Speak God’s truth. Leave the rest to Him.

Dear Holy Father,

I come to You in this place most often not having any idea what I want to say or what to focus on.

I’m never quite sure how to know if You have something You want to say to me. Eventually, You seem to speak, after I’ve quieted my mind and my heart a bit from the demands of my daily routine.

Yesterday, I began my writing with what I thought was purpose and direction. I was anxious to capture the lessons I’d learned about prayer and, in particular, the message I heard from our priest in his Sunday homily.

But maybe my clue to the problem that unfolded is captured in the word, ‘anxious.’

The words I wrote struggled to do justice to the message or to the feelings I had as I experienced Your message.

Listening to our priest speak felt like I was hearing directly from You.

Now, our priest is a nice guy. He’s young, not particularly polished yet as a speaker or as a homilist. Or at least I’ve never perceived that about him. He’s a bit awkward and seems like he’s reading his words rather than speaking Your truth.

Well, that was what I used to think, until his two most recent Masses. ‘Extraordinary’ isn’t too big a word for my reaction. Maybe not even ‘transcendent.’

I found myself, twice now, transfixed and hanging on his every word.

Thank You, Father. I guess it isn’t necessary to feel those feelings whenever a priest speaks, but to feel them at all — to sense Your presence in real time, at work through our priest speaking directly to me — was sublime. Thank You.

And maybe it demonstrates something more.

I struggle with my words here…working to make them just right. I feel frustrated when I can’t seem to capture in them the transcendent quality that I so often experience when I’m talking with You. If I can’t find words to communicate that most sublime sense of Your presence, I end up not wanting to share anything at all with others.

And yet, it wasn’t our priest or his words that was key, was it?

The fact is, I’ve heard the same lessons he was preaching on from several other priests in different situations, through different media.

Rather, it was Your grace that took his words as he spoke them and somehow, breathed Your own breath of love on them as You delivered them to my open heart.

The lesson? We need to speak Your truth, Holy Father, and leave the rest to You. Just as You gave all the right words in all the right languages to Your disciples at Pentacost, You can work with our words, our heartfelt expressions of Your truths.

So long as we express them out loud to others in love, You can bless them with Your grace and make of them the transcendent, sublime messages other open hearts are waiting to receive.

Praying for the grace to see my sins

I pray for the grace to see and understand my sin…to allow Christ’s light to illumine all the dark, dank, miserable corners of my being, so to allow them to be washed clean.

When you have 15 minutes, you will be blessed by this homily, Venerating the Cross, by Father Robert Barron | Word On Fire.

 

 

When His magnificence eludes me

I’ve recently have felt little…little connection to God or to His children in my midst, little motivation to reestablish a connection (or connections) with Him, a sense of apathy and a ‘maybe tomorrow’ attitude. Is this dryness? That aridity of which some write?

Oh, I go through the motions. I pray the standard prayers. I ask for His intervention with friends or family who are struggling with various challenges. I read our daily lessons (most days). I remember to give thanks most days and to count His blessings. I mostly don’t even fall asleep through these.

But the zeal. The awe. The magnificence of it all mostly eludes me. It has done so increasingly for some months now.

The need…no, the absolute compulsion…to describe my brushes with the divine is dampened and limp. My words…it’s as though my words have, on their own, decided to hide in the ‘way-back’ recesses of my being…jeering at me from time to time from behind some large obstruction, knowing that I sense them there, their presence, but knowing I won’t venture into the darkness to find them.

They don’t feel like my friends right now.

And when I think about writing here, in this place, I have this fear that my words will fail me. That I’ll end up projecting….what?….some dismal, self-demeaning (or worse, self-congratulatory) sniveling, pathetic rant about losing my way. Who cares? Everyone goes through these periods, right? Why make others want to avert their attention so to avoid being dragged down by my lethargy? Why speak if I cannot lift others up with my joy?

And so, my silence. Or is this my pride?

At church last week I prayed that God would touch me and rekindle in me that divine sense of motivation where I might see…well, if not His beautiful face…at least His footsteps as He passed by me.

The lesson of the weekend was from Matthew 17:14-20, when Christ, dispirited, expresses his frustration with His disciples’ lack of faith, which had resulted in their inability to heal a young boy,

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’

Later in the story, Jesus walked on water out to His disciples. They thought He was a ghost, but

Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’

It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’

Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water,

but then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘save me!’

 

Lord, save me!

The priest’s homily went on to illumine the lesson, reminding us, as well, of Mary’s last words to us in the Bible when she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana to “do whatever He tells you.

At this point during the homily, the high clouds that had begun our day that day parted and the sun shown brightly through the stained glass windows of the church right on the spot where I was sitting. It brought tears and then a smile as I remembered the scene from “The Blues Brothers” when Jake and Elwood saw the Light and felt their mission from God to be fully defined.

Lord, save me.

How does He do this saving? How does He manage to bolster our faith? Mother Mary tells us “do whatever He tells you.” Simply that.

Keep our eyes fixed solely on Him. We can do nothing, help no one without continual and complete faith in His power. Then, do as He tells me to do – believe in Him and write it down.

His grace motivates me to desire and then to action. But only by quieting the cacophony of my life can I hear His voice. By sitting still in a kind of holy anticipation can I tempt those words out from their hiding places.

And rather like shy and cautious cats, if I sit still and quietly enough and believe, they’ll eventually bless me with their presence…maybe even curl up in my lap where we can warm one another for a time.

Peace Within, Peace Without

Finding our own selves — the unique and perfect selves that Our Father intended us to be — is necessary before we can participate successfully in community or in relationship with others. Merton says, in his meditation for Wednesday of the first week of Lent, that:

A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him.

He goes on:

Even when he tries to do good to others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know how to do good to himself.

In trying to make other people happy, Merton says,

he will overwhelm them with his own unhappiness.

I spent most of my early years thinking I had to please others…most especially my first husband (yes, I’m one of those divorced and remarried Catholic converts watching closely the church’s current discussion.)  I never viewed my need to please my husband so much as a product of my own insecurity or sense of unworthiness (although there was probably some of that). Rather, it always seemed to be more a product of the way I was raised.

I was taught that a wife’s main job was pleasing her husband and suborning her interests to his. It was just what women did. My mother modeled this behavior. My father expected it. My older sister fully embraced it.

By the time I came along though, women were just beginning to come into their own — in college, in the workplace, at home. In those early years of cognitive dissonance, I was a working professional during the day. Then at night, I’d bend myself in a pretzel trying to be whatever my husband wanted me to be.

“Oh, you want me to ask first for permission to go to lunch with friends from work? Okay, I can do that.”

“So I shouldn’t bother asking permission to go to lunch, if there are male co-workers going to lunch with us?” I guess I get that.

“You enjoy having a wife with an education. You just don’t want me to use it to have a career? Did I get that right?” Hmmmmm.

By the time we’d been together the better part of a decade, I’d so altered everything about myself to accommodate his expectations, that I no longer knew who I was. It was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable.

I’d become so bound up in being who I wasn’t, that there didn’t seem to be any room to move to a new understanding…any flexibility for us to unwind the snarl of do’s and don’t’s and why’s and wherefore’s.

I left.

But not before fulfilling Merton’s description of the person who’s “not at peace with himself.” He described him this way:

…he gets out of the work all that he put into it: his own confusion, his own disintegration, his own unhappiness.

All that was a long time ago now. I give thanks each day for God’s grace that has allowed me to re-collect much of the girl He intended me to be…the woman He intended me to become.

Amazingly though, I’m still finding corners of myself that got lost along the way. With His continued grace, peace and quiet may yet come to rest not just beside me, but within me.

I pray so.

Doing all things with God, Doing all things for God

Brother Lawrence is a gift from God (drawing from Wikipedia)Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen

He name is reasonably familiar – to people who know it. But, for many Brother Lawrence is an obscure figure.

Not much is known about him. Still, what we do know is of such value to faith seekers that there’s a part of me that wants to dedicate this whole blog to him and his teachings.

Figuring out how to honor his teachings will be left for another day. Today, I want simply to introduce him to you and reflect on what is, in my mind, his overarching lesson.

Born Nicholas Herman

Born in 1611 as Nicholas Herman in the northeastern corner of France’s Lorraine region, Brother Lawrence grew up in poverty during the height of the Protestant Reformation, just ahead of Europe’s devastating Thirty Year’s War, which was spurred by the religious and political tensions of the time.

This description from Wikipedia provides a good quick impression of Brother Lawrence:

“Despite his lowly position in life and the priory, his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris, compiled this work after Brother Lawrence died. It became popular among Catholics and Protestants alike…”

I first heard about Brother Lawrence nearly 30 years ago in a sermon given by a minister in the Unity Church of Christ. He told the story of Brother Lawrence’s time working in the lowly tedium of a priory kitchen.

Haven’t we all experienced as tedium, tasks like fixing meals, cleaning dishes, running errands, washing laundry. They can all seem so trivial. Something to be ‘gotten through.’ Why on earth, we might wonder, would we consider them worthy of God’s time or attention?

All things with God, all things for God

And yet, for Brother Lawrence all tasks, even the most menial stoop to pick up a piece of straw from the ground, offered an occasion to serve God.

Doing everything throughout the day – household chores, business responsibilities, relationship tending – for the love of God was Brother Lawrence’s singular objective in life.

Father de Beaufort describes how Brother Lawrence approached his work in their second “conversation: ”

“in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of GOD, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during the fifteen years that he had been employed there…”

And in their fourth conversation:

“…the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.”

He goes on to quote Brother Lawrence:

“The time of business,” said [Brother Lawrence], “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Some time after I heard about Brother Lawrence, I finally acted to buy a copy of The Practice of the Presence. It quietly sat on my bookshelf for years gathering dust and eventually became part of the great purge that I discuss here.

It wasn’t until recently, when I was again reminded of him and the attitude he brought to his life, that my heart was finally fully captured by his lessons. (Procrastination? Or God’s grace in the fullness of His time?)

How simple is too simple?

These practices – his practices – are so simple that they are easily shunted aside, overlooked, disregarded as too simple, possibly, or too trivial to be effective. And so, we go about our day over-complicating our search for God.

God’s not just there with us when we pray and call upon Him. He’s with us each minute waiting for us to acknowledge Him and invite Him into our experience.

He’s here right now, as I write this text. He’ll be with me in a minute or two when I get up to make another cup of tea. He was with me earlier when I put in a load of laundry.

When I keep my mind trained on His presence with me as I perform all of my tasks throughout the day, I immediately feel the joy that Brother Lawrence describes, knowing that God — my partner in all things — is with me waiting for me to notice His presence, to experience His loving embrace.

Fr. James Martin SJ, in his excellent book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, discusses the Jesuit form of prayer in which one imagines being part of the stories in the Bible.

Imagining God sitting next to me as I write, or in the car as I run errands, allows me to feel His presence. And once felt, to be washed clean in the glow of His light, able to bring a more loving heart and a more receptive spirit as I go about my day.

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

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Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.

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Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

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.