Loving heart to heart

The killing of George Floyd, the righteous anger, the protests against allowing whatever caused this awful murder to stand, the dark forces of opportunistic riots and looting, the hatred and loathing — it all makes me so sad, Father.

Where are You in all this?

How did we get here? What now? What can we do? What can I do?

You’ve placed several suggestions along my way in the last few days:

o Find ways to bridge the divide, to walk with others, to listen, and to help them carry their crosses;

o Erase the margins separating us from those other ones that You love, Holy Father;

o Stand in awe of their strength, not in judgement of the burdens they carry;

o Focus not on how awful things are, but on how I can help make things better for just one other of these other ones;

o Learn to feel a deepening sense of gratitude for the gifts and graces You’ve already given us — by way of our birth, of our country, of our neighborhood, of our circumstance — gifts we did not earn or deserve, and through this;

o Strengthen our conviction to share these gifts to help others where they are right now…where we are right now;

And what about all the government programs created to help people less fortunate, families in need, the homeless, the addicted, those living in alone and in fear, those living without hope?

Help me to remember that government can never be the whole solution. Well-intended social aid is both a demonstration and a reminder of the generous spirit of this country, an example of what we want to stand for as a nation.

But the exchange, too often, tarnishes the mutual love of a gift freely given and graciously received. Maybe not always, but too often — and almost by its nature — such public aid preempts heart touching heart. The personal charity that blesses both the giver and recipient, too often, goes missing. And in our increasingly secularized world, aid programs erect a barriers between giver and recipient. Instead of love offered, love returned, love passed on to others, we are left with a cold, dehumanizing transaction where the dignity of the recipient is stripped, the giver feels extorted and coerced, and the life-giving breath of God’s grace is choked out.

Without Your participation, Holy Lord, evil enters and upends the beauty of our intent. More and more fingers of corruption and agents of self-dealing insinuate themselves, stealing the essence of the gifts and passing on only foul, despoiled remnants of Your original love.

And the demons dance with glee. As they sew chaos and confusion on our streets, disdain and division into the hearts of Your innocent, unsuspecting ones, they delight in our impotence and misunderstanding.

We need You, Holy Father. I pray that You send Your firm, but gentle touch to heal us, Your steady hand to guide us. Send us, I pray, the healing light of Your love. Make it shine so brightly in our world that evil quivers in submission, releases its hold on us, and yields way to Your hegemony. Oh Lord of all things, unite us into one body, one love, in and through Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died that we might live in the fullness of Your glory.

In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.

Love You. Trust You. Look to You. Rely on You.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good afternoon, Father. Thank You for this beautiful day that You’ve given us in Your mercy and Your delight.

My daughter continues to be sad about her favorite pet’s and other’s recent deaths in her life and she’s still suffering from the flu. Now upon her return to work, she is feeling as thought she’s still ‘running on empty,’ emotionally, and very unappreciated and taken for granted.

And she probably is being taken for granted. Poor sweet girl. You know what’s going on, don’t You, Father?

So, what is the message You’re sending her? Can I help carry it to her for You? I felt at Mass this morning as though I had an insight from You that might be helpful for her. If it is Your will that I should talk with her about this, please help me to recall and recapture the thread and then, to find a way to express it to her that is pleasing to You and that resonates with her.

I tried to think about what You want for her to understand. It seems as though life has been piling an extraordinary number of challenges on her lately. At the same time, I feel as though there’s always a message from You somewhere in the midst of our strife — similar to the pony in a room full of horse manure — and maybe that’s the analogy that will resonate with her. She’s familiar with this story from childhood.

Where’s the blessing for her in all that has gone on in her life over the last several weeks?

I considered this morning that if I were to name my daughter’s greatest passion in life (so far), it would have to be service and caring for those too weak to care for themselves…animals being somewhere near the top of her list. She has always wanted to do things for people and she has always cared about rescuing people and animals in trouble.

I don’t think her motivation starts out being service or rescue in order to be recognized as a server or a rescuer. But like so many of us, when the recognition of our good works doesn’t come, the gratitude for our help isn’t expressed, we can become disappointed, dis-spirited. Not only that, but later, when we need others’ help in return or the understanding of another or just someone’s patience while we make our way through our own misery and sorrow, then, when our favors are not reciprocated, resentment and anger can well up in us.

Often, since we didn’t give or serve or rescue or exercise patience for the sake of recognition in the first place, the anger and resentment are followed quickly by guilt for being the one needing another’s understanding,…and yet…sigh.

It’s a nasty circle of neediness and dependence, Father. You understand. You’ve watched this tendency in us humans to look to other humans for our sense of well-being. It’s been like this ever since You created our first parents and they failed You in the garden. But today, even as You promised them back then, we have only to lift our eyes to You to find You watching us. We only have to call on Your name to be reminded that You know and see everything we do — each act of kindness, each act of forgiveness, each act of patience, each act of service in aid of another — You see it all and You bless us each time with Your love and Your comfort.

So why, right now, are You allowing her to feel so unappreciated, such sadness?

Is it Your way of helping her to lift her eyes to You? To seek only Your appreciation, Your blessing. To recognize that the only faithful, constant, true love we will ever experience is Your love, the love You have for us. To know, with everything that we are, that it is You who sends us out into the world, to serve You, Lord, as You bless others through our actions and our words.

Yours is the blessing, not ours. It is You who gives, You who serves, You who forgives. We are only Your vessels through which You act here on earth. So often, Father, others whom are blessed by You through us do not even realize they’ve been blessed. They may even think they deserve all that they’ve received from us. But still it’s Your blessing, Father, not ours. Yours to give. Yours to judge. All Yours.

So, are we to simply act to allow Your blessings to flow through us without any attachment to the quality of others’ reception, any expectation of a favor returned?

Yes, I think so. If they appreciate us, so be it. Glory to You, Lord.

If they do not, no worry, no shame. We have already received our reward by virtue of allowing You to break into our lives and to use us.

Our reward is Your presence here with us as we follow our passion — in M’s case to serve and to rescue.

In Your compassion, Father, — literally translated as You being with us in our passion — You are with us, around us, walking next to us, helping us to carry our burdens (all the elements of our passion — our fervor, our joy, our rage, our misery, our sorrow, our ecstasy, our suffering), helping us to carry the crosses of our passion.

What I sense You wanting her to understand — because she is so close now to lifting the veil that obscures Your beautiful mystery — is that You’re right there with her. All the time with her.

She has only to look up with her spiritual eyes, to clear the film blurring her spiritual vision and there’ll You’ll be: arms out-stretched, longing to enfold her in Your warmth and Your loving embrace, excited to explain to her all the ways in which You are calling her to Yourself, all the ways in which You envision using her here on earth in service to You, aching to share in her pain — for that’s what passion is really, isn’t it, Father? pain? When others ignore her or disregard her service or her contributions or her insights or when they scold her for her goodness or try to entrap her in their lies and misrepresentations, just as they did with Jesus, Your Son, when he walked here on earth with us — aching to help her know how very good and beautiful she is, how beautiful her heart is in Your sight — both in our physical reality and in Your spiritual sight.

Your way is so simple, Father, yet so difficult: Love You. Trust You. Look to You. Rely on You.

And when people here on earth don’t respond or worse, respond in hurtful ways, we must turn to You again and again and yet again. Love You. Trust You. Look to You. Rely on You.

All is Yours, heavenly Lord. All goodness, all righteousness, all beauty, all truth. Thank You for allowing us to share in this spiritual reality with You, Father, and to come finally to rest in You, to come finally to find our peace in Your grace.

I pray all this in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thank You, Father.

All that I am is Yours

Born into dysfunction
and disease
and disinformation,
I entered blind
and lame
and dumb
To Your will and to Your perfect love.

Oh Lord, I didn’t know You.

I didn’t know how to search for You
Or what to look for.

I didn’t know who to ask,
Nor even the right questions
To learn about You.

Crippled by my ignorance
Vulnerable in my loneliness,
I leaned on frail and fragile crutches.
They didn’t save me from stumbling.
They didn’t protect me from falling,
Over and over again.

Into this hopeless wasteland,
Oh God,
You sent Your Son
And through Him, Your Holy Spirit.
He comforted me and called me to You.

Now, each time I misunderstand,
Each time I mis-step
Or seek direction from the sin-filled sources,
As I continue to do in my unknowingness,
You brake my fall.
You shield me.
You teach me what to search for,
How to seek,
How to recognize Your precious face.
You teach me how to listen,
How to hear Your Holy Word,
Even in the the chaos and cacophony of our world.

Good and gracious Lord
There are not words sufficient to express my gratitude.

All I have to offer You
Are the consequences of Your gifts to me —
My joy,
My reverence,
My obedience,
My humility,

As I realize again and again
All I have is Yours.
All that I am
Is because of You and Your grace.

How could I possibly lift my voice
Or my mind
Or my heart in anger or frustration,
Oh my God,
Knowing, as You have allowed me to do,
That all that I am
Is Yours.

Divine anticipation

That feeling.
That sense of excitement.
Of an inexplicable, almost physical knowingness.
Signaling something momentous is about to happen.
Something extraordinary.

I have naught to do but wait
In the full incredulous knowledge that
You are at work and
About to reveal Yourself
In my life,
In the world,
In Your perfect answer to prayer.

Your answer will be thrilling.
Filled with such beauty and perfection.
A tapestry.
So complex
So vivid
So complete
Surpassing any of my dreamy fantasies.
Fulfilling desires I didn’t know I had,
Confirming dreams, I’d not dared to dream.

Thank You, Father.

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.