When we know that we know, we can dare to look…

Greetings to each of you. And I pray that you are experiencing God’s blessings on your day this very day, even as I write these words.

The early days and weeks of 2015 have been so filled with God’s grace and love. Even though I often only feel the full warmth of His touch after He has passed by, my life—our lives—are so continuously blessed.

I have just finished reading Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son in preparation for the Lenten Retreat being hosted online by Ray Glennon and Brynn Lawrence for the Henri Nouwen Society.

Oh my!

I would feel guilty for jumping the gun with our Lenten reading, except 1.) Ray and Brynn said I could (it’s ok to laugh — I sound like a child, even to my own ear); and 2.) it takes me a while to assimilate the words I read. Now that I have read it through once, I can read Return of the Prodigal Son in a more disciplined way during the retreat (well, that’s the desire anyway).

So, it was as a direct result of read Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son, that I chanced to open The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett.

Bear with me here, I’m going to loop this back ‘round to a point here soon.

The first words I read were in the forward to the Story of Painting in which Sr Wendy says:

“…This book is my faltering attempt to offer the security of a knowledgeable background, which will help to make whatever art we see more accessible. Some people are certainly held back from a fearless gaze at painting because they fear their own ignorance. Truly to look remains one’s personal responsibility, and nobody else’s response (and certainly not my own) can be a substitute. But knowledge must come to us from outside, from reading, listening, and viewing. If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know, and this book will succeed if it starts the reader on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”

There’s something deeply moving and inviting about Sr Wendy’s words—inviting one into her writing about painting, certainly—but also inviting and comforting in their call to some deeper place within that recognizes the universality… of these words. Listen again:

… If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know …

This thought frames completely and so simply my reaction to God, the God I have just recently been allowed to experience, my Father, who found my heart fully ready and fully open to Him in His loving compassion. For me as for many, I expect, I had “held back from a fearless gaze” at God…maybe ‘because of my fear of my own own ignorance,’ my own shame, my own self-denial and ‘self-rejection,’ as Henri Nouwen would call it.

When the scales fell from my eyes and my heart, I ‘knew that I knew’ His love. I understood, if only dimly, His joy for my return to Him. I knew, if only in the shadows of my being, His compassion for my heavy heart, an empty heart that was all I had left to offer to Him…yet a heart overflowing with such love for Him.

Love and knowledge go hand in hand,” counsels Sister Wendy in her forward. And I knew. With a certainty that defied all my human understanding, this knowledge of Him, this love for Him demanded passionately that I know Him more, understand Him better, experience Him more deeply, walk with Him more freely on the way He has planned for me…on the way…”on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”

It was Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son that caused me to open Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, in the first place. The book, a gift, has been sitting on my shelf for at least 10 years waiting for me to crack its cover. Understanding art has never been a great passion for me. (Even now, you can readily see that I have been struck more by her words, than by the art she will be describing.)

But, Henri described his own divinely inspired passion for Rembrandt’s painting, the Prodigal Son, wrapping it so lovingly and gently and painstakingly with his own experiences and understanding and insights and revelations. Henri not only made me want to explore more deeply the two sons and the father embedded in my own being, but to see for myself—to apprehend in my own consciousness—the divine depths of Rembrandt’s Prodigal.

Where words and nature have always been the most direct routes to my heart, I know others are lifted and inspired by art and music. Maybe, just maybe, spiritual art – Rembrandt’s and others – might offer me an additional glimpse, another way to understand God’s word.

And so, I continue on my way searching for “more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness” and the love that passes all understanding.

I encourage you to join me this Lent. I’ll be retreating online with the Henri Nouwen Society as they read and discuss Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son. I have been so wonderfully blessed by Henri Nouwen’s writing and by the Society’s online retreats that focus on his writing. Their Lenten retreat starts February 18th. It promises to be awesome.

Waiting and Watching for God

In the past I have often become agitated and grumpy with congested driving, slow lines and waiting. Thankfully, these times have diminished somewhat in recent decades, due to two main reasons I think – one mundane, the other somewhat more enlightened.

On the mundane level, my family moved to an Island from which many commute by ferry to work and play in the city. Alternatively we can drive off the ‘backside’ of the Island over a two-lane bridge to communities even more rural than ours.

It can be a bucolic life, but it has its challenges. Getting where one wants to go can at times be congested, interrupted, or completely blocked (if the ferry runs into the dock, for example, shutting down all service, or an earthquake shakes our world). Islanders necessarily grow accustomed to waiting and eventually find productive ways to spend what would otherwise be wasted downtime. I learned early on to always have something in my purse that I could read or write on (praise God for electronic devices that have replaced notepads and heavy books).

More recently, as I have learned to allow God into my life more fully and more often, I have begun to (almost) look forward to those times when circumstances require I stop my activity. It’s now in those times that I often notice our Lord sitting next to me in the car or waiting next to me in line. His presence — or more accurately, my acknowledgement of His presence — immediately alters my outlook.

What I initially perceived to be an imposition caused by some idiot driver up the road or the forces of evil thwarting my schedule, suddenly dissolves and I find my Lord there. Often He’s grinning and looking like He’s thinking, “I wondered what it would take to get you to notice me….Nice you could join me today.”

Now, imposition, waiting, longing, frustration, irritation all seem to be His call for me to join Him…or better, to realize He’s already with me just waiting for me to acknowledge His presence.

I pray that this season of Advent–this watchful waiting for our Lord–is blessing you in just the ways you need to carry you on your journey into His loving presence.

If God is everywhere equally present, then…

He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St Ignasius, and countless others, past and present, tell us how and where to find God, to hear His directions and desires for our lives.

This morning I was reading Nouwen’s book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In today’s passages he was discussing finding God in the books that we read and in nature.  These venues can be especially helpful, often making it easier for us to hear His voice, see His beauty, feel His presence, taste and savor His many blessings on our lives.

Still, another message hit me as I read. As clearly and as demandingly as if it were flashing in neon atop a tall billboard I was struck by the certainty that:

If God is everywhere equally present, then He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

If God is everywhere equally present, as I believe and have been taught, then, simply being conscious of Him in our midst is the key … and the challenge.

No matter where we are, who we’re with, what is occurring, God is there. Walking down the street, on a treadmill at the gym, on a forest path, along the water, in a line at the grocery store, driving down the road.

To be sure, some places are more conducive to feeling our Lord’s presence, but He’s everywhere, just waiting for us to join Him in His holy purpose. Waiting for us to walk with Him along the way He has planned for us. Waiting for us to acknowledge His presence with us.

No matter the circumstances of our surroundings — whether beautiful, natural, sanctified and holy; or man-made full of industry and technology, metallic maybe, full of cold hard surfaces, filled with loud noisy people of all sizes and shapes; or even places polluted, foul, and rank with the discarded, the misused, the abused — He’s there, waiting for us to beckon to Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him maybe, that Now is the time we need to draw near to Him.

Our first steps toward Him may be shaky and feeble, but as with any new endeavor, practice helps us remember Him more and more often. We will soon learn to call upon and recall those ways and places where we discovered Him earlier. Deep in our hearts we remember the warm blessing of His love as He showered it upon us. We remember (or maybe realize for the first time) that He was with us no matter where we were or what we were doing. We remember over and over again, if we are searching for Him, that He is constantly sending us messages – through the words of people we encounter, the material we read, the sites and sounds that draw our attention. He’s there loving us, waiting to participate in close relationship with us every minute throughout our day.

How did I deserve such goodness, I wonder?

That’s easy. I didn’t. I don’t.

He is simply there for me – for each of us – waiting to bless us, waiting to take each part of us, no matter how broken, or even fetid it may be, and wash it clean. With His blood He prepares and purifies us to be His, so that we may become a blessing to share with others.

Life is very, very good. Life with God in charge is….heavenly.

It has been so long since I’ve written substantively here…so long since we’ve talked…that it’s hard to know where to start.

And, isn’t this always the way where there’s separation, disconnection, distance? We lose our place. We miss important events in one anothers’ lives. We fall out of touch.

The “project,” I’ll call it, was to help our daughter move 2500 miles across country to a new home and a new job…a new life, really. The opportunity was a true gift from God. There were so many miracles, so much euphoria. I feel certain it will be a while before I understand all the lessons and discern God’s handiwork with any real clarity. The time has been both exhilarating and exhausting.

I asked God early on how to handle my blogging while I was engaged with ‘the project’ (it was really 6 or 7 major projects in one as it turned out.) I didn’t feel that I could reflect thoughtfully or write insightfully — heck, I wasn’t sure I could even write grammatically with the pace we were keeping — about much of anything until my part of the work was done. This place, this communication, I felt, needed more, deserved more, than I could give.

Still, where communication is suspended, relationships suffer. It’s true for friends and couples and between ourselves and God.

I’d welcome your thoughts about this whole subject. I know several of you have written in the past about this and that my feelings of undifferentiated, amorphous disappointment in myself are not unique or even unusual. How do you make time for this blog space, how do you do it justice, during times when life’s demands become…well…demanding?

And yet, I asked for and felt the comfort of your prayers. Thank you so very much. You first deserve an update:

  • My daughter has a new job, a new home, and a whole new community of friends. I thrill when she tells me nearly each day for the last 2 months that she feels everything about this total change in her life is right and exactly where God wants her to be right now;
  • Her old home near us is on the market and we’re currently praying for a quick sale (late breaking news: we just received our first offer!);
  • In the meantime our son and daughter-in-law (about whom I have written before here and here) went to the hospital with labor pains in early May…our new baby grand daughter arrived 7 weeks early. She stayed in the Neo-Natal ICU for several weeks. She is, nonetheless, perfect! (This is just simple fact and has nothing to do with my grandmotherly status!) She has over the last month gained weight (she’s over 7 lbs) and lung capacity and she’s now home with mom and dad and they are all thriving in every way. We celebrated Father’s Day together in their home last Sunday. I’d forgotten what 7 lbs. babies are like to hold…there’s just no feeling like it in the whole world.
  • We are so very blessed by God’s amazing grace. The abundance of His love over the last couple of months was everywhere and in every encounter:
    • He helped us carry our burden by sending us the kindness and charity of so many wonderful friends and family who sent their good wishes and prayers to me and made sure my husband was feted with good food and company during my absences.
    • There was our mover, who together with his wife, the dispatcher, held our hand during the long move, as they transported all our daughter’s belongings, arriving right on time with everything in perfect condition, and with no last minute surprises in price.
    • There was the HVAC expert, who gave up his Saturday morning to help us vent a portable air conditioner; and
    • The appliance repair guys, who made themselves immediately available to fix a washing machine; and
    • Our realtors, who offered their friendship and their own personal resources to help us; and
    • Our financial wizards, who just wouldn’t give up, even in the face of fairly complicated transactions; and
    • The hardware store clerk, who spent nearly an hour helping me figure out how to secure a dog kennel; and
    • So many thoughtful drivers who let me cut in when I missed my turns in unfamiliar country.
    • There were, of course, all the caring and competent neo-natal staff taking care of our grand daughter…and her parents; and
    • The fact that our grand daughter joined us during one of the short windows when I was in town was a true personal blessing; and
    • We enjoyed a full complement of joy-filled family communicating with parents and all the rest of us with abundant use of the “reply all” feature on their email and texting. We were, as a result, able to share across family lines and across geography and time zones in one another’s experiences of wonder and joy with the new and precious baby girl in our midst.

The list seems almost endless…right down to some unknown young man who was standing in front of me in line at the airport, who paid for my water bottle as he was purchasing his own. It turned out he was sitting across the aisle from me on my flight home and before I even realized I needed help lifting my carry-on bag, he was up out of his seat, man-handling it into the overhead bin, assuring me as he did so that he would get it down for me when we landed…WOW! The good Lord had me surrounded with his angels.

Life is very, very good…life with God in charge is heavenly.

 

 

 

 

If We See God In All Things, Evil Will Find No Home In Us

To all my virtual friends, my belated, but warmly felt Easter greeting.

As I alluded to…wow, it’s been a few weeks ago, now…time is flying in my world…life has intervened and taken me, temporarily, from this platform. I miss each of you and look forward to being more present with you again soon.

My daughter and her employer agreed to part company about a month ago, which came as both a shock and a blessing. Since they gave her essentially 3 months of severance, she thankfully has had more than enough time to find other work. This resulted in the two of us flying across country to a community, which she has wanted to move to for some time.

Long story short, in less than three weeks an excellent new position was offered and accepted; a house was purchased; and she is currently packing and preparing for a cross-country drive with her dog, cat and belongings.

My tasks in support of all this are to get her current home sold and help her sort all the finance details of the purchase, while she’s on the road. We’re both flying through our respective ‘to-do’ lists.

Over the years I’ve become certain that, when barriers to movement in any particular direction are encountered that cannot be easily overcome with a simple prayer, the move is not part of God’s plan.

On the flip side, when perceived barriers arise and they seemingly dissolve before our eyes…as soon as we identify them, they disappear…I am equally certain that God’s hand is at work, parting our own personal Red Sea.

This has happened multiple times for us over the last several weeks, and is continuing as we move forward. It’s been an amazing experience that has left us breathless at times…as we have said we’ve been “whelmed”…not “overwhelmed” since we’re certain our lives are in good hands – God’s hands…but definitely whelmed!

Which brings me back to the title of this post: I have been giving much thought to thwarting evil, thinking and praying about how to pray that my daughter is not faced with evil in her new home. That’s when I felt blessed by this message:

If We See God In All Things, Evil Will Find No Home In Us

So, this is what I will pray … for her to see God in all things; to experience God with all her senses; to allow God to speak to her through all of her senses; and thereby, to so strengthen her that evil can find no footing, no home in any part of her being or her life.

My blessings on each you, too. I appreciate all the love and effort you put into to participating in this virtual community we’re forming.

‘In the midst of the thicket,’ we’ve not necessarily lost our way. Let our friends reassure us.

These are the two take-aways for me from In gratitude to friends, Mags Blackie, most recent post. This message is particularly comforting to me just now. My interior life, this blog are being sorely challenged just now and for the foreseeable future, as life has seemed to intervene with priorities that can’t be set aside.

I’ll write about what’s going on at some point. But, as with Mags, I’m processing now. I’m having to try harder than usual, it seems, to keep God uppermost in my thoughts and prayers, to remember to practice His presence, to even take time to sit briefly and bask in the warmth of all the loving posts from all of you.

I miss you and our conversations and will be back as soon as I can to participate more fully in our community. Until then, I give thanks to God for each of you and the work you’re allowing God to accomplish through you. You’re a very special blessing to me.

Our Father comforts and encourages even during times of deprivation

Merton writes that even though contemplation and sanctity are found through deprivation, most of us so fear fully relying on God that we end up depriving ourselves of the experience.

He says:

The prospect of this wilderness is something that so appalls most men that they refuse to enter upon its burning sands and travel among its rocks. They cannot believe that contemplation and sanctity are to be found in a desolation where there is no food and no shelter and no refreshment for their imagination and intellect and for the desires of their nature.

I fear I don’t yet have strength enough to withstand the kind of deprivation he describes here…certainly not without failure. Yet, Our Father in heaven promises to sustain us.

I believe that. But I don’t come close to acting in ways that really test my faith.

Could I ever let go of the dock — its security, its familiarity and substance and provision — and step wholly into Our Father’s boat? Could I let go and be completely dependent on His provision and substance — secure in His love?

My friend Angie over at Family Answers Fast wrote to say of Lenten sacrifices that

It is your desire to please God that is so pleasing.

And she directed me to her friend, Diane’s comments who added that Lent for her meant finding

little things, little opportunities throughout the day to deny my self in order to love Him better.

I love Thomas Merton and I’m inspired by his call to austerity and trust, but I am blessed and comforted, by loving friends and their encouragement — God’s encouragement, through them — of my search for understanding.

Yearning, God’s small seed of hope within us

In this second day of Lent, Thomas Merton in Seeking God in All Things acknowledges how stultifying the world can be, especially for those of us living in busy cities, working in noisy factories, or commuting daily with thousands of others.

He reminds us that for so many, the hope – even the seed of a hope – has long been crushed.

For the rest of us — even those of us who feel frustrated by the crowds, deafened by constant cacophony, demoralized by the brokenness we see about us – for us, we still yearn with hope for silence and peace and unity.

This yearning is God’s small seed within us, calling us, reassuring us that we are loved by God.

Our job is to allow this yearning to bless us.

Even this most basic connection to God’s love for us can draw from us feelings of compassion for those others who have lost — or have not yet found — their way.

This small seed of kindness in our hearts may then grow into a prayer upon which our Lord will shine, through which may blossom in us a deep sense of peace and joy.

To stay anchored in God – in this experience of inner peace and joy – we must each find a place each day where we can be alone and silent and uninterrupted, says Merton. Some special space where we can, without obstruction, learn to experience God’s presence, maybe even hear His voice.

In this special place where we surrender fully to God’s loving embrace, we then allow Him to prepare us and repair us…make us whole and clean once again…armed with His Love, ready to venture back into a noisy and messy world.

Meditation 11 – Gratitude awakens humility

Have you no joys to tell Me? Why not confide to Me your pleasures? Tell Me what has happened since yesterday to console you, to make you happy, to give you joy. An unexpected visit has done you good; a fear has suddenly been dispelled; you have met with unlooked-for success; you have received some mark of affection – a letter, a present; some trial has left you stronger than you supposed. All these things, My child, I obtained for you. Why are you not grateful? Why do you not say, “I thank You”? Gratitude draws benefits, and the benefactor loves to be reminded of his bounty.

God loves our gratitude. For me, gratitude is accompanied by a strong sense of humility.

Much of our culture doesn’t reward humility. I have worked for many years in a career where individuals become “subject matter experts” or SMEs. Even those who don’t promote themselves this way in the beginning can eventually be affected, drinking the koolaid and taking their pumped up biographical descriptions seriously. Others will further inflate SME credentials in order to promote their own personal agendas, their own value.

In meetings filled with inflated egos there’s often little room for God or humble recognition of His goodness and might.

So, what’s joyful about this particular recognition? It is this:

After so many years toiling in this particular field, staying centered on Him in the midst of all the self-promotion was a challenge I wasn’t always successful in meeting.

But God is good.

Through His grace can I now — finally — awake each morning remembering Him first and, upon remembering, feel an almost overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude for His presence in my life. Just that.

Remember to say good morning each day to God. Acknowledge His presence with me. Invite Him into my day.

Because in doing so, I can’t help but take the additional mental steps to acknowledge Him as the source of my being, the architect of any success I might enjoy, the origin of my existence and my ability.

Thank you, Father, for the grace to remember You each day.

Only as You allow me to remember You, am I able then to acknowledge Your role in my life. Credit You for all the ways in which You have blessed me. Give You thanks.

And through all these, to feel consumed with humility for how meager my contribution would be without Your blessing.

Reflecting God’s Divinity

I’ve tried to find words to express the tremendous tsunami of emotions and joy that I have experienced since reading Fr. Martin’s book “The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything,” earlier last year. Similar to one’s experience of God, I think, my comprehension of its significance has taken — will take — time to fully appreciate. I need to view the experience looking back.

It was like having a large package of tiny seeds strewn upon what (apparently) was the moist and fertile soil of my mind and heart. Only now have I begun to recognize all the young sprouts of new life that are taking root. I fear the possibility that even one of these seeds might be so far-flung that I’ll miss it and fail to tend it properly. At the same time I know the God who blessed me with the grace to receive these messages is the same awesome Lord who will help me discover and tend each seedling in its time, and His.

To say that it has fully changed my life seems too small an expression to capture the full effect it has had. In everything I do now (five months later) I realize I have the responsibility to reflect the divinity of God. I know Him personally, therefore, I have the responsibility to acknowledge Him, learn more about Him, understand what He desires of me, feel and practice His presence constantly, introduce others to him.

I’m not very good at all this yet. I begin to understand why some carry around such a sense of guilt all the time. It’s both an appropriate reaction (because I fail continually throughout the day, practically from the first word out of mouth in the morning) and a beautiful grace from Him who allows me to glimpse a small part of what He desires of me, to perceive just a bit of the perfection He desires for all of us.

I have an especially difficult time seeing Him or feeling His presence in others, even when I actively try to think of Him and look for Him in them. It’s like looking through a steamy window. I can see the vague outline of possibility, but I can’t yet bring it into focus.

Quiet tasks are a bit easier – sometimes when I am alone I can hear Him and feel His presence with me.  My conscience speaks to me of important insights that seem just a bit clearer than they might have before.

One such scene played out for me just today. It had to do with allowing our close relationships to evolve to fully include God.

Take, for example, a relationship between mother and daughter: For the first decade or two, it is very…well…mother-daughter.

Mom loving, directing, soothing, in control, encouraging, disciplining, teaching.

Daughter learning, growing, hopefully becoming the person God intended her to be.

As the third decade emerges, these roles (by the grace of God) begin to shift. The two begin to build a friendship with one another – closer than friends, really, but more a relationship of two adults.

For me and my daughter the next step will be for me to reflect better the deeper sense of God’s divinity that I’ve been given. To accept the responsibility that comes with this gift, to share it with her, maybe most especially, and others who are close.

For some this may be straightforward. But for me it feels as though I’ve somehow turned a corner spiritually and begun to see a whole different world than the one I lived in just a few months ago.

In important ways I’ve become a different person than the mother who raised my daughter. As much as I raised her to know and love God, there are so many areas of my behavior that were still driven by ignorance and carelessness…and therefore, so many areas that require amendment.

This responsibility applies to other family members as well, ones especially from whom I have been estranged.

My stepson and his wife and I all had a falling out that had split our family for several years. The beginnings of healing had already begun when his wife bought the The Jesuit Guide for our son, who in turn bought a copy for my husband to read. My husband, in turn, encouraged me to read it. Soon we were all four sharing our collective amazement with its powerful messages and how they were changing our lives.

The insight of reflecting God’s divinity that pertains here is that God chose these particular people to bring me closer to Him. In so doing He bound us more closely than ever to one another. It has helped to heal old wounds, certainly. But it also created a new and stronger bond, a divine responsibility all around, each of us for another, to recognize and acknowledge how and who God used as a conduits for His message of love.

So, too, do I feel some responsibility to help ignite a new relationship with my husband’s brother and his husband. This is still a work-in-progress, so its shape is not so very clear. But, baby steps have been taken. They had dinner with us recently and we were all, it seemed, surprised and delighted that we were able to laugh and share stories and to genuinely enjoy our time together.

He is outspokenly atheist, but both he and his husband asked our opinion of our new Pope. And they listened respectfully as we discussed our warm feelings for Pope Francis and our deepening faith. It doesn’t seem like much yet, but it’s a start. And it was an answer to my prayers.

I’m willing to follow in baby steps, or maybe even better, get on my knees and crawl, if our Lord will only lead us and put the right words in our mouths.

There’s more learning required, more work to do — “I’m coming, Lord.

But, for now, just a moment to give thanks for the wonderful grace of being aware of His lessons and blessings so far.

Thank you Lord.