Relocating our spiritual center

When Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus in the Temple, how relieved and filled with joy they must have been. Losing my child in the midst of a crowd was always a great fear for me, when I would take our daughter anywhere. I can only imagine the emptiness and anxiety and dread that any parent must feel in such a situation.

Similar, too, I believe might be the anxiety and the helplessness we feel, when we lose sight of Christ in our own lives…when we lose our way, or when we feel as though we have. This story of Mary and Joseph retracing their steps to Jerusalem to find their lost son provides a guide for us during these times when He seems lost to us.

When we lose sight of our spiritual center, we too need to retrace our steps. Jesus asked Mary, when she finally found Him in the Temple, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

When we are searching for the Jesus, the Word Incarnate, I need to remember that He is close at hand. I need in these times to return to my intentional reading of The Word, my Bible. He’s there, just waiting for me, as He goes about Our Father’s business.

Waiting and Watching for God

In the past I have often become agitated and grumpy with congested driving, slow lines and waiting. Thankfully, these times have diminished somewhat in recent decades, due to two main reasons I think – one mundane, the other somewhat more enlightened.

On the mundane level, my family moved to an Island from which many commute by ferry to work and play in the city. Alternatively we can drive off the ‘backside’ of the Island over a two-lane bridge to communities even more rural than ours.

It can be a bucolic life, but it has its challenges. Getting where one wants to go can at times be congested, interrupted, or completely blocked (if the ferry runs into the dock, for example, shutting down all service, or an earthquake shakes our world). Islanders necessarily grow accustomed to waiting and eventually find productive ways to spend what would otherwise be wasted downtime. I learned early on to always have something in my purse that I could read or write on (praise God for electronic devices that have replaced notepads and heavy books).

More recently, as I have learned to allow God into my life more fully and more often, I have begun to (almost) look forward to those times when circumstances require I stop my activity. It’s now in those times that I often notice our Lord sitting next to me in the car or waiting next to me in line. His presence — or more accurately, my acknowledgement of His presence — immediately alters my outlook.

What I initially perceived to be an imposition caused by some idiot driver up the road or the forces of evil thwarting my schedule, suddenly dissolves and I find my Lord there. Often He’s grinning and looking like He’s thinking, “I wondered what it would take to get you to notice me….Nice you could join me today.”

Now, imposition, waiting, longing, frustration, irritation all seem to be His call for me to join Him…or better, to realize He’s already with me just waiting for me to acknowledge His presence.

I pray that this season of Advent–this watchful waiting for our Lord–is blessing you in just the ways you need to carry you on your journey into His loving presence.

If God is everywhere equally present, then…

He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St Ignasius, and countless others, past and present, tell us how and where to find God, to hear His directions and desires for our lives.

This morning I was reading Nouwen’s book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In today’s passages he was discussing finding God in the books that we read and in nature.  These venues can be especially helpful, often making it easier for us to hear His voice, see His beauty, feel His presence, taste and savor His many blessings on our lives.

Still, another message hit me as I read. As clearly and as demandingly as if it were flashing in neon atop a tall billboard I was struck by the certainty that:

If God is everywhere equally present, then He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

If God is everywhere equally present, as I believe and have been taught, then, simply being conscious of Him in our midst is the key … and the challenge.

No matter where we are, who we’re with, what is occurring, God is there. Walking down the street, on a treadmill at the gym, on a forest path, along the water, in a line at the grocery store, driving down the road.

To be sure, some places are more conducive to feeling our Lord’s presence, but He’s everywhere, just waiting for us to join Him in His holy purpose. Waiting for us to walk with Him along the way He has planned for us. Waiting for us to acknowledge His presence with us.

No matter the circumstances of our surroundings — whether beautiful, natural, sanctified and holy; or man-made full of industry and technology, metallic maybe, full of cold hard surfaces, filled with loud noisy people of all sizes and shapes; or even places polluted, foul, and rank with the discarded, the misused, the abused — He’s there, waiting for us to beckon to Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him maybe, that Now is the time we need to draw near to Him.

Our first steps toward Him may be shaky and feeble, but as with any new endeavor, practice helps us remember Him more and more often. We will soon learn to call upon and recall those ways and places where we discovered Him earlier. Deep in our hearts we remember the warm blessing of His love as He showered it upon us. We remember (or maybe realize for the first time) that He was with us no matter where we were or what we were doing. We remember over and over again, if we are searching for Him, that He is constantly sending us messages – through the words of people we encounter, the material we read, the sites and sounds that draw our attention. He’s there loving us, waiting to participate in close relationship with us every minute throughout our day.

How did I deserve such goodness, I wonder?

That’s easy. I didn’t. I don’t.

He is simply there for me – for each of us – waiting to bless us, waiting to take each part of us, no matter how broken, or even fetid it may be, and wash it clean. With His blood He prepares and purifies us to be His, so that we may become a blessing to share with others.

What a gift I received this morning…from God…through Andy Otto at dotMagis

What a gift this blogosphere is or can be. I have struggled in my recent months of busy-ness, feeling guilty about not spending more time in prayer and contemplation, not spending more time here. I’ve asked for God’s help and insight about how to find better balance in my life. I’ve written about it here and here.

Then, this morning Andy Otto at dotMagis shared these words in his piece, Opening Our Eyes to Contemplation.

When I told my spiritual director that I had not been praying, he asked me what I was doing. I told him about the journaling, the talking with others about my patient visits, how the experiences and people in the hospital were often on my mind, and the bit of spiritual reading I was doing. “Sounds like you’re praying quite a lot,” he told me. My director helped me open my eyes to the reality of God all around me. I was indeed being attentive to my reality, but I had failed to recognize fully God’s presence there.

Many of us have practiced contemplation without even realizing it.

He reminds us that the key is sharing the experience with God…recognizing that He is in all that we see, being present with Him as we take in His wonderful creation all around us.

 

Being present with God in the world

Upon awaking today I intended to focus on ‘being present.’ It is challenging for me. I can be adept for a while at a sort of consciousness that acknowledges God in my midst and then find that, little by little, I’ve fallen away. Busy schedules, spiritual laziness, life’s distractions. But few of us really are called to be full-time contemplatives or to spend all our days studying the Word of God.

Still, I have found myself longing for more quiet and alone time again after several months of deadlines, difficulties, and demands that have pulled me from my solitude into ‘the world.’ After a flurry of inner excitement and an obsession almost with exploring my spiritual/blogging world, I found I’d set a pace for myself that I could not maintain…especially when life’s challenges intervene to shake things up a bit.

So, for some time now, I’ve been seeking balance. Some routine that acknowledges my need to connect with God and to focus here in this blogging space on the spiritual lessons and challenges with which my life is blessed, as well as to cope with all the calls – the critical, the social, the trivial – of a normal day of being who I am – wife, mother, friend, worker, helper – well, you know.

A normal day in my life of late most often starts with a ‘good morning’ to God, coffee and contemplation on some commendable text. Today, I’m in the middle of A Year With Thomas Merton. In the meditation I was reading this morning Merton wrote:

I find more and more the power – the dangerous power – of solitude working on me. The easiness of wide error. The power of one’s own inner ambivalence, the pull of inner contradiction. How little I know myself really. How weak and tepid I am. I need to work hard, and I don’t know how – hence I work at the wrong things. I see that the first two months I got off to a nearly false start with too much excited reading of too many things, and my life has been grossly over-stimulated for a solitary (in community, all right). Especially I worked too hard, too obsessively on the book, to frantic a pace for a solitary (again, in community solitude seems crowded and hopped up to me).

The parallels with my recent experience thrilled me. I’m not the only one to struggle with this. Praise God!

Merton continued:

Everything has meaning, dire meanings, in solitude. And one can easily lose it all in following the habits one has brought out of common life (the daily round). One has to start over and receive (in meekness) a new awareness of work, time, prayer, oneself. A new tempo – it has to be in one’s very system (and it is not in mine, I see).

And what I do not have I must pray for and wait for.

Prayer and waiting. Yes. Then, I think I would add…

  • Patience and faith.
  • Preparation and practice.
  • Progress and growth.
  • Recognition and thanksgiving.
  • And, at the last, acceptance of myself as God’s divine creation.

 

 

Life is very, very good. Life with God in charge is….heavenly.

It has been so long since I’ve written substantively here…so long since we’ve talked…that it’s hard to know where to start.

And, isn’t this always the way where there’s separation, disconnection, distance? We lose our place. We miss important events in one anothers’ lives. We fall out of touch.

The “project,” I’ll call it, was to help our daughter move 2500 miles across country to a new home and a new job…a new life, really. The opportunity was a true gift from God. There were so many miracles, so much euphoria. I feel certain it will be a while before I understand all the lessons and discern God’s handiwork with any real clarity. The time has been both exhilarating and exhausting.

I asked God early on how to handle my blogging while I was engaged with ‘the project’ (it was really 6 or 7 major projects in one as it turned out.) I didn’t feel that I could reflect thoughtfully or write insightfully — heck, I wasn’t sure I could even write grammatically with the pace we were keeping — about much of anything until my part of the work was done. This place, this communication, I felt, needed more, deserved more, than I could give.

Still, where communication is suspended, relationships suffer. It’s true for friends and couples and between ourselves and God.

I’d welcome your thoughts about this whole subject. I know several of you have written in the past about this and that my feelings of undifferentiated, amorphous disappointment in myself are not unique or even unusual. How do you make time for this blog space, how do you do it justice, during times when life’s demands become…well…demanding?

And yet, I asked for and felt the comfort of your prayers. Thank you so very much. You first deserve an update:

  • My daughter has a new job, a new home, and a whole new community of friends. I thrill when she tells me nearly each day for the last 2 months that she feels everything about this total change in her life is right and exactly where God wants her to be right now;
  • Her old home near us is on the market and we’re currently praying for a quick sale (late breaking news: we just received our first offer!);
  • In the meantime our son and daughter-in-law (about whom I have written before here and here) went to the hospital with labor pains in early May…our new baby grand daughter arrived 7 weeks early. She stayed in the Neo-Natal ICU for several weeks. She is, nonetheless, perfect! (This is just simple fact and has nothing to do with my grandmotherly status!) She has over the last month gained weight (she’s over 7 lbs) and lung capacity and she’s now home with mom and dad and they are all thriving in every way. We celebrated Father’s Day together in their home last Sunday. I’d forgotten what 7 lbs. babies are like to hold…there’s just no feeling like it in the whole world.
  • We are so very blessed by God’s amazing grace. The abundance of His love over the last couple of months was everywhere and in every encounter:
    • He helped us carry our burden by sending us the kindness and charity of so many wonderful friends and family who sent their good wishes and prayers to me and made sure my husband was feted with good food and company during my absences.
    • There was our mover, who together with his wife, the dispatcher, held our hand during the long move, as they transported all our daughter’s belongings, arriving right on time with everything in perfect condition, and with no last minute surprises in price.
    • There was the HVAC expert, who gave up his Saturday morning to help us vent a portable air conditioner; and
    • The appliance repair guys, who made themselves immediately available to fix a washing machine; and
    • Our realtors, who offered their friendship and their own personal resources to help us; and
    • Our financial wizards, who just wouldn’t give up, even in the face of fairly complicated transactions; and
    • The hardware store clerk, who spent nearly an hour helping me figure out how to secure a dog kennel; and
    • So many thoughtful drivers who let me cut in when I missed my turns in unfamiliar country.
    • There were, of course, all the caring and competent neo-natal staff taking care of our grand daughter…and her parents; and
    • The fact that our grand daughter joined us during one of the short windows when I was in town was a true personal blessing; and
    • We enjoyed a full complement of joy-filled family communicating with parents and all the rest of us with abundant use of the “reply all” feature on their email and texting. We were, as a result, able to share across family lines and across geography and time zones in one another’s experiences of wonder and joy with the new and precious baby girl in our midst.

The list seems almost endless…right down to some unknown young man who was standing in front of me in line at the airport, who paid for my water bottle as he was purchasing his own. It turned out he was sitting across the aisle from me on my flight home and before I even realized I needed help lifting my carry-on bag, he was up out of his seat, man-handling it into the overhead bin, assuring me as he did so that he would get it down for me when we landed…WOW! The good Lord had me surrounded with his angels.

Life is very, very good…life with God in charge is heavenly.

 

 

 

 

‘In the midst of the thicket,’ we’ve not necessarily lost our way. Let our friends reassure us.

These are the two take-aways for me from In gratitude to friends, Mags Blackie, most recent post. This message is particularly comforting to me just now. My interior life, this blog are being sorely challenged just now and for the foreseeable future, as life has seemed to intervene with priorities that can’t be set aside.

I’ll write about what’s going on at some point. But, as with Mags, I’m processing now. I’m having to try harder than usual, it seems, to keep God uppermost in my thoughts and prayers, to remember to practice His presence, to even take time to sit briefly and bask in the warmth of all the loving posts from all of you.

I miss you and our conversations and will be back as soon as I can to participate more fully in our community. Until then, I give thanks to God for each of you and the work you’re allowing God to accomplish through you. You’re a very special blessing to me.

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.

Jar Gathering

The Holy Spirit is working through Tami in her latest post, Jar Gathering. Don’t miss it…here’s a snip:

Did she try to tell people about God’s provision? The miracle she witnessed?

Did they believe her? Or merely smile and ‘humor’ her?

I love this story! It helps me realize that no matter how foolish a task I am called to perform, God has a good purpose for it.

Lessons by Heart

In 2 Kings 4 is a fascinating narrative about a widow and her sons. With her husband gone, the bills were due and the collectors were coming to take her sons as payment for debt.

She went to Elisha and asked for his help.

“What do you have in the house?” he asked.

“Nothing. Only a little bit of oil,” she replied.

“Okay. Here’s what I want you to do. Gather as many jars as you can – don’t get just a few,” he ordered.

Gather jars? Now that’s funny, right there!

When we take time to really enter into the stories, the Bible is anything but boring.

Imagine this woman and her sons going to neighbors and friends – and probably strangers as well: “Do you have any empty containers? Jars, jugs…hey, that hat might work. Can I have it?”

No doubt she was asked more than once,

“Why…

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Read Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire – If You Want to be a Good Person, It Does Matter What You Believe

Here’s just a snippet of Fr. Barron’s excellent column on the importance not just of one’s belief, but of understanding what it is you believe..understanding the foundational bases of your beliefs and convictions.

In our commitment to love and to human dignity, we are, whether we know it or not, operating out of a theological consciousness. When the doctrines and practices that support religious consciousness are dismissed—as they so often are in contemporary secularism—the moral convictions born of that consciousness are imperiled. This is the massively important point missed by those who so blithely say, “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a nice person.”

Read Fr. Barron’s whole column at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire – If You Want to be a Good Person, It Does Matter What You Believe.