Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent 2011, Morning Prayer, and Feasting

I love Advent. A handful of years ago I really had no better clue than a church-going 8-year-old might why celebrating Advent was significant, but in recent years, the Lord has expanded my heart to hold more and more. This year I feel like I have taken a quantum leap, not so much in "understanding" Advent as being inside it, experiencing it, if that makes any sense to you. And this leap has been facilitated to a great extent by regularly joining some of my neighbors to pray morning prayer.

Here's how I can explain it. I've shared in another place about my conversion to Catholicism which had its apex at a Christmas Eve midnight Mass. I liken it to being invited to a huge banquet. The first year, all I could do was walk in the room and look at the banquet with my mouth hanging open in shock. The next few years, I came in and stood quietly in the back of the room. Year by year, in celebrating the banquet that is the feast of the Nativity, I was seated, pulled up a plate, ate some of the food, looked around at the other guests, began chatting, enjoying, and really celebrating. Even exploding with joy.

This year the image that fills my heart, largely growing out of my experience of praying the Liturgy of the Hours in community, is that I am witnessing, am in on, all of the feast's preparations. I see the prayers, the longing, the penances, the sacrifices, the seeds sown by God in and through His Church, that made that banquet something that I could "see," something that I could walk in on in shock 20 years ago. I realize that prayer that has been ascending through His Church for the salvation of my soul. I realize the gift that other Christians have given to me, someone nameless and unknown to them. The love, the longing, the sacrifices of others called down God's graces onto me.

Suddenly I feel myself as if in a kitchen buzzing with cooks and surrounded by mounds of potatoes and flour, raw meat, and ingredients of every sort. Advent is about the preparation of a feast of grace for the world, the poor, starving world. And picking up those potatoes to peel makes me want to weep with gratitude for being not only among those God feeds, but among those called to feed others with His life. None of this belongs to me. It is lavished on us by our Father who generously provides even for those who can only gape at Him in disbelief in return.

I've prayed the Liturgy of the Hours on and off for those 20 years. A breviary was the first thing I purchased after deciding to become a Catholic on December 26, 1991. But I've not regularly prayed it in community. For me, this is an incredible grace that surpasses anything about aesthetics. Our particular group was often made up largely of children. That probably sounds romantic to those of you who are not currently parenting children. Children teach adults so much about ourselves: one day one might say something spiritually profound, and the next might slap the one sitting next to him or be obnoxious in some other way. If we cannot see that until we learn to accept the Lord's discipline, we are all like this (only usually in more restrained, socially-polished ways that hide our obnoxiousness and suppress our profundity) then I think we never grow beyond a sterile sort of community experience where everyone is more concerned about being nice than being holy. Community life teaches us that we need each other and challenges pride which would have us believe we are better off standing alone, or with a group of me-clones. I cannot say why this community experience has been such a huge grace for me, other than to say that praying this way is simply God's will.

Here we are during one of our first gatherings.
My heartfelt gratitude to Keith and Iwona Major for opening their home and their family prayer time to all who gathered.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Love, joy, suffering, miscarriage

I am struggling. Embedded deep within me, it seems I have a calendar which does not allow me to forget that during this week three years ago we learned I was pregnant, and then learned I had lost the baby before I had even gotten used to the idea of being pregnant.

Today had the same Mass reading that hit me so hard last year when I wrote about this anniversary. That was striking.

Raise a glad cry, you barren one who did not bear, break forth in jubilant song, you who were not in labor, For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife than the children of her who has a husband, says the LORD. Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly; lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; Your descendants shall dispossess the nations and shall people the desolate cities. Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced. The shame of your youth you shall forget, the reproach of your widowhood no longer remember. For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. The LORD calls you back, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, A wife married in youth and then cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer. This is for me like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth; So I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you. Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
How it hits me this year is that during this season of Advent that always stirs me so deeply with hope and then Christmas which has been an annual reminder to me of the flood, the torrent of love God has for me that has totally reshaped my life... during this powerful time, I have a poignant reminder that I cannot fulfill my own desires for myself. Infertility and the loss of two pregnancies has taught me that. I can't give myself God's gifts. Every good thing that comes to me comes from the hand of God, and what He doesn't drop right into my soul He gives directly into the hands of other people, with the directive to be faithful to Him, thereby giving to me what I so desperately need. In the same way, He puts into my heart and hands things that belong to others, with the same charge to live faithfully to Him, thereby spreading His gifts adequately. We all fail each other. But God is so generous; He doesn't seem to mind working with our failures and still accomplishing His will. In the midst of all the beauty with which God floods me, I have also this reminder: I am not the Author of this. Neither great joy nor suffering are evidence of some kind of merit on my part, some kind of trick that I've performed to win God's favor. Rather, His love IS. That's the fact. I am a creature. That is also the fact. A creature drawn to union with the Creator will experience both joy and suffering, but neither joy nor suffering amount to anything apart from that union. I can try and struggle to get myself happy, but it is futile unless what I seek is whatever union with God in Christ calls for.

"To reach satisfaction in all, desire satisfaction in nothing." -- St. John of the Cross.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Meaning Series: Psalm 51

Recording Unleashed is coming to a close, so I guess I'd better get this self-imposed project of writing about the meaning of each song wrapped up, too.

Psalm 51 is the only song I wrote while in the process of rehearsing to record, in May of this year, so it is the johnny-come-lately to the project. One night I was rehearsing "Led By the Spirit of the Lord" with Joey and Aaron (drummer and bassist, respectively) and we were joking about how the song reminded me of Linda Ronstadt's version of Mike Nesmith's tune "Different Drum". I tend to get songs stuck in my head, so that night I came home and listened to both Linda's and Mike's version of that song several times. The next morning, with Mike's tune still reverberating in my head, I was impressed with the words again and again "a clean heart create for me, Oh God." I tried going various directions with lyrics, but Psalm 51 asserted itself in my heart. The result is a general paraphrase of Psalm 51 with a country sound. There is something about this type of music that speaks to me of the humility, of earthiness, and of our rightful position before God as accountable, yet empty handed and with nothing at all that can impress Him, but our readiness to turn to Him completely trusting in and anticipating His mercy, His love and forgiveness.

A bit of trivia: (as if it isn't all trivia!) I wrote this song very early in the morning and so it has some very low notes in it. It took me a similar morning recording session to be able to pull off these notes.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Proverbs 31 and "Did You Just Look at my Chest?"

Recently on Facebook I saw both of these videos. I am posting them both here, because I think they work great in context with each other. You might think I mean they contrast each other, but I don't. Women and men both need to understand and appreciate both the biology of attraction and the spirituality of relationship. Leave one or the other out, and you end up with something less than human.

Monday, December 05, 2011

and the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed

Today's Mass readings blew me away. I had the feeling I was hearing the story of my own life read back to me from the pulpit.

Here's the feeling I got: Imagine someone plans a surprise party for you. The plans are extensive, and you don't have a clue what is afoot, but you do get terribly suspicious of the activities of the one doing the planning. You notice things you can't explain, and you devise in your head the worst possible scenario(s) to explain what you see. You get your whole psyche wrapped up around these terrible thoughts. Then the party is sprung on you. And long, long afterwards (how about years) you are still unpacking those terrible thoughts and realizing that what you thought was suspicious activity was really deep evidence of love. You go through layer after layer of the realization that when you thought the world was against you, you were actually deeply loved, despite the fact that the only one being awful was yourself.

That's how those readings hit me today. God has sprung the best surprise on me of all -- my whole life has meaning! Isaiah has always moved me, especially all the passages about restoration and the deserts blooming. These promises echoed through my heart since my childhood. What struck me today was what seems like a progression. The desert will bloom, God will restore, God will come to save you... then... the blind shall see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. It's one thing if we see this just as a Messianic prophecy (as if that weren't enough!). But what about our lives? God restores us so that we can be His Messianic people -- and bring His healing to others. As they say in the Hokey Pokey, that's what it's all about.

Then that gospel. I have never before seen myself so clearly as the paralyzed man being let down through the roof as today. It's Advent, and I was just meditating on those Isaiah promises, so my mind went to Christmas Eve and my being called to the Catholic Church -- a major moment of conversion. I was paralyzed when God called me, spiritually speaking, because I had hated and judged Catholics for so long. (Read the whole story here.) I was "let down" into the Mass by a friend and his friends who brought me there. And just like Jesus did in this gospel, the first thing He addressed me with was the offer of forgiveness of my sins (which, of course, from my perspective, was my being faced with my sins by Him.) And this was not just a spiritual healing, but a complete reorientation of his life. But just like in the first reading, I realized that this man's healing (and my conversion) aren't just about that man, or just about me. It is all about God's glory as accusations, astonishment and awe strike other people when they see what Jesus has done. This is why our lives are to show forth His glory. This is simply the way Jesus works!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Jesus' Hope

December 1, 2011 Monthly Message

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

December 1, 2011

Dear apostles, it is with hope that I come to you today, speaking these words to your heart. I am hoping that the plans I have for your life will come to fruition. Do I require that you be powerful? Important? Do I need you to be people of great wealth or great influence in the eyes of the world? Will My plan be threatened by your imperfection or your difficulty maintaining holiness in every moment? Do I need only angels? Or do I need apostles of good will serving exactly where I have placed them? You were created to persevere and even flourish with limited understanding of all that is happening around you and through you. Yes, dear apostles, I am filled with hope. I am hoping that you accept My love. I am hoping that you allow Me to bring you healing, daily. I am hoping that through you I can love and heal others whom you will encounter in your daily experience. I bring you so many gifts of knowing Me, both directly and indirectly. Sometimes, I bring these gifts directly into your soul. Sometimes I send these gifts to you through the soul of another. I am saying that sometimes you will be the recipient of My gifts and sometimes you will be the one delivering My gifts. We are so united, you and I. We are together now and when you are finished on earth you will understand how closely I worked with you. You will be so happy when you understand the extent to which I blessed others through you. Dear friends, I come at Christmas as an infant in a manger and you rejoice. Truly, understand, that each time you cooperate with Me in your day, you are bringing Me into the world. When you see how others were blessed through your fidelity, you will understand the fullness of rejoicing. Yes, today, your Infant King comes to you with heavenly hope. Beloved apostles, I instruct you to bring this hope to others, regardless of the circumstances around you.

(See for more information about these messages.)