Monday, April 30, 2012

Living Two Lives

For as long as I can remember, I have had two lives. For about the last half of my life, this has troubled me. But the trouble, like the distinction between lives, was so subtle and subterranean that it was really only about once or twice a year, when searching my inner canyons, that this would make its presence felt to my thinking. Sometimes the things that are closest to us are the things of which we are most unaware.

It's not hard to understand where this dichotomy came from in my circumstance. Probably where it comes from in everyone's circumstance. The world "outside" myself looked dark, scary, dangerous and lonely. I could not trust that world, and so I retreated from it. We do it in so many ways, but I did it by taking my soul and running away. Figuratively, of course. People who drink or do drugs or join gangs (etc.) are more obvious about their running. I'm still not sure what to call how I built my second world. But I hid the best I knew how.

God pursued me, because that's His way. My hiding place, too, had become a scary place. Chronologically here I'm still talking about early childhood. I remember lying in bed at night crying and begging God that He wouldn't let me die. I wasn't sick, and no one or nothing ever threatened my physical life. Still, I cowered even within my hiding place and was terrified.

We started going to church consistently when I was a late-single-digit child, and so I was able to hear the basic gospel of God's love and redemption in Christ, and the call to follow Him. Though it took me a while to hear it, I didn't need to hear the invitation twice. Here I am, Lord, send me. So ready to be sent I was but not at all aware of how the Lord wanted to change my heart.

I brought that experience of Christ into my ran-away soul. I literally hid in my closet to pray, and would hide my Bible like one might hide pornography, even though Bibles were perfectly acceptable in my household. (Just not actually used.) I remember writing in my diary that the only reason I read the Bible was as an excuse to stay up later at night. It wasn't true, and I knew it, but I couldn't even admit the truth to myself.

For about five or six years I stumbled along trying to be a Christian this way. I started ravenously listening to Christian radio and reading magazines. The closest I ever got to interacting with another Christian person was by writing letters to a lot of these ministries and asking them to pray for me. I got on a lot of mailing lists that way. One day that I'll never forget, a woman from Focus on the Family responded to one of these letters I'd written by calling me. She asked if I had Christian friends at church. No. She asked if there was someone in my family who prayed with me. No. I was so shocked that a human made contact with me that I hardly answered more than those syllables. That might have been the first time anyone knocked on the door of my hidden soul.

I got older; a lot of proverbial shit hit the fan, and I began to allow God to be bigger in my life. God has always sent me the weirdest circumstances. Like the 45 year-old-drug addict/thief I met when I was 19 who, when I was being the stand-in girlfriend because his other one a handful of years older than myself was visiting her parents and not available for hours-long phone chats from his jail cell, taught me enough theology about the Holy Spirit to open to me entirely new spiritual vistas (all the while manipulating me mercilessly into making me believe I was helping him reform his life). See, I was always very good at being able to ignore huge, raging red flags of danger in the "real world" because I didn't live there. I have a pretty powerful guardian angel, by the way, who has prevented, I'm sure, numerous "real world" catastrophes for me.

The pattern continued of God's mighty power unfurling in my inner life and my ignoring the concrete world around me as much as humanly possible, to the point where this became my theology. I belonged to a fellowship (i.e. church) that associated sin with "worldly pleasure" which included things like reading secular newspapers, certain types of music (of course), ice cream, movies, etc. etc. All such worldly things were to be forsaken for the good of following Christ. I bought this completely and somewhat easily, because it was the essence of the Manichean way I'd lived all along.

But then that inner life started feeling dissatisfied and hungry. My soul has always been ravenous, I think, and in a few short years with that fellowship I'd devoured everything I could to the hilt, but found nothing more. God struck and began wooing me to the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is so not Manichean.

The more I said Yes to the Lord's wooing, the more riches I discovered and the more riches I discovered the more I wanted. Suddenly I was face to face with Christ incarnate in the Eucharist and I knew I was beholding that which my inner life had longed for all this time. I was absolutely flabbergasted to find Him in a Catholic Mass. (Here's that whole story.) It was Christmas Eve to boot. God had a huge megaphone to yell "I created this physical world! It's mine! It points to me!"

Tons and tons of redemption follow. I went to Japan as a missionary, had a God-awful time because I tried to live based on my previous belief that the external world around me doesn't matter. I return to the US admitting God into my external world. From now on, yes, it matters and yes, Lord, you get that part, too.

Tons more redemption follows. But do you see where I'm left? Jesus Christ is Lord of my inner life. Jesus Christ is Lord of my external world. It's all good, right?

I have two lives. Very, very subtle.

And all of a sudden I discover that God has been busy trying to integrate them. I don't know which analogy to use to say this in a most true way, but recently that integration spilled over/burst asunder/ joined together. That two life status is changing.

God has never brought me through any change that hasn't been good, but I also can't think of any change that hasn't been difficult. In this case, though, I feel as if my place is to allow the Divine Surgeon to do what is needful. He is the Redeemer; I am not. I am being born again yet again, and as such I enter this new world like a baby, to learn from the One who gives me life what His world truly is.

Jesu ufam tobie

"Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?" says your God.

Isaiah 66:9

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Because I Can't Love "Everyone"

I dreamed last night that I was at the Sea of Galilee. The main gist of it was that after quite a trek I reached the shore, splashed into the water and stood there sobbing. I was sobbing with the sort of sobs that, for me, typify anything connected to the Incarnation: a sob of amazement, of relief, of a release of grief over my own lack of self-acceptance, of a dare towards joy, and drawn back again towards amazement. And the reason for all this was the realization that Jesus liked that spot. His life experiences there made him fond of the sight of it, a physical place that I could also touch, hear, and see (and indeed have, not only in my dream.)

Doesn't it astound you that God Almighty could like something? Oh, I remember how it struck me in my high school religion class when we discussed God's love for the whole world: how God loves everyone equally without regard to race, creed, national origin, physical disability, sexual orientation or political affiliation (ok, exaggeration, my high school teachers didn't think in those terms). But I thought to myself, "If God loves a Hindu priest the same way He loves me, I'm pretty depressed about that." I guess I figured I should be more of a favorite because of being a card-carrying member of God's fan club.

That line of thinking reveals so many things I hadn't experienced and therefore didn't understand about God and about love.

As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta pointed out, God never calls us to "love the whole world." He calls us to love of neighbor. Love is for persons, for individuals. The point of Christian love is that we are to give the love we have in our hearts from God to every person we encounter, regardless of who or what they are. It seems "loving the whole world" is idealistic talk for those who are really hiding from or ignoring the real people around them.

So, projecting my broken notion of "loving everyone" onto God really makes God out to be a selfish, fearful idealist, completely disconnected from human needs (which describes where I was at in those days fairly accurately). Fortunately, God isn't me.

The love God gives, I have since learned, honors our individuality to such a degree that it actually reveals to our deepest awareness who we actually are, turning on the lights as it were so that we start to become comprehensible to ourselves. This is jaw-dropping. It raises us up and ennobles us, without destroying or dismantling anything in us except our darkness, coldness, isolation, powerlessness and hopelessness.

But any love offered calls for a response. How will I meet what is offered to me? Will I believe it? Will I be simple, acknowledge my need and say "thank you," and receive it? Will I ignore the offer, assuming it to be yet another trap, assuming myself smarter than to let myself get burned again? Will I get anxious, assuming I'm actually being offered a deal with a price tag, and worry that I might not have enough to pay the price?

Somehow, the image of splashing in the Sea of Galilee answers all this for me. Jesus liked it there. Its beauty, its practicality, and the experiences He had with other people there shaped His life. In other words, He understands human love just as I do. And yet, He does love the world, not in my generic, meaningless way that would actually plunge the world into despair, but in the way He has loved me, so profoundly and intimately and personally that I'll spend eternity without plumbing the depths of it.

This is that to which I somehow find the way to say "yes, thank you," receive, and then share, because I can't help but speak of the things I have seen and heard.

PS.  One of my vivid memories from my actual pilgrimage that included the Sea of Galilee was standing on the water's edge with John Michael Talbot (who was one of the pilgrimage leaders). He said to me "Now those shoes, I like." I gave my stiff-as-a-board response, the only thing I could muster in those days. He said "Oh, you... don't?" No, it was more that I was at enmity in myself with this humanity that bothered "liking" things. His comment threw me. But I'll bet that God specifically put that on his heart to say to me. Funny how God can commission little word bombs that don't find their fullness of meaning for almost 20 years.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Looking for New Christian Music?

Lyrics that say something?  nice melodies? a good beat?

Well, look no further.

Actually, look just a little further. Go here, to my website, and listen to pieces of my album. Then buy, oh, say 200 copies of it. Please.

You'll like it!

(Ok, start with just one.)

Monday, April 02, 2012

Thank You, but No, I don't want your hug

This has been a Lent like no other. Yesterday I had an experience in prayer that was both instructive and rather hilarious at the same time. The cool thing here is that it shows me how God knows me way down deep and knows exactly what I need and His arm is never shortened to answer my need, immediately.

Mass pressed in on me yesterday. I felt, keenly, this matter of Jesus purposefully setting off for the cross, and His call to "come and follow." And my repugnance. Crosses hurt, they're scary, and I don't have your resoluteness Lord. I thought of how women get to three days before going into labor and tend to get this feeling "I can't go through with this. I don't know how." I had tears slipping down my cheeks from time to time, but I held the dam in place.

Some stuff happened after Mass. Finally by mid-afternoon I was able to take a long walk to a local adoration chapel and plop myself there for a couple of hours.

I presented myself to the Lord, prayed part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and meditated on a certain phrase that struck me. Finally, I was able to grab the need in my heart and present it to the Lord. In doing so, I let the dam go and I cried a bit. It seems I keep my needs surrounded by tears, to keep them moist, but if I've been out of touch with them for a bit the tears and the realization have to come out together.

Now I wasn't sobbing, but apparently I was audible enough for the young woman sitting just ahead of me to hear this transition in my prayer. She popped up and sat next to me, her sweet young face shining out behind her mantilla. "Hi," she said sweetly. "Would you like a hug?"

Because I was in the midst of conversing with the Lord of the Universe, I found it natural to answer her honestly. "No, not really."

"Would you like a rosary?" She held one out to me. "I have one in my pocket." "Ok, well I'll be praying for you, then." "Thank you," I told her.

I immediately added to the realization of my need in my prayer. "Obviously, Lord, I also have a real need to be myself."

I almost started laughing after this exchange, but I held to a big smile instead. I don't oppose hugging per se, but I'm a bit fussy about those I want hugging me. There was a time when I would have felt obligated to submit myself to this girl's hug, perceiving it as my duty to meet her need to try to help me. This time, instead, I took her offer at face value and simply refused it, because I knew it was not a fit. And knowing it wasn't a fit was actually a wonderful fit.

This lesson of Being Myself is one that the Lord has been driving home to me now for 20 years. I forget easily how important this is. I forget easily that my life is not given to me to be lived generically. I forget easily that being myself is not a matter of pride vs. humility, it is simply a matter of reality. "Blue is blue and must be that, but yellow is none the worse for it." I forget that each creature of God being what it is is the means by which God is glorified, peace reigns on earth, and everyone gets what they need. I forget that God is adamant about human dignity, including in my personal case. The only way to live in  harmony with our immense dignity, with our unique creation, in humility, is to lose self-consciousness, that "self factor" that has us thinking about and worrying about ourselves. It is a delicate balance, but denying one's own need, refusing to own it, keeping it in with all the tears, is a sure way of falling off balance and needing to use all sorts of fake props to keep straight. Those fake props are sin.

So, I'm heading off into Holy Week, following the Lord. The cross and pain still looms. But I am reminded that God loves me just the way I am. And when it comes down to it, being loved -- being with one who loves me -- enables me to face just about anything.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday

It's amazing how praying the Liturgy of the Hours infuses liturgical life with meaning that is deeper than one can get by thinking about things.

This Lent I've hosted Morning Prayer at our house every day. It's been a small group, but large numbers hold no particular fascination for me. What is good for me is that, being the host, I've actually prayed Morning Prayer every single day.

And today we hit Palm Sunday. Every year before this I've always been struck that this day seems out of place. There's this happy, sort of triumphant feel to the day. But Jesus is heading to the cross. I've half expected to find somewhere in the gospel "And the Lord was greatly ticked off with the rejoicing crowd, and smote them with the blast of his angry eye, saying 'Knowest thou not that I am totally in for it? Stop now all thy rejoicing and shut thyselves up.'" But there is nothing of the sort. We seem to focus on the fickle crowd, lauding Jesus one day and yelling "Crucify Him" a few days later, and this makes one see the praise they offer as shallow, meaningless, out of place.

But I hardly think so.

First, of course we don't know that the crowds were made up of the same people on Sunday and the following Friday.

Second, and more important, the way the crowd hailed Jesus, as the triumphant King, is absolutely appropriate. Sure, perhaps some acknowledged this truth by misunderstanding, wishing for him to be a political Messiah. Who, really, would have understood the full implications of their worship? Who of us do, now? But when we usher in Holy Week shouting "All glory, laud and honor" to the king, there is more to think about than how we turn our backs on Jesus in sin. We need to think about how we follow our King of Glory. And how is that? We suffer with Him. We give ourselves, we spend ourselves, we pour ourselves out until it hurts, transformed into His image by the very Eucharist we receive.

We fast. We feel the pain. We literally embrace the cross. We cry out in lamentation over great needs about which we can resolve nothing. We enter into the place of death, helplessness, drawn in by the Lord Himself.

And then, resurrection. There is nothing more shocking than life coming from death, nor, in Christ, is there anything more sure. We cannot give ourselves to God in a degree greater than He will give Himself back to us. He is the author of the covenant of mercy, the ocean of mercy. This calls for faith, and trust.

This whole week calls for mindful awareness. But even when we cannot begin to comprehend what is happening around us, we can make of ourselves a gift. And swept into new life, we will be.

Allow Christ to have a Companion in You

April 1, 2012 Monthly Message
On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
April 1, 2012


Dear apostles, I urge you to spend time with Me. The companionship you choose affects you and affects your outlook and behavior. Perhaps you believe that you can spend time with worldly pursuits and with worldly companionship and still maintain your interior life. Perhaps this is true. And perhaps it is not true. Please look at your life honestly and determine whether or not you are spending enough time with Me. If you are spending time resting in concepts that are eternal, your mind and heart will be in harmony. You will become less influenced by events and you will become less distracted. You will trust more and understand that heaven is advancing its interests through many means. You will, if you are spending time with Me, develop a keen interest in the Spirit that is moving the Church forward into a new time of fidelity and purity. Yes, renewal will become a reality in your heart and you will watch all change with hope and confidence. Dearest apostles, I am your reality. I am your King. If you will give Me time and attention, I will transform your life into a source of light for others. This is My plan for you. Be assured that whatever your suffering, whatever your condition today, I can renew you. I want to give you courage and strength. I want you to understand the Spirit moving through the Church and into the world. I want this very much. Allow Me, please, to have a companion in you and you will become one who rejoices in God every day, even if you are suffering. I am with you, dear apostles. I am watching closely as you move through your life. Be close to Me and all will be well.