Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Confirmation Received Me

I was received into the Catholic Church and confirmed when I was 25 years old. Did infant baptism as a Lutheran, and spent five highly formative years in a charismatic fellowship right before crossing the Tiber. My pentecostal friends found it weird that I thought I needed a Catholic sacrament to make the Holy Spirit real in my life.

The weird thing I discovered was what I actually needed to make the sacrament of Confirmation come alive in my life.

My RCIA was, in a word, lame. It was taught as a class and really didn't meet any of my needs or even allow me to discover what my needs were. I was thrilled to become a Catholic, but RCIA was to me mostly a season to be endured.

However, a long time before I got that far, I made an inspired commitment to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was something God stirred up in my heart, I promised Him I would do it "someday," and then the opportunity to do it opened up when I heard John Michael Talbot speak of a group he would lead there. I'm not even sure I knew I would become Catholic when I made the decision to go. But the trip ended up being my "Catholic honeymoon," taking place roughly two weeks after I entered the Church.

Our pilgrimage group met in New York and we bonded rather quickly. My spot in our tour bus was right behind John Michael, and he and the others got to know me as "the brand new Catholic." This was my very first experience of spending any kind of extended time with Catholics with any degree of spiritual exchange. All I had known before this was my own personal prayer, sporadic discussions of theological topics with one or two Catholic friends, and my lame RCIA.

After a few days, these pilgrimage Catholics were freaking me out. I came from a land where everything spiritual was invisible. I was surrounded by people with medals and beads who thought sacramentally about blessings and places and objects and prayers in common. My roommate loved Mary to an extent that made me panic, speaking of her like the Virgin was a part of her life. John Michael gave a talk about the sacramentality of geography, and of seeing the actual places Jesus walked. People couldn't wait to touch things in all the holy places. And I could not take it in at all. My heart and brain were on full tilt.

One night we prayed in the Church of the Garden of Gethsemane. I felt so lonely and frightened that Catholicism -- or at least life among Catholics -- was a terrible mistake. I believed the Church belonged to Jesus and somewhere was hiding rich mystical treasure, but I felt like I was stuck in a dead church where people were caught up in a bunch of stupid, meaningless trappings.

As we left the church that night, our priest companion said to us, "Be sure to come up here and touch the rock before you go" (supposedly the rock where Jesus had prayed). That was the last straw for me. Interiorly I screamed, "Lord, I don't want to touch some stupid, dead rock. I want to touch you!"

The next morning as I trudged to the next holy site from our hotel I prayed a good "agnostic's prayer" about all this. I told God I didn't believe anything about holy places and things having special graces, but if He wanted to prove me wrong, He could go ahead and do it.

Our Mass that day was in the Church of the Tomb of Lazarus, and we used the readings and Mass proper to that place. With the readings I began tearing up, and as the Eucharistic prayer began I was weeping, practically wailing. I had no idea what has happening to me (as everyone around me showered me with tissues), but I remember barely being able to bring myself into the communion procession, so tiny did I feel, so peeled to the core. The words roared through my spirit "He that believes in me, though he were dead, YET SHALL HE LIVE." The Lord was telling me He knew all about my deadness and all about everyone else's deadness, but that He had brought me into the Church and commissioned me that His life would go forth both in me and through me. My mission was clear. Be alive. Bring God's life everywhere I would be sent.

John Michael spoke during the communion meditation about how even though we can come into the Church and receive the sacraments at one point, sometimes it is at another point that the Church and the sacraments "come into" us. I probably didn't realize at the time he was talking to me. And I didn't really realize that my Confirmation, my commissioning by God, was exploding into activation at that moment.

And after I cleared the snot out of me after Mass I sat down to collect myself. I felt the Lord ask me, "Um, Marie, by the way.... where are you?" And then I realized. "Oh. The church of the Tomb of Lazarus. Ok, Lord," I admitted, "I guess holy places do have special graces."

And all of this I was able to realize not only because I was in the Holy Land, but because I was experienced Catholic community. When I was without a lived experience of faith with others, I spared myself a lot of pain, but I also "spared" myself the glory of God revealed. That community experience was as temporary as it was real, but it awakened a hunger and a seeking that has only intensified over the last 21 years.

Let us be brave to face the pain and the glory, and not allow ourselves to be satisfied with our utter dissatisfaction.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Handing Over That Friendship

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; / he who finds one finds a treasure. / A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. / A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; / for he who fears God behaves accordingly, / and his friend will be like himself.
(Sirach 6:14-17)

Two years ago, liturgically speaking, I handed over my life in a way I did not and could not have comprehended at the time. I acted in obedience to what I discerned was a prompting of the Holy Spirit -- an important one -- and it has been one crazy ride.

Mostly the crazy has subsided. But when I mash that with the Scripture above, well, I recognize important things.

It is true that a faithful friend is a life-saving remedy. It is also true that friendship gone wonky is probably the most Good Friday-esque thing I know. There are many, many things about which I have sort of a natural detachment. I just can't get too bothered by certain things at all. But I have rich potential for bother when it comes to relationships with people. I think that is why God has taught me, has been trying to teach me for decades, that I need to see all people in my life as coming from Him and all relationships belonging to Him. Not to me.

The treasure of friendship I can embrace, but I acknowledge that it comes from God. He proves Himself faithful, though, because never ever has He left me high and dry. He knows exactly which people to introduce into my life. And yet, at the same time, I have to acknowledge that the very, very real relationship that God wants as my top priority is the one I have with Him. That really is the only way anything works smoothly with other people. Well, perhaps that is a deceptive statement. Sometimes for things to go right with others there needs to be a degree of bumpiness. It is needed to the degree that sin and self clog the way and need to be purged. I had so much junk that had to go, in reference to two years ago. We all do, and we seem to grow new crops of it all the time. Sometimes the desire to "keep peace" and to ignore our junk and that of others is exactly what destroys holiness in relationships.

For me to trust God with this handing over of myself to Him, which involved an irrevocable change in a friendship I treasured, has also irrevocably changed my life and my relationship with God. I would be a blind fool to not realize it has been a change for the better, precisely because it has been so Good Friday-esque. The power of the resurrection already percolates, and I believe God intends more than just my interior life to be affected as a result. All I know for sure is I can never accurately anticipate what God decides to do.

But I don't have to have anything figured out ahead of time. I just need to be ready with my Yes when He beckons.

Protestant vs Catholic Good Fridays

For many years, Good Friday was a day of vague confusion for me. As a child and as a Lutheran (the two coincided for me) I felt that it was to be a day of sadness. I was supposed to be sad, think of my sins and how they made Jesus suffer, think of Jesus taking my place in being condemned and rejected even by the Father, see the black liturgical altar drapings at the church service, and watch the movies of Jesus' crucifixion that used to be on TV in those days.

Then I spent a few Good Fridays in the pentecostal world. I remember one service in particular that was like a giant party. Any hint of being sad or somber was pretty much rejected as an expression of not knowing Jesus. It was all rejoicing that Jesus was crucified. (In the fellowship I belonged to, as I recall we didn't observe Good Friday in any particular way at all.)

And then I entered the Catholic world. And for the first time, Good Friday was about fasting. And there was a long, somber service where we all venerated a cross -- one of those uncomfortable, unscripted Catholic moments where we were supposed to freestyle in public. And since I never really had anyone explain to me what was supposed to be going on interiorly during all this, I simply had to pull stuff out of my hodgepodge of past experience. But generally I was so hungry by the evening of Good Friday that the only thought I was capable of was whether Jesus felt as completely incoherent when he was being led to crucifixion as I did from eating nothing all day. So I figured that Good Friday, for Catholics, was about experiencing Jesus' suffering with Him.

What gave Good Friday its vague confusing sense was having deeply conflicting theological ideas rumbling around my head. Yes, it is true that Jesus took our sins to the cross and paid the price for them. No, it is not true that He became so repulsive to the Father as sin that in His wrath the Father turned away from Him. (How do you really get the Trinity to rip apart just for that moment?!) Is the cross primarily a court that changes our legal status with God? Is righteousness imputed to us, Jesus' holiness substituted for our sin? (No.) Or is the cross the mystery of the revelation of God's self-giving love? Did God plan from all eternity to show His love by the second person of the Trinity taking on human flesh and then demonstrating the depth of love that God is from all eternity? Is it that action of God made man that pays in our own flesh the price we could never pay to gain access to union with God by opening up the life of the Holy Spirit to us -- the bond of love? Yes, yes, and yes! Suffering does not save the world. Love saves the world. The reality of love is that, because of sin, it causes suffering.

So, sure, we can rejoice in Jesus' death, but it isn't a fitting nor a human response to just party at the thought of suffering love, even a suffering love that bought us so great a victory. Because the cross isn't just a past legal event that gets us free admission to heaven. It is an invitation to enter the same self-giving love that Jesus demonstrates. It is the meaning of our suffering, of our lives. It is a moment to glory in the faith, the hope and the love which are given those who have put on Christ. Faith and hope are things we need in a world that isn't heaven yet. We still have to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. And the love is the glue. We see Jesus' tremendous love poured out, and this not only fills us and empowers us, but overflows through us. But the sufferings overflow to us, too. It isn't Christian to deny them or try to escape them. It is Christian to have hope that a far exceeding glory is being worked in us. Jesus Himself -- His life -- is being formed in us and lives through us.

So it behooves us to look closely at His passion with more awe than sadness, and with more courage than celebration. Yes, it was the price of our ransom. But it is also the life we live.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Looking Upon the Pierced One

I have found that the most fitting way for me to do an examination of conscience is to look at or picture in my mind a crucifix.

Except this isn't about my regular way of looking at things. For example, it wasn't like the time I thought our shovel was stolen from our yard even though I'd walked passed it about six times every day for three months. It no doubt entered my field of vision all those times, but I didn't really pay it any heed or care that it was there. It wasn't until I realized I needed it that I noticed it wasn't in the places I was looking.

This looking at Jesus pierced is an intense kind of looking that isn't as much about what I see with my physical eye or my mind's eye as about what I feel and experience. And decide.

Read the rest here:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Relationship With... Whom?

Last week I was in a setting where I was listening to a person, though we were not exactly in a conversation. And this person to whom I was listening began to speak of "one's relationship with God." As I listened, I suddenly became aware that this person wasn't speaking of a relationship with God at all, but rather of a relationship with one's interiority.

The tip-off was how the whole content of this relationship was things like frustration over failures to achieve self-improvement goals and disappointment that overcoming sin wasn't easier to accomplish.

I was a little bit stunned putting this 2+2 together, but just as quickly it became a naru hodo moment where I understood why when I have heard this person talk about God in the past, it seemed something big was missing.

Like an experience of a personal God.

Oh, I can't say of course that this person hasn't experienced God in a real way; in fact I would guess that quite the opposite is true. However, it seems entirely possible that one can experience something without thinking about it sufficiently to be able to articulate it, or to understand that crucial value of experience. And perhaps one has had a long and deep formation in ways that have served to reinforce this idea that since prayer is interior, therefore anything that happens interiorly is equivalent to meeting God.

But a relationship with God, like a relationship with a human person, is going to involve interaction with Him in ways that simply are not part of me, myself & I. God is Other, and He comes to me, revealing to me myself and all things, but first and foremost, Himself.

And this made me wonder.... How many other religious people of Christian background misunderstand this basic Christian truth when they hear or use the phrase "relationship with God"?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Lent that Would Not End

If you have kids, you might have had the, uh, pleasure of learning this song:

(If you really want punishment, you can go here and listen to it for 10 hours straight!)

Well, a few years ago I had a Lent that remind me of this song.

"This is the Lent that does not end/ It just goes on and on my friend
Some people/Started praying it not knowing what it was
And they'll continue praying it forever just because...."

In fact, the whole year felt like a Lent, and then it was followed up by another Lent and almost another whole year of a similar feeling. Just back up a couple years' worth of posts and you'll get the feeling of it.

I look back now and I see it has been a time of intense purification. When I started I had a true but purely theoretical understanding of what needed to be purified in me. I had no idea what the process I knew I was headed for felt like, and I didn't really understand in any experiential way God's purposes in bringing me through it. As Soren Kierkkegard famously said, life can only be understood backwards but has to be lived forwards. So I was left in a place for a long time where I was devoid of understanding. That is an extremely difficult place for me to be. I thrive on being able to understand and figure stuff out.

I announced to myself and others a few times during this process that everything was "all done." And I was wrong each time. So I am not now saying that all of that is done, and I know for a fact it is not. When I touch that spot in me that knows that, I still experience the struggle and the desire for complete resolution. There is a very real possibility that it will not be in this life. And that's ok.

What I have gained and learned in this time is all the gift of God. He knows how much I have fought against and resisted Him every step along the way of His trying to bless me. He knows how tenderly and respectfully and gently He prepared me for very difficult moments.

I realize that while God is deeply concerned with the healing of our souls and the wholeness of our personhood, He has a purpose that is higher than all that. He doesn't heal us just so that we can live peaceful, happy lives on this earth for the rest of our years. He heals us so that we are whole, so that we possess ourselves, and so that in possessing ourselves we can make of ourselves an oblation to Him. With St. Teresa of Avila we can then say, "I am yours; I was born for you. What is your will for me?"  There is absolutely nothing this world can offer that is worth exchanging for the delight of being the Lord's in this way.

Humiliation, anguish of heart, the pressing down of the cross, experiences of rejection, of relationship being repudiated, calumny, conflict.... This is the way the Lover brings His beloved deeper into intimacy with Him. This was His experience. To have it offered to any soul is like a golden crown being extended. How often we go chasing after our favorite pretty trinket instead of bowing to receive the great honor of such a crown.

God's ways simply are amazing. Recently I was looking at a sculpture I own, of Jesus embracing His cross on the via dolorosa. It occurred to me that I was, quite literally, Jesus' cross. My sin caused His suffering, caused His cross, and His embrace of His cross was His embrace of me. His embrace of His cross bore the fruit of the Eucharist, which now brings healing to the entire universe and transforms me into Him, makes us one. And yet still today, that Eucharist, that grace, that healing, that transformation, that union, can be rejected by me and by anyone. But Jesus loved anyway. That love is my salvation.

And He calls me to live His very life, in imitation, in union.

Let us praise God now and forever. He alone is worthy of our worship. To Him be glory forever.

Friday, March 28, 2014

When Understanding is Folly

For a long time I've had the phrase "I write, therefore I understand" in the header of this blog. The title is all about that because naru hodo is like "oh, now I get it" in Japanese.

But I've learned that there is something more important than that. In fact, I can think of at least three things that are more important to have than understanding.

Faith. The only way that we can really function in this world that we did not create as persons who have not created ourselves is to acknowledge that we came from somewhere else. Faith is completely reasonable, although it does take us beyond what reason can deduce. And faith is really the only thing that gives me solid grounding under my feet, the only thing that can assure me of things I can't see. Faith in God is a supernatural gift that is available to every human being. When that supernatural gift functions in our lives it often requires one to do things that are reasonable, and yet beyond our understanding. So understanding bows before faith.

Hope.  God relates to us. He is relational, or rather we are relational and can begin to grasp what that means because He is relational and we are made in His image. Relationships are opened out beyond this moment. We don't know the what, but in knowing the who, or better, being in relationship with the who, we also have solid footing. We cannot understand things that haven't even come to be yet. But we can be in peace when the who is free to take us anywhere. So understanding bows before hope.

Love.  This is what God is. This is what comes to live in the heart of a human who is covenanted with God by baptism. This is the Holy Spirit alive and at work within us and through us. This is also the purifying fire of God. And this hurts -- like the dickens -- to the degree that we are open to God and yet embracing attachments that are not God. That hurt just flat out squashes understanding to bewildered smithereens sometimes. So understanding bows before love.

It is fine and good to seek understanding. But it is not fine and good to seek one's security in it. It is good, right and necessary to be at peace without understanding at times, especially when one is seeking answers that are personal and not in reference to specifically revealed truths, like the morality of ending life, or other questions that can be presented in catechism format.

When understanding it not available to rest in, one must realize the call is to rest in God Himself. God deeply respects our minds (He created them, after all!). He will give us to understand what we truly need. But the beauty of the understanding He gives is that it is the fruit of receiving His love into our hearts and allowing His love to shape us. Love gives understanding on that personal level. So without embracing God, without embracing love (with faith and hope -- they travel together), we never really reach the potential we could in human understanding.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"I Have Come not to Abolish but to Fulfill"

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them." (Mt. 5:17, NAB)

This is the first line of today's gospel reading.

Jesus wants us to think about him correctly. He wants us not to misunderstand His intentions, and mostly I think He doesn't want us meditating on ourselves, imagining God in our own image, but leaving the realm of our thoughts and entering into His.

And so He tells us not to think He's come to abolish the law and the prophets. Scripture is full of admonitions not to add to or subtract from God's word, specifically the directives He gives, and the prophetic messages He gives. He wants them just the way He gives them.

And yet... He gives them in such a way that they have an aspect of "emptiness" to them -- of lack of fulfillment. This is on purpose. The law, the prophetic messages, are given in such a way that they cause us to look deeper, to look beyond, to look for what they really hold. They are designed to cause even a certain dissatisfaction. It is when we want mastery over the mystery of God that we add our own embellishments or take away the more onerous or confusing bits from the law and prophets. But then we've made God over into our image, and made Him more manageable and palatable, suiting our current whim.

Christ is the fulfillment. What is more, Ephesians 1:23 tells us that the Christ is the head of the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. Christ comes not only to personally keep the law and be the promised Messiah the prophets foretold. He comes to form the perfected people that the old covenant was never able to produce. This must be why He goes on (after the verse I quoted above) to talk about those who will be called greatest and least in the kingdom of God.

Still now, in the new covenant, we know in part and we prophesy in part. We too have that which causes a yearning in our souls. This also is by God's design, to draw us more deeply into the experience of His life, and to direct our gaze heavenward.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

When God Promises to Kill

"You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans."

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

No, really.

This is from today's Office of Readings, from Exodus 22. I know that Christians (not to mention non-Christians) can read stuff like this and feel compelled to go into significant contortions to try to get comfortable with words like this. We can end up with interesting theological positions, like the undoing of the inerrancy of Scripture, or the creation of an "Old Testament God" that is different from the God of the New Testament.

The Church and her liturgy teach us how to read Scripture, and one key to that is understanding both the old and new covenants in light of each other. The Fathers teach us by their example to read the Old Testament in light of how the Holy Spirit works in our hearts in the new covenant.

So when I read this piece from Exodus this morning, I was moved to tears in two directions at once.

There are aspects in which I am like the "widow and orphan" of early Israel. There are ways in which I am utterly helpless and at the mercy of others. There is that aspect of me in which God is my only defense.

And yet there is also the aspect in me through which I am the wronger of the vulnerable. I have the propensity to sin, and I do. And God promises, what? To kill me with the sword. Am I to shrink from this? No, this is exactly what I signed on for in baptism.

God puts His life into me in baptism, and when I live it out, living in the Holy Spirit, I am called to put to death all sin, because that is what contact with God does to us. Each day we get to choose -- God, or not God?

The most merciful thing God can do for us is to convict us of sin and place the cross in our lives so that our choice for sin gets crushed out of us. God never crushes our humanity. We get confused and lose clarity about what is our humanity and what is our idolatry. The love of God burns as a strong fire, and He bids us toss our idols into it to repudiate them. His fire destroys them. His fire does not destroy us. His fire, His love, envelops us. But we have to not shrink from Him in fear. We can be so accustomed to living without the experience of God's love, wrapped in serving our own idols, that we see God's love as our enemy.

The God who comes to save and protect me is exactly the same God who comes to refine the dross right out of me by the fiery furnace. This is truly one and the same act.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Remembering My First Love

I went to Mass for about 18 months before I received Confirmation and entered the Church. All that time I already knew I would become a Catholic. All that time I had a lot going on inside of me. I really had no human being to accompany me; those who had been instrumental in my conversion lived far away from me and I saw them very infrequently. Letters were our contact. God gave me a lot of graces in those days that I realize now were a little unusual. I also had heaps of pride and prejudice to work through, and no, there's no oblique Jane Austen reference there.

After I decided to become a Catholic, God really had only one directive for me: "Be going to Mass." I understood the Lord meant I should go to daily Mass, and I did, though it took me several months before I moved beyond Sundays only.

But even when it was just Sundays, I began to discover my first love. Liturgy.

There's that first kiss or first touch or embrace from someone you love that makes every nerve involved stand on end for a couple days. The physical memory seems indelible. I had those moments with the liturgy in those, my early Mass-going days. I remember how profoundly struck I was by the prophetic power present in the liturgical dialogue between priest and people. I was struck by how immanent heaven and all its treasures felt, and that I was being drawn up into it. I was amazed at how much work God could do in my soul in such a quick, efficient way, day after day. I realized that I had found my home and my family for the first time ever. I would come in sight of the tabernacle after my day at work and feel God's peace wrapping me up and drawing my weariness out of me.

But much of this mystical sensation was lifted from me quickly. The memory stayed, but my more regular experience was of my frustration over my own dullness and the lifeless way that seemed demanded of me, by general consensus, as this new Catholic family of mine celebrated liturgy. I had very serious struggles accepting the flesh and blood people next to me in the pews, and it seemed just as important to God that I learn to love them as Him. He always knows what He is doing as He leads His children.

I have come to a completely different place in my life now. I really have learned to love people. I have had some mighty lessons in that department.

And now the Lord calls me to remember my first love in the way He first introduced me. Maturity makes love make more sense, and there is always so much more room to grow both in understanding and in the actual action of loving.

I love the fact that no matter how long I have walked with Jesus, He is always doing something new with me, and I always feel I am just beginning to know Him.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wanna See Me Make the Golden Rule Complicated?

Today's gospel reading had the golden rule in it: Do to others what you would have them do to you.

For a long time now, I've had a hunch about that golden rule. It has always struck me that perhaps in the original stating, it was descriptive and not prescriptive. "You do to other people what you would have them do to you."

The truth is more likely that the average person over the millenia has been far more practical than I. So, it's more like I don't cheat you, you don't cheat me.

But I generally think in terms like this: I want someone to challenge me, to love me enough to say hard things to me. I want someone to see where I'm stuck, especially where I can't see it, and to uncoercively coach me beyond that stuck point.

That's what I want. (Well, that and someone to cook for me.) But sometimes I "golden rule" people, doing to them what I want for me, and it just doesn't go over.

Or do people with complicated brains get an exemption here?

But let's face it. Some people really love to avoid conflict. They don't want anyone getting into conflict with them, so they don't get into conflict with others. Some people like their egos massaged, so they massage the egos of others. People want all sorts of things from others that aren't so good.

Is this the definition of thinking too much?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Miracle of Love

I'm not done with that 54-day novena yet. But let me tell you, I've prayed novenas that were mostly about remembering, checklist style, to say prayers. But this novena has, I dunno, gotten in my face like a personal trainer and pushed me, sometimes, like I didn't exactly feel like being pushed.

I don't know about you, but I am finding that no matter how selfless I intend to be in praying for other people, there is always something that comes back to "and here's how what's good for them will feel great for me." That just sneaks in there, all the time. Even if I pray for miracles for people I don't even know, some part of me would just like the satisfaction that my prayers could make a difference. That would feel good.

There's nothing grossly wrong with that, because my happiness is made up in part by the good of others. But. There's this other part. This is what started breaking into my consciousness today about this novena.

Miraculous breakthroughs of grace -- I guess that about summarizes what I have been praying for. And today I realized that the biggest miracle of grace I could ever personally witness is for me to love unconditionally, with no hint of personal gain or benefit. Like God loves us. Willing to love despite being ignored, avoided, taken for granted, even disdained and rejected. Me, love. That's a miracle!

But I don't say that sardonically. It simply is true. I offer my life to God for Him to make an outpost of His kingdom of love through which He can access those in my life directly. I offer Him my heart that His love may flow through me. I may very well never realize how He works or when He works, but I know He does this sort of thing even when people are unaware and unconscious of their offering. Supernatural things happen in lives when God's love is made manifest. That is really my only wish for my life, that divine love may flow through me to reach someone else.

So, instead of thinking what miracles and changes I would like to witness in someone else's life (especially when those changes would make me happy!) I can live in the graces I have prayed for by loving, regardless of how I am treated. As St. John of the Cross stated: "Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and there you will draw out love." As one commentator on this famous quote concluded, instead of "waiting for love to happen" one can put love to work in order to harvest the fruits later. If even St. John of the Cross can say this, certainly one can wish in an unselfish manner for love to be reciprocated. God certainly wishes that! I'm quite limited in things I can actually do to demonstrate love, in general and especially in the particular instance at hand, but I can always pray. In that I have great freedom.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Sigh, A Complaint

I want to complain a little bit. I'm not very good at that, so we'll see how it goes.

Way back long ago when I first discovered how hard it was for me to talk, I blamed it on the fact that all I knew how to do, all I wanted to do, was to reach down into other people's guts, and basically no one appreciated that.

It's amazing how accurate that still strikes me today, even though I've gone through layers of dismantling the untruths in that. I struggled to talk because of other reasons too: and the two biggest were my pride and the degree to which I suppressed my emotions. There's probably no separating those two things, at least not for me.

As I look back through mental snapshots of my spiritual formation, I see things like learning to chit chat, realizing the value of a trip to the mall or a museum for the sake of passing time among people, the joy of understanding movie references, and other little signs of love I picked up from being part of the human race. Silent retreats and the profundity of discovering prayer? Yeah, sure, but that's the easy stuff. To really open my heart to people in a group of people: that stuff was downright miraculous, transformative and healing.

Ok, wait. I'm supposed to be complaining.

I'm still the person who really only feels designed to reach down into people's guts and pull up. Maybe the way I want to complain is to God for designing me this way. I get myself into this wanting-to-complain spot not infrequently. First of all, if I do something, I want to be good at it. But I've learned this is not a something that I get to direct, or a talent I can choose to hone. Other people's guts, after all, are holy ground. One may not go there by the force of one's own will. There's obviously quite a bit about this I don't get yet.

However, secondly, I do sometimes find that I am in the midst of someone's guts when I didn't realize I had gotten there. And I have learned that it is really, really hard for people to respond to this sort of thing without a strong emotion. People's strong emotions tend to freak me out, mostly because I'm always so surprised and bewildered by the experience. I'm learning I have this ability to make people really upset. It's not even, I think, so much that *I* upset them as they are upset by what is getting pulled out of them. Subsequently, people seem to get to feeling either angry, guilty, impotent, or (perhaps scariest of all) deeply moved, all of which does not make people rush to embrace me and cry: "Please! Pull more of my guts out cuz I love feeling all of this confusing inner turmoil!"

But you know what? I'm just a normal person, and I'd love to have normal friendships that go beyond stupid fluff, though I respect the value of stupid fluff. I mean, like everyone, I just want to be natural and at ease and be so with others where that works.

Just got a teeny, tiny hint of despair wafting up in that department. Hope is wearing thin.

But here are a few things I'm learning: God is calling me to a prophetic life. It's the normal call of a Christian, but there's something else there, too. That explains why God has been after my mouth since my young adulthood. Also, God is calling me to live in faith. This faith is not the intellectual thing about a list beliefs. This is about seeing and speaking forth that which is not yet seen with physical eyes. This has a lot to do with invisible realities.

A little aside on this point: This morning as I was praying I was presenting some stuff to God, some struggles, and admitting that I couldn't tell what the source of the struggle was. I laid out the options I could think of. I prayed on, and it came to my mind that I recently had a very small business interaction with someone I discovered was quite involved in the occult. This was via computer, and in this business I have an avatar of Pope Francis for my account. The way it occurred to me was this: I say little prayers of blessing on people randomly throughout my day, true. Well, people who are dedicated to evil are going to do the same, especially when they see the Pope smiling at them. So I prayed against any hexes or curses that may have come my way, and suddenly the struggle I had presented to God became so easy to understand, and was wiped away as easily as dust.

Inside, this kind of thing gives me a sense of understanding and confidence. Socially, it is just one more thing I scratch off my list of casual conversation over non-existent tea with my non-existent friends.

So I blog instead, since writing is what I have always done.

C'est la vie.

I know I am not stuck in a bleak spot. I know I am before, in time, something good and significant. I know these things by faith. I just don't really know how to like being here. (There, I think that sounds like a complaint, now. And now I will tell myself to buck up, because being able to like things is not all that important.)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lent is Not a Starting Point

Where I live, Ash Wednesday is unbelievably popular, even among non-practicing Catholics or those who have left long ago for other ecclesial communities. People whom I vaguely know to be cradle Catholics (like the woman who cuts my hair) find it perfectly normal to ask me "What are you giving up for Lent?" even though if I were to ask them, "So, what did you think of last gospel last Sunday?!" they'd probably think I was some kind of religious nut.

A lot of people think Lent is about a bunch of religious rules, and depending on how strongly they feel about belonging to their religion, they may feel roughly that favorably disposed to keeping these rules. Maybe it's kinda like how the Irish want to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's day. It's about feeling an identity.

Some people have natural spartan tendencies towards self-challenge. They may face Lent with grim determination to reach a goal that involves giving up something they enjoy. If they fail, they realize they are only human, and if they succeed, they feel accomplished. They may even feel God appreciates their efforts, and that somehow those efforts may contribute to a better world.

The first time I avoided meat on Friday because I was becoming a Catholic, it was a big deal to me. And when I got dizzy because I fasted all day on Good Friday, I felt somehow I accomplished what I was supposed to. To be honest, I felt too disoriented to feel proud of myself. But if this kind of stuff is all Lent is about, it is dissatisfying and confusing.

I think Catholics get confused because Lent is the first moment where we feel like we are supposed to respond to God and "do something." But Lent is not a starting point. We can't look at Lent as our place from which we will go meet God by our efforts and sacrifices.  Our starting point is the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle. This is all about God's promises and their fulfillment, His tremendous gift of love given into our world and our very flesh, and the supernatural call in Him for this gift of love to go through Christ (read: Church in this time and space) to all the world. Then we get a few weeks for the normality of this all to soak in, and THEN we have the season of penance, preparing for the other magnificent move of God that no human effort could ever imagine or accomplish: Christ rising from the dead and destroying sin, death, and the power of hell. Then we hear all about the supernatural works of God which are normal for us, more time to soak in normal, and then we start over again. Lent is far more about culmination than a starting point.

It is the power of the love of God, demonstrated in His coming to live among us as a human, that has to be our starting point. We have to see that His love offered to us and say yes to it, receive it, and allow ourselves to feel it, experience it, and be shaped by it to whatever degree we are capable.

Then it will make sense when we hear Jesus calling us to follow Him up to Jerusalem to His passion. Love calls "come and be with me." And we answer "draw me after you and let us run together."

There is some endurance and perseverance called for in penance to be sure. But Lent is not about how hard I can grit my teeth. I like to see it as an emptying. I make room. I take the concrete steps in prayer, fasting and almsgiving to make room in my heart, in my schedule, in my house, in my way of living. I make room as an act of faith. My faith is in the One whom I know loves me, the One whom I wish to invite, the One with full rights to all that I am and have. I do not stipulate if or how He must fill what I empty. It is only available to Him. I am available to Him. I become free to hear Him say "go here, say this, give that," or "wait there."

Because He has a will, a desire. He loves and cares for me so fully and completely, and I desire in return that what He desires is also fulfilled. This is peace for me.

We are like onions. And we need cyclical rhythms. The process of living and growing continually makes for stuff that can stand to be pruned back and for ripe fruits that are ready to be shared. During Lent we all become a prophetic sign that life is about more than this earth. We live here with our eyes and hearts fixed on the glory that follows. "For when Christ our life appears, you also shall be revealed with him in glory" (Col. 3:4).

Friday, February 07, 2014

I Am Coming to Move Among Them

This morning as Jesus was exposed upon our church altar for adoration, this is what occurred to me.

I am this girl:

I am a beggar before God.
And I live among beggars.
There is no shame in this. It is simply our status before God the creator of all. He is incredibly good.

Beggars are not always incredibly good. Mostly we are incredibly needy. And most of us don't like that at all.

Some of us don't like it so much that we start to hurt each other and become very bad. Our need and pain makes us merciless.

I know Jesus loves us so much. I come and tell Him, "Lord, they don't know You, and they are hurting each other!"

And suddenly I am overwhelmed by the compassion erupting in Jesus' heart in answer to this summons. "I am coming to move among them."

That, my friends, is His promise to the world and His call to the Church.