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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Be a FROG – Fully Rely On God

FROG-Fully Rely On God

FROG-Fully Rely On God

Merton speaks today of  “paradox”…of wisdom manifest and yet hidden. He says

The words God utters are words full of silence, and they are bait to draw us into silence…If we hide the precepts of God’s wisdom in our heart — precepts of humility, meekness, charity, renunciation, faith, prayer — they themselves will hide us in God.

I can just barely relate to these words. I read them and I understand them intellectually (I think), but they kind of make my eyes glaze over.

I figure that Merton was at a different place on his journey than I am…further along, surely. And that these words, the concepts that they communicate, require a greater understanding that I have currently.

What they remind me of is the story of Martha and Mary when Jesus is visiting. Martha is busy cleaning and cooking, while Mary is sitting at His feet listening to Him, fully captured by His presence. Jesus told us that Mary has chosen the better part.

Luke 10:38-42 tells the story:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I’m still more like Martha than Mary. I’m still making preparations for Our Lord to live fully in me (Editor Angel: Probably suggesting that He direct everyone around me to do what I think they should be doing, too! …Ouch!).

I think it’s why peace rests beside me rather than within me. It’s why I still feel such excitement when I discover some lost aspect of my true self — the perfect self that God created — which I’ve bound up in fear or insecurity or bitterness over the years.

When I discover one of these nasty bits hiding in a back corner of my being, it’s like finding a tarnished piece of fine silver. I want to clean it up, polish it, find it’s original beauty. I want everything cleaned out and perfect for my Lord’s presence (Editor Angel: Fully relying on yourself still? What’s left for the Lord to perfect?).

What all my Martha-like busy-ness misses is that just as my close friends and family probably prefer my complete attention to my clean house, Our Father longs to just be with me. He wants me to rely totally on Him, to surrender to Him, to be cleansed and set free by the Light of His grace.

Hmmmm. What do you think? Are you putting off letting the Lord past the doorstep of your house until you’ve made everything perfect? Or, do you greet Him, invite Him into the mess of your life, and allow Him to help sort it…allow Him to shine His light on the you that He most wants you to become.

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

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Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.

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Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

Christmas Letters to my Lord-Part III

From family harmony to community connectedness. You have shown Yourself to me in amazing ways this Christmas. How can my meager ‘thank you’ be sufficient? How do I love You more and better? How can my faith possibly be enough?

Pope Benedict XVI wrote these reassuring words in Jesus of Nazarath, From the baptism in the Jordan to the transfiguration,

“Initial enthusiasm (for the Lord) is easy. Afterward, though, it is time to stand firm, even along the monotonous desert paths that we are called upon to traverse in this life – with the patience it takes to tread evenly, a patience in which the romanticism of the initial awakening subsides, so that only the deep, pure Yes of faith remains…

“If the fruit we are to bear is love, its prerequisite is this “remaining,” which is profoundly connected with the kind of faith that holds on to the Lord and does not let go.”

As my faith grows and finds strength in Your grace, I want to give more to others in order to honor You and Your faithfulness with me.

This, too, is Your gift to me this Christmas – learning again and again that in both giving and receiving Your blessings with a gracious and faith-filled ‘Yes,’ I will come to know You better.

Also read Christmas Letters To God-Part I, and Part II, in days to come, and Part IV.

Driving with God

“I’m glad you’re with me today, Father.”

I’m always with you, my dear. I’m glad you’re aware of me today.

“This imagining thing that Fr. Martin suggests…well, I guess it was St. Ignatius who earlier suggested it for understanding more about Christ…isn’t something I know much about, Father. It feels so presumptuous to imagine You here with me. Can we just be quiet here together for a while?”

I know. There’s not any need to talk. We can just drive together.

A few minutes later.

“I have a question, Father.”

Only one?

“Ha! I don’t know when or if to go public with the blog I’m working on for You, WWMB. I don’t want to put it out there, if it is not what you want from me. Or if You believe I’m/we’re not ready. Or, if I somehow might do something wrong or say something that might lead another person to go astray. What should I do, Father. And when.”

Do you believe that I led you to the writing that you’ve been doing?

“Yes.”

Do you believe that I use things and people to my own purpose? And is my purpose good?

“Yes…and, of course!”

What is your fear? Are you concerned about what I might do with your work, who I might bring to your web blog, or are you concerned about whether something you do might be wrong or weakly reasoned or uninspired? How much of what you’re feeling is ego?

“Okay…I think I get where You’re going. You’re in control. But …(Angel: Really? What on earth are you doing, arguing, questioning God? Shhh, I’m new at this. He understands!) …what if I start the blog and then my work schedule gets in the way? What if I don’t maintain the blog, and, as is true for so many others, it just falls by the wayside and withers?”

What if?

“So, you’re suggesting that if I continue to follow Your lead, either outcome is …well, if not worthy, then at least redeemable…something? Or that You can still work with stuff, even incomplete stuff, if You choose…That what I learn about myself and about my relationship with You may be as important as what I lead others to learn about You and that in the end, it’s all up to You anyway?….hmph!”

A little later:

“I love you so very much, Father.”

I love you, too.

A bit later yet:

“WOW! How do You DO that? The sun shining through the mist, the snow-capped mountains, the fog lying along the ground in the valley. And the colors today are iridescent! What a day You have made for our drive! Thank you, Father!”

It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

And again later:

“Father, do You feel sadness or remorse for the world. Are You concerned about the state our world is in? How does that work for You? It seems like You, as awesome God, would be, should be kind of above it all…unaffected by all the sin and greed and deceit and hatred that exists in our world. And yet, You love us and care for us. How does that work?”

I don’t so much feel those things, as I understand them. I was there. I lived among you. I felt the things you’re feeling… your human emotions – love, anger, joy, sadness, remorse. I know how your pain feels. I try to help you use the pain you’re experiencing to strengthen you in your quest to find me. I rejoice with you when you take even the smallest step toward me.

“Don’t You ever tire of all my whiney doubts and questions? How am I possibly worthy of Your presence here in the car with me, talking to me and painting beautiful scenes for us to see as we drive along?”

I’m always here ready to talk and to listen, painting beautiful vistas. I’m always present with you. It’s nice to have you here present with me. We should do this more often.

On Eagles’ Wings

On Eagles’ Wings was the closing hymn of our baby granddaughter’s funeral earlier this year. The song – it’s melody and lyric – always touches my heart, but on that day it was especially poignant.

Little Olivia came to us several months early, too early to sustain life on her own for long. But we were able to see her and hold her for a couple of hours. The time with her was a gift.

Olivia’s small family came from across the country to attend her funeral mass. Afterwards, as we were all standing outside the church, not wanting our time together to end – we’d said multiple goodbyes already; we seemed to be waiting for something special, something significant to release us and send us on our way – someone looked up in the sky and saw an eagle flying above, not far off. It circled a couple of times, then flew away.

Eagles are not uncommon where we live. But they are not so common that we don’t all point them out whenever we see one. On this day we remarked with awe of the beauty of this image, this seeming coincidence after having just sung the song for Olivia.

A few weeks later Olivia’s mother and father visited the cemetery where they had decided they would eventually bring Olivia’s ashes to be buried. She would soon get to rest next to her great grandfather’s and great grandmother’s graves.

The cemetery is beautiful. And her great grandparents’ graves are in an especially beautiful spot, atop a hill toward the back. The hill overlooks the valley below with a large snow-capped mountain sitting majestically off in the distance.

While Olivia’s parents were visiting their grandparents’ graves that day, as they stood looking up into the sky, they saw two eagles circling nearby. As they watched, a third, smaller eagle flew to meet the first two. All three circled a bit and then flew away together.

Hitting a wall

I hit a wall this weekend. It’s been years since I’ve experienced the frustration and pessimism that I felt yesterday.

There were lots of reasons for my discontent — water damage to our home has my kitchen and front room torn up, no sink, no floors, holes in the walls; it is disorienting to be sure, but the intensity of my reaction came as a surprise, causing me to cancel an otherwise welcome invitation to join old friends,  meet new ones, have a home-cooked meal, reconnect with them after our travels, which had separated us for more than a month; I got to add the guilt and shame of cancelling to my already difficult sense of disorder.

Even as I was going through it, I knew intellectually that I was over-reacting. I tried to summon my former spirit of joyfulness and gratitude for all my many blessings. I asked forgiveness for awaking that morning and getting up without first saying “hi” to God. I read the Bible. I even remembered to ask for God’s presence with me as I read and to ask Him to help me find the source of my discontent. My reactions all seemed too much, too over-wrought and my poor attempts at redirection were, in the end, to little avail. I couldn’t seem to shake the mood.

My husband finished a project he’d been working on and just the act of his sitting down with me and talking over a glass of wine finally brought me back around…nothing tremendously earth-shaking. But my pleadings (and my grumpy, whiny thoughts and words) were finally heard and healed.

As I was working out at the gym this morning and reading Fr. Martin’s book, Between Heaven and Mirth, I was reminded of how to focus on my joy and, it seemed with each step I took, I was reunited. This prayer was the result:

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.