Choosing to be chosen

Prodigal Son ImageOur priest’s recent homily touched on being chosen by God. Each of us is. Not all of us know it.

Many have never heard His call. Some hear it, but turn away. For some, recognition happens all at once. For others, God’s call is revealed more slowly and in stages. Continue reading

We are all called to be saints

No, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. Although when I first heard that we – all of us – can be saints…are called, in fact, to be saints, I had a similar reaction: ‘You must be kidding! Me?’

But, what I am slowly coming to appreciate more fully is that God’s most important call to each of us is to be saints – each in our own special way, each in our own individual circumstance. Our only challenge is to learn to say ‘Yes, Lord, I’m willing. Show me how.”

Maybe you won’t have as hard a time as I did hearing these words and taking them seriously, but let me share what some writers who actually know what they’re talking about have to say about our call to sainthood:

In discussing Saints, People Like Us, Henri Nouwen says,

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own. The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 328-9). )

He went on to describe that:

The saints are God’s holy people. The apostle Paul speaks about all those who belong to Christ as “holy people” or “saints.” He directs his letters to “those who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people” (1 Corinthians 1: 2; see also Ephesians 1: 1). This sanctity is the work of the Spirit of Jesus. Paul again says, “All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 18). As saints we belong to that large network of God’s people that shines like a multitude of stars in the dark sky of the universe. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 330))

Fr. James Martin S.J. in his book My Life with the Saints, quotes Thomas Merton to say,

“For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

And Merton says in his own book, The Seven Storey Mountain:

And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity. (Merton, Thomas (1998-10-04). The Seven Storey Mountain: Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition (p. 62))

So this is my Easter gift to you…the good and joyful news that Christ lived among us, died for us and rose again to be with the Father. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live within each of us. To be with us in times of trial and triumph. To guide and direct our hearts along our journey. To call us to walk with Him in sainthood, as He shares the truth of His love with the world.

Evangelism

Sun thru monkey treeEvangelism has been a difficult concept for me. I’ve never thought I knew enough. I can’t quote Bible verses from memory. I don’t have a complete understanding of church history or teaching. My words can sound sanctimonious and saccharin even to my own ear. In the un-churched community in which I live I fear my witness would do more to offend than to welcome.

Yet, as I have begun to know our Lord better, I’ve at times felt as though I would burst if I didn’t find some way to share His beauty and gentleness and love with others. It’s a natural outcome of His sharing His abundance with me, who has done so little to deserve it.

When we don’t know how to do something that at the same time feels so urgent, it’s often true that our understanding of our purpose is lacking. My concept of evangelism in this case has been faulty and incomplete.

This morning Henri Nouwen addressed “The Fruit of the Spirit” in his book of daily meditations, Bread for the Journey. He says,

Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defense of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations and how to convince our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues of God’s presence in their lives.

But this explicit missionary endeavor often comes from an insecure heart and, therefore, easily creates divisions.

Talk about an arrow straight to my heart. “…an insecure heart…creates divisions.” Here’s the nut,

The way God’s Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). These fruit speak for themselves. It is, therefore, always better to raise the question “How can I grow in the Spirit?” than the question “How can I make others believe in the Spirit?”

I’m not sure there are words to express the relief I felt as I read this. My job is to grow myself. I’m increasingly certain I can do that.

Henri continues in the next meditation to discuss “Right Living and Right Speaking” saying that,

To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world. What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking. When we forgive our neighbors from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words. When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.

Father, I pray Your grace guides my heart and my actions and my words; that they honor You and are acceptable in Your sight; that they bless those You bring into my life.

 

When we know that we know, we can dare to look…

Greetings to each of you. And I pray that you are experiencing God’s blessings on your day this very day, even as I write these words.

The early days and weeks of 2015 have been so filled with God’s grace and love. Even though I often only feel the full warmth of His touch after He has passed by, my life—our lives—are so continuously blessed.

I have just finished reading Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son in preparation for the Lenten Retreat being hosted online by Ray Glennon and Brynn Lawrence for the Henri Nouwen Society.

Oh my!

I would feel guilty for jumping the gun with our Lenten reading, except 1.) Ray and Brynn said I could (it’s ok to laugh — I sound like a child, even to my own ear); and 2.) it takes me a while to assimilate the words I read. Now that I have read it through once, I can read Return of the Prodigal Son in a more disciplined way during the retreat (well, that’s the desire anyway).

So, it was as a direct result of read Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son, that I chanced to open The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett.

Bear with me here, I’m going to loop this back ‘round to a point here soon.

The first words I read were in the forward to the Story of Painting in which Sr Wendy says:

“…This book is my faltering attempt to offer the security of a knowledgeable background, which will help to make whatever art we see more accessible. Some people are certainly held back from a fearless gaze at painting because they fear their own ignorance. Truly to look remains one’s personal responsibility, and nobody else’s response (and certainly not my own) can be a substitute. But knowledge must come to us from outside, from reading, listening, and viewing. If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know, and this book will succeed if it starts the reader on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”

There’s something deeply moving and inviting about Sr Wendy’s words—inviting one into her writing about painting, certainly—but also inviting and comforting in their call to some deeper place within that recognizes the universality… of these words. Listen again:

… If we know that we know, we can perhaps dare to look. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. When we love, we always want to know …

This thought frames completely and so simply my reaction to God, the God I have just recently been allowed to experience, my Father, who found my heart fully ready and fully open to Him in His loving compassion. For me as for many, I expect, I had “held back from a fearless gaze” at God…maybe ‘because of my fear of my own own ignorance,’ my own shame, my own self-denial and ‘self-rejection,’ as Henri Nouwen would call it.

When the scales fell from my eyes and my heart, I ‘knew that I knew’ His love. I understood, if only dimly, His joy for my return to Him. I knew, if only in the shadows of my being, His compassion for my heavy heart, an empty heart that was all I had left to offer to Him…yet a heart overflowing with such love for Him.

Love and knowledge go hand in hand,” counsels Sister Wendy in her forward. And I knew. With a certainty that defied all my human understanding, this knowledge of Him, this love for Him demanded passionately that I know Him more, understand Him better, experience Him more deeply, walk with Him more freely on the way He has planned for me…on the way…”on the track that leads to more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness.”

It was Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son that caused me to open Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, in the first place. The book, a gift, has been sitting on my shelf for at least 10 years waiting for me to crack its cover. Understanding art has never been a great passion for me. (Even now, you can readily see that I have been struck more by her words, than by the art she will be describing.)

But, Henri described his own divinely inspired passion for Rembrandt’s painting, the Prodigal Son, wrapping it so lovingly and gently and painstakingly with his own experiences and understanding and insights and revelations. Henri not only made me want to explore more deeply the two sons and the father embedded in my own being, but to see for myself—to apprehend in my own consciousness—the divine depths of Rembrandt’s Prodigal.

Where words and nature have always been the most direct routes to my heart, I know others are lifted and inspired by art and music. Maybe, just maybe, spiritual art – Rembrandt’s and others – might offer me an additional glimpse, another way to understand God’s word.

And so, I continue on my way searching for “more reading, greater knowledge, greater love, and, of course, greater happiness” and the love that passes all understanding.

I encourage you to join me this Lent. I’ll be retreating online with the Henri Nouwen Society as they read and discuss Henri’s Return of the Prodigal Son. I have been so wonderfully blessed by Henri Nouwen’s writing and by the Society’s online retreats that focus on his writing. Their Lenten retreat starts February 18th. It promises to be awesome.

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.

 

It’s simple. Just say ‘yes’ to God

Thank you, Lord, for guiding me (at last!) to the answer I’ve been searching for now for so many years.

For decades (all those years before my children and husband), I’ve wondered why I jumped from relationship to relationship. I would start out delighting in showering someone with all my energy and affections, only to tire of them after a year or two. They weren’t the real problem. I always knew there was something missing in me.

Even though, I was told repeatedly in many different settings that God loves me (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”), the meaning of the message – how it all works on the ground – for some reason just didn’t connect.

But, praise God, I finally got it.

It was in a Bible study I attended (nearly 25 years ago now). In it, we focused for nearly eight weeks on the lesson, ‘We love, we are loved by others, we are Beloved (loved unconditionally) of God.’ That class was an important turning point for me. In fact, my angel put in a brief appearance during one particular meditation to rejoice with me and invite me to continue my search. I sensed at the time, even as it was happening, that I’d graduated to a deeper level of understanding.

I’m loved by Him unconditionally and, because I am (we are), I am not only able to love others without the expectation of reciprocity, but I’m able to accept what they offer as gifts from Him through them…without wanting more…or less.

Henri Nowren in The Inner Voice of Love, describes it this way:

…Only when you know yourself as unconditionally loved—that is, fully received—by God can you give gratuitously [without need]. Giving without wanting anything in return is trusting that all your needs will be provided for by the One who loves you unconditionally…

…The danger is in pouring yourself out to others in the hope that they will fully receive you…

…A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support.

Well, this morning, in passing this book on to a young friend of mine (with whom I have always felt a sense of déjà vu, as her life challenges seem so familiar), I finally realized I’ve received the answer to my long-standing question – “where the hell did all this come from!?” Hell, indeed!

My family studied a host of books on religious thought – everything from the Bible to Buddhism, the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads, and Islam. Along the way, I ended up with a very fuzzy sense of God and no real understanding of His love.

But what I didn’t realize until this morning was the cause-and-effect connection between my lack of understanding of God’s love and the failure of my early relationships.

I not only had a very limited sense of His love for me, but I had a strong sense that I could figure it all out on my own – outside church teaching, outside community … outside … period. The road less traveled, maybe…probably because it’s so circuitous and rough and rocky. What a sad, unnecessary waste of time.

Who knew there is a more direct route?

I guess, for me, it always seemed too simple. (Editor angel: You even used to joke back then that you wouldn’t want to simplify anything you could over-complicate!) What I wanted most in my youth was to be seen as capable, adult, self-sufficient.

Sure enough, one of my big life lessons was formed: I got to learn that caring for oneself is not ‘all that,’ as my kids would say. I was ‘outside’ going it on my own all that time, while I could have simply given into God’s love – believed I was loved fully and unconditionally by Him – and skipped all the intervening pain and hardship.

It’s that simple. And that tough for some of us.

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.