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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Formation of a Prophet

Frieze of Prophets, East Wall. John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Boston Public Library.
Depicts Micah, Haggai, Malachi and Zechariah

For several weeks, I've had this passage from First Kings reverberating within me:

Acting on the word of the Lord, one of the guild prophets said to his companion, "Strike me." But he refused to strike him. Then he said to him, "Since you did not obey the voice of the Lord, a lion will attack you when you leave me." When he left him, a lion came and attacked him. Then the prophet met another man and said, "Strike me." The man struck him a blow and wounded him. The prophet went on and waited for the king on the road...    
 1 Kings 20:35-38
It goes on to say that the prophet who was struck essentially needed to appear before the king he was to meet in a wounded fashion in order for his message to be complete.

The wisdom to draw from this passage pertains to the prophetic dimension of Christian life, what it looks like, and how we are formed in it.

Step one is always God's word coming first. Prophets don't act prophetically because they come up with a creative idea that they want to try out on someone. They act prophetically in response to the word of the Lord. Perceiving the word of the Lord has to be by faith, so there is this element of being willing to make mistakes and to look like a fool. Prophets need to be able to take themselves lightly.

Prophets' sense of personal belonging within a group of other prophets is a tricky thing. When someone shares in your mission and you both get the delight that this brings, it can be a temptation to get attached to being in the other person's good graces, or honoring them in a way that builds monuments to them in your mind that God has not commissioned. Keeping your distance physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually isn't a viable option, either, if the community of prophets is to thrive. Therefore, clear speaking of one's mind is in order, so that everyone's mind may be brought continually into the light, purged and purified is necessary. It is also necessary that everyone remained fixed beyond themselves to the One whom they serve, which is the Word of God.

The prophet who refused to strike the other prophet probably thought, "Oh, good Abba, I could never raise my hand in violence against one who has taught me so much of the Lord." And the good Abba probably thought, "Oh, crap. He really hasn't learned much yet, has he." The lion refocused the second prophet's attention on what was ultimate: obey the Word of the Lord, regardless of even feeling you are wrong, or making life hard for someone else. Detachment is needed here. If you really so greatly and legitimately honor that prophet you don't want to hit, it will be because of God -- you know he hears accurately from God and walks in His way. But if you believed this, you wouldn't refuse when the demands went against your grain. Therefore, you aren't refusing to strike him because of how holy he is or how holy you are; you are refusing to obey because you are rebellious and full of yourself.

But that prophet did teach the rest of the community a lesson, and so he served them well, after all. (Sometimes we succeed most in teaching others because of, not in spite of, our failures.) The Lord, He is God. They all knew, or were learning, what it was to experience the word of the Lord coming to them. God's supernatural presence is real. They were learning to walk in relationship with His power and become transformed into partners with Him.

Don't you think that the prophet who requested to be struck and the prophet who struck him formed a bond over this experience? Both were valuing the Word that had come among them more than their own comfort. Together, they advanced God's mission. The wounds were temporary; the bond lasted their lives. The first prophet knew he was no lone ranger; he could not wound his own face. He needed this offensive ministry from his brother prophet.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Epiphany 2018

I'm going to try to write part two, following on from the Encounter Ministries conference.

I decided in advance to leave the conference early because I knew that today is Epiphany, and I felt it important to be back in my parish, and dutifully in my choir spot for this feast.

It was Epiphany Sunday in 2009 when I first sang with this choir, and it suffices to say that I captured an authentic experience of God in that blog post. In fact, next to the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass which sparked my conversion to Catholicism, that Epiphany Sunday was one of the single most significant moments in my Catholic life.

Just like Christmas coming around yearly was a true and dramatic re-meeting of the grace I experienced on the night of my conversion for years and years, I have found that Epiphany has been the same for this other experience of God. I didn't want to miss being where God could reveal something more to me.


I remember the moment in Japan when I was at a parish Bible study, unable to understand much of what was going on, but having a burning sense that God's call to me had to do with parish life.

I remember despondantly watching people go up to recieve communion when I was not yet confirmed as a Catholic. I wanted so much to do what they were doing, but I also judged them for not loving God as much as I did. God impressed on me: "These are the people I have called you to love."

I recall hearing at Christmas that the shepherds who watched their flocks were those who were raising sacrificial lambs for the temple, as we sang "The First Nowell" as a prelude. Suddenly, I felt like I was filling in the blank form I saw last year at Epiphany, about how Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost all lead from one into the next. As we sang the opening hymn, We Three Kings, it made complete sense that the gifts the Kings brought spoke of Jesus' death, and burial. Epiphany does announce the whole Paschal Mystery.

And in this grace that the Lord has led me into, I have had the cycle of joyful mysteries, the cycle of sorrowful mysteries, and the cycle of luminous mysteries. I heard the bells ringing years ago, announcing Pentecost. I heard them ringing again months ago, announcing Pentecost. I saw it happening over the weekend. It is dawning; it has dawned. The glorious mysteries. God is not done.

And where it happens, the glorious, mysterious, unfolding of my very own vocation, is right there, right here, in my normal life, and in my parish. That which leads is mysterious, but my need is daily to seek and ask and look for Jesus, to plead to see Him more clearly, to plead for clear revelation. The glory is Jesus, and only Jesus. It is a perilous, dangerous moment, when Herod seeks to destroy, and utter discretion, mature wisdom, complete mistrust of evil intent must prevail.

I suppose none of this makes a shred of sense, but this is because it is alive.

I came back from the conference early because the place where God speaks powerfully into my life is in my own parish, and in the ministry I'm a part of there. That part is easy. What God speaks and how I respond... that part has never been easy, and it is always simple, because it is about one thing: Seek Jesus, Follow Jesus, Trust Jesus, and Only Jesus.

One thing the conference reminded me of is to constantly seek more. I think this was hard for me, because I can habitually ask more of myself always, and it wears me out. In fact, I've been learning not to ask so much of myself. I need to put into practice the reality that asking more of God is not to push myself into work mode, or to expect more "output" from me. It is to desire Him. Maybe I am a bit afraid of, as Teresa put it, "I die because I do not die." To desire -- ah, it can be so painful. And to desire without picturing how God is supposed to answer. Oy!

I think there is something here. I think I fear the pain of desiring, of longing. But this really was what Fr. Riccardo spoke of. I also intuit that there is more purification to be had.

"More, Lord. More." How many times did someone pray that over the weekend. At one point, I think it was Fr. Matthias who asked everyone to pray that, like a small child. Praying from the place is a purifying thing, too.

I think all this is another reason why I feel frightened to be losing my spiritual director, even if I never really sought his help as one to show me where to go. But I knew I had a safe port, and accountability, and someone knew.

What the Lord showed me was that running into the Lord's embrace, I drop the worries, even the fear of the pain, because the embrace of the Lord dwarfs all that.

And, that really is what Epiphany tells me today, too. It is all about pointing out Jesus, and going full throttle to seek Him.  Sometimes I get stuck standing with amazement staring up at the star.

Just like I was getting grumpy at those folks for being to amazed and excited and all that, I see that it is really that I need to deal with my own over-amazement, or having mercy on myself in it.

Or just bring it to Jesus like everything else.

Encounter Ministries Conference 2018

I spent the last few days at the Encounter 2018 conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am writing this to help digest my own experience of it.

I almost ended up not going because of a glitch which I admit I had a hard time letting go of. I registered very early on, following a sudden impulse, in a way I rarely do. Because of family logistics, I knew I'd be needing to bring my daughter along. As I went through the registration, I found that there was a registration for kids under 13, and that they were admitted at no charge. Great! I was ready to pay for her, regardless, but this was even better.

But the night before the conference started, I was told my daughter had no registration, free registration never existed, the conference was full, and that was that. Previous communications had not helped one bit.

So, up until about two hours before we had planned to leave, I was no longer certain I would go, or what my daughter would do. Then, I was told a space had opened up, and I could bring her. My daughter (who can become completely unreadable when faced with circumstances like this) was evidently pleased that she was not being left behind or forced out. We went, I payed her registration, as I was happy to do. But it bugged me to no end that my assertion that I was not lying about free registration went unanswered. In between time, the venue had changed to another state, and everyone's registration was help open to refund if needed. I have a feeling the website was re-done at that point, eliminating the option. It just really, really bugged me that I was left to feel like a liar that was being mercifully accomodated instead of someone whose registration was unjustly cancelled.

It is a little unusual for me to get bugged by things like this, but it didn't completely end there. When we arrived, I realized that basically all the staff of the conference was young enough to be my children, biologically speaking at least. I realized I have issues with this generation. There, I said it. As we walked into the church building, I noted people with staff t-shirts shouting and squeeling to each other, hugging, laughing, chatting, singing with each other -- but not really attentive to the people they were there to greet and welcome at all. I questioned one young man about something; he didn't know the answer, but walked off to a seperate room (passing 6-10 other staff) to find someone who knew. He gave us an answer, which we pursued, only to find that we had been incorrectly directed. It worked out, but my frustration grew. I really value competence and serious mindedness. I realized I was in sanguine happy land. Isn't administration a spiritual gift, too?

To be honest, this was not an easy conference for me to settle down into, but this wasn't for any of the reasons that those who know what this was might guess. The whole thing was focused on welcoming the supernatural experience of God into average Catholic life. I am 100%, wholeheartedly in agreement with this premise. Signs, wonders, healing, miracles, words from God: it is all normative Christianity, and it is clearly a way which God is opening up all around us, through a multitude of avenues. God is coming on the scene with Pentecost.

But, I struggled to settle down into it all. I'm writing to understand this.

I think first I need to just write about what happened there. Then, I think I need to write about what happened at Mass this morning. (My daughter and I left yesterday afternoon before the Vigil Mass in order to be home for my parish Mass this morning, for reasons I'll have to write about later.)

First, there's the praise and worship. I've realized for a few years now that I have a hard time with this form of prayer these days. It is what I cut my teeth on in my 20s, and it was a huge staple in my life for decades. Musically, I am not opposed to guitar, drums, or any of that. What I find I struggled with was two-fold. Musically, modern praise and worship is insipid. Forget three chords; these songs are comprised largely of only three notes. Second, lyrically, almost none of it was Scripture, but vapid rhyming phrases about God. Occasionally, there was a nugget of something that could be meditated on. In some of the worship sessions, I knew none of the songs; nevertheless I could sing the whole thing after hearing half a verse, because it was that predictable. It was very, very difficult for me to focus, worship, and pray with this as my platform. There was nothing to lift mind or soul. For one group, I had to go into distracting-voice-deflection mode, but fortunately I've honed that skill in 25+ years in Catholic parishes.

The talks were awesome, and by that I mean they reflected normal Christianity, and by that I mean they were designed to build faith in the love and the action of God in our lives. The buzzword is "activation," and clearly that is something we all need; we need to stop and pray for God to come and draw us in as active participants into the things the speakers spoke on.

I had no idea, honestly, that so many people carried so much physical pain and brokenness. There were 1,000 people present, and I think it is fair to say that hundreds of people reported healing of significant physical issues. For this we rightly give God thanks.

At this particular point in my life, thanks be to God, I do not carry physical pain. I did stand up at one point, to receive healing prayer, because I told my daughter the night before that if they offered prayer for this certain thing, I would receive it. Two things, actually, although for the second I was standing to pray over someone else, too. It fitting the irony of the whole experience: the circumstance when I asked for prayer, people were instructed to come around and pray over those who stood. Not a single person came to pray over me, even though I must have been in eye shot of at least 50 people. Still, I felt the embrace of God's healing heat. I can't tell you if anything changed, because these are genetic things I know I am predisposed to, and I was really praying into the future.

There was plenty of time for prayer and soaking in God's love and receiving His powerful presence. In the midst of these, I was able to acknowledge the sadness in my heart over the fact that my spiritual director is at death's door. He is 87 years old, and very ready to meet the Lord. For my part, I think of the bittersweetness of laying bear one's soul to another human being, and then being left alone by that person. I have gone through this is various ways multiple times over the last decade, and while God has never left me abandonded and without help, a series of experiences like this is simply not easy. It hurts. This hurts.

The one moment in the conference when I really felt my spirit dance was on Friday evening, when Fr. John Riccardo delivered a word he called a scalpel. Essentially he called us to receive God's gift of a broken heart, so that we would love as God loves, including suffering the pain His heart feels. He spoke of St. Francis and St. Faustina, but in them I heard echos of St. Therese's Oblation of Merciful Love, and my Carmelite vocation, to be love in the heart of the Church. Ironically, when he spoke of suffering love, my heart wanted to dance. It is not that I enjoy suffering. The Lord knows that if I could feel only pleasure for the rest of my life, I would be delighted. But in this I heard my vocation that God is already teaching me to live. It is not the delight of suffering; it is the delight of hearing God call my name. And I realized that my Carmelite vocation, my vocation to be a hidden, contemplative lover of God and one who lives a life of prayer, never knowing exactly what the fruits are: this vocation is vital to the Body of Christ.

I was also reviewing some notes that I had actually recorded in this blog, about the Carmelite Congress I attended in November (complete, night and day difference from my response to this Encounter conference in terms of ease of communion with God). One thing that struck me was the thought of peaceful confidence. The Carmelite vocation is one of inner peace, of confidence and courage arising from affirmation of the one we know loves us. Peace.  Frankly, I did not feel peaceful at the Encounter conference -- not because of anything not of God, but because everyone was so dang excited, amazed, astounded. I get it -- these are signs of the Holy Spirit being present. It's in the Scripture. I have been there. I've been there in living my Carmelite vocation. But, there is a process by which we come to accept the glorious move of God as commonplace to our lives, or normal. This was something God spoke to me way, way back, when I was about two or three weeks into my call to become a Catholic. He told me, "I want the glorious to become commonplace in your life." To be at peace, and to radiate peace, communicates God in a certain way. To radiate excitement is necessary, mind you, to wake people up from sleep and to announce a new day.

Really what I am left with is a realization that God has actually called me to a vocation, and that this vocation determines how I respond and interact with other members of the Body. It helps me, but sometimes it helps me in a backhanded way, precisely because we are not all the same. Yet, we all need each other. I need them; they need me.

I have a desire to discuss these things with some of my Carmelite community members who have spent long years in the charismatic renewal. (Fr. Matthias, however, made the point-well-taken that he does not like to associate himself with the term "charismatic," due to all the baggage is has accumulated over the years, and because he prefers to think not of a group but of the reality of God. This I applaud and I feel the same.) I will never forget that one of my first exposures to Catholicism was at the Carmelite parish in West Milwaukee where for some reason I stumbled into some discussion. I asked the priest something about the charismatic movement, and he responded with something like, "That's very nice for beginners in the spiritual life. If you want something more substantive, check out Carmel." I was so, so, so offended and thought he was incredibly arrogant, which I'm sure was simply me looking into the mirror.

But, I guess the point I'm getting to is that God does many good things, and He uses all His people, but not in the same ways. I am responsible for living what He has given me.

And I guess that's why I need to write about what happened at Mass this morning, next.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


Everything I've ever needed to know, I've learned by singing.

Well, no, that's not quite true. Half I learned by singing, and half I learned by writing. Singing means living, and writing means relating with God, myself and others. There. Everything covered.

Seriously though. While I was cantoring for the Mass on January 1, the feast of Mary, Mother of God, I had one of those "word of the year" moments. There are a lot of these "word of the year" memes that go around social media. It never, ever works for me to choose a word of the year to work on or be mindful of, because I think I'm just not built that way. So, what I'm about to say might sound quite contradictory. I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself."

This word of the year (or month, or season, or whatever -- the future I do not tell) seemed more to spring out of my spirit into my consciousness, fully formed, clearing its throat, asking for attention. I am not choosing this; I am acknowledging it.

Wholeheartedness. I need to choose it daily.

This came about because of the dratted microphone at the cantor's ambo at my church. For some time, there has been a debate and kerfluffle, mostly in my own head, about the use of this microphone. The director had stated that the cantors were not to use it any longer to lead the congregation, except in certain circumstances, and those eventually became somewhat non-defined. At first I had a viscerlly negative reaction to this, mostly because I felt strongly that cantors should lead. The counter claim was that our parish actually sings decently, and it is not necessary, and perhaps even a distraction, to have a cantor in front, bellowing a familiar hymn into a microphone.

So things went. And partly my various concerns remained, and partly I appreciated not having to sing into the mic all the time for various reasons. But what remained in me, like an old sock that didn't hit the laundry, was a new sense of ambivalence and uncertainty of what was best. It shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? But so things went.

So I stood at the mic on January 1, singing the Gloria, because my written directive clearly stated "cantor intones Gloria." I am built to follow the directives I am given, which is another issue when I have ambivalent socks hanging about.

I was singing, but I was thinking about how close I was to the mic, how loudly I was singing, and whether I was helping or hindering. And then I did it. I lost my place, and I sang the wrong words. (And others followed my lead, including the priest!)

By the end of that Mass, I realized my struggle was with wholeheartedness. Not just with this mic detail, but in general. Worshipping God (i.e., living; singing if you will) is a response of an undivided heart, or it needs to be. That is the path I pursue, and it is the path that leads me surely. And I wasn't on it. Thinking about this, that, him, her -- which all boils down to thinking about ME -- is a huge distraction from worship.

There is thinking about me that needs to happen, and it is the thought that says, "Lord, I deposit myself 100% in you, in whom I live and move and have my being." And then I need to live from there.  But you know what? There comes that moment when living from there hits a cross road with something outside me that requires a response from me that I wasn't planning on. Living from 100% deposit in God means I'm not in control mode. I'm in response mode. I'm in take courage mode. Otherwise, my heart and mind are divided.

Today as this continued to resonate with me, this passage from James 1 came to mind:

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord (1:2-8)

I asked, faith in what? What is it we are not supposed to doubt? I've heard people use this passage for all sorts of weirdness, like the pastor who got dressed in a suit to walk on his swimming pool because he was asking in faith for the ability to follow Christ like Peter, and he was "without doubt" it would happen.

I don't think this is it at all. As 1 John 4:16 puts it, we are to believe in the love God has for us.

See, for a long time, I think I thought that to be wholehearted, gung ho, all in, had to mean I was sure of myself, I was right. I knew what was real and true; it was my possession. Or, I had to be sure of another person, sure of our relationship, our friendship. I could grasp something solid in my hand, and then I could be wholehearted. But this is all self. It's all pride. At best it comes forth as well-intentioned arrogance, and at worst it sets oneself up for a depressing and crushing fall. Or perhaps, really, at worst it creates a dull, chronic atmosphere of meh. Indifference. Staleness. Meh.

To be sure of the love God has for us is a completely different thing that being sure of myself. In fact, I think the only way we can get sure of God's love for us is to embrace how flawed we are, how needy we are, how unjust we are, and how incredibly gratuitous God's love is. The more deeply I see my schnee, the more blown away I am at God's desire to embrace me. When I know that it is precisely like this, needy and weak and mercy-pleading, that God loves me like mad, the more my whole heart is free. I'm love. What else do I need?

When I know I'm loved by Him, my little bitty wobbly heart is going to respond with a resounding "yee-haw"! That's worship. It's an on-going conversation, so it's going to purify me. It's going to refine me. It's going to change me. It's going to reveal stuff that will need to go into His love, and sometimes that process is going to hurt. Sometimes it's going to burn like hell. But it is all about moving in faith, faith that I am loved because God is love. It is faith in Love.

This Love is the only source of courage, of living response-ably with God and people.

This is a key discernment question for me: what is tripping me up in wholeheartedness? What needs to be addressed? What am I afraid of? What is the next step onward? And the need is always to soak deeply in God's love, and then respond from that to the reality around me.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Year of Healing

The year isn't over with yet, I know. But I have been reflecting on the healing that has come to my life in 2017. It's been a year of surprises: both of the "Wow! I didn't expect that to happen" sort, and of the sort that is more like a realization of something I hadn't known that I hadn't known before.

All of these have involved relationships changing.

But the greatest fruit, the thing that got me reflecting on this, is the great increase of peace I've known. I've written in the past about how much pressure I have habitually put myself under, forcing myself to do things that I found difficult but necessary. There is good in being able to choose to do the hard thing, but there is a problem with habitual self-violence. The chief problem is why it originates, and for me it was due to relational isolation. To put it more plainly, I mourned that I had no one to help me, no one to mentor me, no one to disciple me, no one to teach me. No one to follow. I didn't know how to enter into that kind of relationship, or look for it, or ask for it. So I did what kids do who are left, in their play, to be bosses of themselves -- I was mercilessly hard on myself.

Then, my internal reward system was set up around how well I responded to merciless hardness. If I felt like I had busted my spiritual/mental/physical/relational butt, then I deserved some kind of applause, and I took whatever good was at hand as fitting payment, thank you very much. If I hadn't pushed enough, I was subpar, and had to go at it harder. Good things were not allowed to register interiorly, much.

Any system like this that we ourselves set up fails. We end up miserable, burnt out, resentful, prideful, self-loathing, etc. But it can get to be like a treadmill that we just can't step off of. Also, because it supports and is supported by the flesh, stuff hides in the darkness, and to some degree we perpetuate sin or our pet brokenness to which we become attached like an old comfort.

God in His grace threw some wrenches in my dance of self-violence of this sort. It started with needing to face and own truth, and then speak it. I thought it would kill me, but instead it dismantled some machinery I had going in me. It astonished me for some months. It is hard to explain, but it was like having some kind of fear of death and this habitual self-violence broken off of me. It was a work of God. Deo Gratias.

I have learned to enjoy my life and God's blessings. Gone (or going) are the feelings that if I rest and delight, if I let go of my whip to drive myself on, that I am failing in holiness, that I am failing as a person. The hardness has softened. In delight I find that God is present to me by His grace, and whether I feel great about my efforts and or I don't, His love and truth don't change. His love is far more fascinating to look at than my strained interior "muscles." And that which He feeds me by His love is so incredibly more nourishing than what I dig up by vigorously grubbing for love. And I don't have to waste energy in false expectation of return from sources of the flesh that just can't make the return that His love can.

I do have someone to follow. Concretely, it is the Carmelite saints, but ultimately it is the Lord Jesus, because He had to teach me, painstakingly, to trust Him before He could show me my Carmelite vocation. And it is never not by faith that we walk. So it isn't "clear," except to the eyes of faith. It requires practice to walk by faith, to learn to recognize God's leading, to know what to take seriously and when to just walk and trust like a child, knowing that the desires that fill my heart with yearning, will still need parsing between the Beautiful and Holy that are their cause, and the stuff that gets picked up in my flesh in the interpretation and/or expression of these desires. God can handle it. He is the one I live to please, not myself. So if I have uncertainty in my own mind, but give it to Him, then I can accept not knowing stuff all at once. I can be at peace in the work He is doing.

This has actually been a really great year. No, life isn't suddenly perfect of course, but if the fruit of the Spirit is peace, I am living more deeply in the Holy Spirit than I have been in the past. That can happen regardless of imperfection level. I am deeply grateful for this. God has such good ideas.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Patron Saint of 2018: St. Catherine of Bologna

It's the most wonderful time of the year.... Advent! Or, rather, it will begin liturgically in just over an hour, from where I sit.

So I have randomly generated my patron saint of the next liturgical year just now. I look forward to this little ritual every year. I know that every saint reflects the glory of God in a unique way, and I always ask the Lord that I may glean something needed from the one generated to be my patron for the next year. I have always found timely help this way, even though I didn't necessarily understand what my forthcoming needs of the year would be as each Advent began.

This year my saint is St. Catherine of Bologna. She was a Franciscan tertiary who went on to found two convents of Poor Claires, and lived in the 15th century. Interestingly, she died at age 50, which age I currently am. She also wrote a work called The Seven Spiritual Weapons. She was an artist and a poet in addition to being a foundress and an abbess. She is the patroness of artists, of the liberal arts, of the city of Bologna, and against temptations. Her body is incorrupt, and her corpse is seated on a gold throne. Frankly, she doesn't look so great any more. I opted for an artistic rendering rather than a photo of her body to memorialize her on this blog. I rather like the sort of cartoonish effect of her oversized head and tiny body.

St. Catherine, pray for me!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

You Are the Beauty of God -- Carmelite Charism, Take Two

I am still processing the presentation I heard on the Carmelite charism by Jeanne Kamat, and since I am preparing to talk to my community about what I take away from it, blog I shall. I'm not even going to consider that or what I've already written about this, in an effort to shoot from the hip, or rather, to write directly from my very moved heart.

Many times, when I've struggled to communicate something to my husband, for example, I have said, "If I knew how to say this, I wouldn't have to say it." Wrestling things out into words is necessary for me to own things, and to know things. But it is also necessary, I think, for me to commit to things. To recognize the way in which I am called to walk.

Therefore, Secular Carmelites, for the sake of the joy of souls, you are the beauty of God in the heart of the world.

This is how Dr. Kamat ended the written version of her talk, which I just read this afternoon for the first time. This beauty of God in the heart of the world, as she teaches it, is the inner peace that chat omes from the confidence and courage that comes from affirmation, that comes from a life of prayer that transforms the soul and purifies it and unites it to God.

This thing about affirmation struck me hard. It was like a shovel digging down into my heart that made a bit of a klinking sound when it hit a rock of uncertainty. It is really safe to affirm a human being? Is it right to affirm a human being? Is it good to affirm a human being? Is it love to affirm a human being?

The question that need to be settled first is: what is a human being? Is a human being sin? Is a human being evil? The underlying klink I found wanted to object: Yes! Human beings are sin and they are evil! Therefore it is wrong to affirm people.... The only problem with this is that it flies in the face of the Scriptures, especially the second creation account on which Dr. Kamat based her talk. There is such a thing as original solitude, in which man was created to be in relationship with God. Human beings can commit sin, can live outside of covenant with God and can do evil and thereby become evil, but in their own being this is not what they are. This is exactly why sin is alienation from God, self, and others, and this is exactly what penance aims at: reconciliation and healing. This is basic Catholic theology.

Human beings are created through the Word of God, permeated by the Holy Spirit, by God the Almighty. This is our origin; union with this God is our intended destiny. This is who we are; this is how anything makes sense.

Is it good to affirm the life of a person? Absolutely. Is it love to affirm the life of a person? Absolutely. Is it safe to affirm the life a person? Hahahahahahah! Hahahahahaha! There is nothing safe about God; are you kidding? Up-end your entire life, bring total chaos to any establishment of darkness that has taken root, or that is connected to anything so rooted, pull everything completely out of your control, yes. When we live in God, we are not "safe," we are ALIVE.

I have a scene etched in my mind. I was in Japan, visiting this family whose job it was to help me learn Japanese, I think -- or maybe I was taching them English -- in any event, I went to their house once a week for dinner for a time. I was standing in their kitchen when this thought exploded inside my mind: To evangelize someone is to tell them who they are. To communicate to them the truth of who they are. I'm not sure why then and there, but it came like a flash of understanding that has only unfolded since that day. And here is a piece that goes "click" -- to affirm the life of a person is to impart to them the knowledge that they have an origin and a destiny.

The devil is a liar and comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. And we are born under his dominion. Unless we are both given grace and formed in it, we will not by nature know that we have an origin that is glorious or a destiny that is glorious, nor a vocation to belong to the people who minister this reality to each other and into those still under his dominion. That is exactly what he wants to kill off, steal, and destroy. He tells us lies about who we are until we either believe them or are so confused that we don't believe there is truth, meaning, reality, or goodness.

Several years ago I underwent a transformation that I can now understand as being rooted in affirmation. It was so powerful because it not only brought me healing in showing me who I was, but also showed me the vocation to which God was calling me. It was powerful both in its glory, and eventually in its pain as well -- because of that very process of purgation and purification and up-ending and uprooting of darkness. I regret only the pain I caused others in the process, but I do not regret one drop of the pain it produced in me. Dr. Kamat's talk also made sense of out of this for me, showing me the rock solid confidence and inner peace that affirmation gives, even as she spoke about our vocation as becoming the ones who create this very same thing in the world through our prayer.

In my lived experience in the last weeks that I've been meditating on this, I have found both increased joy and confidence in my interactions with people and greater pain. Understanding things from their deepest meaning gives energy like nothing else. I have often second-guessed myself about why I would interact with people to a point of paralysis and painful self-doubt. I would wonder what I should say, if I should say something, why I want to say something and so forth until I had no peace and no confidence. I would keep silent and appear cold, and then wonder why people felt I had done them ill when I had done nothing. I did not appreciate that one can sin mightily by omission when it comes to affirmation. I have also felt the pain of meeting a heart walled off in self-protection, miserable behind its efforts to not need affirmation. I see my younger self here. Then I find myself setting-to to find ways to love. This is creativity, and I think true creativity cannot come without this kind of pain.

And I haven't even gotten to the part of the talk which treated Jesus as our Shabbat, about how we are created for eternal Shabbat and living in the presence of God in time. About how the commandments really treat God's covenant promise to be constantly present to us, his requirement that we keep his fidelity to us constantly in mind and to respect those who minister it to us, and how our life falls into ruin when we turn from God, turn from rest.

In the few weeks before my travels, I was so stressed from constant activity, even from great and spiritual things. I could not un-crank, and physically I was feeling it. I find myself now asking, "What do people do?" in the sense of what are we really made for -- and seeing how it is love. We can and should be fully consumed in loving, but we can also be doing great things from a place that isn't consumed with loving, and then we will grow weary. Then, we need rest. But none of this need necessarily be about "cutting back" in what we do. We are made to be fruitful, and that can involve tremendous life output. We see that in the example of some saints. Rather, we need to "cut into" what we do with that creativity of love, and walking in affirmation, which makes us a conduit of life. "The soul that walks in love neither wearies others nor grows tired," said St. John of the Cross. When we use our own energies, we wear out. When we use God's, we are built up. The key is coming back every day to receive God's forgiveness and love -- and then to offer that very gift of love back to the Father that He gives.

It seems God has opened up a new chapter in my heart and life, and I am awed. He is good. I am very, very glad.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Carmelite Charism

Last weekend I experienced the 2017 OCDS Congress in San Antonio. In many ways, it was a very ordinary event, but I'm also aware that God has spoken to new word to me. I mean, it isn't a new word. But as it was spoken, I became new. It was a moment when there was a loud "CLICK" in my spirit, and I became more whole. It's really hard to put into words, because it certainly isn't that suddenly a) I understand all things or b) I feel great as a result, so the delight I feel isn't an intellectual or an emotional rush. It is a spiritual delight, but a sobering one.

I found that the hub of this word spoken to me came in one particular presentation, by Dr. Jeanne Kamat, on the Carmelite charism. It wasn't so much that it was new information, but more like an impartation, when something is bestowed on one. I do have the text from which she spoke, and I have the audio of the actual presentation, but the Spirit is not going to be exactly in either of these. 

She began by saying that "the Carmelite charism is to pray and to create in the world the inner peace that arises from affirmation." She emphasized that we do this by affirming the life of the other person, regardless of how we see their faults, crimes, etc. We see the goodness of the person with the eyes of heaven. And, that to be such a witness of God's affirmation of the life of each person, we must know and affirm the goodness of our own selves (self-knowledge), and to know what we most deeply and truly believe. 

She went on to deal with the second creation account in Genesis as a basis for man's original relation with God, with himself, and with others, and then explored Wisdom literature and the prophets, highlighting that to be made in the image of God is not merely to be created as a relational being, but that we are indeed created out of Wisdom. 

Jewish understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures colored everything she said. I have yet to even completely take in the second half of the talk, but by the time she talked about Jesus fulfilling it all by actually imparting the Holy Spirit and being Himself our rest and making us a new creation that then enables His life to be present in the world through us... I felt like I was swooning under the presence of a Beauty unfathomable. 

If at the end I felt I was dripping exclamation marks from my pores, to be honest at the beginning I may have shed a few question marks. Her words about the place of affirming the life of God within dug into the inner recesses of my soul that had been formed by the doctrine of Total Depravity. Really? Isn't there something about humanity that is evil in essense? Scripture is pretty clear that there is an original condition of man which is not evil, is not divine, but does indeed come forth in beauty from the hand of God. 

Sin obfuscates. Sin renders us incapable of knowing God, of knowing who we are, of knowing what is right, of seeing according to Wisdom. Sin brings confusion and activates our passions to dig deeper away from the presence of God, and into deeper alienation from ourselves and from others. 

But Jesus comes to give life. His first affirmation of us is the Incarnation. As Dr. Kamat put it, what a impoverishment of the Incarnation if we see it only about God's plan to deal with sin, and not as the ultimate expression of loving desire for communion with us. The Incarnation as an act of God's desire for communion could be the theme song of my conversion to the Catholic Church. It has been a jaw-dropping meditation for me for 25 years. 

I was also able to see the occasions in my life when the power of affirmation healed me and changed the course of my life. This is a double-whammy because not only did the affirmation heal me, but it simultaneously taught me who I am and how God made me: to go and do the same. 

Words hold the power of life and the power of death (Prov. 18:21). We will be held accountable for every idle word (Mt. 12:36). We are commanded to speak only what will build others up according to their needs (Eph. 4:29). These are amazing Scriptures, and they point to our need, not to become self-obsessive, but to allow "the word of Christ to dwell" in us richly and to be transformed by his glory and the renewal of our minds.

Two years ago I was powerfully struck by a talk at the Milwaukee Congress by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD, which was about the words we speak and the silences we keep. This talk goes one step deeper, because this is about what goes on in the silence, when we rest our heads on the heart of Jesus and receive His breath, which then forms the words and silences with which we interact with the world. 

"When you rest your heart on Christ, He reveals the Father. He puts in love, wisdom, etc., according to your nature. It will permeate your being. You become capable. You are transformed. You don't have to know it." This ministry of affirmation arises mostly without our being aware of any divine transaction, but it is sharing the love, the affirmation, the redemption, the wholeness we have been given.

This is true. This is how it works. In this is my vocation. This is how I bear witness to God in the world.

I have been crucified with Christ; The life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)