Compassion

For years, I’ve awakened at 3 and 4 and 5 in the morning, no matter when I go to sleep. I often struggle to get back to sleep.

In recent months I find that this is a most precious time in my day. It’s a time of quiet and an almost holy darkness. For even when I get up and dress and sit here in the half-light to meditate and write (I only turn up the lights enough to cast a dim glow), the daytime details and distractions of my life are obscured.

I can perceive the chair I’m sitting in, the floor nearby, but the light of my laptop screen is so bright as to throw the rest of the room into utter darkness – I can’t even see my feet there at the ends of my legs as they rest on the hassock before me.

During these times, His light seems able to focus on the one part of me that needs illumining this day at this time.

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Something I read just now of Merton’s is helping me to understand better what’s going with me right now. I have long wondered and prayed for guidance to be alert to His will for my life; to be aware of what He is calling me to be and to do.

I’ve known for sometime that my role of mother, wife and friend are my holy callings. But when times get rough and rocky for me or for any of those close to me, I can become so involved in the fear and pain of the moment that I often forget that this is His mission for me, I forget to use each of these periods to grow closer and to help others grow closer to Him.

Not just to remind them of His love for them, and His presence with them in the midst of their anguish, but to love them myself, allowing His love for them to flow through me.

And not just to preach to them of His love from outside the pain of their burden, but to enter into their burdens and help Him to help them carry their load.

And not even that … not just turning to Him for help for them or for me, but in the midst of the turmoil and fear … now, my turmoil and fear and compassion (literally translated to be with (com) or part of another’s pain and suffering (passion)) … to realize and give thanks that He has chosen me for this small task.

To realize that He has allowed me to help shoulder this discrete portion of His burden and thereby, to share in His Passion, to carry a portion of His pain, to lighten some small portion of the burden of His suffering.

All of a sudden this time of consternation, which can verge so closely on despair, seems blessed. It becomes a more holy undertaking where He’s “helping me to make of the lumber of my life not a tavern but a temple, out of the work of my every day not a reproach but a song.” (This whole anonymously written poem, I Love You, is here.)

And just now, as I write this, I’m recalling that I prayed last week to be given a better and deeper understanding of what it is to ‘worship at the foot of the Cross,’ to share in His Passion…how thick I am to just now understand that this sharing in His pain is the true meaning of compassion.

Praise God for His goodness and faithfulness in this and all things.

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The sun is up outside my window now; the new day is here. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Faith

I began this year, 2014, planning to document the little miracles of my life as they occur along the way. And there have been so many: Our daughter’s job loss and her subsequent move and reemployment; her house sale, house purchase; our grand-daughter’s birth, my ability to be present when she was born; and so many little revelations, blessings, and consolations along the way.

I feel certain this most recent job loss is also gift from God. And, as the pastor, whose car’s brakes failed and rolled over the cliff while he was in church, was heard to say, “I can’t wait to see what good God has planned from all this.

In the meantime, I am called to have Faith.

Faith in His goodness.
Faith that He has our lives in his hands and will provide all that we need,
Faith.
No matter whether our circumstance is easy or hard, faith that His love is constant and sure.
Faith in His care of us.
Faith that He is present with us always, longing for us to be present with Him.
Faith that He is in control and that we should have no fear.
Faith.

When His magnificence eludes me

I’ve recently have felt little…little connection to God or to His children in my midst, little motivation to reestablish a connection (or connections) with Him, a sense of apathy and a ‘maybe tomorrow’ attitude. Is this dryness? That aridity of which some write?

Oh, I go through the motions. I pray the standard prayers. I ask for His intervention with friends or family who are struggling with various challenges. I read our daily lessons (most days). I remember to give thanks most days and to count His blessings. I mostly don’t even fall asleep through these.

But the zeal. The awe. The magnificence of it all mostly eludes me. It has done so increasingly for some months now.

The need…no, the absolute compulsion…to describe my brushes with the divine is dampened and limp. My words…it’s as though my words have, on their own, decided to hide in the ‘way-back’ recesses of my being…jeering at me from time to time from behind some large obstruction, knowing that I sense them there, their presence, but knowing I won’t venture into the darkness to find them.

They don’t feel like my friends right now.

And when I think about writing here, in this place, I have this fear that my words will fail me. That I’ll end up projecting….what?….some dismal, self-demeaning (or worse, self-congratulatory) sniveling, pathetic rant about losing my way. Who cares? Everyone goes through these periods, right? Why make others want to avert their attention so to avoid being dragged down by my lethargy? Why speak if I cannot lift others up with my joy?

And so, my silence. Or is this my pride?

At church last week I prayed that God would touch me and rekindle in me that divine sense of motivation where I might see…well, if not His beautiful face…at least His footsteps as He passed by me.

The lesson of the weekend was from Matthew 17:14-20, when Christ, dispirited, expresses his frustration with His disciples’ lack of faith, which had resulted in their inability to heal a young boy,

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’

Later in the story, Jesus walked on water out to His disciples. They thought He was a ghost, but

Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’

It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’

Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water,

but then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘save me!’

 

Lord, save me!

The priest’s homily went on to illumine the lesson, reminding us, as well, of Mary’s last words to us in the Bible when she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana to “do whatever He tells you.

At this point during the homily, the high clouds that had begun our day that day parted and the sun shown brightly through the stained glass windows of the church right on the spot where I was sitting. It brought tears and then a smile as I remembered the scene from “The Blues Brothers” when Jake and Elwood saw the Light and felt their mission from God to be fully defined.

Lord, save me.

How does He do this saving? How does He manage to bolster our faith? Mother Mary tells us “do whatever He tells you.” Simply that.

Keep our eyes fixed solely on Him. We can do nothing, help no one without continual and complete faith in His power. Then, do as He tells me to do – believe in Him and write it down.

His grace motivates me to desire and then to action. But only by quieting the cacophony of my life can I hear His voice. By sitting still in a kind of holy anticipation can I tempt those words out from their hiding places.

And rather like shy and cautious cats, if I sit still and quietly enough and believe, they’ll eventually bless me with their presence…maybe even curl up in my lap where we can warm one another for a time.

Meditation 9 – What we ask in faith, God provides

Do you dread something painful? Is there in your soul a vague fear, which seems unreasonable, and yet torments you? Trust fully in My providence. I am here, I see everything; I will not leave you.

I’m such a weenie! I’m still concerned about that dinner party. It’s tomorrow night and it has me losing sleep worrying about silly stuff. Have I put out new hand towels in the guest bath? Did I remember to get new candles? I need mercy from my own silly self! There must be something more worthy in my world to be concerned about than having dinner with an atheist family member?

[Well, and it’s much less him and his belief or non-belief. I’m probably more concerned about my behavior. My words and actions. Is it possible that relaxing some might produce better results? Or that I should be more concerned about his soul than my words? But they might be connected, right? (Editor Angel – Lord, can I come home now?)]

Also, my personal thanks to W. Ockham over at Teilhard de Chardin for this post on our discussions with atheists.]

Still, our gracious Lord, asks that we bring Him even our little worries, so that our faith will be bolstered each time we see His hand at work in our lives. I’m looking forward to a having a wonderful miracle to report soon!

Here are a few more of today’s musings…in no particular order:

I try to say a little prayer each morning for our grown children that they will have a safe commute to and from their work. My daughter reported that she was almost run over as she was crossing in a fully lit crosswalk earlier this week. The driver was looking directly at her as he sped through. Later in the same dark walk to her off-site parking, she was concerned about a man who was lurking around the parking lot. I try to think of these occurrences not so much as evil and harm lurking about, but as God’s loving protection surrounding us everywhere.

I worry that our grandson’s parents have not yet had him baptized. I pray the Lord watch over him, understand his innocence, and regardless of his formal baptism, call him to be His own. I worry, too, that I might have some active role to play in this. If I do, it has not yet been made clear to me. So I pray for guidance.

I worry that I don’t understand why so many of the saints sought out suffering and pain in an attempt to feel closer to Jesus, to share in His suffering. I understand a bit better others who do not pray for relief from suffering, but rather ask for strength sufficient to endure the suffering given them.

I worry about how to respond to street people who ask for money. Police and retail owners caution against giving them money, saying these intended acts of kindness only encourage more aggressive and, in some cases, more threatening behavior. How does one discern the difference between a truly needy person and a healthy person preying cynically on the good intentions of the rest of us?

We have a friend who carries a pocket full of coins and small bills in order to give a little something to others each week. If we don’t carry around a bit of cash, won’t we too often end up missing an opportunity to help someone in need when God touches our hearts?

We can always lift our fears and worry up to God. And relief is directly related to our level of faith in Him, in His greatness, in His judgment of what’s good for us and those we love.

This lesson was most potently demonstrated for me over time as our children were learning to drive and taking the car out by themselves for the first time. As they were leaving for their first date. As they ventured out on their own lives, insisting, right or wrong, to make their own decisions. No longer could I be with them 24/7; no longer was I in full control.

But, with some situation presenting itself on a near-daily basis there for a while, I got lots of opportunities to practice, and as my prayers were answered, small and large, and as I learned to pay attention, to be conscious of His answers to my prayers, my faith grew. Through it all He’s taught me that my relief can be nearly immediate. I ask; God provides.

The question is not how great God is. The key is the strength of my faith in Him.

Miracle of answered prayer

My daughter caught one of these darn bugs that are going around this winter.

We get particularly concerned about her because these bugs can often trigger her asthma. So, when she called to tell me she was at Urgent Care one Sunday night, I was immediately lifting her up in prayer, asking that God strengthen her systems against the infection.

The UC doctor gave her a prescription that seemed to help a bit at first, but I could still hear her labored breathing as we spoke on the phone. She insisted that her workload didn’t allow her to stay home and rest, or to take time for Urgent Care again. Her regular doctor was booked. As much as I might applaud her work ethic, I worried about her need to take time to care for herself and get well.

Finally, after a couple more days of concern, I stopped and engaged more directly with God, more impeachingly [Editor Angel: is “impeachingly” a word? hmmm, don’t know. It should be.] I acknowledged that I didn’t know what my daughter needed to get well, but that He did…does; that I have no control, no real ability to help, but that He did…does; that all I can do is pray for His help and intervention with her.

Amazingly, (I don’t know why I am continually amazed that God answers my prayers. It is after all, what He said He’d do) within the next few hours, she texted me to say she had remembered a prescription that her regular doctor had given her for just such a situation and that she had begun already to take it.

What causes one faith-filled prayer for healing to be answered and others to seemingly be ignored? I don’t have that answer.

I do know that these everyday acts of healing are some of God’s miracles in my world. Thank you, Lord!

Seven steps to a deeper faith

I prepared a little mission statement and annual plan for this blog for 2014. It goes like this:

Mission: In 2014 I want to achieve a deeper understanding of God’s purpose for my life.

Objective: To achieve this I will document here life’s little miracles as they happen to and around me.

Kind of formal, but mission statements can be that way. Obviously these will be miracles that happen to me and to people I know. But, I’d like to hear from you, too, and to share your miracles, as well.

Why miracles? Let me first give some examples of what I’m talking about.

Early in 2013 my husband and I were climbing into a cab to the airport. We were headed out of town for a New Year’s get-away. As we climbed in, his cell phone rang. Our son was calling to tell us that he and his wife had made an emergency run to the hospital in the middle of the night and their baby girl had just been born…several months early.

By our Lord’s intervention we were able to return to town and see and hold her for a few minutes of her short life. We were able to grieve with and comfort her parents as she passed. And we were all able eventually to begin healing some of our fractured family relationships and deepen our faith.

Later in the year, our son passed along to us a book by Father James Martin, The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything. The messages in this book and several others by Fr. Martin spoke directly to my heart (see other of my descriptions of these here and here).

These miracles were big ones for me. They were obvious and easily identifiable as miracles as they were evolving, right then and there. But, life is full of little miracles every day…convenient parking spots at just the right time, answers to prayer, serendipitous phone calls, chance encounters….otherwise infuriating traffic slow downs that result in missing a police speed trap. We don’t always pay much attention to them.

So, what do I mean by noticing these miracles? And what purpose will this serve?

First, I want to recognize these little miracles and acknowledge them. Sometimes our lives seem to move so fast. Things happen, and we don’t stop long enough to understand or appreciate the gifts that we’ve been given.

Next, I want to savor these little gifts from God, considering all the aspects of their influence and effect on my life.

Then, I want to write them down, so I won’t forget them. Because if these experiences, these little miracles, are memorialized somewhere permanent, I can cherish them later and savor them over and over again.

I want to give thanks for them and allow myself time to feel a sense of gratitude for how gracious and loving our God is…even when we’re not paying attention or asking Him for His help or intervention.

Finally, I want to share them with others. Recognition of how God is working in our lives strengthens our faith. Others’ understanding of how God has worked in our lives can strengthen their faith. Having the opportunity to help strengthen another’s faith is still another miracle. All are gifts from our Father.

In his book Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints, Fr. Martin imagines Jesus (as one who is fully human and fully divine) only gradually coming to understand His mission on earth.

“But even after his stay in the desert, there still seems a lingering reticence in Jesus to embrace his mission. For what is traditionally considered as his first miracle seems a distinctly reluctant one. There he is at the wedding feast at Cana when the wine runs out…When his mother points this out to him, in effect, suggesting that he do something, Jesus says, somewhat caustically, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (John 2:4). In other words, what does this have to do with me? I’m not the person you want! I’m not yet the person I am called to be! Here Jesus may still be grappling with his mission, with his vocation, and with his true self….

…he tells the steward to fill large earthen jars with water and serve the guests. But it is not water that comes out of the jars, it is wine. It is his first miracle.

I have always wondered if Jesus himself wasn’t surprised by his first miracle…

…The fruits of one’s ministry and one’s life are often astonishing, and the hand of God can be seen as clear as day, even when the results are simple ones. How much more surprising, then, might the miracle at Cana have been for Jesus!”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

“The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

Similarly, the little “signs” in our every day life attest to our Father’s love and affection for us. So, too, do they invite our belief. So, too, might we bear witness to His presence and work in our lives by sharing these experiences with others.

Miracles, recognizing them, acknowledging them, understanding them, savoring them, memorializing them, cherishing them, sharing them with others, all help to deepen our faith. In deepening our faith we deepen our understanding of God purpose for our lives.

God’s Lost and Found

For years I have gone to God when I’d lose stuff…keys (top contender, by far), earring-backs, books, files…nothing terribly important in the whole scheme of things, but stuff I needed at one particular moment in order for my life to continue to run smoothly.

The way it started is kind of embarrassing, actually. I wasn’t yet familiar in any personal way with God. I’d been taught about God in broad strokes as a child and a young adult, but most of this early learning was just so many words with no personal experiences to which I could attach them.

Along the circuitous way that I’d traveled in my search for God (Editor Angel – Ahem, you had no idea at that point what you were looking for. I was there, remember?), I sought out and met a couple of times with a fortuneteller. That’s what we called her, anyway.

Her name was Dolly. She only met with people who came to her based on the recommendation of previous client. She lived simply and referred to herself as a mystic. She said her ability of Sight, as she called it, was God-given. (Honestly, I wasn’t far enough along at this point to appreciate or care much one way or the other where her ability came from as long as it worked.)

If there was ever an example of God finding us wherever we are, I’m it. (Really, Lord? I search for a fortuneteller and You just get in line?)

Anyway, it was Dolly who suggested a book to me, The Mystic to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard, which prompted me to find lost items in the way I’m about to describe. I gave my copy away a long time ago, but I remember that somewhere in it there was a suggestion for how to appeal to a high power (the forces of the universe…?) for help. I don’t recall the suggestion using the word “prayer.” But when I made my first appeal for help in finding a gold earring-back that I’d just dropped into the carpet somewhere near or around my feet, that’s what it felt like. I remember thinking “What the heck. What can I lose by just trying this?”

First I closed my eyes and became quiet, then I visualized my earring-back and then I asked for help in seeing it with the sight of the One who could see everything.

Then, BAM, I opened my eyes, gave them a minute to refocus on the carpet and sure enough, there it was. Just like magic, I thought.

Over the years since, I’ve imagined that a VERY patient and long-suffering Lord knew I was open to belief, but needed some sort of small demonstration of His presence.

I never really believed in magic. I just didn’t have other explanations at the time. I’ve since revised this act into a real live prayer, complete with first acknowledging God’s authority and hand in all things; asking Him to give me His sight to see where I’ve left some object. Then, I remind Him that He promised us that anything we ask for in Christ’s name will be given us (this feels a little like a small child saying, “You said You would. You promised!”…but then, to God we are all small children. So pride, deftly set aside, I continue). Finally, I thank Him in advance for His help.

That’s it. I try to keep it simple since I don’t know enough to make it complicated. I can’t remember a time that that prayer hasn’t yielded exactly what I asked. Normally within the next hour…often during the next few minutes…I will have found whatever it is I was looking for.

I use this prayer primarily when all my frustrated attempts to find some trivial item have failed, though every once in a while I’ll pray something similar when one of our children or someone close is looking for a job or a new direction. (The little devil on my shoulder periodically whispers in my ear to pray it and then go buy a couple of lottery tickets. I ignore him.)

But it was only this morning that it occurs to me that I could pray this prayer for those times when I might lose sight of God in my life. (Note to self: Write this down somewhere so if you get depressed, you’ll have a reminder for where to turn. Note back to self: That’s what I’m doing!!!)

I don’t know how effective it would be to pray it for others who either lost sight of God, or never had Him in their sight – their free will can still thwart – but God knows. He can see not only where these others are in their journey; how far from or close to Him they are. He can also see the resources that He might best use to get their attention; to get them to see Him and His love for them; or, if that’s too big a ticket for the first step, He’ll know whether a gentle tap on the shoulder will make them turn to Him, or whether it will take a Mac truck to move them. He’ll know. He knows. And what we ask for in Christ’s name will be given.

So, the point, I guess, of this rambling is: If you’ve lost something, pray. Ask for God’s help in finding it. Then watch to see what happens. Then pray a prayer of thanks for His help.

Pray for little things – God enjoys pleasing us, especially when we pay attention to see how He answers our prayers. And He loves our gratitude when we remember to thank Him and credit His awesome power.

Pray for big things – He has a plan for each of us that is so much better than any plan we might construct for ourselves. He’s patiently waiting for us to understand, name, and ask for our deepest desires – either lost or not known, then He will fulfill them to the top an overflowing.

Pray for others who are lost – their free will and pride and arrogance can pose mighty barriers to His love, but our prayers are mighty as well. They both demonstrate our faith in God and, when we pay attention to see the answers to our prayers, they help build our own faith.

I may never know how my prayers work in the lives of others, but as my prayers are answered in my own life and in the lives of people I can witness personally, I know – with a certainty born of an increasingly stronger faith – that they are working to bless others whose lives I don’t see.

What is lost in our world is not lost to God. He knows where everything is and He knows how to lead us to find our heart’s desire (and our keys, praise God). Most of all He knows where each of us is and what we need in order to find Him. It’s all there – including God – just for the asking.