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.

 

Obedience: Ordinary things are made holy and great when we desire His will

It’s early morning again. I’m reading Merton’s journal for April 1 where he discusses obedience.

Book Cover

I found myself savoring one particular sentence where he wrote,

But in so far as we desire, with Christ, that the Father’s will may be done in us, as it is in heaven and in Christ, then even the smallest and most ordinary things are made holy and great. (highlighting added)

This recent time has been a one of waiting and worry, of deepening concern where I must learn (and relearn it seems with each new day) to trust and have faith, to lean on and submit to Him whose will I desire above all things. As each day has passed, my prayers for what I thought was desirable have gone seemingly unanswered and yet I know He has heard me.

I know this just because. This is our faith. But, I know this, too, because along the way He has sent me many beautiful reassurances – on holy waiting and patience; on the differences between worry and prayer; and here, where Merton goes on to write:

And then in all things the love of God opens and flowers, and our lives are transformed. This transformation is a manifestation and advent of God in the world.

One of the fruits of a solitary life is a sense of the absolute importance of obeying God—a sense of the need to obey and to seek His will, to choose freely to see and accept what comes from Him, not as a last resort, but as one’s “daily super-substantial bread.” Liberation from automatic obedience into the seriousness and gravity of a free choice to submit. (highlighting added)

Accepting what our Lord provides, ‘not as a last resort,’ but as all we need and precisely what we need for that day. And not just passively accepting His will, but actively participating in His plan by making ‘a free choice to submit.’

Then, I almost laughed out loud as I read Merton’s final thought. He wrote:

But it is not easy to see always where and how!

Well, no it’s not. But our Lord loves us – even in our feeble and flawed attempts to do His will.

———————-

Another day has dawned. Another day filled with opportunities to choose first to submit to the wonder He has planned for us, to give thanks, to rejoice and be glad.

 

 

 

 

If We See God In All Things, Evil Will Find No Home In Us

To all my virtual friends, my belated, but warmly felt Easter greeting.

As I alluded to…wow, it’s been a few weeks ago, now…time is flying in my world…life has intervened and taken me, temporarily, from this platform. I miss each of you and look forward to being more present with you again soon.

My daughter and her employer agreed to part company about a month ago, which came as both a shock and a blessing. Since they gave her essentially 3 months of severance, she thankfully has had more than enough time to find other work. This resulted in the two of us flying across country to a community, which she has wanted to move to for some time.

Long story short, in less than three weeks an excellent new position was offered and accepted; a house was purchased; and she is currently packing and preparing for a cross-country drive with her dog, cat and belongings.

My tasks in support of all this are to get her current home sold and help her sort all the finance details of the purchase, while she’s on the road. We’re both flying through our respective ‘to-do’ lists.

Over the years I’ve become certain that, when barriers to movement in any particular direction are encountered that cannot be easily overcome with a simple prayer, the move is not part of God’s plan.

On the flip side, when perceived barriers arise and they seemingly dissolve before our eyes…as soon as we identify them, they disappear…I am equally certain that God’s hand is at work, parting our own personal Red Sea.

This has happened multiple times for us over the last several weeks, and is continuing as we move forward. It’s been an amazing experience that has left us breathless at times…as we have said we’ve been “whelmed”…not “overwhelmed” since we’re certain our lives are in good hands – God’s hands…but definitely whelmed!

Which brings me back to the title of this post: I have been giving much thought to thwarting evil, thinking and praying about how to pray that my daughter is not faced with evil in her new home. That’s when I felt blessed by this message:

If We See God In All Things, Evil Will Find No Home In Us

So, this is what I will pray … for her to see God in all things; to experience God with all her senses; to allow God to speak to her through all of her senses; and thereby, to so strengthen her that evil can find no footing, no home in any part of her being or her life.

My blessings on each you, too. I appreciate all the love and effort you put into to participating in this virtual community we’re forming.

Excel Workbooks and Prayerful Computing – You Be The Judge

Prayer for me has always been a struggle. I guess I’m not unusual. Like so many of us, I either fall asleep or my mind wanders off in a million different directions. And later, I seldom remember much.

What Works Is Better Than What Doesn’t…Who Knew?

When I first read of Ignatian prayer as described by Fr. James Martin in his popular book A Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything, I began to feel liberated to try other ways to have conversations with God…to pray. When later, I re-read Brother Lawrence’s letters and conversations I decided that however I manage to communicate with God…to feel His presence…is better than continuing with a method that isn’t working.

Maybe, at some later point in my growth, I’ll be evolved enough to pray more conventionally without losing focus. But for now, I opted to work with what works for me.

If my method bears similarity to an Ignatian Spiritual Examen, where you step through a series of prayerful reflections, there’s a reason…I lifted what I could remember from F. Martin’s description (without going back to the book and following it step by step…I admit to being kind of lazy about many things) and I just started right there where I was…mentally, physically, spiritually.

So, here goes…I feel like many are going to think this is just too…what, something?…too non-contemplative…too tehcno. [Editor Angel: Ok, enough procrastinating already!!]

Instead of a solely mental reflection, I type (keyboard) my thoughts as they occur to me into a computer file.

I’m wincing as I write this, anticipating everyone’s skepticism. I can feel your groans of dissent out there. But stay with me just for a minute.

Keyboarding Your Prayers

It’s true, I do start with some advantages. The main one possibly is that my loving mother insisted that I learn secretarial skills at a VERY early age…”in the unlikely and unfortunate event, dear, that you have to support yourself someday,” as she would say to me. (Say her words to yourself with just the softest southern accent and it’ll give you a more complete picture.)

Before leaving high school, I could type accurate copy at between 100 and 120 words per minute with my hands covered (so I couldn’t see the keyboard). When computer keyboards came along my speeds increased and when I’m keying my own thoughts I can fly, it seems, with my eyes closed.

But these skills aren’t necessary, one. And, two, they are learnable, like most everything else.

Choosing Your Computer Software

I use an Excel Workbook. Using the Table function in Microsoft Word or other writing software probably works too. But, I’m familiar with Excel and it has a more stable platform for large tabular files. As well, Excel allows me to file all my reflections and prayers by time period and add to the file, as much or as often as I want.

Technical Note: I copy and paste the date and column headings above each new day’s prayers. After updating the date and scrolling the page so that the column headings are as far up on the screen as possible, I put my cursor in cell A3 (right under “thank you for”) and freeze the sheet (go to Window on the main Excel ribbon and click “Freeze Panes” on the pull-down menu). This allows your headings to stay with you wherever you’re typing, rather than having to scroll up and down, to figure out which column you’re in.

Formatting Your File

My file looks like this:

Screenshot-Excel Spreadsheet

I’ve named the Workbook file “Count Your Blessings-2014.” I have a similar file for 2013. And I’ll start a new one when we reach 2015.

Each month of the year is separated into its own worksheet. You can see that there are 12 worksheet tabs at the bottom of the page — January through December. You can have as many worksheet tabs as you want…or as few.

Formatting Your Monthly Prayer Categories

In the first row, first column (upper left corner), I’ve entered a reminder myself to begin by first asking God to join me and to bless our time together. As an aspiring Catholic (which is to say a cradle Anglican who’s trying to go home), I cross myself to further affix my efforts to my devotion for God.

I then tab over one cell and type in the current date.

On the next row down I enter my broad categories of prayer into successive columns.

1. Give Thanks

Although I started with the Ignatian Examen categories for reflection, I found that when I give thanks for some good thing that has happened during my day, I will eventually think of something in the same context about which I want to ask forgiveness (I’m growing into a Catholic stereotype…guilt in all things) — either I should have acted sooner or trusted God more fully or been less fearful.

2. Ask Forgiveness

So in my sequence of praying, it feels more comforting to move directly to ask for forgiveness. Granted this could be a function of my age and diminishing ability to remember anything longer than a few seconds. But, for me, it seems to be all of a piece.

3. Ask for God’s Help

Then upon asking forgiveness, I often end up considering how I want to change and to act better in the future. This then makes me want to move to a new category of prayer within the same subject to ask for God’s help in the future.

4. Ask for God’s Blessing

Finally, I often want to ask for His blessing of others…yet a fourth category on the same general topic.

Maybe an example is in order.

Let’s take something simple like giving thanks for my daughter’s new job.

First, in the far left cell, I give thanks as I recall all the wonderful graces and joy that we shared with her in hearing the good news of her job offer.

Second, I remember that along the way to learning of her job offer, I gave into impatience and frustration, making the wait for our daughter more stressful than it already was. So I tab to the right and type my prayer for forgiveness;

And third, I tab to the right again and pray that our Father help me be more patient in the future, or at a very minimum to keep my big mouth shut so I don’t make a stressful situation worse for others.

Fourth, when I reflect again on the joy and feelings of thankfulness for her new job, I tab to the right again to pray that Our Father blesses our daughter in her new position; to help strengthen her in patience, wisdom, energy and skill.

That’s all part of and on the same row as the first prayer for thanks.

Another technical aside: I select the whole worksheet and click on “wrap text” up in the formatting toolbar. This function can also be found under the Format/Cell/Alignment on the drop-down menu in Excel. Using this function causes the size of each cell to expand to accommodate any amount of text you might need. As you know by now, I can go on and on. Some of my cells are very big by the time I’m done.

After exhausting the first conversation about something for which I’m thankful, I move on to the next and the next after that. These can be long and detailed, or short and sweet. There’s very little about this method that is ‘a must-do,’ besides showing up.

It other situations I might want to first pray for someone who is suffering or ask a blessing for myself or for someone else, without it being associated with a prayer of thanks. It’s okay. There’s nothing about this method that is cast in stone — not the categories or prayers, not the sequence, or the layout.

The same thing could be accomplished in a handwritten journal. I’ve used them in the past for prayers. And for many, this is probably a more comfortable vehicle. Writing almost requires that we slow our thought processes and function in a more contemplative way. Too, there’s something comforting and almost sensual about the act of writing that I still enjoy.

________________________________________

There’s very little about this method that is ‘a must-do,’

besides showing up.

________________________________________

And yet, this process has its advantages. I have been typing …or keyboarding… for so many years that I barely have the patience anymore with writing (I won’t bother going into the gradual arthritis that makes my hands ache when I over use them).

My experience tells me our minds actually do process thoughts faster than we can write and it can be frustrating. When I type and can keep up better with my thoughts.

As well, I have a nice tidy (kind of), space-saving computer file, which means I don’t have to go find the journal (wherever it’s gone off to) when I want to add more or re-read something from the past.

There have been times that I needed so desperately to write down my thoughts about something, that I’d go to whatever piece of paper I could find. The final product of this mess would be scrapes of paper here and there, partially filled tablets of prayers, interspersed with shopping lists, recipes, to-do lists…you get the idea.

Not so with a computer file. At the end of the day this format allows me to have all my stuff all in one place, filed neatly by time period.

More important, though, is that, as I engage in actively documenting my prayers…my communications with God…I don’t go to asleep and my mind doesn’t wander.

I will often stop and shut my eyes and just reflect on what I’m saying, consider how I want to describe a particular situation…feel God’s presence with me. I’m pretty sure He doesn’t much care how I get the job done of communicating with Him.

In these times I have a sense of comfort or revelation or conviction about some issue of concern. I’ve felt Him offer answers to my prayers. A couple of times it has even felt as though He has literally taken over my hands, as He suggests answers and thoughts for me to consider.

Ignoring Distractions

After working for nearly 35 years on a computer (and in more recent decades with email) I have learned to ignore the distractions. I either turn my email off or I alter the send/receive function to only retrieve new mail every 15 to 30 minutes. This is a huge help. If I need to get mail more frequently, I can always retrieve it manually.

I’m sure there are other distractions — internet browsing, gaming, the stock market, whatever — these have never been much of an issue for me. If they are for you, there are surely some Lenten exercises that would be helpful for gaining control over those attractive nuisances.

You Be The Judge

This method has been an incredible aid to me. I avoided for months sitting down and describing it, using any number of excuses and denials — others might not like to keyboard, I argued; they may not approve; some may not find it helpful. But, I kept getting those prodding sensations saying, “sit down, tell others about this, quit procrastinating.”

Most may not benefit, but some may. Yours is not to question God’s direction; just do it.

So, on that basis, I offer it here for your consideration. You be the judge. Let me know what you think.

If you try it, let me know how it works for you, what changes you’d make for your time in prayerful computing.

Prioritizing Prayer, Again and Again and, Then, Again

I think we can all relate to Jurel’s post on needing to prioritize our prayer.

My most recent excuse has been that I want to first clear my decks of distractions, so I can pray without concern for all the tasks of my day. Even knowing that prayer and time with God will make the burden of all those tasks lighter as I share them with Him, this excuse can wheedle it’s way into my consciousness.

So, I pray for Jurel and for all of us as we place God at the center of our lives and our beings….and then, when life slips in and bumps us off our center, as it will do, I pray we recognize our shortcoming and reapply ourselves to God knowing He has already forgiven us and is right there waiting for us to turn again to Him.

JURELL SISON

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This blog is the first of eight reflections being written for the Ignatian Prayer Adventure hosted by ignatianspirituality.com. Keep reading 🙂

To be quite honest, making time for prayer and meditation has always been one of my biggest struggles. For me it’s like exercising—I love the idea but it seems there is a force that keeps me glued to my couch or at my computer. It’s as if someone drugged me with fear, or even worse—the curse of being “too busy.” Yet every time I find a way out of this “curse” and into a gym, I discover more energy, more life, and more peace.

It might be embarrassing to admit this, but throughout this week of contemplation, I’ve discovered that I’m not where I want to be. There is a serious aching in my heart to know and encounter God, yet I continually find myself stuck. I’m so caught…

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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.

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.