Quiet comes to rest beside me

Entering into God’s silence,” is Merton’s theme for Monday of the first full week of Lent. He says, that in silence we

are formed and prepared so that [we] may speak what [we] have heard.

And doesn’t this resonate with all of us who spend our time here in this virtual space? We share our experience and our reading and our revelations with others, in hopes of offering words, sharing stories, which might help someone else to find their way.

But silence, Merton says, and time apart from others is necessary for all of us.

At church yesterday our priest spoke about a similar theme, discussing Jesus’ time in the desert – in desolation, in silence, tempted and tried. Like Jesus, he said, during these quiet times God teaches us how to distinguish His voice — that voice planted like a seed deep within us at the moment of conception — from all the other voices that might ring in our ears.

I wrote a poem years ago — 40 years ago now — I was so young then and immature. Yet, even then, I knew that while I kind of liked the words…the way they sounded together…the sense that they said something important…I knew, even then, I didn’t really understand them or what they meant, even to me. It went like this:

Night sounds begin and light
becomes a shadow of a shadow
As dark isolation settles with a chill.

 

Breath won’t come. “Don’t go
…Don’t leave me here alone!!”
Wandering, lost,
Separate from all but One.

 

Then quiet comes to rest beside me,
And the crowd from the inner room
Pushes to be free.

What does it reveal about that girl nearly a half century ago? Fear of being alone.

I used to hate being alone. The silence when I was alone was never silent. When I was little, being alone scared me in that ghost-and-hobgoblin sort of way. As I got older, I just didn’t know what to do with silence and alone-ness.

By the time I wrote this, I had begun to catch just a faint glimmer. When I wrote that “quiet comes to rest beside me,” I always thought that when I really finally understood whatever this this work is that is mine to do in this life, that the line would read “quiet comes to rest within me.”

Still, now when I am silent and talking with God, I have a strong sense of His coming to rest beside me, His quiet loving presence cleansing me and making me whole again.

And even though there is a peacefulness associated with the experience, there is an incredible excitement. The crowd — all those unformed feelings and partial thoughts and gentle urgings — they rally up within me in a sort of freedom song in which I catch a glimpse of the person He intended me to be. They demand my attention, insist that I free them from my own anxieties and fears and expose them to the Light of His grace.

Content ourselves to Our Father’s purpose

In Thomas Merton’s meditation for today, he says:

In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life.

“...learn to be detached from the results of our own activity.”

As much as I would like to believe I understand and have mastered detachment, I find it’s often a bit like planning…Our Father has a very long laugh, as He shows me in the gentlest of ways how far I have yet to go to be truly detached.

As I was reading and pondering Merton’s words, I was periodically checking my blog stats, Facebook, Twitter, my email to see if anyone had yet opened one of my recent blog postings or — better yet — ‘liked’ one of them…sent me a note (I cherish those, even if it isn’t very detached!).

I’m such a child with my emotions being tossed and tugged by every bit of outside opinion. Feeling validated by praise; uncertain when there’s no response. Even though, my brain and my heart know that I have a holy purpose that I’m serving, my ego binds me still with its need for hearing, “you’re okay.”

As I said in Getting Started,

It is my prayer that God has drawn you to this place and that you will find it a blessing along your own journey with Him. It would certainly be a blessing for me, if you were to let me know you’re out there. But, as much as I will give thanks to God for leading you to me, to this place, I really have no other choice but to do this divine work.

Merton goes on in this meditation to say:

We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.

So, on this first Saturday after Ash Wednesday, I ask Our Father’s help to be content with the product of our work together — His and mine. To seek only His approval. To rest quiet in the certain knowledge that He knows who is searching for just the words He and I have written together. He knows whose heart is ready and waiting to be blessed by Him through me.

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.

Pray for the Council of Cardinals

This week begins a third meeting between the Pope and the Council of Cardinals. Pray for God’s love to fill their hearts and for His guidance to enlighten their discernment on key reform issues facing the church. Read more here: With reforms unclear, Francis starts possible bellwether week | National Catholic Reporter.

My Enemy, My Love

This article from John Martens writing in America Magazine is an answer to a recent prayer. In his discussion of loving our enemies, he concludes:

It is this desire (for perfect love), grounded in the longing to be holy as God is holy, that allows us to rise above our feelings for vengeance, feelings which the world understands, accepts and might even urge on us, to love our enemy. In the love of enemy we convert not only our own hearts, but the possibility exists that when we forego destroying enemies with weapons of vengeance, then love, the weapon of the spirit, will transform them.

via My Enemy, My Love | America Magazine.

*******************
So, I prayed recently that the Lord would guide me to my next meditation.

I’ve been wondering lately … reconsidering really…my long-held views about any number of subjects, but most recently capital punishment. Right or wrong? I used to be more certain of my answer. Today, not so much.

It was in the middle of the night. I’d awakened briefly and was in that dreamy half-sleeping, half-waking state.

In the beginning when I was more awake and said ‘hi’ to God, as I always do when I first awake. Then I continued to say a couple of prayers, thinking about each phrase as I progressed through them, considering how each phrase related to me over the last few days or weeks.

That was the beginning. Then I sort of drifted off into a space that was dreamier. I was still conscious enough to be aware of and remember the thoughts and images I was having.

This was the message I got back. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but this is the next stream of thoughts that I had.

I was contemplating love and evil, juxtaposing them, acknowledging that God is pure love. Jesus is pure love. I acknowledged that we are called to love Jesus and try to be more like him. In order to be fully with God, we are called to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves.

I moved on to consider evil. What is it? Hatred, vileness, greed.

Where do they come from? What’s their basis? Is it fear? Hmmm, maybe. Hatred and vileness, villainy can often be traced back to fear. Is the devil fearful?

You know, I think He probably is. I think He knows the end of the story, too. I think He knows that God wins. But the devil’s nature is what it is.

When I have called upon God’s protection, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the devil’s presence…his essence in my thoughts, or his seeming presence with me…goes away. It just dissolves into an impotent vapor and slinks off.

On the basis of his occasional reappearance, I know the devil has not been fully conquered in me, but God’s power is always available, on call, to help me overcome evil’s temptations.

So, if we can do what God has asked us to do — to love Him, to aspire to be like Him, to project pure love — then should we not also be able to dispel fear and hatred in others? To project such compassion and charity that the power of evil is dissolved, vaporized in the face of our love?

Back to capital punishment. Why do we put people to death? To keep them from ever harming others in society? Justice? Well, yes.

Okay, forget capital punishment for now. It’s too complicated an issue for me at this point.

But isn’t love the goal? Doesn’t Our Father want each of us to begin – now, right where we are, to learn to love so purely, to love so strongly, that evil has no foothold in our lives. That the devil and all his forces can gain no traction?

If love conquers fear and hatred, which we know it does in the end, then when we approach any situation in our lives – any confrontation, argument, disagreement, physical attack even – if we take on the mantel of pure love, devoid of fear — if we don’t allow fear to seep in, I wonder if the hatred and vileness of those others whom we confront would dissolve before us, just as if they were standing before Our Father?

If so, good to go. If not, well I guess we might meet Our Lord all the sooner.

So, are we still good to go? Are we prepared to die, as we offer love as our self-defense?

I guess it requires detachment from life itself, doesn’t it? The Jesuits say we must have a spirit of detachment, even from life itself, in order to fully be one with God.

Well, that’s the meditation. I know for certain, I don’t have a clear answer to all this yet for myself.

I still feel more comfortable carrying and knowing how to use self-defense aids. I will continue to encourage our children to stay alert to threats. And I feel a certain relief, when a cold, calculating, murdering sociopathic sex offender or child trafficker is put out of his or her misery.

Can we not advocate for our enemy’s incapacity, his incarceration, possibly his elimination, while still loving him, mourning his death or injury. To act with justice, but without vengeance or hate, without a desire for retribution?

In the end, love is the goal. How do we love You better, Lord?

Meditation 14 – Return refreshed to the task of living

Well, My child, go now and resume your daily work. Be silent, be honest, be patient, be charitable, love very much the Blessed Mother of Jesus; and tomorrow bring Me a heart even more devoted and loving. Tomorrow I shall have new favors for you.

We’ve reached our 14th and last meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. I find myself wondering,

how on earth does anyone manage to do these meditations in just 15, 30, or even 60 minutes, as they sit with the Blessed Sacrament? It’s taken me two+ weeks to get through them. Do others think or meditate that much faster or more efficiently than I do?’

I get that writing down my thoughts and editing them to capture just the right message takes longer, but even if I adjust for these steps, I know myself well enough to know that if I’m not writing words onto paper, my mind wanders, loses focus, forgets important insights, and is, in a word, undisciplined.

I also find myself a bit relieved at having completed these meditations. I’m ready to go and ‘resume [my] daily work’ in the world, to rest and recollect my larger purposes for this space.

Our Father, knowing I was approaching this place, thankfully prepared the next step in my way. I found it last night in an excellent book I’m reading, Why Pope Francis Leads The Way He Does, by Chris Lowney. I’m anxious to share it with you.

“I’m coming, Lord.”

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.

Meditation 6 – Call us to You, Father

And have you no thoughts of zeal for Me? Are you not anxious to do a little good for the souls of your friends, for those whom you love, and who, perhaps, forget Me? Tell Me who interests you, what motives urge you, what means you wish to take.

In reflecting on this sixth meditation before the Blessed Sacrament several friends and family members come to mind, who have forgotten about God or who have never been introduced to Him. I name them often in my prayers, asking God to touch them, to touch their hearts.

My heart aches for them. God wishes so much to love them, but, recognizing we seldom really know others’ inner-most desires, they mostly seem, if not hostile to Him, then indifferent, uncaring.

If they were only open to His call, their hearts could be so much freer; they could go about their daily lives with lighter burdens and with so much more clarity.

And yet, outside of my prayers and the occasional invitation to church or suggestion of a new book or a class or an inspirational writer, I feel helpless to know what to do.

My heart aches for me, too, since the understanding between us, me and each of them, could be so much deeper, richer. We would have a greater ability to share the most important part of our lives with one another.

And my heart aches for God, who waits patiently while we all take our sweet time coming to Him. I imagine Him yearning for our oneness with Him and watching each day as so many pass Him by unnoticed.

Call each of these people to You, Father. Help each of us to find our way. Allow me, Father, if it is Your will, to help them, that my walk with them might be lit by Your holy purpose. Wash us clean, O God, of all our sins, that we may offer ourselves to You as empty vessels to be filled only with the love You pour out upon us. Allow us to commit ourselves again and again until, at the last, we walk hand in hand with You on the journey You’ve planned for each of us.