New Year’s resolutions turned into goals

Iva-poem on a leaf

The wind is hustling outside my house as if it has something important to say, and I can hear the rain washing my windows as well. The year is young, but the wind does not know it. Some people start the New Year with resolutions, determined to better their life in one way or another. Do you?

In January 2005 I remember writing ten things I wanted to achieve in the future. I wrote them on a small paper in a pub in Belfast, during my first visit there, before I moved to live in Ireland. I did not limit the list to the year ahead, those were merely guidelines, pointers for me to follow along the way. I was surprised to find that paper years after, and was happy to see that more than half on that list has been achieved. I remember some of them, not necessarily in the order I wrote them. 1. Move to Ireland, 2. Find a course to study (in Ireland), 3. Do something that scares you, 4. (I can’t tell you this one), 5. Start another hobby, and so on.

Another year I wrote down how I wanted to write more hand-written letters, and I did. For a few years, I nurtured this tradition faithfully. I noticed that when I write something down it remains in my memory and keeps me focused more than if I merely think about it.

In recent times I stopped writing lists, and instead I started doing something practical throughout the year, something I can then continue building on in the new year. For instance in October 2014 I joined the gym with 50m swimming pool, and I loved it. Often swimming would calm me down if something upset me, it wasn’t only good for my fitness but for my general wellbeing. While I am no longer a member of that club, and I have not been swimming since the summer, I have a built in exercise in my schedule. It’s not perfect, but it works.

Now I prefer to focus more on goals rather than resolutions. I like to start working on them before the old year turns into new, so I already have a momentum in January.

Strange for me as a writer is that I don’t like talking about them, unless it is with a selected few who will cheer me on. One would think that writers want to tell you everything, but we also have our personalities, same as everyone else does. For a writer who is also an introvert there is an interesting dance between the desire to share your thoughts and experiences wrapped up in the craft of the written word, and the need to keep things within, ponder on them, like Mary did, until you have something valuable to say.

Among other things, I decided to start this year with gratitude. I have already been paying attention to things that make me thankful. Gratitude is not a magic trick, but it does help in supplying us with a better attitude. Recently I had a difficult day, because I spent more time on my own than even an introvert needs. I went for a walk and started recalling everything I was grateful for. It shifted me into a more positive mindset.

The practice of gratitude is one the best gifts we can give ourselves. Life is much more beautiful when we clothe it in the fragrance of thanksgiving.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” (Chesterton)

Every new beginning is full of promise. Make the best of yours.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2nd January 2018)
Photo with the poem © Iva Beranek

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Advent, something that God does

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We are more than half way through the season of Advent. Nights are longer, days are colder, and the lights in our homes shine brighter. If we have an Advent wreath, lighting candle after candle each week in our houses and churches, we are encouraged by their light. Hope, love, joy and peace are traditional meanings for each of the Advent candles. These can also be the gifts of healing that we pray for week after week. Hope to sooth our disappointments, love to heal our wounds, joy to lighten our days, and peace to sooth the ache of discord among and within us.

There are things we do in terms of preparing for Christmas, both externally as well as spiritually. Yet, in a way, Advent is something that God does. It is God’s initiative, His coming into the world. With Mary being pregnant, in Advent Jesus is already here, though not yet fully. Like Jonah was in the belly of the wale we are with Mary waiting for the fruits of our Advent.

Lord, what is it that You are doing this Advent (in my life)?

Taking time to ponder on this question may helps us notice God’s action, which is often subtle and gentle, like the first buds on the trees in springtime. We may notice movements in our heart and life that point to God.

More aware of God’s gracious action in our lives, we can also ask,

Is there someone who needs the light of hope, the light of love, the light of joy, the light of peace? Is God inviting us to visit someone with this light in Advent?

The Advent light evokes warmth, something we all need in our human interactions. We can cultivating this warmth, of love, of compassion, of peace, hope and joy by knowing that in our encounters with one another our inner candles are lit and encouraged to shine.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, Advent 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

St. Nicholas, a gift-giver

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Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. He was a follower of Christ, a bishop from 4th century, known for helping people in need. One story goes like this,

There was “a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas”.*

I used to love this tradition when I was a child. I was not raised in a religious setting, so I didn’t know a religious significance of the feast of St. Nicholas, nor anything about his life; still the whole thing ignited imagination in me as a kid and to this day I love even a memory of it.

On the eve of St. Nicholas, on 5th December, my parents would say to my brother and me to clean our shoes – properly, with the shoe polish and all, and to put them on the window so that St. Nicholas can reach them in the morning and fill with small gifts. Since we lived on the 5th floor of a building in Zagreb, I thought St. Nicholas was good in flying – how else could he reach our shoes?

It’s amazing how even a memory can recreate an inner feeling of excitement and joy that one felt as a child. Maybe I value the memory more now, from the distance that years provide; it almost becomes like a story from a book, a children’s novel (the only difference is that you are one of the characters). And in a way the memory ‘lights’ something inside me, same as reading children’s stories does to you. Happy feast!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2013, edited in 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek
* Taken from St. Nicholas Center.

Speaker, retreat leader, poet and photographer

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This blog is a platform for me to share my writing, and I don’t always mention my role as a public speaker and retreat facilitator. I am in the process of spreading out further into the world with offering my skills to the wider society. This is an introduction into what I can offer.

You may wonder “Who am I?”

Not an easy question to answer in a short blurb, but I will try. I am originally from Croatia, and have been living in Ireland for the last 12 years. In Dublin I completed M.A. in Classical Spirituality and a Ph.D in Christian Spirituality. I am in my later 30s, and at least in the faith circles in Ireland that is still considered ‘young’. Reconciliation and dealing with the wounds of conflict have been part of my research interest, as well as my private search for making sense of what I went through as a teenager living in Croatia. Consequently, the Ph.D I completed is in the area of healing of memories. My professional and private life overlap with the interests that I have pursued in study, work and otherwise.

I am a poet and a photographer, and I like to include art as part of my speaking engagements whenever possible.

Recently I led a workshop on prayer and poetry, which was really well received. During workshops and reflection days, I usually combine input, music and facilitated quiet time with occasional time for sharing. In this case the exercise we did was in creative writing, and even those who have not written before, or thought they are not ‘writers’ were surprised to see they can actually write.

“Filling the blank page in front of me was like bringing up fresh water from a deep well within me – although I never knew it was there.”
Vera Papp, one of the participants 

I love empowering people. One of my favourite talks that I give is on Our original goodness. It turns the notion that we are not good upside-down and shows that in our essence there is goodness and that anything not in line with that can as well be part of our human condition, “for which none of us is initially responsible but, on becoming adults, we are now called to be responsible” (T. Keating). It does not mean we don’t need to change and grow but it shows a different motivation for it rather than ‘guilt’. Who would not want to be the best version of themselves if they were given a chance?

I come from a Christian perspective. I am a Catholic. But I have always been drawn to be around those who are different, and I go to those who are different. Even in the context of multi-faceted society, when we allow it, we can notice that ‘we are more alike than unalike’. I would be open to go to groups that are not specifically Christian, if what I offer may appeal to them. In the society that sometimes does not know how to bring people of different convictions and background to dialogue, let us build bridges. Let us share expertise with each other, and empower each other to be our best selves.

My main job is with the Church of Ireland, in a role as the Ministry Facilitator for the Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland (CMH:I). There I regularly give talks around the country during the services of wholeness and healing, during day retreats and Quiet Days. If you are from the Church of Ireland and reading this, I will refer you to our website and you can contact us that way. I am continuing to serve the Church of Ireland through my role mentioned above.* Here I would like to introduce myself to those from other Christian churches or businesses, who may wish to invest in empowering their people, invest in self-care, which includes our spiritual needs as well, and invite me as a speaker to their area.

Reflection days that I can offer:

  • “Mirror of God’s love”, on St. Patrick
  • “Let yourself be loved”, series of reflections based on thoughts by St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Originally offered during Adoration.
  • “Alleluia in Lent”, exploring deeper reasons why we don’t sing Alleluia in the season of Lent and letting this wisdom bring healing and joy into our lives
  • “Created in the image of God”
  • “Compassion: Seeing with the heart”, on importance of self-care

Some of the talks:

  • “The Healing touch of God” (originally given during the Life in the Spirit Seminar in the Living Water prayer group, Clarendon street)
  • “Our original goodness”
  • “God already has a solution”
  • “The Power of Gratitude”

I have spoken in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Dublin City University (DCU), Limerick University (LU), Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI), Gallaudet University (Washington D.C.).

Testimonies:

“I appreciated first of all the way you helped participants to settle down and give themselves the time and freedom necessary to explore and listen more deeply. It’s a rare and most invaluable thing today. As the workshop unfolded, I was surprised to see how naturally writing and prayer could be woven together in a group setting as an aid to seeking out God’s presence in our lives. Your thoughtful and gentle manner encouraged us to go further in a positive way. I found the experience profound and refreshing.”
Br. Jean-Marie, Taizé brother, participant in the workshop on prayer and poetry

“I have heard Iva give a number of talks and reflections over the last few years. Her work is always well prepared and well researched. She speaks with conviction and clarity. She has received very good feedback from the various presentations and meditations she has offered.”
Carol Casey, diocesan lay reader, spiritual director, prayer minister, board member of CMH:I

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Iva Beranek for almost a decade now, and in that time have been witness to the incredible depth and reflectiveness she brings. Iva is gifted writer and speaker. Her God-inspired wisdom shines light and healing in the groups she facilitates, retreats she directs, and speeches she gives. Her balance of maturity and intelligence with a playful spirit are an excellent combination. She is a fantastic listener which allows her to tune in to the needs before her, making her an excellent spiritual guide. You will be blessed having her as a part of your next special event or retreat!”
Stephanie Sattler, career consultant, Chicago, USA

I would be delighted to come to your area. If you would like to explore any of the topics above, or a slightly different one, please do not hesitate to contact me at iva.ana.beranek@gmail.com

© Dr. Iva Beranek

*Some of the talks and retreat days I have developed during my role in the ministry of healing.

Beauty and the city lights

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There are times in a day when the city invites us to pause, to take in the surroundings, to notice the beauty, to inhale life in its colours. It is as if the city is saying, “You’ve been rushing. Take a moment, stop, take a deep breath, and smell the loveliness of life”. Often we miss those opportunities unawares, but when we do accept the invitation, our soul is bathed, as it were, in a gentle radiance of joy.

White feather in the bush 

This gentle, tender feather has been sitting in the bush in front of my kitchen window. I’ve been looking at it for more than a week, thinking how I need to go out and take a few photos. I went away for the weekend, came back, and the feather was faithfully still there. I finally made it out and took my camera along. The wind and the rain at times tatter its looks, and then it dries and shines again in its whiteness. After more than a month now, I’m amazed it hasn’t been blown away. So tender and yet unmovable. A quality I’d love to have.

The city is an artist with its sunsets

A composer puts notes together to create magic, so does the city put colours at the end of the day when it greets us in its sunsets. Sunsets often catch me as I try to rush to the bus. Those are the moments when the city invites us to pause on a bigger scale. “You who are worried about life, I give you beauty, I give you these colours. Pause. Just for a moment, don’t rush. Let me remind you that you are a masterpiece. Let this sunset sink into your heart. Here in this city, I remind you of love.”

Iva-sunset at the canal Nov 2017

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 28th November 2017)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

What would Judas say ….

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So tell me, If we stood face-to-face, in silence for a moment that felt like an infinity, and I cradled your face in my hands, and told you how beautiful you are, would you believe me?” (Jeanette LeBlanc)

As if written by Judas, who betrayed Jesus (fiction)…..

Beautiful? I don’t even know what that means. Stop touching me! Don’t you know what I did? Ugly. That’s what I am. UGLY! You offend me by telling me I am beautiful. I know you are lying. They are all lying. They said He would have forgiven me. Puf. Forgive? That’s a fictional word, if there ever was one. I know they say He forgave Peter, but he did not do anything as bad as ‘I’ did. Thirty pieces of silver. It wasn’t even gold! That’s how cheaply I sold myself. I did not sold Him, but me, and every notion of good judgement, even though I don’t think I had much of it before anyway.

So no, I am NOT beautiful. I don’t even like that word. It reminds me too much of Him. You know, even after I died, well I took my own life, He came to me. He even would have embraced me had I allowed. Forgiveness. That horrid word was on his lips. But I would have none of it. Lies. Those were all lies! Something ugly cannot be made beautiful. Something wrong cannot be made right by that word He so often likes to utter. He told me ‘He’ had corrected it. But no, I did not buy into it.

I wept. Oh how I wept for making that step. Tears of self-hatred and regret. I never cried in order to ask Him to make it right. When hatred poisons your soul, you don’t see silver nor gold nor gentle acts someone might offer to help you out of the narrowness of your prison. Hatred makes you only see hatred and walls. And you hate yourself the most. Anything beautiful scares you, and challenges your hatred so that you despise it three times more than if it wasn’t beautiful. Love? Forgiveness? They wanted to break my walls of self-hatred, but I did not allow them. So don’t you try now. Move your hands from my face! I cannot stand the warm touch. It reminds me that someone might care, a little bit too much. But I had shut the last possibility of beauty and love far in the deepest corners of my heart. I lost the key – on purpose. So don’t you now remind me. Leave me in the self-hatred. Beautiful? Puf. That’s another fictional word, I tell you. You are a writer, you should know.

Do you think there are people who think this way, even in part, about themselves?
Do we? 

I want to speak to all the hurting parts of our hearts and tell them, you are beautiful. Your essence is. You are not beautiful because of anything you have done, but because you are loved. Yes, you may not believe in God, or even if you are like me – you do, but you will say “it’s not enough”. Quit that shitty monologue in your head, You Are Loved!
There. Now, lets live like we know it.

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This was an answer to the prompt from the “30 Questions To Bring You Closer To Your Wild Heart”, a course run by Jeanette LeBlanc. Next round is starting on 15th November and you can sign for it here.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 6th November 2017)

 

Growth makes life worth living

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Growth mentality means we can learn more about ourselves, about life, about God, no matter what happens in life; good and the bad. I have had times when I moaned, ‘why do I always have to grow?’, but that time is not now. Usually when I moan it is because I expect to get something out of a particular season of learning. But that is a misconception. Growth is a gain in itself.

I am grateful for people who have journeyed with me throught my growing pains, through the moments when inspiration floods you with new life, who listen, nurture, challenge and enable my growth. And the people out there who have ‘growth’ as one of their values inspire me. Investing into growth, reading, searching, exploring both within and without brings richness to life that would not be there otherwise. And the glimpse of the spark that God put into each of our hearts gets a chance to breathe a few more deep breaths…

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 27th October 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

 

 

 

Why couldn’t I?

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Why could I not write with a black marker on the black paper? No one told me I couldn’t, but they will say it’s silly. No one will be able to see it. What if I don’t want it to be seen? What if it’s a secret only for those who deserve to carry heart-shaped-gold hidden behind the dust that fell on my tears? What if it’s a lie I want to write about, but don’t want anyone to know? And then I will put some colour on it. Red. RED like crimson. Will it look like blood? Well, I want it to be full of life. You don’t have to colour your perception with meanings I did not create. You can always ask. I’ll clarify.

No, I won’t write with red, it will be a splash in the middle of the black paper, all over the black ink. It will spread down, rise up, go left and right, little bit of everywhere like rivers that are forming their own river-banks for the first time… Which colour should I add then? Yellow, I think. In the middle of the red, it will shine like the Sun. Some of it will splash like raindrops all over the top. Raindrops turned into stars. And then blue; I will squeeze it out at the bottom of the paper like deep sea that stands naked before the universe filled with a wonderful mystery.

I think I will leave it like that, to dry out. It’s neither a painting nor drawing nor a weird way of writing. All these colours – they are life.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 10the October 2017)

New York, where a heart gets wide open (remembering 9/11)

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My article about travelling to New York and visiting 9/11 memorial was published on Finding Philothea, and I want to share it here with you as well.

Traveling helps me to get to know another piece of earth, with its beauty and its challenges. Earlier this year in April I visited New York for the first time. I was looking forward to a short holiday and to reconnect with a friend who lives there. Looking back, there were so many highlights that each day was a little lifetime in itself.

I traveled there during Holy Week, so while this big city was impressing me at almost every step, there was another layer that accompanied me over the five days.

I live in Dublin, Ireland, which is small compared to New York. The population of New York City is a little less than Ireland and my native Croatia combined. I’m talking about two countries that would fit into one city. Everything seemed BIG. My hotel room was on the 12th floor, with a view that stretched itself as the sun set over the horizon of tall buildings. I felt so little in New York, but not insignificant. I wanted to learn, I wanted to explore, I wanted to know more about the history of America, I wanted to see the sights, learn about its buildings, its art, its people. The city evoked a thirst I did not even know I had. This city is alive and it increased my own thirst for life and knowledge.

The first evening I went to Broadway. Being tired from a transatlantic flight did not stop me from enjoying the show, “The Great Comet of 1812,” starring my favorite singer, Josh Groban. There were parts in the show when my heart almost exploded wide opened with the powerful singing, and a story that touches one’s depths. Earlier that day my mum told me she baked lots of cakes for Easter, teasing me in a way because I wouldn’t be home with them. “Well, I’ll be in Broadway tonight. I think I’ll be alright.” My friend Christine organized this evening, and while we already have some wonderful shared memories of listening to Josh Groban live, it never gets old to create new ones.

Imperial Theatre, Broadway

However, that was not the only time that New York knocked my heart wide open. I was hoping to visit the September 11th memorial on Good Friday, thinking it would correspond well by bringing the pain of that memory to Jesus as we remember His death. But that day turned out differently, so I had to postpone it until Holy Saturday instead. It was just me that morning trying to find my way from the hotel into the city. It was supposed to be easy, taking a train from my stop all the way to the World Trace Centre. Yet, as it turned out, that train wasn’t running that day, so I had a full-blown New York experience of trying to navigate my way on the Subway. Soon I learned that this was a city below a city. People were helpful and kind. Half of the time they gave me correct directions, while the other half they were well-meaning and friendly but unfortunately their instructions were wrong. After some time I started longing for some daylight and I felt a great sense of achievement when I finally arrived at the World Trade Centre.

Leaving the station, I followed the signs to the 9/11 memorial. Just before the memorial I saw a street sign indicating ‘One way,’ and thought to myself, terrorism is really a one way street. No good comes out of it.

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I did not know what to expect. I felt reverence coming to where the Towers were, walking slowly. A lot of people were there and yet it wasn’t noisy but rather solemn, perhaps even calm. And then, sadness overtook me. I simply wanted to cry. There were no words in my head that triggered this reaction. The memorial is dignified and it actually evokes healing. The foundation of the first Tower that I approached goes into the depths, and water gently washes it, like a fountain running deeper into it. Names written on the walls of the foundation gave victims dignity, each name remembered. Occasionally there was a white rose next to a name, and I did not know if seeing that made it more sad or beautiful or if their loved ones put it there. All I wanted to do was cry. But I did not. Not sure why, but I held the tears in, letting them gather like the water that is being gathered in the depth of the foundation of each Tower.

I carried those tears with me the whole day. That evening, full of impressions and tired after walking a lot, I went to Mass. I was meeting a friend at her church far from where I was that afternoon, so I was a few minutes late. The church was in the dark, because at the Easter Vigil on Saturday the light comes in gradually while the readings are being read, signifying the light of Christ’s resurrection coming into the darkness of this world. I found a seat at the back of the church, sat there and finally I wept. I wept at the loss of life, the wound that this city experienced during the terrorist attack. I wept at what we people sometimes do to each other. I wept because Holy Saturday was a day when shattered hopes were mixed with Jesus’ redeeming work; while the Resurrection was happening, the disciples were in grief. I wept because the Alleluia that we would sing that night comes out of such deep sadness, as the one that New York experienced. Alleluia does not come out of joy, but out of pain as it is being redeemed by the Lord. I wept because all of this, both out of gratitude to the Lord for new life, as well as the pain. I wept for this city, for its needs, for America and all that needs to be put right. As I wept I offered silent prayers, beyond words, to the Lord, and I thanked Him for the light that conquers death, for hope that rises out of despair, for love that is stronger than hate.

Today as we remember 9/11, I am not in New York, but my memory of that city, of its vastness, its beauty, its story that touched me, stays with me in such a way as if I have met a person whose scars are part of their wisdom. There are more memories from my trip to be told, but New York certainly knows how to touch someone’s heart.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 10th September 2017; first published on Finding Philothea)
Photos by © Iva Beranek

Sarma – traditional Croatian recipe

I was in Croatia earlier this month visiting family and I asked my mum to teach me how to make ‘sarma’, traditional Croatian dish. I knew how to make a similar dish, but wanted to learn how to make sarma too. My mum did not quite understand the idea of taking photos while cooking, but due to them some of my friends asked about the recipe. I thought to share it here as well. If you make it, I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

mince beef – 0.5 kg
rice – 15 dg (or one cup)
medium size red onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 or 2 eggs
salt
pepper
pickled cabbage*
*you will need to buy it in a Central European shop; Slovakian, Polish, Bosnian, whatever is near you.

later you will need:
cooking oil
flour
paprika

Mix beef & rice. Cut the onion and garlic and add that too, add eggs, salt and pepper and mix it altogether.

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Wash the cabbage in cold water. Cut out the middle bit (root) and use only the leaves. Put the meat mixture into each leaf (pictured) until you use it all.

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When you put the meat into the cabbage leaf, roll it well and press the top of it inside towards the middle, so the meat is tightly rolled in the leaf. Place it in a pot – see the picture – and add water to it. In terms of the amount of water, cover it all and add another 5cm of water (or so) into it.

Let it to cook for 2-2.5 hours. Ten minutes before you remove the pot from the stove, put little bit of oil on a frying pan, add flour and paprika and stir for a few moments until the flour had fully mixed with oil and paprika. Pour that into the water and let sarma cook for another 10 minutes. And that’s it.

Mashed potatoes go well with it.

Bon appetite!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 30th August 2017)
Photos by © Iva Beranek