“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.”
John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong

I first met Margaret Silf in 2008 at the Bethany Spirituality Center in New York State when I made a five-day retreat and since that time have enjoyed her books and several retreats with her. I appreciate the simplicity of her writing and the ecumenical flavor of her spirituality, respecting the good in all religions but wary of any institution that claims it alone possesses the truth.

I enjoyed reading At Sea with God: A Spiritual Guidebook to the Heart and Soul and laughed at her introduction: “I was once reminded that the ark was built by an amateur, but the Titanic was built by professionals. This is a book written by an amateur, for amateurs, in the art of sailing life’s waters by a Christian compass.” One of my favorite books was The Other Side of Chaos, Breaking through When Life is Breaking Down because of a few lines I’ve never forgotten. Describing a time in her life, she wrote “It had been a moment that came out of the blue, and yet it has shaped every moment since. It hadn’t been about ‘believing’ anything then, but rather it was about a kind of knowing … that, no matter what anyone says, you know what you know, and that deep foundational knowledge is unshakeable. You can stand on it. It is a rock. Perhaps it is the authentic meeting place with God.” Other favorites are: The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the Sacred in the Everyday; Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way; Wise Choices: A Spiritual Guide to Making Life’s Decisions; Compass Points: Meeting God Everyday at Every Turn; Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in your World and your Life, a pictorial view “through some of the landscapes of your soul;” and Roots and Wings: the Human Journey from a Speck of Stardust to a Spark of God.

I hadn’t seen her for two years and looked forward to her talk “Growing into Tomorrow” last month at the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in Brighton, hosted by “Sacred Threads, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to nourish, connect and inspire women by weaving spirituality into everyday life.”

Founded by Marie Labollita, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Rosemary Mulvihill, a Sister of Mercy originally from Australia, it offers presentations by men and women of different faiths in or near the Boston area, and I’ve been blessed by those programs and their friendship. 

On Dec. 5, a friend and I drove into Boston for the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. program. Warmly greeted by Rosemary as she led us downstairs for coffee, I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman I met several years ago at the Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester and another woman I met on retreat in western Massachusetts.
I’ve often praised Road Scholar programs and retreats because I’m with “kindred spirits” and when I saw Margaret, was surrounded by people not satisfied by anything less than a spirituality that touches their lives, encouraging them to appreciate and share their stories. The talk began with a story about her 7-year-old granddaughter’s question, “Is heaven real?” which led Margaret to “a new regard for the value of questions and the inventiveness” of “thinking outside the box” as children do, “unless we enclose them in it.” 

The older I get, the more I feel overwhelmed by news reports of tragic events in this country and throughout the world, but recently several things helped me regain my sense of balance, including a long talk with a trusted friend, as well as walks, exercise classes, and a movie at the Rockport Public Library last month. “Miracle on 34th Street” was a simple love story that restored my faith in something larger than the commercialism of Christmas as well as a renewed faith in myself, grateful for spiritual mentors and friends who enrich my life.

I can’t do much about disasters reported on the news but I can make a difference in the way I live my own life, energized by finding my own “authentic meeting places” with God.

Eileen Ford,  a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist

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