Be a human bridge

Are you calling me Lord to participate in a sort of human bridge in these times? One that begins to span the chasms of our culture? Bridging races, classes, cultures, politics, religions? Spanning all the ways that we participate in separating ourselves from one another? How best, where best can I serve You on this bridge?

Don’t hold anger or animus or jealousy or fear in your heart, my daughter, for those who don’t understand or believe, as you have come to believe. Hold everyone in love and caring. Allow your words to help prepare them gently for the conversion I alone have planned for them. Allow your words and your actions to soften their hearts as they brush against the divinity with which I have embued and blessed your soul.

My purpose for you, my daughter, is to be my light as I send you forth in the world. Tell others of the bridge in which I’ve called you to participate. Tell them the stories I will place on your way and in your heart. Tell them these stories lovingly, not to exclude or to lord, but to demonstrate and encourage and light the way of others I will send to you.

My purpose for you is a holy purpose. There will be crosses for you to bear along the way, but you will have my loving guidance and direction and support, my abundant grace. I will use these times to help you learn and to understand me better. Do not fear. I alone command the storms of your life. I will help you carry the burdens you face. I alone will lead you home and show you how to live fully in my sacred heart.

Amen. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thank You, gracious Lord.

“For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Good morning, Father.

In Your Word last week, You called us to be like little children.

Matthew 19:13-15 – Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

As I have been working to finally finish framing old family photos for our wall at home, I found myself fascinated with photos of our family when I was still little, before and just on the cusp of my age of reason.

The soft look in my eyes (even in those photos that where posed by a photographer), the slight upturn of my mouth, just hinting at a smile. When the rest of my family was obediently saying “cheese,” with their big open-mouthed smiles, mine stayed more hidden somehow. My eyes betrayed something — a depth of some sort — that seemed to overwhelm the photographer’s ability to direct the appearance of the rest of my face.

I have tried to couple those early views of myself, Father, with early memories— those times and events and words that stand-out from back then.

My earliest memory has always been at age three or so, when, walking with my mother, we witnessed a dog being hit by a bus. My mother shielded me from seeing anything but the initial impact. She told me not to look. Still, her fierce protection couldn’t make me un-hear the bus’s impact or the dog’s yelp or, indeed, to un-see the hit itself.

Fast forward several years and I was making mud pies with the little boy next door. My father came to fetch me asking what I was doing. I told him we were making special healing cakes for the little puppy (the little guy was part of a litter of bigger, healthier-seeming pups.) My father said he thought I’d always feel sorry for the ‘runt of the litter.’ I didn’t really know what he meant at the time, but his tone of voice made me sure he didn’t particularly approve.

Around that same time, we were all on a long day of shopping in a nearby city, a special time for the whole family to be together. I remember toward the bottom of the afternoon being so sleepy, probably whiny, too.

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to crawl under one of the garment carousels and curl up to sleep, but that’s where they finally found me. I understand now how terrified my parents must have been — not unlike when Mary and Joseph lost Your Son, Father — but back then, I can vaguely remember feeling like it was a good place to stay out of everyone’s way. Still, the spanking I received when we got home (Dad made sure I had several hours to consider what I’d done and the consequences that awaited me) was given with a clear message that my behavior put myself at risk and left those around me to worry without cause (Dad didn’t ponder things in his heart quite the way Mary did, but he encouraged me to.)

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with anything, Father, except that I can remember that little girl cared for the injured and the weak and puny and, even though I made my parents worry, my intention had not been to hide, so much as to stay out of everyone’s way.

I know I’m given to introspection, Father, maybe more than most, maybe too much. Yet, I want to know — as clearly as You allow me to, gracious Lord — who You originally created me to be, before my age of reason. Before I learned to sneak around, to lie, to do things I knew clearly I wasn’t supposed to do, to seek approval from the in-crowd, to lose Your way for me in search of my own. Before the fear.

Is it possible to recapture that person, that little girl, to whom the Kingdom of heaven belonged so long ago.

Answered prayer

A while back, I prayed for Your guidance, Father, on how to share my faith — how to evangelize, even though that seems WAY too big a word for what I think I’m capable of.

Not long after, You answered me through a daily meditation published in Word Among Us magazine. You knew I read the prescribed daily scripture readings there, along with Word Among Us meditations on each day’s readings. Before all the busy-ness of the day takes hold of my attention, these readings — Your Word — help give me focus each day.

On this day Your Word was right on point with an answer to my earlier prayer. How could You be clearer, Lord, about sharing my faith? Thank You.

And to help me remember over and over again going forward, here’s what You said to me in that day’s meditation:

When they came to the town they reported everything. (Matthew 8:33)

Shouting demoniacs, possessed pigs, sprinting swineherds, and terrified townspeople—this has to be one of the most colorful stories in Matthew’s Gospel! But did you know that this is also the first story about Gentiles sharing the good news about Jesus? Imagine you were there when the swineherds raced into the town square to tell their story after they had encountered Jesus:

“You’ll never believe what happened! There we were, tending our pigs away from the tombs because we knew about those two demoniacs. But a group of men speaking Aramaic came ashore and got out of a boat—and the demoniacs charged right at them, screaming something about being tormented! The men didn’t run away. Instead, the man in front started gesturing toward our pigs. The next thing we know, our entire herd went racing toward the cliff and threw themselves into the sea. Every one of them drowned! We were terrified. How could this stranger do that?

“Right after that happened, we could see the demoniacs, but they weren’t violent any more. They seemed peaceful, calm. Even happy. And this man, this foreigner, had something to do with it. We just had to tell everyone! Who could this man be?”

Sometimes evangelism is simply sharing what has happened to you, what you have observed or experienced. The swineherds give us an example of what it looks like to share the good news, but for each one of us, it will be different. That’s because each of our stories is different!

But don’t forget; the townspeople weren’t half as enthusiastic as the swineherds. They ran to Jesus—and begged him to leave! They responded with fear, not faith. These townspeople show us that the response of our audience is not in our control.

You may not see the response you’re hoping for when you try to share your faith. But don’t worry. All you can do—all God asks you to do—is share what you’ve seen and heard. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to inspire a response.

Each one of us has a story. Whatever yours is, share it! (Emphasis added)

Jesus, you are amazing. Give me the chance to tell people what I have seen.”

And yet, I’ve needed continued reassurance and encouragement that this is Your desire for me. I’ve needed continual reminders to get myself and my ego out of the way and let You do the work; let You write the words; let You touch others’ hearts; let You use me to Your purposes.

At times, I’ve needed You to strengthen my faith, even as I feed my own fears.

Thank You, Holy Lord, for not losing patience with me, and for continually reminding me that evangelization may a too big word for what I think I’m capable of, but it’s You — always You, Father — who makes every thing I say or do have meaning and value.

The breath of God?

I recalled just now my time at the gym yesterday. As I try to do each day when I’m on the treadmill, I prayed and tried to open my consciousness to God’s presence in that place, in each person, even in all the technology of the aerobic machines.

It mostly started as a hypothetical quandry: If God is in all things, then He must be in this place, this gym, as well…even amidst all the sweat and the noise and the busyness of the rooms full of people working hard to be healthy and fit.

The opening of my spirit to the sense of His presence made my time lighter and, at once, more alive with possibilities. The sense that others there with me, engrossed in their own music or stories coming through their earphones, were His children too led me. Is that woman there aware of her holy lineage? Does that gentleman contemplate anything beyond what he is hearing, how his muscles begin to ache, how much longer he has before he can move on? Am I just projecting my own sentiments on to others? Probably, though we’re all similar in so many ways.

I thought to talk about all this with God as I alternately walked and ran on my machine. I asked Him where He was in this space.

And as I was becoming increasingly steamy myself from my own exercise, I felt this cool breeze blow gently on my face. I know the air conditioning unit just in front of me and overhead had kicked into a different gear, but its breeze gave me the momentary sense that God had answered me with a cooling breath of air.

No matter where I am, He is with me

Merton’s meditation for this first Tuesday in Lent discusses books and how we can be blessed by others’ words and experiences…or not.

It struck home for me. I am just finishing my first mystery novel, since reading Fr. James Martin’s, Jesuit Guide last year. I wrote about the effect the Jesuit Guide had on me and on my walk a while back. I described there how it prompted me to begin this blog.

Martin’s writing (since the Jesuit Guide, I’ve read just about everything he’s written) falls into Merton’s category of writing by “good men.” He says these type of writers “hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.”

Brother Lawrence’s writing and Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Merton’s own writing and so many of you who share your stories and insights in our virtual world all fall into this category, this place where I ‘find myself’ by reading them.

Merton describes two other categories of writing: “Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us,” he says. Amen to that.

On the other end of the spectrum he cautions that “Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill.”

The particular mystery novel I’m currently reading falls into the latter category. Still, the quality of desolation associated with the story — the despair of the characters, their fear at having long-held secrets exposed, the unlikeable nature of even the central character, and, therefore, of the writer, who speaks through her — all provide their own negative lessons. It does nothing to uplift one’s spirit. On the contrary, it makes vivid why we weep for so much of our world — for the anger and fear and violence and deceit and impotence felt by so many, who feed and encourage the evil-doers among us.

I guess I don’t feel a need to eschew all mystery novels forevermore. The attitude and spirit we bring to our reading, I think, has as much to do with their effect on us as any of the meta-messages of the writer.

The take-away for me, especially during Lent, is to remember to include Our Father in all my activities — even when I’m reading otherwise vacuous fiction — to ask for His blessing and His grace and His Light — His presence with me — in even my most mundane activities.

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.

Surrender ourselves to God, who is in all things

Thomas Merton in his Lenten Prayer, Seeking God in All Things, says God’s presence isn’t found just in our intellectual recognition of Him, nor even in our “contemplative illumination.” God is found, as well he says, in other believers who love and serve Him – people like all of you, whom I’m coming to know in this virtual world He’s created.

God can be found in all things about us – from the smallest grain of sand to the greatest mountain, from the littlest and most wretched among us to the most worthy.

We begin to find God, Merton says, as we surrender ourselves to Him, who is “in all things and through all things and above all things.

Surrender” – this word, in particular, caught my attention as I was reading Merton’s meditation. What does this mean, to surrender? As I go about my day, how do I put that concept to work?

I get surrendering to the fact that I might have to stand in a long line at the grocery store or the bank. Especially if I make the mistake of leaving my shopping until after 3:00, when all the high school kids get out of school.

I can even at my better times brighten the general atmosphere around me by smiling and being understanding and cordial. And even in those times when I get grumpy, I at least know I’m feeling or, worse, acting like a ‘witch with a capital B,’ (as my southern cousin’s been known to say).

But there are other times that my sense of purpose is not so clear. What about with other drivers who, it seems, want to rewrite the ‘rules of the road’ on the spot – okay, for them, I’ll mostly move out of the way. If I’m having a particularly good day, I’ll try to exercise some degree of compassion or understanding for whatever circumstance is bringing out their NASCAR aspirations.

But what about that guy the other morning who blew the four-way stop without even a tap on the brake. Who proceeded to cut off another driver as he rounded the corner. Who then sped up a 25-mile per hour street going at least 50 mph. Whose license number, car make and model I duly noted, as we were both stopped at a traffic light?

That guy I reported to our local police – we’re a small community blessedly and can still ask the police to do this sort of thing. When I called it in, I was assured that someone would go have a little chat with the fellow. Does that count as ‘surrender?’

Or what about the doctors office, who takes the liberty of charging an extra $250 to discuss an issue my doctor coded as ‘non-routine.’ The appointment still lasted less than the 30-minutes allotted for a routine appointment – do I just pay the bill, or do I push back a bit?

You guessed it. I pushed back. But with the greatest amount of Ignatian detachment, I was able to muster. I don’t so much fault the individuals involved, as I do a truly messed up health care system within which they’re operating. What does surrender look like in situations like these?

Tomorrow’s Lenten reflection may hold a glimmer of an answer.

For today, I just want to note for the record that ‘surrender,’ for those of us living in a very noisy and broken world, is a concept that is not so very clear.

Or maybe it’s clear and I just don’t like the answer. What do you think?

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.”