived back home fully peaceful, only to have the whole thing dissolve when "reality" hits hard? I remember one vacation with my parents when I was a young boy. We went away to Canada, and had a really restful and relaxing time. We got home and picked up our dog at the kennel, only to find that he was covered with ringworm. That meant confronting the vet, having Spike examined, getting the right medication, and trying to be sure that the poor little fellow got what he needed without giving the disease to any of us. The message came though loud and clear: we were back with a vengeance.

We need times away, but we also need what I like to call "Unplanned Serenity." It’s the kind of Serenity that we develop for ourselves when the unexpected happens. When a crisis hits, it is a very good idea to have resources at our disposal to bring Serenity into our lives as we deal with what is happening. Our first reaction may be to go to pieces, but what is our second reaction? Very smart people know that it is wise to have some reserves on hand – people, places and things that will enable them to experience some Serenity when, on the outside, it appears that the lid has blown off of the universe.

The goal with Unplanned Serenity is to be able to access instantly the feelings of peace and well-being that identify Serenity for you. Some people make a "Serenity Box" where they can store favorite writings, recordings or objects that bring them to a sense of inner peace. Having a Serenity Box gives them a definite place where they can go to find what they need. If reading the Twenty-Third Psalm calms you, copy it and put it in your box. If there’s a special book or a particular writer whose works give you solace and comfort when a crisis strikes, put a copy there. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D almost always does the trick for me; and if it does it for you as well, stick a CD in your box, and perhaps an inexpensive portable CD player with headphones (and batteries). If looking at photos of your children or grandchildren pulls you out of the doldrums, stick a few choice selections in an envelope for the Serenity Box so that they’ll be ready when you need them.

Of course, it’s perfectly all right to think outside of the Serenity Box, too. Getting a hug from my cats – or giving one – inevitably helps me. There are dear friends who will listen without getting involved with whatever is going on. (I don’t necessarily want people to fix the situation; I may just need to talk about it.) Perhaps there is a telephone hotline or a prayer line that you find helpful. Have that number handy. People I know find it helpful to do yoga or some breathing exercises; these help them rediscover a sense of inner calm. I have a friend who, at a time of crisis, gets into his car at night, puts a tape or a CD in the player, and goes for a long, long drive to clear his thoughts.

Stages of the Soul by Father Paul Keenan

Ironically, having Unplanned Serenity requires planning. Whatever time you invest in that planning will reward you greatly. It’s no fun having an unexpected crisis come and finding yourself unable to step back and get a handle on it. Your Unplanned Serenity will be a lifesaver. In and of itself it won’t likely resolve your problem. But it will allow you to remember that a problem is not the end of the world, it only seems like it. And that little space between you and your problem (something that Hindus refer to as the "gap") may be just enough to give you perspective, inspiration and an encounter with the divine. And if none of these things happens, at least you will have had some unexpected fun while others are crumbling or wallowing in self-pity.

Unplanned Serenity gives you resources to draw upon if you decide that it is appropriate to do so. In certain situations you might prefer to let your feelings of panic drive you into action, and delay calming yourself until later. That works best for some people. On the other hand, there are people who find they handle a crisis more adequately when they take time to calm themselves. You have to know how you best react to a crisis and govern yourself accordingly.

For the most part, though, wisdom dictates giving ourselves a moment to step back and develop some perspective. That’s what Unplanned Serenity is all about. It is a treasure chest of amusement and inspiration that can enable us to tap into the creative resources of the universe at the precise moment that we feel most limited.

© Copyright 2003 Father Paul A. Keenan.  All Rights Reserved.

Father Paul Keenan
Father Paul A. Keenan: Popular speaker, author and radio co-host of WABC Radio’s "Religion on the Line," Father Paul Keenan likes to talk and write about the issues that matter to people. Widely experienced as a national and local television and radio news commentator, he is the author of Good News for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and Heartstorming. As Director of Radio Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, he supervises, produces and writes for various radio and television programs. In addition, he serves as a parish priest in New York City.

Father Paul Keenan, came to his now-ten-year-old career in New York broadcasting after having been a college teacher and administrator and a parish priest for many years. He hails from Kansas City, where he graduated from Rockhurst University and completed an M.A. in Moral and Pastoral Theology at Saint Louis University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and went on to complete an M.A. in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Father Paul is also known for his work on the Web. He hosts his own website (www.fatherpaul.com) and contributes regular articles to various other sites. He is a regular columnist for the monthly newspaper, "Catholic New York." His other talents and interests include reading, cooking and being humble servant to his three cats, Teddy, Lionel and Midnight.





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