Learning to pray

Today’s reading is on prayer…how to pray and the story of how You taught Your disciples to pray.

I pray I’ve learned to pray, Father, to come to You, turn to You with complete trust in Your perfect love for me. It’s similar to that feeling a small child has for a parent. You’re so much more, Father, but it’s a way into that transcendent feeling in which You seem to take over and carry me and my thoughts and inspire my mind and heart to places I’d not otherwise find as I go about my day.

My thoughts become ordered, more clear. My feelings, which can seem a chaotic mass of confusion, loosen and separate from one another. They become unknotted, pliant, subject to an order that eludes me on my own. And my sight begins to clear, my ears unclog, my nerve endings, at times so frayed (so afraid?), and finally my breathing calms in a deep sigh and I know You’ve found me and entered that holy place that You’ve begun in me.

I pray that through Your grace that I may be made worthy of Your love, that I can be the ark here on earth that You created me to be. I pray that through the storms that surround and threaten our lives You have a safe haven in me through which to bring peace and light to others You will place on my path. And I give thanks, Holy Lord, that You’ve chosen me to be Your own.

Here I am, Lord

Holy Father,

Here I am, Lord. Please be here with me.

Even though my heart is burdened with the minutiae of my day and the continuing onslaught of evil in our world, please help me to quiet my mind and my heart, so I might experience Your presence here, so I might hear Your voice.

You are my only audience, my first and only love. Help me to keep my eyes and my heart fixed on You, and on Your purpose. Always grateful. Always faithful. Always Yours.

When the errands and the chores and the service to others call out for my attention, help me, Holy Lord, to turn first to Your beautiful face. Help me to pause to receive the gracious blessing that I know awaits me from You.

Be with me, Father, as I go and do today. Guide my thoughts and my words and my actions. Prepare them, strengthen my trust in You. Build the muscle of my knowingness — certain that You are everything I need, confident that You will provide everything I need to go about the tasks You given me to do today.

And wherever evil lurks, Holy Lord, lead me away, or so surround me with the light of Your Holy protection that I might find swift, safe passage. Or if is Your will, heavenly Lord, for me to act as one of Your defenders as I go, strengthen me to Your purpose that I might respond to hate with love, to false accusation and recriminations with understanding and forgiveness, and to despair with hope.

In Christ’s name I pray. Amen

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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.

Sowing (and sacrificing) seeds of Your love and mercy

My Holy Lord,

Bless me, Father, this day, and my words and actions to Your holy purpose.

It’s my sister’s birthday today. And currently she’s upset with me. When that happens, she cuts herself off from me and avoids our conversations. I think I know the most recent cause.

I sent her one of Bishop Barron’s homilies on Spiritual and Religious. She and I had had a conversation in which she had told me she really didn’t believe in Christ and Christianity; that she was “spiritual.”

Bishop Barron’s homily on this precise subject was so gentle and welcoming and clear. We can find God in all things, all places, but only in Christ are we able to enter into a personal relationship with You. Only through Christ do You call us to be You own, heirs to Your kingdom, Your adopted children, part of Your family. When we are chosen by You, all we have to do is say ‘yes,’ and believe and submit our will to Yours.

Well, Bishop Barron said it all better than I have. But the upshot upon hearing his homily was my desire to share it with my sister since it spoke to precisely the issues she and I had been discussing. It felt as though You were encouraging me to act, to evangelize Your truth to her.

Sadly, as has happened before, my words were not only rebuffed, but a rift resulted. So, I’m confused. I don’t seemed to know how to share You with others, without causing relationships to be severed.

I don’t think this is Your desire…and yet…

Maybe You want me to sow these seeds and shake up the worlds of these people You call me to evangelize. Disturb them enough that You’re able to get their attention. Maybe my relationship with each of them is the sacrifice (long or short-term) that is required to save their souls.

I pray that You bless her on her birthday today and help me to let her know that I love her, despite how troubled her feelings may be about me and You.

Yours first, holy Lord, Your voice and teaching. Then I’ll go help Martha in the kitchen.

My Dear Lord,

I have felt great sympathy for Martha (Luke 10:41) over the last week. I tried to take the time to sit at your feet as Mary did, listening for Your voice, and reading Your daily word. But our time here, where You sit beside me as I write — such precious time — was sacrificed to serving our out-of-town guests.

The week left me exhausted, spent. The 24-hour presence of others to serve and to enjoy wore heavily, as we two couples shared our meals, our housing, our time, stories, music, travel.

I was left feeling incredibly inadequate as a servant and host, not because I did not serve our friends and make them welcome, but because rather than being uplifted and enlivened in my service, I was often left grumpy, stressed, frustrated by one thing or another, then, disappointed with my own behavior or words.

I think my sin-filled humanity dimmed, maybe even extinguished, the light of Your divinity in me.

I am sorry, Father. No wonder You choose to have me spend so much of my time in introspection and writing, where you give me time to consider with greater care my words and thoughts. I’m not yet well equipped to represent You as You deserve in real time with others. I don’t yet retain the calm and peace of Your spirit, allowing it clear passage to shine through my interior darkness.

Forgive me, Father. And bless me with Your gentle direction. Only with Your help and grace may I remember how to be, no matter my circumstances; whose I am, first and always; and only then, the holy purpose You have for me, when You place others on my path.

As St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata would pray, help me to give what You ask and to accept what You give, all with joy and a big smile.

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

All my day is Yours, Lord…But this time right now, when I am able to write with You without fear of interruption

My dear sweet Lord,

All of my day is Yours for You to do with as You wish, according to Your will. At my best all my time begins and ends with You — seeking to serve You better, being the person You created me to be, learning to discern Your will for me, sharing Your Light as I go about my daily responsibilities.

I am only ever able to be anywhere, do anything as a result of Your grace, Holy Father.

But this time right now, when I am able to write to You without fear of being interrupted, when I can focus on our conversation and lose myself in Your Way is most precious. I pray You bless this time to Your purpose. Draw me closer and closer to Your perfect heart. In Your good time, I pray You’ll prepare me for greater and greater holiness.

Your words — the words You give me here as I transcribe them — fill me with such wonder. Every so often they let me glimpse, just for a brief moment, the woman You created me to be, the woman I know You love so very much. And for just that brief moment, I come to love her too.

Capturing these words — these thoughts and images that You share with me — are rather like lines in a sketch, where the artist must ‘feather’ in images, defining and refining the light as it glows through the shadows.

So, too, for Your words here. I don’t always capture them just right the first time, do I, Father. Instead, when I’m seeking Your voice and Your grace through my writing, I have to ‘feather’ the words and images, which You place in my heart. Often Your Light is revealed only as I fumble for a while with darkness and shadow.

And then, as if by some miracle of Your grace, there, hidden in some unsuspected phrase, I’ll be surprised by a beautifully constructed thought, or be blessed by the goodness of Your mercy or understand more deeply a new, yet foundational truth, which insight could only have come from You.

Glory to You, my precious Lord, for this time alone together.

All of my day is Yours

My dear sweet Lord,

All of my day is Yours for You to do with as You wish, according to Your will. At my best all my time begins and ends with You — seeking to serve You better, being the person You created me to be, learning to discern Your will for me, sharing Your Light as I go about my daily responsibilities.

I am only ever able to be anywhere, do anything as a result of Your grace, Holy Father.

But this time right now, when I am able to write to You without fear of being interrupted, when I can focus on our conversation and lose myself in Your Way is most precious. I pray You bless this time to Your purpose. Draw me closer and closer to Your perfect heart. In Your good time, I pray You’ll prepare me for greater and greater holiness.

Your words — the words You give me here as I transcribe them — fill me with such wonder. Every so often they let me glimpse, just for a brief moment, the woman You created me to be, the woman I know You love so very much. And for just that brief moment, I come to love her too.

Capturing these words — these thoughts and images that You share with me — are rather like lines in a sketch, where the artist must ‘feather’ in images, defining and refining the light as it glows through the shadows.

So, too, for Your words here. I don’t always capture them just right the first time, do I, Father. Instead, when I’m seeking Your voice and Your grace through my writing, I have to ‘feather’ the words and images, which You place in my heart. Often Your Light is revealed only as I fumble for a while with darkness and shadow.

And then, as if by some miracle of Your grace, there, hidden in some unsuspected phrase, I’ll be surprised by a beautifully constructed thought, or be blessed by the goodness of Your mercy or understand more deeply a new, yet foundational truth, which insight could only have come from You.

Glory to You, my precious Lord, for this time alone together.

On evangelization

Dear Holy Father,

I was listening to Bishop Barron on evangelization this morning as I walked at the gym. He emphasized how we are all called to evangelize and went ahead to define some of the parameters of how and when and with whom.

You have tried to lead me on this in the past. I don’t know if I’m just thick or whether You’re not ready for me to venture out in the ways I have attempted, but I continue to feel a fair bit of confusion about the how and when and with whom aspects of it all.

I feel pretty certain that You have taught me that ‘I can’t show what I don’t know.” That I need my own training first before I can speak confidently about Christ.

And I feel like I have tried to demonstrate my love for You by my actions and what it is I spend my time and talent and treasure on, by how I live my life. So far, so good. But it feels there is more that I could do, should do to engage others and encourage their query about how You might fit into their lives.

Several instances come to mind of when I have stepped out with the tiniest of little toes to test the shallowest of waters of others’ receptivity.

Relatives

My sister, in particular, responded to me in a recent conversation saying, ‘I wish you wouldn’t talk that way. I don’t know how to talk with you when you talk like that.’ I don’t remember precisely what we were talking about, but it had something to with my faith experience. That time and a couple of others she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to engage with me on the subject of faith. I haven’t told her yet that by saying this, she’s preempted from our relationship the most important part of my life and who I am. I probably will at some point, but it has so far seemed a hard message to deliver (for me) without seeming accusatory.

I thought about a homily from Bishop Barron that I’ve heard recently on how to speak about our faith. His suggestion is to lead with beauty and that goodness and truth … maybe even unity will follow. I have yet to understand what this means for me or how to apply this in my own speech.

Close Friends and Family

For reasons that You and I have discussed before, Father, I have begun to wear a chapel veil whenever I’m in church in Your presence. It feels right. It has an almost healing effect. It helps me to feel more humble, to act and think with greater humility and charity, to remember to continually put my ego away, to be hidden, to focus all my attention on You, to allow Your word, Your spirit to find a more welcoming home in me.

As would happen, we attended church with friends and I wore my veil. It was noticed. But it quickly became obvious that it was not a topic either of them were comfortable mentioning or asking me about. You intervened and gave me an opportunity to broach the subject with the other wife while our husbands were off somewhere. She was polite, but showed little curiosity about this most important, sweetest part of my life. So there was no further chance to discuss these small ways that I am being drawn closer and closer to You. It often causes me to feel disconnected and detached from people who have been some of my closest friends over the years.

Several months later: Maybe the veil and other ways I demonstrate my love for You are just seeds planted and the rest is up to You. Wanting to continue to not only have a role of some sort in others’ growth in their relationship with You, but to be somehow credited for it, is just my ego getting in the way of Your purpose. If feeling alienated or divided from others is an outcome of sin, then the sin in this case must be my own egotistical need for power and influence. Instead, I should be thankful for the opportunity You gave me to share my faith and leave the rest to You. Thank you, Father.

Others

Several years ago when You first engulfed me with Your overwhelming love for me, I began a blogging website. I practiced it for a couple of years. But my energy for it dried up. I’ve since been certain that I had allowed this work to become more about me and not nearly enough about You in my life.

Now, today, several years hence, I’m still sorting how to You want me to proceed. Starting and stopping doesn’t feel right. One of the lessons I feel You have been trying to teach me, Holy Father, throughout the years is if I’m confused or lack clarity of Your purpose, it’s probably not time yet to venture out.

So, heavenly Father, I pray that You help convict my spirit for how to move forward. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Two months later:

Hallelujah. Thank you, Father,

You answered this prayer at last night’s vigil service. Our priest, in persona Christi, spoke of how we are called to evangelize and to spread the good news. It felt as though he was speaking directly to me when he spoke of the new technology You have given to the world. Through the internet we all have an immense opportunity to reach people far flung throughout the world. He said we might not ever know who benefits from our work or our words. Their effect may not even be felt until long after we’re gone from this earth. He said it was a holy calling, just as You have been trying to say to me here. He spoke to me — You spoke to me — loudly and clearly.

And I sat there transfixed. I’ve heard it all before, of course, but this time it clicked. I knew it was You speaking personally, directly to me, answering my prayers for spiritual direction and clarity.

Thank you Father.

And so I pray. It’s a powerful act.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a particular individual in my life. She is mostly a kind, loyal, caring, considerate, and faithful lover of God.

On the one hand.

On the other, I have had daily opportunities to observe her world over the last year. As we’ve shared our lives over Facebook and email, I find she devotes an amazing amount of her time and energy mocking, scorning, laughing at, openly ridiculing others she encounters in her community and online.

She passes along shock talk – “news” of the day, unvetted for accuracy or authenticity…think of the online equivalents of newspaper tabloids from which most of us attempt to avert our eyes while standing in the grocery line – with questions and comments like, “Have you seen this? What do you think? Do you believe this? Does she really think this looks good? What on earth was she thinking? This girl must hate herself to dye her hair that color. It just makes my heart hurt.”

I share her last sentiment.

The stories or, worse, the pictures, presumably serve to support her perspective on some issue of the day. Pick one: Race relations, immigration policy, Islamist terror threats, people who look different, people who dress different, issues of human suffering of all kinds.

As a person of words, many come to mind in immediate response. I’ve so far held my tongue/pen/keyboard. Thankfully, I have found a button at the top right of all Facebook posts that allows me to block specific types of posts that she chooses to share, allowing me to avoid the temptation of response altogether.

And before I go further, while you’re probably rolling your eyes wondering why I don’t just cut her from my list of FB friends, she’s the wife of a relative. I haven’t wanted to ruffle the calm waters of our extended family relations. Still, it sometimes feels as though I could/should do/say something….maybe?

Her vitriol is so evident some days that I have picked up the phone a couple of times to call and chat with her and learn if there’s something in particular that is making her so unhappy. These calls haven’t seemed to be especially helpful. It’s highly likely that I’m not gifted in the particular way needed in order to reach out to her verbally. It certainly never feels like a comfortable calling, but more like an unwelcome obligation.

So, I pray. Prayer’s a powerful act.

I pray for her and others like her. Unfortunately, she’s not unusual.

And yet, it seems sometimes I should do more, go further, try harder, understand better.

I talked with my husband this morning (bless him and thanks to God for speaking to me through him.) He suggested that I read verses from the book of James.

James describes our tongues this way:

…the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Check!

…Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.

Check again.

As I read these verses I realized they weren’t just describing others’ tongues, they were speaking to me, too.

I hope you’ll all consider offering your counsel on this. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and suggestions…and, if not those, your prayers.

I read on in James and he offers us some direction:

… If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom… wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others…

I always want to be this way, but there are so many times that I try and fail.

[Wisdom] is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

I can feel myself breathing deeper and beginning to stand down metaphorically from my very high horse.

James continues:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

It’s not mine to judge. Thank heaven.

So I pray. It’s a powerful act.

I pray that His goodness touches her heart and fills her being so full that her first thoughts consider kindly those who are not like her;

I pray that her first feelings are feelings of compassion for others’ unknown and misunderstood burdens…that her first act is to pray for them.

I pray for myself and for each of us. It’s a powerful act.

I pray we learn how to see others not as foreigners in our country or in our community, our tribe, our family…that we not see others as foreign to our selves. I pray that we choose instead to open our hearts to the unity in which God created us.

I pray we each attempt to fathom, if only dimly, the brotherhood and sisterhood—the family—into which we have all been created by our One Father, our One Creator.

I pray His forgiveness for forgetting our roles. He created us in love, intending that we greet one another—no matter our differences or affronts or provocations—that we reach out and greet one another in love.

He intended that we embrace one another as joint heirs of His kingdom —each of us uniquely loved by Him, each uniquely gifted by His grace, each uniquely chosen and shared with others as gifts from our perfect Benefactor.

So I pray. It’s a powerful act.

Therefore, I’m Joyful

Last Sunday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It is known as Gaudete Sunday, or Joy Sunday, a day of rejoicing in the Lord’s coming.

In his “A Spirituality of HomecomingHenri Nouwen says, “How do we live out the joy Christ offers us? Celebration!

He goes on to say that, “But beyond these … celebrations, we are invited to develop an ongoing awareness that every moment is special and deserves to be recognized as a gift from the God with whom we share a home.

In his homily tonight our priest reflected on Joy. As I listened I recalled a prayer I wrote last fall. Just as Henri suggests in The Genessee Diary, “real joy wants to share.” I was overjoyed to have an appropriate occasion to share my prayer with all of you this Sunday. It’s called, Therefore, I’m Joyful:

You have given me this new day, Father,
Today, it is filled with sunshine and promise and potential.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You paint my world with vibrant colors in every season.
You send me constantly the gifts of Your beauty, Your bounty, and Your love.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You have given me my loving husband and children and friends.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You have taken me to be Your child.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You constantly assure me of Your presence here with me.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You constantly show me Your love for me.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You send me Your gifts of heartache and loss,
And with them, You remind me to lean on You,
To be lifted up again and again by Your strength.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You send me Your gifts of challenge and frustration,
And with Your added grace, You help me to forgive.

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You have allowed me to feel overwhelmed by my love for You,

Therefore, I’m joyful.

You, my heavenly Father, sent me Your Son, my brother, my Lord,
And You infused me with Your Holy Spirit
And blessed me with the “Yes” of my holy mother, Mary.

Therefore, I am filled full to the top and overflowing with the joy of Your creation.

I pray this 3rd Sunday and all of Advent that He blesses all of you with the love and joy that passes all understanding. I pray that your holy ministries of sharing His good news blossom and bless you as we all watch and wait for the coming of our Lord.