Saturday, January 09, 2021

Salvation Is From The Jews

When the pandemic was just getting into full swing in the United States, I joined a now-closed theological discussion forum on Facebook. Can anything good come from a Facebook discussion group? you ask. And I answer, yes, it can. 

The exchanges were fascinating. For one thing, my sense that true unity and acceptance among Christians is growing and deepening received two charlie horses and fell over, frantically moaning in pain and rubbing its legs for relief. There are plenty of people who at all costs avoid conflict or disagreement over anything. There are plenty of people who will lock and load their theology and let you have it. But, there are also plenty of people who, given enough time on their hands due to a pandemic, will pull up a chair, present a position, and pick it apart with others who may have varying degrees of agreement. I find that kind of discussion fruitful, enjoyable, and edifying.

One challenging discussion I had was with a Messianic believer who took strong issue with St. John Chrysostom and his rantings against Jews. I happened to share a glowing quote from SJC, supporting some completely disconnected point, and this man in the forum upbraided me and found it easy grounds to dismiss my Catholic theology. 

In the ensuing discussion, I shared extensive quotes from the documents of Vatican II on the Catholic teaching regarding the role of Judiam. My interlocutor was somewhat shocked, because he could find nothing at all objectionable in it. He couldn't believe it came from a Catholic document.

There was much we still disagreed on, but he challenged me to read and dig deeper. I messaged a Jewish Catholic friend of mine, asked for her input about St. John Chrysostom and some of the discussions we were having, and asked her for a suggestion for how I could educate myself. She recommended Roy H. Schoeman's book Salvation is From the Jews

I had other books to finish, I'm slow, and it's 350+ pages, so I just finally finished it recently. I highly recommend it to my fellow Catholics.

Judism and Jewish people were never on my radar screen in my younger days; I grew up in Wisconsin where the debate was Lutheran vs. Catholic. For five years I belonged to a non-denominational charismatic fellowship whose strongest institutional connection was with the Christ For the Nations Bible school in Texas, which flies the flag of Israel on its campus. While it was in the order of a minor footnote, escatology that touched on the political state of Israel got an occasional mention. But my biggest take away (like so much of helpful religious formation) was a subliminal, intuitive, and delicate sense of awe about the Jewish people, because obviously Jesus was Jewish. I vividly recall the first time (well into my 20s) I ever saw men dressed in the style of Orthodox Jews. We were in the post office. I gave a little interior gasp like one would at suddenly finding a huge diamond. 

But I had never really grappled with questions theological or social about Jews, Judaism, or the intersection of Christianity or modernity with them. Oh, I knew the Shoah was a deeply repulsive moment in history and that antisemitism was wrong. Right after I became a Catholic, I did ask John Michael Talbot, during the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for which he was a guide, to elaborate on what the Church taught about Israel. He asked, "theologically, or politically?" to which I replied, "Yes." I don't recall what he said about the theology, but what did stick with me was his statement that Evangelical Christianity's political embrace of modern Israel was theologically in error, and stemmed from a lack of understanding of the Church. Since most of what I had ever heard regarding theology and Israel had to do with unconditional support for Israel militarily, I thought I had a grasp on all there was to know there.

Enter Roy Schoeman's book. To begin with, he does an overview of Scripture, and the Messianic claims of the Old Testament which was all thoroughly familiar territory to me. A big chunk of his book covers the historical and spiritual roots of antisemitism, the roots of Nazism, anti-semitism after World War II, and the impact all of this has had on Judaism. 

Let me stop right there a second.

We are not made in such a way as to be able to gain a view of pain and suffering and walk away unchanged. Right here was the place of change for me.

During the time I was reading this section, I was engaged in a days-long process of recording all seven sections of the Liturgy of the Hours for Advent. I spent a few whole days listening to the Psalms being prayed. With this view into pain and suffering that I had gained, I listened to the Word of God cry out the pain, anguish, confusion, terror, the hope and praise, of God's people. The pleading for the Messiah to come. 

Later I recounted this tectonic movement within my soul to my spiritual director with tears. There is something very deep going on here. 

St. John of the Cross teaches us about the dark nights, how we move forward only by faith, having lost all supports. The Catechism teaches us that there is a movement like this through which the entire Church must pass.

He also writes about the mystical life. The dark nights aren't designed to grind us to nothing. They capacitate us for living in union with God.

Schoeman's final sections include discussion of the mystical revelation to many Jews of Jesus the Messiah. Of how Catholicism was viewed by them not as a new religion, but as the completion of Judaism. (As an aside here, I am shocked to learn that in the Evangelical world, Jews are told they need to "break the chains of Judaism" and renounce it in order to become Christians.) 

He also discusses his views, based on Scripture and Church teaching, how the second coming of Christ will be preceded by an influx of Jews believing in the Messiah. And there I am, back with my Messianic believer Facebook aquaintance. One of his chief complaints was the lack of evangelistic outreach to ethnic or believing Jews. Why does no one care?

This Carmelite right here has a strong sense of connection to both the prophet Elijah and St. Edith Stein, also to St. John of the Cross, and the call to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. The landscape of my heart shifted here. 

More than that I cannot now say.

But, this is why I write.   

Monday, November 16, 2020

My Testimony of Asking in Faith for the Holy Spirit

In the summer of 1987, when I was about to enter my Junior year of college, I met two people who had a significant impact on my spiritual life. One was Mary, mother of two pre-school children, a member of my hometown Lutheran church. The other was a middle-aged man named Jim. Mary had a prayer gathering for women that met occasionally in her home; I had seen it advertised in the bulletin. Within maybe 48 hours of my first conversation with Jim, he was in a crisis state which both landed him him jail and brought about, in his words, his trying to come back to the Lord. Going from my quiet, solitary life as a fast food employee to being caught up in the whirlwind of this stranger's "reversion" shook me pretty hard, and I felt an urgent need to pray, both on my own and with other people. So I cold-called Mary, asked her about her prayer group, and she invited me over and befriended me. 

At this point in my life, I was serious about reading Scripture, serious about evangelizing, serious about writing music through which I poured out my heart to God. I had graduated from a Lutheran high school and was in a Lutheran college and considered myself a committed Christian, although I felt somewhat restless. I was very, very good at knowing the Lutheran catechism answers, and I asked adult-level questions of my church. The intellectual quest invigorated me and took the edge of not being satisfied with the answers I was given.

But then Jim started challenging me about the person of the Holy Spirit. Over the phone, he walked me through a study of the book of Acts, pointing out how things changed when the Holy Spirit showed up on the scene. 

I knew about people who believed that, and I knew that my church had an official position that actual manifestations of the Holy Spirit where "things happened" no longer happened. As a high school student at a youth rally I had even witnessed pastors telling jokes to the whole assembly that made fun of people who said they were speaking in tongues and who raised their hands in the air. 

But then one day, Mary also asked me if I believed that God still filled people with the Holy Spirit as in the book of Acts. "Maybe He does," I responded. It was actually a radical openness that flew in the face of my Lutheran identity.

I studied those passages of Scripture again and again that summer. Mary even prayed with me that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit. I didn't notice anything happen. 

By the time my fall semester started and I was back at school, I was doctrinally convinced that there was no reason to believe God didn't pour out His Holy Spirit on people today, like in the Bible. I had changed my mind.

But changing my doctrinal position did nothing for me, personally. I was like a person who got an A in her nutrition class, but was suffering from an eating disorder. This came to a head when another mutual friend of Jim's, Mary's and mine, who had also been studying about the Holy Spirit with us, actually asked the Lord to fill her with the Holy Spirit, and she experienced a transformative encounter with the love of God. She was changed.

I remember hanging up the phone on my dorm floor after hearing this news. I was depressed for two days. So, God loved her so much that something real actually happened for her. The lies that had suffocated me for my whole life blew up again. I'm not loved. I'll never be loved. God does things for other people, not for me. It's hopeless. I'm hopeless. Forget it. I'll just stay here, alone, like always.

I tried to pray, but this sadness (and all these lies) kept pulling me down. But I had this nagging thought that we always talked about "receiving" the Holy Spirit. There was something I actually had to do. I never actually had gone to God to ask or receive. Literally, I had NEVER thought to ask God for any spiritual good, believing that he would give it. I doctrinally believed God gave things to people; I just didn't at all believe He'd do it for me

After the two depressed days were done, I decided I was going to pursue asking God. But I couldn't just ask. I had to go buy a book, and read it first. I spent all night reviewing all the theology again. Then finally I prayed the prayer that was in the book, thanking Jesus for saving me, asking Him to be the Lord of the my life and to fill me with the Holy Spirit. 

It was like a lightning bolt struck me. I was washed over with the most profound sense of love and cleansing and acceptance. My hopelessness was replaced with ecstatic joy. The next day I went down to breakfast in my best dress, and a professor, seeing my smile, said, "My, you look.... radiant ... this morning!"

It wasn't an instant fix of everything in my life, but it was the equivalent of going from standing in line for a rollar coaster, and riding it.

And it all boiled down to asking.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Turning Hardness of Heart into Purity of Heart

Recently I was called upon to teach a formation session for my Carmelite community, a task that doesn't typically fall to me. Given the circumstances, I essentially listened to a teaching on CD by one of the Carmelite friars, digested it, followed his outline, and presented his talk myself. The subject of this talk was the sixth beatitude from St. Matthew's gospel: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

It is one thing to read a teaching, and another to hear a teaching. It is an entirely different animal to give a teaching, and to really meditate on it. It was a gift to be able to do so.

And now, several days later, something is jumping out at me from the teaching that I think has application to the current social turmoil which Christians are not immune from. 

Fr. Kevin Culligan, OCD, taught that there are two things about the heart that are involved in becoming pure of heart. First, there are the matters of impurities which arise from the heart, such as those Jesus enumerates in Matthew 15: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. These things which come from the heart, and not the ritual purity and obedience, is what makes a person impure, because the "heart" in Scripture is the center of all that we are: our emotional, spiritual, moral life, our desires, passions, our thoughts, will and choices. 

So part of having a pure heart is our own choices, flowing from all this stuff going on inside us.

But the other part of having a pure heart has to do with that which Fr. Culligan states is that which Jesus laments the most: hardness of heart. If our hearts are hard, they will not be pure. Why? Because having a hard heart closes one off from the Word of God. Hardness of heart isolates you from love/Love. And how does hardness of heart develop? Through becoming overly absorbed in one's own agenda. The beatitudes, after all, are, if you will, Jesus'  plan of blessedness, of happiness, and not that of uninformed human striving to fill itself. 

Religious people know not to pursue big commandment-breaking matter. But religious people can get hot and heavy over their own agendas without necessarily realizing it.

This is why St. John of the Cross's teaching on detachment is so vital for us. He presumes that someone pursuing the Christian life will leave behind attachments involved with breaking the Ten Commandments. He teaches us, though, the dangers entailed in remaining attached to anything, even good things, even spiritual things. He is relentless.

And the point is not austerity for the sake of austerity, or detachment out of some kind of psychological aberation that leaves one wanting to grind one's own self into powder to win some divine approval. 

The point is that the beloved longs to see her lover, and God longs for us. To see Him, we must have soft hearts. We must not be overly absorbed with our own agenda, even if our own agenda is something we think is great: service to the Church, loving my family, prayer, being holy, speaking the truth. If it is mine, if I grasp it tightly, if it becomes my identity, if I've forgotten God in the midst of trying to serve Him, then we risk hardening our hearts. We risk what we perceive as our own steadfastness, our own faithfulness becoming that which actually closes us off from the Word and isolates us from Love.

But a beautiful thing happens then. God meets us then with a gift that St. John calls the Dark Night. The Dark Night of the Senses (very generally speaking) is when we are left without the external helps and supports that once held us up. The Dark Night of the Spirit is when we are left without the internal and interior helps that once held us up. This is the time when God is at work within us in a mysterious way. It hurts like the dickens. It is God's purifying action in us, which we cannot produce ourselves, and in which the only way to move forward is in faith. We don't tend to get to understand much of anything or feel like we can see where He leads. 

What might it look like practically? It might entail facing having our doctrinal or religious certainty shaken deeply. It might involve a public humiliation, or someone close to us embracing something which we deeply oppose, thereby challenging how we love them. Losing a job or having a business or a venture fail could trigger this. Facing a sudden and drastic health change... anything that throws our hearts open in a way we could not have anticipated, that leaves us thinking, "How did I get here," and where nothing we knew before quite fits. And these things might all be interior so that no one else would even know anything is going on. 

But what God does in this is call us to have faith in His goodness with us, His presence with us, and His leading, even though we may feel nothing, or animosity, or even doubt that He exists, because we thought the things we lost were where He was. It is here that God softens our hearts, takes our agendas, and gives us His.

But we can't make the Dark Nights happen. They are a gift. We can't give ourselves this kind of purification, but when we have tastes of it, we can say yes. We can ask the Lord to soften our hearts, to take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.

When we have soft hearts, the Word of God speaks to us easily. When we have a soft heart, love flows to us and through us easily. When we see Jesus hanging on the cross (in the person of the least, here with us) we can look on with sorrow. We can empathize. We can feel His pain. Our love is not cold. We are not caught up in the thinking that standards must be met before love is given. We are also not caught up in the thinking that evil in any form can be winked at, because all that matters is that everyone feel comfortable. Primarily we experience God's love flowing to us, and then through us as He would give it, without bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment and other corrosive elements. 

Having that in which we trusted shaken is messy business, and it is painful. Broken bits fly. But we need not lose everything. We can tell the Lord, "not my self-righteousness, but Yours; not my understanding, but Yours; not my will, but Yours. And I'll leave behind all my acts of uncleanness." Our trust that He is good will be rewarded, and like the men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) we will lose only that which was bondage for us.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Few Thoughts on Fear

It seems the first stage of corona virus infection is the spread of fear. If you spend any time on Facebook or other social media, or even any humans at all, you've already probably witnessed people taking up positions. I've seen people emote, learn, educate, change, grow, plan... and mostly try really hard to keep laughing.

This is new territory for us. That alone can be enough to make people afraid.

This morning as I prayed Office of Readings, I read from Exodus about Moses receiving the covenant from God on Mout Sinai. There was some fear built into this process for the People of God. The threat God told Moses to pass on to the people was that no one should approach the mountain, and if they did, they were to be stoned to death or shot with arrows. Their signal was to be the ram's horn. When they heard that ram's horn, and then only, they could approach.

Think of it: we hear that God purposefully struck fear into the hearts of his people.

St. Irenaeus explains why this was the case: "He made them afraid as they listened, to warn them not to hold their Creator in contempt."

  1. the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

As Irenaeus sees it, God was training his people to give him the consideration he deserves. Why? because God is an insecure egomaniac? Of course not. We need to give God due consideration because he is our origin, our Creator. Without giving him his proper due, his proper worship, we are serious out of tune with ourselves and we fall short of that for which we were created. If we don't worship, we are dysfunctional. It's for our good.

Fear, therefore, like all things we can feel, should be our servant. In this case of the corona virus, it is not a bad thing for fear to move us to prepare, if not for ourselves, then to be able to serve the vulnerable around us who don't have means, who won't necessarily be able to care for themselves, and who will suffer. Use the precautions that scientists advise to flatten the curve. Become more aware of the needs people have, if we tend to be on the dull side of thinking about others.

Fear, however, should not be our master, nor our enemy that we desperately try to beat away from us. Allow fear to do its necessary work, then bring it to Jesus, to Perfect Love, who casts it out. Pushing down fear, refusing to feel it, will create the panic that harms. Don't refuse God's servant. Don't forget it is ONLY God's servant. God is the master. Let him be that. Trust him, and entrust all of your concerns to him.

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

Thursday, January 09, 2020


Recently I had a revelation about how much I both need and love silence.

The silence I love and need is more than the lack of sounds reverberating around me, although that is a good start. Silence, or within the silence I am drawn to and crave, there is a presence. The French OCDS talk about it a bit here. This silence is primarily a meeting place. It is a place where I meet God, or at least I am available to be met, should He desire to make his constant presence with me felt and sensible. It is me tuned in, tuned away from distraction, setting all the clatter aside.

Some people surround themselves with clatter, hug it to themselves, and panic if they are without it for a moment. This wearies me, saddens me, drains me.

But it isn't only about sounds: music, TV, radio, talking, "white noise," and so forth.

Thoughts make noise. My thoughts aren't as noisy as they used to be, and I don't find them demanding or deserving of the same attention they once did. It probably is why I don't blog as much as I used to.

But speaking of blogging, I have also known the state where I have to say something in order to enter into this silence. It's like another presence will stand in the middle of my heart and clear its throat until I pay attention to it, say or write the words to the one I need to say or write them to, thereby dismissing or rather dispatching this presence to go where it needs to go. And then I also can go where I need to go, which is into silence.

This silence is also linked to solitude. And since I am re-working this clunky English language to be able to express the state of my soul, I will also re-work the word solitude. I don't necessarily mean by solitude a state of being alone. I definitely do not mean by it a state of being lonely. I think of it more as a state of there being one present. Only one being is present. It is more of an idea of union, or communion, than of isolation. If I am in solitude with you, I am at complete peace, and your presence speaks and ministers peace to me, and I to you. In this peace, we are united, one, and more importantly it is a communion with the One who fills the silence. It is actually the most heavy, profound presence rather than some kind of lonely state. In this way, I think heaven would actually be perfect solitude (communion) and perfect silence (presence).

So I need and love heaven. Yeah, it always comes down to that, doesn't it.

But be practical. I'm on earth. I'm talking about an earthly experience. Our earthly experiences of divine communion must pale to the real thing. But you know what, I'll take pale experiences of heaven on earth any old day.

I experience this at times when I am home alone, and my heart is peacefully pouring outwards. I experience this at times in prayer at church when suddenly I am aware of God's presence, and I'm there, too. I experience this at times with another person, even without saying anything. Peace. Presence.

And the other day it struck me that this is real need of my soul. I could throw my husband's TV out the window, but that would not be the entire solution. I also need to throw out the things that make me feel rushed and therefore not peaceful -- like a disordered sense of responsibility for situations real, imagined, or unconsciously triggered.

And I suppose like the spiritual life often goes, entering into this silence is something one needs to practice, seek after, and pour energy into. It is both gift and task, as the trite, hippy-flavored saying goes.

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

They Neither Marry Nor Are Given in Marriage; They Can No Longer Die

"The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die..." (Lk 20:34-36)

This portion of the gospel read at today's liturgies has struck me in recent years as rarely getting the attention it deserves. Now, it is true that it doesn't quite fit in the larger theme of the other Scripture readings of the day. This is all the more reason to just give it a moment's focus.

I am reminded of the story of this town in Croatia which has become famous in the last few years. There have been no divorces in this town at all. Zero. It is attributed to the custom of putting the crucifix front and center in the wedding ceremony. 

And I believe this is what Jesus is alluding to when he talks about marriage and the resurrection. The question put to him (by people who didn't believe there was a resurrection) was, if seven brothers married one woman, whose wife would she be at the resurrection? Jesus points out that people who live "in this age" marry, but at the resurrection of the dead, people don't marry, because they can no longer die.

Ok, this translation doesn't include the word "because." To me, there is a logical connection here. Why do we marry? Is it to find happiness? To get love? According to Jesus, we marry in order to die. 

According to the Croatian marriage custom, marriage is about embracing the cross of Christ, about surrendering ourselves, about total self-gift, about love.  Marriage is about love. Love is about death. Marriage has a purpose that is only for this life, and that is the death and results in self-gift. Once we are in the beatific vision, we no longer live marriage, because we are in the state for which we have invested our life and our love during "this age."

When you love someone with all the human dynamics of passion, you will go to great lengths for that person. Christian marriage means those dynamics are oriented to self-sacrifice and self-giving for conformity to the cross of Jesus and for the highest good of the beloved, which is his/her conformity to the cross of Jesus. For the Christian, there is no other ultimate purpose for marriage.

When you choose a spouse, you choose the one best able to help you give everything. If you've ever been in any scenario where your "everything" is being called out, you realize that without a firm commitment and the foreknowledge that you are going to hate it at least a good chunk of the time, you are going to be in a mess.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Complete Joy

Without necessarily noticing how or when it happened, I realized I have felt spiritually stuck. The prayer not taking off kind of stuck. And I noticed this in the retrospect of getting unstuck.

What has unstuck me is literally being surprised by joy, to steal a C. S. Lewis phrase. This theme of joy has been standing out to me in Scripture, but it has been that sort of moment where you read a passage of Scripture you have read for 40 years, but suddenly it opens up for you in a completely unheard of way.

That's how joy has struck me.

I'm not sure I have ever previously meditated on what joy is. I have tended to passively regard it as either something I experience, or I don't. Or, actively I have regarded it as a choice: I will choose to rejoice and be glad. Gritting my teeth, telling God I'm glad for xyz. I've probably gotten that mixed in with "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." Or as they say in Fiddler on the Roof: God would like us to be joyful/ even when our hearts lie panting on the floor/How much more can we be joyful/ when there's really something to be joyful for?

What is this joy thing?

What is striking me right now is that joy comes from the union of my will with God's will. God's will for me is extreme love and goodness, overflowing and filling me. But this is not prosperity gospel nonsense, because God's will is also that I be conformed to Jesus, and Jesus suffered and died and redeemed the world. God's love overflowing through me occasionally results in my sorrow. That famous one-liner from my late spiritual director: Jesus gave Mary pain. Love is powerful redemptive stuff, and it is possible to love until it hurts. Think of the stories of the martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity and their companions. They were literally so full of joy that they did not immediately feel the wild animals ripping their flesh in the coliseum.

Joy is an ecstatic experience: it takes us out of ourselves. The union of my will with God's takes me out of myself and unites me to God. It fills me with the power, the ability to do things, and the fuel is love, ecstatic love.

In order to experience joy, I need to have my will both strengthened and purified. I need to have a strong faith to believe in God's goodness and in His love for me. I need to be purified and humbled through the experience of receiving his love. I need to have all the passageways of my soul opened up and flowing. I need detachment. I need submission and obedience. I need good reason. I need to examine my life, know what my duty is, and give my full yes.

And then ask, ask, ask for his joy to fill me.

I read John 15 about the vine and the branches this morning as if I'd never seen it before. It struck me, when Jesus says: "I am the vine, and my father is the vine dresser. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit," that he is telling us something about his interior life. It also struck me that he is telling us something about our interior lives as well. We are branches in him, but our lives also have branches from us, and, just like I wrote above, all the passageways of our souls need to stay opened up and flowing. There will be nothing to flow if we do not stay connected to Jesus, and through Him to the Father. We do not have life in ourselves apart from his life in us.

He tells us all of this and then says (v. 11) "I have told you all this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." He doesn't say I'm telling you this so you can feel really happy, and then embroider this on a throw pillow. He is talking about union with God, remaining in Him, living His life, bearing His fruit, being of one mind and one will with God. Complete joy. He says all this immediately before his passion and crucifixion. "For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).

So joy is not something I try to feel, or feel by choosing, or just sit around and pine after like an impossible dream. It is a reality I step into, acknowledge, welcome, live in. "Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full." So says the psalm antiphon I have sung over and over again. The glory of God is man fully alive. Union of God is the ultimate aim of human life on earth. It is the what opens out into the beatific vision. It is joy. Pain, suffering, and human life are in no way incompatible with joy, but life without joy grinds down to fleshly willpower or tired indifference. To be vigilant for the presence of joy is also to be vigilant after union with the Beloved.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Trying Again

Obviously I didn't move very far in getting back to writing, as I said I intended to back in June. But I do occasionally get around to reading. Lots of things I wrote in past years stick vividly in my mind (as do the experiences that occasioned them). It is a concrete reminder of what has happened, interiorly. More often than not I am stunned as I go back in my emotional and spiritual memory to recognize and really face how much I have changed in the last few years. 

But for some reason, writing is off-putting to me now. It isn't only that I made myself so rawly vulnerable in the past that I basically had to heal from it. I may have a teensy weensy bit of PTSD when it comes to writing. 

It also seems to me that if I cannot write, or do not write, there is some fear at work, some hiding at work, and I don't think that's so good. 

Life is at a different speed, that's for sure. Not only am I constantly busy, but I am finding myself staying busy as a shield. One difference in my life is I have a lot more people who are asking for my attention, for my service, for my help, for my input, for my time, for my energy. To be honest, I used to feed myself on those kinds of requests. I took this kind of busy-ness for being loved and valued. Well, that's a good way to just get used, because I was always ready to say yes and give more, because once you start to try to fill the need for love in your heart with activity, you can never stop. But these days, it isn't like that. I am surrounded by people with need of one kind or another, and I'm the go-to person to help, to do. There are times when all these different people in my life -- who don't know about each other -- are all coming at me at the same time wanting me to do something for them, needing my help. I don't get warm fuzzies from helping. Sometimes I want to spend the entire day quiet and alone -- and goodness knows when the last time was that I did that. But I recognize that the needs are real and I'm available. I recognize the call to serve, to give, to care, to love -- but it is by no means an emotional warm fuzzy thing. Most of the time it is very not that.

And here's the thing. So, I have a new spiritual director these days. I had another for a few months and, well, we won't even get into that. But this new director has an approach focused on plopping me into Scripture and dealing with what happens there. And guess what I end up facing again. I have to go back to what God has given me, in all those years of transformation when I wrote a lot. I have to, with this kind of seasoned approach, go back, look at it all, own it, re-own it, bask in it, with the consciousness that is more mature than the WOW of the first experience. To fully acknowledge what God has given. And to drink from THAT well. Go straight to Him and drink there, from the anamnesis, so to speak. 

So I groan a bit. Anamnesis is the memorial offering, the thanksgiving offering, but it is also the reminiscence. The true thing is, when I think back on the beauty of what God has done, I cry, and I'm stirred. But it is also a battle, frankly. The part I see right now is that it is a battle because I am faced with more choices. I'm faced with rejecting the Pharisiacal heart that holds my own standards up as That Which Must Be Met. Do I want to feel good about myself, or do I want to be whole and holy. That's what it boils down to, sometimes. 

I think of St. Teresa whose feast it is today. She wrote a commentary on the Song of Songs when it was considered a tad scandalous for a woman to do that. But I guess she felt the Spirit of God tell her to write. And now she's a Doctor of the Church. I also thing of St. Catherine of Siena, trotting off to advise the Pope. I'm sure there was someone who told her (if not her own interior voice, at times) that this was not the place of a Dominican teriary, and a woman at that. But how does being whom God created us to be set the world on fire if there is no death to self in the process? Sometimes the hardest way to die to self is to feel unrighteous in what God calls us to do. Been at this location, performed that task. Back here again.

There are other reasons I groan. I kinda know some of them. Physically I've been exercising a losing weight and restarting my metabolism, which is like my body getting younger by a few years, which is all great, but it also sets me back into some anxiety issues I had those few years ago. Working with that. I'm feeling pretty powerless in several relationships these days. I guess I'm not working with that because frankly I don't know how. So I give them every day to Jesus, which is more than I can say I've done in years past. And there's a layer I'm not sure of. I've always thought I was sure of everything, especially about the inside of me. I hope its progress that mostly I feel like a shoulder shrug. Meanwhile, I keep answering the immediate requests of people for my energy. 

I guess I groan because I feel a shift on the horizon. That's nebulous. Maybe it is wishful thinking. Probably not, because there is always a shift on the horizon; my life is constantly changing. I'm learning to partner with the Lord. 

Pray for me, neh?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Singing, Vulnerability, and Conversion

So, I mentioned in my catch-up post that I'm involved in ChristLife. I've been in several different roles, including administration, music ministry, and prayer teams, and I've also visited a few different parishes that have been running the program. I always have my antennae up and I'm running a future-looking analysis app in the background of all of these experiences.

Music is a hot topic in post-course evaluation discussions. And as a music minister my antennae twitch vibrantly when the topic comes up anywhere. At least in my community, nothing sparks intensity of opinion quite like the type of music used to lead people in worship and the way in which that music is executed.

But the ping pong match of "freedom in the Spirit" vs "comfort of tradition" and all the ways in which one can imperceptibly move into the other is predictable and boring after hearing out the personal views of particular individuals. A more fundamental question emerges from the strongly held stances.

Why do Christians sing? What does it have to do with being human? What does it have to do with prayer, and does anything about it lend itself to the life of conversion? And specifically how can singing together help propel our parish's ChristLife to its intended goal?

Why do Christians sing?

Ok, Scripture. Just in the book of Psalms we are enjoined to sing to God a bazillion times. We've been doing it forever, and our Jewish forefathers in faith have been doing it forever. So it isn't something that those who are raised in the church even think about, because it is so much a part of us. When I lived in Japan, though, it was pointed out to me, "Christianity is the religion where people sing together." Of all of the things that characterize religions, it never dawned on me that this would be striking for someone to whom Christianity was completely foreign. "They sing together." Japanese people sing together. We even use a Japanese word for one way to do that: karaoke. They have corporate songs and school songs, but not really any religious songs.

Being corporate

And Japanese singing tells us something about how music functions for human beings. Singing together requires an experience of corporateness. Many parts make up one body, one song-singing mass. We think or read the same words, the same timing, the same feeling, and we express these together. We speak one thing as one group.

Bump that up to the liturgical responses of Mass, or a Scriptural song where we are acclaiming God's word back to Him. Here, we are focus our words, our minds, our voices on the action of God or on the thoughts of God, and together with Him, we sing the words. We are corporate, with God. Singing, in this way, is one of the clearest human manifestations of being Church.

But at what cost?

There is something very vulnerable about being Church like this. This is not an accident. In order to actually sing, you have to let your voice be heard. But it's not your normal, daily voice. It's not your business voice. It's not your negotiating voice. For most of us, it isn't our most trained voice, the one we feel in control of. Singing denotes a revealing of a secret voice, one for sacred or intimate use. Scientists tell us that singing releases endorphins and bonds us to those we sing with. Human beings are designed to grow and thrive through this experience of giving into the vulnerability of singing together.

It sounds beautiful and poetic, and those of us who love music can be cheerleaders for this point. But those who have any experience of performing music for others will tell you there is a side to this beautiful and poetic experience that is terrifying. If you are performing a new piece or in a new context or it is especially important to you for whatever reason to do a certain thing very well, the adrenaline flows. You get nervous. Fight or flight instincts activate. Alertness levels peak. Doing this in community is actually part of what bonds people as they sing or perform.

So what about prayer?

Not everyone loves to sing. Singing in any context, let alone public performance, can evoke anxiety for some people, and therefore some simply don't sing, perhaps claiming that they actually cannot. I wonder how many of these would also feel they cannot pray. That they do not know how to make their voice or their heart heard to God. The hint I'd like to give them is that singing, in one way of understanding it, is unavoidably essential to prayer.

Oh, you can say prayers, recite them. You can pray silently. I do both of these every day. But in reality if the heart does not sing, the prayer does not rise.

And specifically, ChristLife

Let's look at a specific ChristLife context now. The fourth talk in Following Christ is all about forgiving those who have wronged us. The concept of forgiving someone is beautiful and poetic. Right? We are inspired by stories of people who do it. But the act of forgiving can be terrifying. It requires our energy, our focus. The experience is likely to dredge up what happened and lots of feelings. It takes courage to forgive.

And as we venture out into this fray of Following Christ session four, we sing a few songs. Why? Why throw songs in here, or in any Mass or any Christian context? It is not filler, it is not entertainment, it is not custom, it is no mere artistic segue. We sing to acknowledge our vulnerability before the God who made us, but loves us. We acknowledge that as God, he has every right to direct our lives. We acknowledge that we need and desire His grace. 

So what is this worship music for?

We sing to open our hearts, to be real, to assent to our vulnerability, and to declare truth.  I do not sing just for myself, but in singing for myself I am simultaneously singing to support the one next to me with the same truth. We sing to belong to each other.

To worship God is to lay our lives and hearts bare before the Lord, to allow His loving gaze to fall upon us, and to respond to His creative gaze with the love His Holy Spirit births into our hearts as we are there. And that's true whether we are singing, speaking, silent, acting, or crying: it is all a song. To worship God is an experience of emotion, but not only emotion. It is an experience of will, but not only will. It is a personal and private experience, and yet it is not only personal and private. Worship is to be the place of corporate authenticity of our deepest hearts, before God. Worship, expressed in song, is a place of faith and vulnerability. I believe this is the essense of the "new territory" that my community is learning to experience through ChristLife. And to navigate it well, it helps to state it explicitly.

Checking in

No, I haven't forgotten I have a blog. Let's just say I've been in a long marinating process!

My life has taken on so many new facets since I was last writing regularly.

For example, there's ChristLife. I have been on my parish's ChristLife team for two years; we just completed our second full round of the three modules: Discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ, which are designed to take a curious person through steps of hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ as a personal summons to a new life, to make a decision of faith, to grow in discipleship practices, and to learn how to tell someone else what the gospel proposition is.

I have also taken on the presidency of my Secular Carmelite community, taking over mid-term because of health challenges of the previous president. And that I was able to do (legally) because of making my Definitive Profession last October.

My mother passed away at the beginning of February. Her health took a serious downward turn just a few days before Christmas, and January was spent with my siblings and I -- mostly my brother and sister-in-law -- on near constant vigil with her. We didn't have her memorial service until March, which felt abnormal to me. So that piece of the year had that music playing in the background. I still have boxes of her personal belongings plopped in the dining room and living room, where I put them upon bringing them home.

In the last two years I have been thrust into the forefront of trying to keep a refugee family in Nigeria cared for. It's strange how it happened, and it's not that I do so much financially, but I have learned to beg in good mendicant fashion. I also realize I have a front row seat to see two incredible women of faith -- the refugee woman and her sister who lives locally -- pray literally for their every need, and to see God provide it, though not without significant stresses along the way.

I have two teenagers now: one just finishing and one just starting high school. Our family plods along with its own unique joys and dysfunctions.

I have somehow become a leader in all arenas of my life. To be honest, I hardly recognize my present self and my 10- 15- or 20-year-ago self. Sometimes, even my 3-year-ago self. This is a work of grace, and like all works of grace it is good but mysterious and just a tad strange.

And there's music, choirs, and public liturgy of the hours; there's Rosary Congresses and Sonshine Bible Club, and all the people in my life, suddenly, everywhere, where'd they come from, and the revitalization of Steubenville, there's the stress of the Catholic hierarchy debacle, there's the joy of genealogy, the need to exercize, the reality of aging and the need to balance all things with good humor.

So, yeah. I doubt I have any regular readers anymore, but if you are one of those who wondered if this blog was defunct, I have planned dozens of posts in my passing thoughts but, alas, have not been taking the time to write.

But writing has always helped, and so I will attempt to once again take up the discipline.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Is Anybody Thirsty for This?

Would that all God's people were prophets! (Num. 11:29)

Catholics who find it normal to invoke the Holy Spirit to activate spiritual gifts in them, to move in power, to be real, also seem to find it normal to incorporate a musical setting that looks like this: 

Or maybe this:

Or, if they are high-budget and not in church, this:

I play guitar. Guitars transport easily and this one instrument can support a soloist or a whole group or congregation of singers easily. I relate the guy in the first picture, and in fact I lead a group that is not too terribly different from the second picture.

But I'm so, so tired of the spiritual cliche that those who are actively seeking the presence of the Lord have guitar music. I'm tired of it from two directions: from those whose spiritual hunger makes them gravitate toward the guitarists, and from those who seemingly wouldn't know the Holy Spirit if He bit them on the nose, but see a guitarist in church and think: that's a charismatic. Charismatic is, after all, a term to define a certain musical style. Isn't it?

My heart longs to see worship groups who have a fresh fire in their hearts to seek the Lord to fill their freshly activated wineskins that have a look something like this:

Or this:

Or this:
Or maybe even this:

And this isn't a rant about musical style. I play guitar in church every week and I wouldn't do that if I didn't think one could worship well this way.

This is about a thirst in my heart for New Wine. I want all God's people to prophesy, and I want God to encounter people, open up the dormant gifts within them they received in baptism, and I want the Holy Spirit to rush upon them with power for them, the Church, and the world to be made new.

Is anybody else thirsty for this?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

After Reading the Report

I combed through the Pennsylvania report yesterday. I feel like vomiting. I also found it very appropriate to hear the beginning of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as the prelude before Mass this morning.

But I am not writing to connect with my feelings about this, nor to offer commentary on the situation or the like. I am writing to pray and to connect this present moment with past moments in my journey of faith, to see what I can see. I write to understand.

I made my way into the Catholic Church in 1992 and 1993 in Milwaukee when Rembert Weakland was Archbishop. Catholics I knew had no respect for him, preferring to rearrange the letters of his Benedictine order's designating abbreviation. He eventually resigned, the day after being public accused of date rape by a man who had been part of his life decades before.

The Church in Milwaukee was a total mess when I entered, and I felt it keenly on a spiritual level. I felt the moral topsy-turvy. Learning who to trust felt like navigating through land mines. I did not believe that most priests were following Christ, and when I found one who spoke of Jesus' passion I was pleasantly surprised. My primary response was arrogant judgment and the assertion within myself that I, clearly, was far superior. Just ignore the fact that my faith, hope, and charity were as strong as a wet garbage heap. I certainly did.

And yet, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God had called me. To be honest, the Lord bombarded me with mystical graces in those days. As I look back, I had no one else but Him, and that is not the normative path. We need other human beings. I did frequent the Carmelite shrine of Mary, Help of Christians (Holy Hill) in Hubertus. I remember a particular healing Mass, one of their monthly such Masses, at which they had, stationed around the church, teams of lay people to whom we could go to pray with. To this day, I am not sure if they were members of the local OCDS community or not. I don't remember which of my concerns I brought to this particular woman to pray over, but I remember crying copious tears, and I remember her telling me to continue to pour out my prayer to Jesus. She asked me, "Do you know where you can find Jesus?" Struggling as I was at that point to break through the entanglements of doubt and confusion and muck, while reaching out for the glory, I answered with a tremulous voice, "He's .. in my heart?" Yes, she affirmed. Jesus is with you, and lives in your heart.

I made about an 18-month sojourn until I received confirmation in 1993. And a few weeks later I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome with a group led by John Michael Talbot and Dan O'Neill. One such mystical experience happened during that pilgrimage at the Church of the Tomb of Lazarus. I've written about it before. But it strikes me again. I was spending time in close quarters with Catholics for the first time in my life, and I was struggling hard with how physical everyone was making their prayer. To me, God was a spiritual being, and all this claptrap of touching holy objects or holding rosaries or wearing medals -- or even, really, bothering with all these physical places around Jerusalem -- was just getting under my skin. I was beginning to fear that I had entered a completely dead church where no one knew God and the religious people were following empty rituals. One night in the Garden of Gethsemane church, as we left, the priest with us suggested we might want to touch the rock on the way out. That was the last straw. I cried out in interior anguish, "Lord, I don't want to touch some stupid rock. I want to touch You!"

The next day I prayed an agnostic's prayer about these things. I told the Lord I didn't believe any of this stuff about grace coming through stuff or places, but that if He wanted to convince me otherwise, He could be my guest.

Later we had Mass at that church commemorating the spot where dead Lazarus had been buried, but Jesus raised him to life. As that Mass progressed, God gripped my heart with such power that I was shaken to the core. I barely had the strength to join the communion procession as I sobbed violently the whole time. I was hearing these words of the gospel roar like a hurricane through my soul: "He who believes in me, though he were dead, YET SHALL HE LIVE."

And I knew that I, small created entity that I was, was receiving into my body the very life of Jesus Christ. And that I was called right into the midst of the deadness that Jesus knew completely, to bring his life to the Church, that would yet live.

It was May of 1993.

I have come face to face with the dregs of my own sin and my own utterly worthless self-righteousness. I have come to know to my core that I am loved and graced not as a reward but because of who God is: a lover and a gracer, and because of who I am: His creature, His daughter, made in His likeness and for His life. I have learned to have compassion by being shown compassion, and I have also learned the sting and the difficulty and the utter necessity-for-life of forsaking the not-God in my life.

And now, this.

I'm not going to draw any conclusions because the words aren't here yet. I'm just looking, remembering, and taking up my daily position of calling down the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit to make me like Jesus, an offering to the Father in love, trust, praise, and joy.

With groans that words cannot express.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Brokenness of Jesus

We hear it at every Mass

He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body..."

What struck me today in a fresh and new way was this reality that Jesus intentionally gave his disciples that which He had broken. And what He had broken, sacramentally, was Himself.

He wanted the bread into which He would speak Himself to be broken.

He later became broken on the cross because He wanted to be broken on the cross. Or, rather, he became broken as an act of love. He didn't desire brokenness, He desired to act in love.

I am broken because of sin. I am broken because of my own sin and because I was born into a sinful world with sinful forebears and sin-in-action and sin-in-residence. Somehow it is part of this world.

He is broken not because of sin. He was born through the new order of grace, through her who was herself immaculately conceived.

I don't understand all that. But I know it means that when we are grafted into Him, we receive the capacity to be healed of sin and for it to dry up, that sin-in-action. Sin-in-residence loses its power.

But we remain broken, so that we can be like He became, for the salvation of the world. We remain broken so that we grow love.

I have thought that my brokenness meant that I was still so far away from God, from goodness, from change, from grace. I thought my brokenness meant disqualification for being with God. I thought it meant being not as valuable as I would be if I were not broken. Apparently I also thought it was something one could overcome, now, in this life.

But what struck me today was that Jesus broke the bread.

It was no act of malice. It was no act of blame. He saw us broken, and became like us, so that we could become like Him. Accepting the broken piece is that turning point in receiving transformation and transmitting it.

When I can accept the reality that I am broken at the same time that I receive this tremendous outpouring of love and grace and transformation, a corner has been turned. Ironically, it is in accepting utter weakness and helplessness in the presence of Love that we become agents of healing. We become one with Jesus in His self-offering, in His bread, in His body.

There's no earning of a better condition, and there's no striving to fix myself.

There is a two-way total self-gift.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Church as Mother

Today is the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles. As I read the entry for the feast in Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen I was struck by two oft-repeated quotes: "He cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church for Mother" (St. Cyprian, † 258) and the dying words of St. Teresa of Jesus, reformer of my Carmelite order: "I am a daughter of the Church."

I don't feel like I'm going far out on a limb to say that in this generation, we are undergoing a shift in what it means in lived experience, and subsequently in Christian understanding, to have the Church for Mother. At the time and context that Fr. Gabriel wrote (as a Carmelite priest and academic in Rome in the 1940s), one gets the distinct flavor that to have the Church for Mother involves being a faithful, fully-initiated member of the Roman Catholic Church. And he is not wrong.

The Second Vatican Council had not yet happened, but when it did, it also did not pronounce Fr. Gabriel wrong is his view. But it certainly did bid faithful, fully-initiated Roman Catholics to lift up their eyes and take in a broader view of what it means, that we do not have God as Father who do not have the Church for Mother.

If we understand "church" as a juridical, political term that specializes in the observable external conditions that result in belonging, we miss dimensions of the words Father and Mother. I am a mother. My older child entered our family through the legal process of adoption, after he had called me Mama for three years. My younger child grew within me in the natural way. When the midwife handed her to me, her gaze penetrated mine with a knowing that was expanding, not new. Interestingly, we had finalized my son's adoption 15 hours before the midwife handed me my daughter. Legally, in one 24-hour period, I suddenly was the mother of two children. Strip away the growth dynamic, the nurturing, the bonding, the healing, the life of the matter, and this legal statement is what you are left with.

Drop a newborn and an almost four year old child into a new juridical arrangement with strangers (who may or may not have the wherewithall to provide for their human needs), and what do you have?

You have the the vision of the Church that the Second Vatican Council saw was in urgent need of expansion. It calls us to take a deeper look at what happens when being a faithful, fully-initiated Roman Catholic goes right.

There is a community where the love of God is made manifest. The truth of the gospel is spoken. We are told from Divine Revelation the truth about who we are, about who God is, about how sin is the cause of our brokenness, about how God's love is the cause of our salvation, about Jesus as the price of our redemption, about His act of love and obedience that opens heaven and that calls all people to follow Him and to share in His mission to announce this plan of salvation. The very dynamism of the gospel preached and responded to creates missional communities. And miraculously, because the source of these communities is the one life of God there is unity as each is united with the Lord who calls and empowers and sends and is preached. Those who have answered the call of Jesus share the call. They reproduce. There is a life dynamic. It nurtures, bonds, heals. This is why we call the Church our Mother when God is our Father. We receive new life.

Roman Catholics who get uptight about juridical belonging tend to have forgotten or ignored the life-giving dynamics of the Church's maternal nature to their own detriment, and the detriment of those they affect. It's a messy process for uptightness to decompress, recognize its own need, acknowledge the need of others. It's a death to self that can feel like the world, safety, right and good being destroyed before one's very eyes. But in truth, it is salvation. It is the love of God breaking through. It will be messy. Motherhood is messy. Family life is messy. Messy is necessary for real life and healing, and varying levels of messy can all be endured.

Enough of "failure to thrive" Christians. Enough of orphaned believers weighed by a sense of lacking belonging, siblings, nurture. Enough of harsh, one-sided law lovers.

I am a daughter of the Church. I draw my life from her. Let us drink deeply from the purity of Christ so that His living water wells us within us for the salvation of all.

Monday, May 07, 2018

A Word to Steubenville's Intercessors

Yesterday during worship a phrase and image came to my mind that I have been praying with, and feel I should share with others, particularly others who are intercessors in and for the community of Steubenville.

Namely, that we need to pray for the conversion of the kingpins in our community.

In craftsman's terms, a kingpin is a main bolt in a central position. Other things pivot (or not) only because of the kingpin. Of course, it also refers to someone who acts like a boss who is essential to the functioning of any kingdom. 

Spiritually speaking, these are the people who are not only in bondage, but who are also in a significant position to hold others back from going forward with the Lord. 

Can we agree to pray for these people? (God knows who they are; we certainly cannot.) Let's pray injections of grace all around them and their lives, that the strongholds operating through them would be weakened, then broken, and that those whose lives they affect would be freed from the power of this bondage. Pray also that those in positions to minister to those being freed would get ready and attuned to what the Lord desires to pour out.