Friday, March 25, 2011

Announcing My Plans for a CD

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, one of my very favorite of all feasts. The Incarnation of Christ has been the theme of my Christian conversion journey since the moment Christ called me to become a Catholic on December 25, 1991. I am blown away, every time, when I think of the profundity of God taking on human flesh and living the same life I live, minus the sin. That He came to show me how to be myself, the way the Father intended, and to actually make real transformation possible.... blows me away.

It seems a fitting day to publicly acknowledge a recent way that I have said yes to God. Another step along my conversion journey. I am planning to record an album, a little music CD.

I did some recording long ago, when I was writing songs left and right. And I've thought about the prospect of recording again from time to time. But this possibility arose afresh in my mind on Christmas Day last year, amidst a discussion with a friend about digitizing old cassette tapes. I'd long been concerned that the music I recorded in my younger days, all on cassette or giant reel-to-reel, would soon become unplayable, but I hadn't known where to turn with it. I turned to the business my friend mentioned, and then got to talking with said business owner about my dormant idea of recording new music.

It was fun to think about it, but I didn't think too much of it. When I was asked to sing for my daughter's club, a few unexpected powerful moments with my guitar in an "empty" church sent sparks flying in my soul. That led me to writing a new song, something I hadn't done in 16 years. Something was coming to life in me, and I had to start paying attention. I wrestled. I had a premonition, a sense of something a little scary calling my name. I prayed for clarity. Then it turned into a fight. I fought in my heart with why this should possibly be a good idea. It got to the point where peace was elusive, and I saw I had to face and answer whatever this was that was asking for a resolution, even if it was a little scary.

My mind told me that recording more songs was not necessary. It costs money. It's just me. More songs are not going to make any difference in the world. Why should this matter. What's the necessity here.

A tiny little peep in my heart spoke up and said I'd really like to do this. But "liking" didn't hold much sway, faced with all the rational reasons. Yet I had no peace. My husband and I discussed a budget, one of the foremost rational reasons staring me down. And yet I told him I knew there was something blocking my way, something I was needing to address before I could conclude what I needed to do.

Then I had one of the weirdest days in recent years.

It was a Tuesday. My children and I headed off to daily Mass at Franciscan University, and I was feeling scattered and distracted by this unresolved question in my head. I also felt just generally weak and unsure and needy. Before Mass began I asked the Lord again, a bit brusquely, what this insistent question in my soul was all about. Suddenly I remembered a time about a year ago when I similarly felt a strong, compelling call from God to do something. In that case, it was to invite a certain priest to our house for dinner. This isn't something I do easily, and it took considerable courage and about two missed opportunities. The intensity of the tug in my soul to do this was undeniable and unusual. And as it turned out, after embarrassing-to-me rounds of telephone tag, the priest ended up leaving town (he was here on sabbatical) and we never had that dinner. So, in my prayer (with just a hint of accusation) I reminded the Lord of that occurrence. I was so sure I had to do that then, Lord, and what ever became of that?!

About 20 seconds later, the entrance procession began, and that very priest, whom I'd neither seen nor spoken to nor thought of for almost a year, walked right passed me. It was a Twilight Zone moment. But somehow it still felt completely predictable, considering this is my life we're talking about. I didn't really even snap-to until I heard him reading the gospel:

Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
The message seemed very clear to me. I had met that priest and been moved enough to invite him to dinner in the midst of a lot of powerful things God was doing in my life. God does things. He calls. He asks us to follow. Get it? He was saying.

I was very stunned by this occurrence, so of course I came home and posted about it on Facebook. (I just love Facebook.) I was writing while in the midst of making and eating lunch. I had just finished writing about this and began eating my lunch (I feed myself last) when my son burst through the door from playing outside, calling me to come quick because there was an emergency. A woman had fallen and was having a seizure.

I was still a bit dazed and scattered, but because it was my son prompting me I grabbed my coat and followed him to where he had been playing. There, down a hill away from the road, lay a woman, seizing. I went down to her, asked, somewhat unnecessarily, if she needed help. I called an ambulance, the called the woman's home with the number she provided. And then I stood there. The woman was saying she couldn't breathe well, and couldn't see. Every once in a while she started seizing again. I stood there. A neighbor came running down the hill (my son the extrovert told everyone what was happening), began to talk to the woman (whom she recognized as a former neighbor of hers), helped her with her dog she'd been walking, and chatted with her. Another neighbor, a nun, came running down the hill and began to comfort the woman, talking with her. The ambulance arrived. The paramedics began working on her. I was still standing there. The Sister announced that the woman was in good hands and began to leave, so I thought I'd leave, too. My son and other kids who had gathered were farther up the hill, and the neighbor began congratulating me (and my son when I mentioned it was he who found her) on saving her life. Everyone seemed very relieved. I stood there some more. Then I walked home.

One thing deeply disturbed me: I had absolutely no emotional reaction to this happening at all. All the while I was there with the woman, it was as if I was waiting for a bus. I felt no panic and sensed no emergency and no danger at all. The woman's elderly mother called me a week later to thank me, and said the woman had suffered a concussion and two hematoma, along with her seizures, but was better. Other people pointed out to me that my son had not seen her, since she was in a secluded area, she might possibly have died.

By the time I picked up my husband that evening, I was well aware that my ability to react with a normal adrenaline rush was skewed. I knew that I had been impacted, but the normal flow of my response was stuck somewhere. I sensed it was due to erupt sometime later. It was like witnessing "live" what I'd known in my head about my tendency to not process my emotions. It was disturbing and strange. But I told my husband during dinner, "I know this has something to do with this music thing."

That night I went to choir rehearsal, and I joked with my friend, who noticed I didn't seem normal, that I was experiencing PTSD. Still laughing, I told her, "actually, I'm serious, and it's not funny." After rehearsal finished she asked me about what happened, and I began to tell her about the seizing woman. "I just stood there," I told her. "Oh, you didn't know what to do." she said. I started to tell her, no, I knew exactly what to do... My next honest words would have been "It was a traumatic situation, so I clamp the panic tight and suck it down deep, far away from me." But instead, all the clamps began to burst in my soul, and I ran out of the church. By the time I got to the doors, I could barely walk, could barely breathe, and I began sobbing. I made it to my car, and hyperventilated there for a good long while. I managed to drive home, and sat in the driveway and hyperventilated some more. I went inside, ran upstairs and flopped on my bed. My husband came in, and I began to explain what had just transpired. As he  held me, I completely went to pieces. The next day my lungs hurt and my body ached from hyperventilating and shaking. I scared my husband pretty good, too. It was as if every traumatic thing I'd ever experienced but never felt was erupting out of the place in which my body had held it, in hopes I'd forget they happened.

It's an intuitive leap to fit this together with my decision about the recording, but a few days later I could see that while the world may not need to hear my songs, I need to sing them. I need to record them and go through what it will take to do so. I'm thinking of calling the album (albumette, really) Unleashed, because it is about living in the healing that God has indeed given me in Christ. It is about embracing the fullness of who God has made me, the fullness of His redemption, and leaving behind cutting off and turning aside and squashing down aspects of my own humanity that I find difficult to deal with.

I am excited about this. If you are so inclined, please pray for me and everyone who will be involved with this. One lesson I faced early on is that I can't pull this off alone -- recording no less than on-going conversion and healing! I would appreciate your partnership in praying this into being. I'll keep you all posted on the progress!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Helpful Homilies: Figure it out yourself, and Suck it up

Every once in a while I hear a homily that peels me to the core. Most don't, which I suppose is good, since being peeled to one's core isn't something one can take that often. Many homilies leave me unscathed. Recently I heard two homilies that fell into yet another category for me: the "good insight" sort.

The first of these was last Saturday, on the Feast of St. Joseph. The priest who preached was a last-minute substitute, and the nature of his rather rambling homily betrayed that fact. (Truth told, he normally rambles, but this is something that endears him to me because I could imagine myself doing the same.) The helpful insight there was that God told St. Joseph, for example, to take the Child and His mother to Egypt. Period. No other instructions were given, like which route to take, exactly when to leave, what to take along, what to do when they got there, exactly where to live, etc. God gave St. Joseph the Big Picture command, and apparently trusted him to work out the details himself, trusting him to pray for wisdom and guidance.

This was good for me to hear. Spiritual insecurity, personal insecurity, has at times paralyzed me because I felt that I needed divine revelation or divine permission in all details to keep me safe. At times I have thought that following Christ meant waiting for Him to direct me literally in all things. But if I were St. Joseph's shoes, this mistaken notion of what it meant to follow the will of God may have looked like this:  Ok, yesterday I thought God told me to go to Egypt, but then I said, "But Lord, which road should I take?", and since I didn't get an answer, I can conclude that it wasn't God telling me to go to Egypt, so I'm just going to stay right here. 

I think this kind of notion, that the Father would trust St. Joseph with working out the details of how to get the Holy Family to Egypt (just a little prophecy fulfillment, that's all) is what has always struck me as Delightful Catholic Spiritual Common Sense. God wants the glorious to become common place in our lives. We work with Him in working out our salvation and in ushering in the Kingdom of God. We are not slaves ordered around by a master, or a micro-manager. God truly respects the humanity with which He created us, and wants us fully functioning.

Helpful insight number two was in a homily I heard today. This time a different priest was talking about how certain relationships with people can get tense when people argue and feel the need to be right. He said, simply, it really doesn't matter who is right, it matters who is loving. Suck it up, he said.

Now there's advice that would have made me go absolutely mad at one point in my life. Do you have any idea how psychologically damaging it is to suck it up? Don't you believe in truth? Doesn't truth count for anything?!? But today I realized that what he was saying was that one can choose to "suck it up." And this implies, of course, that one can also choose not to. That requires freedom. In valuing loving over being right, he was not asking for us to commit the suicide of our souls nor to disregard what we know is right. He was asking us to take a higher road, and not insist on our own way, even when we are certain our own way is right. St. Paul reminds us that this is part of the definition of love: seeks not its own way.

These homilies constitute helpful and necessary formation of one's thinking. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Un-Sticking My Anger (Or, Why I Need a God who gets Pissed Off)

I've been thinking a lot lately about this post that I wrote back in November, about being told I needed to learn to trust my feelings. Actually, it wasn't so much the post I've been thinking about as the conversation and its pretty profound and lasting impact on me.

It's Lent now, of course. So I suppose its about time for a blogpost where I reach in my guts and fish around for that thing that's irritating me. This is what I do. Ok, here we go.

Lately, when I've been in silence doing my daily chores and such, I have found myself noticing something unusual for me. Memories of things past, some long past, have come bubbling up to the surface. They all seem to have a theme, and I know I need to pay attention. The memories are of people who have either treated me badly, or who have treated someone close to me badly. More specifically, the memories are of my responses to these experiences. The one memorable case of someone close to me being treated badly made me quite angry at the time, and it is still able to elicit that feeling of anger. But the thing about all of the other cases, in which the bad treatment was against me personally, is that I have been unable, or somehow unwilling, to feel anger about them.

There's something wrong with that, I know.

Now, I don't think that there is great virtue, either, in storming around, demanding justice for oneself, as if I were the sinless center of the universe, owed all recompense. But my gut tells me that unless one is able to experience anger, one is never really "fired up" to assertively move in a direction that is positive and aimed at accomplishing the attainment of some good that should indeed be within one's power to do.

I can't even seem to bring myself to write an example. What bothers me the most is that the emotion I associate with these occasions of being treated badly -- mostly by various men and their objectification of me -- is a feeling at the time of a sort of relief. Being treated like crap was a high price to pay, but at least I wasn't being ignored. I guess it reminds me of the line from The Boxer: "I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome/ I took some comfort there."

Wow. Now I am remembering how a certain Scripture passage struck me as I read it the other day. It was Psalm 78, recounting the flight from Egypt. Verses like these reverberated in my spirit:

He unleashed against them his fiery breath, roar, fury, and distress, storming messengers of death. He cleared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death; he delivered their beasts to the plague. (Ps. 78:49-50)
And then this, speaking of Israel:  "He led them on secure and unafraid" (Ps. 78:53). That's pretty amazing. It speaks of God unleashing His fury, and yet Israel followed "secure and unafraid." Obviously, if the Israelites were unafraid of God, they knew something of their position in relationship to Him.

And I see now exactly what my soul's need has been. In none of these instances did I feel I had any recourse to tell anyone in my life these people treated me like shit. That man treated me like a thing, took advantage of me, etc. with any expectation that this would rouse anyone to anger on my behalf. And it is a very scary feeling to have no one who could be provoked to anger on one's behalf.

But I see now that I do.

It is not that I want God to strike down people who have hurt me, no more than I want Him to strike me down for the way I've hurt others. But I see how deeply I need a God who gets pissed off on my behalf.

Pardon my French.

You have no idea how much I needed what I just wrote!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Evangelization, Spiritual Gifts and Community

"To be Christian is to be human correctly."

Or so states one blogger, synthesizing the teaching of then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the New Evangelization: To evangelize is to teach the art of living; to be be Christian is to be human correctly.

We follow Christ as His disciples, learning from Him not only what to do but how to be. We are to be like Him. We are not to be pollyannas or plasticine people, because each of us is unique and unrepeatable. It is logical and beautifully amazing that as we each turn our gaze to the one Way, the penetrating light of the one who made us, we find freedom to love in the way that is unique to ourselves.

How does that work?

It seems to me that the key is the process of discovering and developing our spiritual gifts. St. Paul invests quite a bit of ink (in 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4 and Rom. 12) in teaching that we are not all the same, and that the Holy Spirit graces each of us in different but complementary and interdependent ways.

When I was a Lutheran, we talked quite a bit about discovering our spiritual gifts. It may have been because it was the mid-80s, and we were responding to the uproarious changes happening all around us because of the charismatic renewal. While doctrinally rejecting the reality of "charismatic gifts" of speaking in tongues and prophecy, and any other such phenomenon as experienced as the renewal spread throughout the Church, my denomination was still open to the fact that the Bible had lots to say about gifts. I just share that because it seems ironic: it was not my pentecostal nor Catholic brothers who first taught me to think in terms of operating in gifts as a mode of discipleship and stewardship.

But in those days, I never really got beyond filling out a spiritual gifts inventory form and filing away whatever bits of insight it may have given me into the back of my mind somewhere. And I can see now why it never took me anywhere. Spiritual gifts really need to be discerned, developed, and lived out in the midst of Christian community.

Community is something I didn't have and "didn't get" in those days. Indeed, many Catholics today are in the same boat.

When I took a Catechetics class with Barbara Morgan at Franciscan University back these 12 or so years ago, I remember her calling upon the adult converts in the group (myself included) to testify to the truth of her assertion that Catholics don't really get what "fellowship" is. (She could have used the term "community" as well.) That was one of those moments for me that I've never forgotten. How do I put it into words. She recognized, on one hand, something that is central, key, vital, vibrant, crucial, and EXISTING, in the faith life of many, many a non-Catholic Christian. On the other hand, she recognized that many, many a Catholic Christian, has not a clue what is even being referred to when one says this.

But this is the premise around which the New Testament needs to be understood: that we live our faith in community. Because living faith in community is part of what it means to be human correctly.

Now, I honestly believe that many good things have happened since the late 1990s when this conversation in class with Barbara Morgan took place. In my own experience and in what I see all around me, I believe that for some, community does exist in a Catholic setting. But I don't believe that every parish lives this with a fraction of the vibrancy that is possible.

What am I talking about, anyway?

I mean that each Catholic should find, preferably within his own parish, a setting where he finds his faith, hope and charity sparked to life by encounters with other believers. A setting where people are free to share their hearts, friendship, daily joys and sorrows, needs, and service to one another, and together to share with others outside the group -- to reach out in service. And in the process, to undergo ongoing conversion.

For this to happen, parish life must be more than attending Mass together and praying for each other. That is of course indispensable, but it is not interpersonal. As a friend of mine often puts it, Mass is communal but not social. It also cannot simply be a matter of working together, as, say, a Women's Group might cook for fundraisers. It also isn't simply a group of friends who go out for coffee. All of those things are great, but community, koinonia, is a spiritual sharing that isn't purely social or service-oriented. I like the definition of koinonia: "communion by intimate participation." This word is used in the New Testament to describe how those early Christians shared life together. I am blessed to have an experience of this within my own parish. But it shouldn't be unique or rare. It should be the normative experience of every Catholic.

When we move toward this kind of living with each other, it becomes more and more clear that people's unique gifts have a place, a fitting role to fulfill, in the life of the community at large. No one needs to feel guilty because they aren't like someone else, and Mary/Martha judgments can calm down as we learn to appreciate both our own gifts and those of others, and to accept our own and others' limitations. This is the only context in which discerning spiritual gifts makes any sense.

The Catherine of Siena Institute has a program called Called and Gifted which I very much want to be a part of some day. It focuses on equipping average Catholics to discern their charisms and to begin changing the world!

There are so many different aspects to the art of living, and God graces us with the means for each of us to do so in a way that brings us life. Each of us needs to learn how to best make a sincere gift of self, and to teach others how to do this as well. This IS what it means to evangelize, to spread the gospel.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Ministry of Remaining at Peace

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service. 

March 1, 2011
Be at peace, dear apostles. I urge you to strive daily to be at peace. All that surrounds you will benefit from your understanding that while the world changes, God remains the same. I am the same. I am with you and the reason I urge you toward a peaceful countenance is because the enemy of peace sows fear in God’s children. You may think that I am asking you to be at peace but that this is too difficult. Dear friend of My heart, consider for a moment. What diminishes your peace? Which people? Which habits? Which activities? Ask yourself why these people or things diminish your peace? You must find these answers in contemplation of Me and contemplation of heavenly concepts. Only then will you be able to readily identify the contrast between the feeling of peace that heaven offers to you and the feeling of agitation that the world offers to you. The Spirit within you directs you to quiet, even in the midst of what might necessarily be a busy life. If you work from Me, you will retain your peace in activity and interaction with others because you will be giving and receiving Me. When you are with someone who is unable to accept My love, My love will surround that person until that person can receive it and you will not have wasted love because My love blesses you even as it moves through you. By working from Me, you are disciplining yourself to remain peaceful because I am peace. I am calm. I am love. How often I ask you to provide the world with a contrast and it is in remaining peaceful that you will do so. Be alert to My presence and you will spread peace.