Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Year I'd Rather Forget... Maybe

This has been a year that, simply put, I never wish to repeat. In reality it has probably been one of the most important years of my life in recent memory. It has brought me to a very good place. But it has hurt. A lot. More than life has hurt in two decades.

And even though this isn't the perspective I've had going through this year, I suddenly feel rather sure that I will look back on 2012 as "the year I started towards Carmel."

I wrote about this almost a year ago, after I finished recording my CD. I had an inkling then. I get inklings of what God intends with me. In fact, He pretty much let me know ahead of time exactly what was going to transpire, the pain and all. Only thing was, having even God say "I want this and this, and that and the other is necessary to get there," and assenting to it with my will, is absolutely nothing like walking through the actual process of the this and this and that and the other. Oy vey. I think God wants to teach me to take seriously the inklings He sends my way.

And speaking of inklings, I've been thinking of late how I could tell the story of my walk with God in a way I haven't before: all of the inklings I've had about the Carmelites. You see, on December 16 I was officially accepted as an aspirant in the OCDS, the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. (The initials don't seem to go in the right order because the acronym is based on the Latin title.) That is my very first step towards becoming a full member of the Carmelite religious order.

The Carmelites, and the saints and places associated with them, have held an attraction for me since before I was a Catholic. In my single-digits, before going to church was a regular part of my life, I remember glomming onto one story from my Sunday School attendance: Elijah and the prophets of Baal. This involved Elijah summoning these pagan prophets to Mount Carmel (ding!) and challenging them to a sacrifice-off, so to speak. They were to set up an offering, and Elijah would, and whoever's god answered by fire would be declared the victor. It's a very entertaining story. Go read it in 1 Kings 18 if you haven't in a while.

But you see, the way I glommed on to this story reflected my quite sorry state at that point in my life. I basically took to threatening God, Whom I wasn't at all sure was paying the slightest bit of attention to me at all, that if He didn't show me He was answering me, that I would become a Satan-worshipper instead. I had the whole audacity thing going for me like Elijah, only I had a) no clue and b) no faith. But Elijah has always stayed with me as someone I feel very drawn to. He is considered the first founder of the Carmelites.

Ok, fast forward to when I was in college. I've written about this elsewhere too, but I'll just summarize the story. My Junior year I was taking Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, which was very difficult. I had to write a paper which would comprise 50% of my grade, and I had no clue which direction to take for my topic, so I prayed. Walking the library stacks I heard distinctly this answer: Mysticism. "OK, Lord," I responded. "Great! Mysticism. But, what's that?"

As I started researching I stumbled for the very first time into the world of Catholicism, at least in an academic way. I read St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St. Victor, and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila (the latter two being the modern reformers/founders of the Carmelite order). I was Completely. Blown. Away. I vividly remember sitting in a certain seat in the library and dropping the book I was reading onto the table, my heart burning inside me, and praying, "Lord, if there are any people at all left on the face of this earth who know you and love you like what I reading here, those are the people I want to be with."

I was especially struck by reading of St. Teresa's notion of the seven mansions, or stages of spiritual growth through which the Christian life passes. As a young woman already obsessed with finding a husband and distressed that the search was going nowhere, I remember being especially disheartened when I read in the Catholic Encyclopedia that the final mansion, known as the "spiritual marriage" was experienced by very few people. I thought, Geez, I have a hard enough time finding a human husband, and now you're telling me that reaching this spiritual marriage is even less likely. It was depressing.

Some years later, when I was confronted with the fact of the Catholic Church by my friend Keith, this desire, and the name St. Teresa of Avila popped up as a tiny flicker of hope. I asked him if there was anyone who lived that kind of faith, and he assured me there were, and mentioned these people called the Carmelites, who operated a huge shrine called Holy Hill, near where we lived. He gave me a little book called "The Teresian Way of Prayer" which enthralled me to no end. In the months that followed, as I wrestled with the claims of the Catholic Church, I often went to Holy Hill to walk around and try to find peace.

After I decided to enter the Church, I read the book The Way of a Pilgrim, by an anonymous Russian Orthodox believer. I was struck by his desire to go to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. I was struck so hard, and stirred so hard in my heart that I promised the Lord that if I ever got the chance to go to Mount Carmel, I would. I said that thinking it might be when I was 80 or something. Just a few days later I went to a John Michael Talbot concert, and he mentioned that he would be leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He mentioned that one place they would stop would be Mount Carmel. I interiorly looked at the Lord with a very raised eyebrow, and realized I should book that pilgrimage.

As it turned out, I went about two weeks after coming into the Church. The whole trip was wonderful, but I recall arriving in Carmel with a great sense of anticipation. Of what, I wasn't sure. It was a rushed visit, but the Lord deeply impressed this Scripture on me when I was there: "... the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Eph. 1:23). I didn't get it, but it was clear that Jesus was identifying Himself strongly with His body, the Church, and impressing this on me. I still can't say that I get it, but I remember it in the kind of way that I couldn't forget.

After that, the Carmelites always were floating around in my peripheral vision so to speak. My husband and I even attended one meeting of the seculars some 13 years ago, but at the time the commitment to prayer seemed like too much.

But a few years ago, a Facebook friend posted a quote from the book The Impact of God, about the life and writings of St. John of the Cross. I've written about that elsewhere, too. Again, whatever it was that was quoted hit me so hard that I bought the book, read it, and immediately re-read it with great excitement. It was as if St. John of the Cross was sitting me down and explaining my life to me. The sort of strange-to-me path that God had been leading me on at the time not only began to make great sense, but it was as if the Lord Himself became "visible" to me through it as plain as day. From that point on I began again in earnest to pursue the wisdom of the Carmelite saints.

And then there came this year. Then it got super personal. There was the "this and that" conversation I mentioned above, and in theory I was all-in. But when it came to what needed to happen, well, things got ugly inside me.

And glorious, at the same time. It is hard to convey since it is still all rather fresh. But an image that comes to mind is of gathering up long hair into a pony tail, making sure every last bit is tucked in, and then *snip* cutting it all off. Then undoing the pony tail, and cutting some more. Two emotional images come to mind here. One is St. Claire, presenting herself to St. Francis, founding the Franciscan Sisters. She consents to having her hair cut very short, and accepts the veil. This was a loving act of self-surrender, an embrace of love and the beginning of a new life. The other image is from a movie about concentration camps in WWII. This scene was seared into my memory: Huge groups of women were herded into a room where their eyeglasses were thrown in a pile and their hair was all cut off. All you could hear was the snipping of dozens of pairs of scissors. Chilling. Dehumanizing. Demonic.

The test of my faith has been to trust in the call and the loving purpose of God during a time of internal, spiritual stripping, and to learn the immense difference between a humility that comes from God and  humiliation that comes from people. Not every hard thing, not every painful thing, is an evil to be fought against. Sometimes one needs to turn full face into the sting and say yes, and smile. Even when it means having the things I leaned on that are not God broken away from me, including my abilities -- to sense God's direction, His presence, His favor -- and my joys. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Every time now I read texts for my Carmelite formation, I see over and over that precisely these things make up the path on which God leads souls close to Him. I realize God has given me a tremendously precious gift, all because He wants me to be His. He wants to give me the gift of Himself in a deeper way. How could I possible balk or say no? Hundreds of ways, that's how! God is so very patient with me, and has waited so very long for me to hear His call and He waits longer for my response.

I see now that everything is about Jesus and me. I don't mean that in a theologically distorted way. I mean that my actions, my choices, my everything is about following the Way to union with God, Who is Jesus. He gives me a path, and I will run in it. As He gives me the grace, I will run. I will not plod or saunter or dilly-dally, or hang back over-cautiously. I will run. The path is but a path, and even my guides, Holy Father St. John and Holy Mother St. Teresa, are but guides. My goal is the Blessed Trinity, which is also my starting gate, and my everything along the way. And I will run in the Church, the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. That can't help but mean it's not isolationist, as "Jesus and me" can sound. Like Elijah, maybe I'll piss off some people along the way. I don't care where the path leads or what it entails or what it costs. If the Lord directs, I will run.

This year has been worth it, even if I am primarily declaring that in faith and not feeling it yet. I know it, more than feel it.

God is good.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thoughts on Responding to Suffering

Sitting down to the keyboard to see if I can't sort through some thoughts.

I'm thinking about how I respond to the suffering of friends, particularly suffering that gets verbalized in conversation. I suppose my primary response is to listen. I do this because I tend to be a quieter person, and because I find consolation in someone listening to me. It seems the first right thing to do. However, even within that there might be a time where the listener intuits that, while the person could go on and on with the details of suffering, more talk might not be leading the speaker towards the light.

There is also the point of wanting to share something to help the person. For decades I have told God that I want to have the power to bring healing to people whose hearts are crushed with pain. Isn't that a normal reaction? You see someone in pain, and you wish for it to stop so that they will not suffer, because suffering is evil. Eliminate evil. Simple.

What isn't simple is the connection between desiring their peace and wanting to say or do something. I am faced with the fact that my best-intentioned words or actions might go far wide of the point of need. They might be rejected for a variety of valid reasons.

At this point, I realize that God calls me to share in His humility. I can't be so caught up in the rightness of my idea, the power of my own experience, my good intention that I miss honoring the person present to me and her pain. When Jesus healed someone, He focused on that someone. He didn't sit them down to a theological lecture about His divinity or about the pascal mystery. He said "Go in peace and be freed of your suffering," or "Go in peace, your faith has saved you," or "Go show yourselves to the priest." He saw and addressed their deepest need. He did not use the healing as a platform for meeting His own needs.

I also find myself, in conversation, how shall I say... being a little embarrassed for God. This is a call to share in His humility also. If I have no magic words to say, if I can't produce a bottle with the right fix-it stuff in it, and I am still faced with a person suffering, I have to say "It isn't in our power, but it is in God's. Ask Him, and He will come to you with what you need." Saying this to someone who has been praying the best they know how for years, and suffering only all the more does feel a bit like standing in front of an army tank that barrels down on you with only a daisy as your defense.

But that daisy, as I see it, is these truths: God is real, and God is good. There is much I don't know, and much I can't answer, but these things I know for sure. God is real, and God is good. The prayers I repeat a thousand times a day, if necessary, are "Jesus, I trust in You" and "Lord, have mercy."

I guess the other thing I have learned is that being brought to the end of yourself (which I don't believe is a one-time deal, since we are like onions) is a gift. A painful gift. A gift that feels like it should be fought against. A gift that can violate every fiber of religious feeling, every fiber of my estimation of myself as a good person, as a faithful person. Humility in suffering is, I think, powerful. Pride sucks any time. I think pride is essentially a response of the heart that says "There is not enough love to help me, so I won't be open." But pride can become a habit, too. A habitual way of seeing the world. And a habitual way of pushing God away, even when we think we aren't because we think we are as open to God as anyone can be. We need to constantly learn that God's love is always more than we think it is. It's like living at a precipice of trust and presumption, maybe...

Rambling thoughts....

The most exquisite moments of God breaking through my suffering have simply been when someone was there -- I knew I wasn't alone. But the power, the presence was definitely God's orchestration.

For me then, I guess the need is to be surrendered daily to God, and to act in love in the smallest things. My love, flawed as it is by being mine, originates from God, and as such is the connection with Him I can offer to the world. I can't "make" God do anything, heal, or be profoundly present. I can't bring about healing. God can, and most of the time He only needs an instrument. Better to focus on His love flowing through me than on my solutions to people's pain.

As my pastor always tells us, we can always pray. That's like turning from the suffering back to God, rendering the heart wide open, and asking for help. Lord, make my heart a busy highway for your graces and the needs of people to meet up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Things Yet to Come

Advent has my heart about ready to explode. Truly, I have this spiritual throbbing sense that I imagine is comparable to what kids feel when they really hope for some wish to be fulfilled by a Christmas present on Christmas morning. Except that I know what my heart senses near and longs for is eternal, doesn't break or get boring. But I also have the feeling that the root joy is exactly the same.

What fills me with this throbbing sense of joy is the sense that events in my life converge with meaning. The biggest thing is always that I remember my conversion to the Catholic faith with such wonder. I hear the prayers of Mass and of Liturgy of the Hours these days, and I just know that these same prayers were offered for me, for my conversion, by people I didn't even know. They prayed and sacrificed for me so that I could experience a dramatic and total conversion on that Christmas Eve in 1991. God had led me to that point, but it was such a total surprise and shock, and so powerful. I'm sure it will only be in heaven that I will see the prayers that brought down those graces for me.

And now here I am, praying the same prayers, earnestly entreating God for graces of conversion for other people. Don't ever write off anyone when it comes to praying for their conversion. I had been anti-Catholic and had long wrestled with a kind of animosity towards Christmas that was born of a host of bad theology and sad memories. God instantly and completely changed all that.

I got this little note in a Christmas card from the Camaldolese Hermits today. It hits the nail on the head:

A good thought on Christmas comes down to us from Pope St. Leo the Great in the fifth century, via his successor Pope Benedict XVI. "That day has not passed away in such a way that the power of the work, which was then revealed, has passed away with it... All things therefore that the Son of God did and taught for the world's reconciliation, we not only know as a matter of past history, but appreciate in the power of their present effect."

In the liturgy, we do not just recall past events, we relive them. The spiritual excitement and gratification we feel are not imaginary. Rather, the saving power of the mystery becomes present to us today.

This is true of every experience of the liturgy, but for me it is particularly true of these days of Advent, and especially of the Christmas Mass. I experience not only a reliving of Calvary, but a reliving of that particular moment when Jesus first revealed Himself to me as present and real in the Mass, which prompted my conversion. Spiritually I go back to it, and it blows me away all over again.

It makes me stand in awe at where God has led me. More than that, it makes me stand in awe, realizing that it really has been God that has led me, even when I thought I was just floundering around, alone. It fills me with courage and faith. And I am aware that this is not from me; it is a gift from God. I am surrounded, enveloped, in gifts from God. I am freed, knowing that I'm not alone, that my spiritual excitement is not imaginary. God is real -- my life is proof! It makes me want to tell everyone everything that has ever happened to me.

Like a little child, my eyes keep gazing under the "spiritual Christmas tree" for a special gift I am asking for from the Lord. I've been asking basically the same thing for several Christmases now. This year, my request has special meaning, and a heightened sense of anticipation. Little children, even loaded down with gifts and lavishly provided for, can still have that special place in their heart for that one thing. So do I. Just as I'm writing this I'm wondering to myself how I might respond if Christmas comes and goes without my seeing there what I hope to see. I do see that each year my desire and request has upgraded. But it hasn't gone away. Maybe that's how it has been answered each year so far. What I do know is that my heavenly Father couldn't possibly be unmoved by my desire. And He certainly can move heaven and earth to give me what I desire, if indeed my desire has finally gotten grand enough for Him. Either way you slice it, I am excited. Jesus has told mystics and saints in private revelation all over the place that heaven participates in giving gifts at Christmastime, too. "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32) God certainly is not going to stop being generous with me any time soon. If only my heart can delight with Him in real time as He gives... and see what He is giving. Oooh, I'm happy already!

December 20, 2012
P.S. You know, Lord, I've been thinking about this. I do get excited about what I want. But I've learned something about your gifts. Sometimes their beauty plays to my weakness, and my distractable heart goes off after them. Lord, I'd rather not have your gifts if it could mean my heart moving off from you. What I really want is you, Lord. So, attach my wandery heart to you by whatever means works best. "Being with you, I desire nothing on earth..." If you give me a gift, please draw me up on your lap and hold me close there, first. I don't want to get scared of your gifts, but I'm gonna need a lot of help...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Coming to Peace with my Brain

So, here's something else I've learned lately. I'm learning about how to get along with my brain.

It is rather rare and unusual for me to get into conflicts with other people, but inside myself, I am very hard to get along with. For me, I mean. They say that self-knowledge is absolutely necessary for making progress in the spiritual path, and I think I'm seeing the truth of this more and more.

I am a cerebral person. I think a lot. If I'm stressed, I can get just a tad obsessive. I'm not necessarily emotionally sensitive; sometimes I'm a bit of a dolt that way. But I'm sensitive to everything I hear, and, as one woman once put it, I have extremely sensitive spiritual antennae.

What this has tended to amount to is that I have a lot of data coming in to me that I don't know how to process. Usually this confusing data comes from other people. I can use my own cerebralness to try to figure it out, but eventually it overwhelms me and causes me so much suffering that I am forced out of myself into the world of someone else in order to get understanding, to try to find peace. And for a once-self-professed misanthrope, that's significant.

I realize the importance of the people with whom I surround myself. I find that when I spend a significant chunk of time with someone, or when I've had a conversation with someone, the next day that experience or those words will replay in my head. If that person or that conversation draws me towards the Lord and His movement in my life, I am edified. If not, I can get drawn instead to anxious thoughts or get easily agitated. I am finding that sometimes movies or idle chit-chat that I needn't have been part of can really act like brain-pollution, like a bad smell I need to then air out of my thinking.

Something that has been a profound help to me is praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Some years ago the Lord started impressing on me, in a way that both respected and required the kicking into gear of my free will, my dire need to meditate more on Scripture. I thought maybe just trying to dwell on the Mass readings or theological thoughts in general would be enough. But it wasn't. Nor was it adequate to start randomly reading the Bible, as I started to do more of. As a Protestant, I thought of meditating on Scripture as reading through it, and stopping when something struck me. But choosing what to read was either an exercise in picking what I wanted to hear or simple dogged determination. Suddenly it started to dawn on me that I should meditate on Scripture the way the Church instructs us to: liturgically. I had prayed the Hours on and off since the first day I decided to become a Catholic. But I've been doing so regularly for the last few years, and lately I have endeavored to pray all seven hours. (Which, for the record, does not mean I pray for 420 minutes a day. It is just seven sessions of prayer sprinkled throughout the day.) This has been spectacular in terms of being a reset button for my thinking. It is not without reason that Scripture itself teaches us to actually pray Scripture out loud. To sing it. Chant it. Mutter it. To rub it into your thoughts like oil into dry skin.

Dipping in to Scripture often throughout the day, not to exercise my intellectualization, but to find my life reflected there, is hugely valuable. God becomes the One I think about all day long. My idle brain noise is His praise instead of my anxieties. I get used to realizing that He always has something to say to me, and that my need for Him is constant, like my need for air and love. It gets my hyper-sensitivity working for me instead of against me. I am focused on truth, on reality. And I refocus throughout the day.

And slowly, I begin to not fret as much about the perplexities of who I am. The more I know who He is, the more I understand and can be at peace with who I am. Because I know I am not the main attraction. Knowing the One who holds everything, who creates everything, who is all powerful and all loving, and has been for all of history, lets me settle in to my life of service with peace. It lets me learn spiritual childhood. I don't have to have it all figured out, because I am beholding right in front of me One who is mighty and can handle it all. Praise God -- it's all right to not understand! It's peaceful to realize I am not in charge of the universe. 

I am freed to be available for service to the One who is in charge, and who knows all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Some Profound Morning Thoughts about Hair

Yesterday I was on the phone with someone whom I apparently have met but can't quite picture. She told me she knew our neighbors, and added "You're the woman with that beautiful red hair!"

Other than the irony of having just that morning re-hennaed my hair so that it does almost look red again, I was really struck by her exuberance about this hair of mine.

See, there was an earlier time in my life, a long time actually, when I was also as regularly identified with/by my hair as I tend to be now, except in those days I was tormented and taunted about it. Even certain progenitors of mine drilled into my thinking that my hair was a "big, ugly bush" and often bought me gifts like "bad hair day" plaques or dolls with giant straw hair because they reminded of me. Every boy in high school who ever commented about what I looked like teased me about my hair. One older boy nicknamed me "Fuzzy," and to another I was "Brillo Head." Girls teased that they could look like me if they would just rat up their hair.

Those days are long gone, thanks be to God, and I admit that not until I was 40 did I really learn how to take care of my naturally curly hair in such a way that I could actually get it to look the way I wanted. I have never been particularly fashion conscious nor am I a visually-oriented person, so I have never obsessed over my looks. But regardless, I realize now how deeply these words wounded my soul.

I really like my hair, and to be honest I always have. I just haven't known how to get along with it. It strikes me to the heart every time someone comments to me about it, because I realize no one does so in a mocking way any longer. It is to me like a little message of the victory of the anawim every time I get a hair compliment.

Awhile ago, though, there happened in my life a moment that captures why I'm bothering to write about this. This was a little chit-chat conversation with my confessor, after having completed the sacramental part of our exchange. Even though he knew nothing of my hair history, I knew that between the lines he was communicating something deeper than the chit chat, though:

He:  How do you get your hair to look so pretty like that? Is that all natural?
Me:  Yes. It grows like that.
He:  Wow. Well isn't that a gift?

See, the fact of the matter is that, yes, my hair does look the way it does when I allow it to grow and help it to do what it wants to do by nature, which is to curl. When I work against my hair by brushing it, combing it, washing it with shampoo often (instead of conditioner), and not feeding it what it needs to stay in its shape -- in other words, when I treat my hair the way every "normal," straight-haired person does -- it suffers and loses its beauty.

Is this not the way our souls are? How often do we not take as our own identity the lies of the devil, which tell us we are worthless, ugly, useless, irredeemable? How often are we not made to feel guilty because we are unique? How often do we forget that each person is a unique miracle of God, whom God alone has the right to instruct as to our dignity, our beauty, and the right way for us to walk? God has no assembly line where He makes standard-issue souls. We must all be formed by the unique way of the cross that He designs for each of us. We can't copy what someone else is doing or hang our self-worth on their opinion or approval and expect to find our glory. Only God reveals that glory to and in us. We must look to Him and follow Him.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advent, and my New Patron Saint

Advent has long held a deep attraction for me. Can't even say when it began, or why, other than the fact that God has been calling me, I guess. And every year I feel like I am understanding it for the first time. It is no different now. It is difficult to put this into words, but this year I am getting the sense of how Advent teaches us that God comes through, He is faithful, He makes good on His promises. (Such dull, lifeless words compared with what is in my heart...) It is the beginning of the liturgical year, and we begin with this meditation on how God fulfilled the thousands of years of yearning of His people with the Messiah. And from there we get blown away by how God decided to come through, the Incarnation. But that's another story...

Last Saturday I went to the Random Saint Generator for my long-awaited new patron saint of the year. You basically click twice and yet get a random saint's name. Oh, but I had been praying about this "random" saint, asking God to match me up well, and to prepare my heart well. I take this pretty seriously. Up popped the name: Bl. Alexandrina Maria da Costa. I confess, my first reaction was along the lines of "Gee, I didn't even get a full-fledged saint, just a blessed..." I had never heard of this woman.

I proceeded to read her short biography:
On Holy Saturday of 1918, Alexandrina Maria da Costa, a fourteen-year-old native of Balasar, Portugal, was sewing when three men broke into her home, threatening to violate her chastity. Resolute to preserve her purity, she fled by jumping out a window. The thirteen-foot plunge to the ground crippled her for life. At the age of twenty-one, she became totally paralyzed and permanently bedridden. Alexandrina accepted this affliction as God’s will for her and an opportunity to offer herself totally as a “victim soul” for the conversion of sinners. For a period of three and a half years, she received the mystical gift of experiencing each Friday the pains of Christ on the cross. For thirteen years, she was imbued with the mystical phenomenon of being nourished solely by the Eucharist. Out of zeal to convert sinners, Alexandrina requested for her tombstone these words: “Sinners, how much I want to tell you…Do not risk losing Jesus for all eternity, for he is so good. Enough with sin. Love Jesus, love him!” On October 13, 1955, before breathing her last, Alexandrina declared, “I am happy, because I am going to heaven.”
I read further and found this:  

She had a special calling to a life of suffering. It all began with her tragic escape while defending her chastity. Her via crucis began then and it involved extreme detachment and total sacrifice. The Lord said to her: “Rarely will you feel comfort. Very rarely, until the end of your life; your heart will live in pain [...] but you will have a smile on your lips.” And she willingly accepted this plan, both the pain and the witnessing of joy. One of her moving pleas was: “Put a smile on my lips, dear Lord, a deceiving smile!” In fact, visitors were struck by her joy and ignorant of how much she suffered. Only a few were able to fathom the suffering she hid behind her smile.
Now, I certainly know that I am not called to become my patron saint, but I have to say that after I read a bit about her I was shaking for an hour or so. I can't fully explain why, and I won't even partially venture it. All I know is that my response was a wholehearted, "Lord, I don't have to understand. But I am here, and You may have or do whatever You wish." This was not a prayer of sweet, tender affection, this was a prayer of being utterly terrified at the awesome presence and reality of God. It's all so hard to explain. That's why I won't try.

I might sound to a random reader like I was superstitiously freaking out over this. But, my dear random reader, I'm not really writing for you. I'm writing for me, so that I can remember the steps the Lord has drawn me through. I know that along with this moment that struck me like this was a completely new sense of hope, of promise, of Advent fulfillment of God's desires in and for me. But, as always, it is beyond my comprehension.

I was telling an acquaintance of mine about this episode with my patron saint the other day, and the quote about her life of suffering, and found myself belly-laughing with joy over it. And at the same time I realized that the struggle this acquaintance was relating to me from her own life was something that God has spent considerable time working with me on as well. Long and short of it: I realize God has given me something that other people need. It is His stuff. I think this means He will work out a way to move what He gave me, through me, to other people. He's got a plan. He's working His plan. And I don't have to understand in order to participate in it. I'll know in time those things that I need to know.

Man, sometimes it is hard to write meaningfully about ineffable things. But if I've learned anything, it is that some day it will all make more sense than it does now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

And Then it All Makes Sense

It is early afternoon, and I've been awake for nearly 12 hours now. I probably should be napping. However, I figure I might use this opportunity to write an amusing blog post. What else could it be on roughly four hours' sleep?

This is probably the best state of mind for me to write about the current subject matter, however. I'm not even sure why I write things sometimes, except for the fact that writing is part of who I am. To be myself, I write. I've never particularly expected anyone to read what I write, but people do. Fascinating. And beside the point.

(Rambling is part of little sleep. Mostly.)

If you look back through recent posts, I've written about a spiritual trial, without getting too specific about it. I dare not say that it is finished, because it hasn't been mine to start or to finish, only to experience. So I won't say it is finished. But I will say that all of a sudden, many things make sense. Many spiritual things make sense.

I want to list some things that make sense.

The rootedness of the new covenant in the old covenant makes sense. This teaches me that when God sets out to do things, He starts out early, setting things up that don't look like they make a lot of sense or have a lot of meaning to them. When these things transpire in people's lives, they look like stuff made up of random suffering, injustice, cravings, sin, and choices on God's part that look like whimsy. But God does everything for His purposes, and He can redeem absolutely anything that befalls anyone. God invested a lot of time with the patriarchs of the old covenant, and He did it for our sakes -- for the sake of everyone who has lived since then. Christians impoverish themselves if they are not fluent in the Old Testament.

Poverty makes sense to me. I've written about this on this blog a few times. It has always sat awkwardly with me since my earliest contacts with the Catholic Church, whenever a homily or instruction has talked about poverty being all about someone else, and God's concern for those in poverty to be all about how we need to treat somebody else. No. We, God's people, are called to poverty. Spiritual poverty, and material poverty or detachment born of that spiritual poverty.

Mercy makes sense. Pride is the poison that keeps us from the heart of God. Mercy and the works of mercy is what breaks pride, both when we receive mercy and when we give mercy. Mercy comes to and from a heart that knows poverty.

This is a daring statement, but God's love makes sense. Jesus is God's mercy. The only thing we should think when looking upon any image of the Savior is how deeply God loves us. How "expensive" in terms of personal suffering Jesus' love for us is. That He paid the price for us isn't just some religious gobbedlygook talk. He lived a human life and He paid with human suffering in order for us to experience love. And not just any love, but a love that is infinite, and capable of literally anything. An all-powerful love.

I am God's child. And this makes sense. Children cannot take care of themselves, entirely. Small children cannot do it at all. They have needs which are far beyond their own capacity to fulfill. God wants me to reckon myself a very small child. In many ways, I have never been a very small child. In many ways, it takes great adult strength to reckon oneself a very small child, because God does not wish us to turn our brains off. Adults know the dangers of human frailty (our own and that of others) and the power of sin and temptation and what happens when a soul relinquishes itself to evil. Or at least adults can know these things. Chronological maturity and spiritual maturity sometimes have precious little association one with the other. But with my brain all the way on, God wishes me to simply turn to Him and say "You are Almighty. I am not. I will trust what you say, walk in your way, but You must be the one who comes through in this situation. But I'm not going to sit here gritting my teeth, waiting for you. I'm going to follow your directives, smile at you and hug you with my heart, because I know how much you love me. Anything you do in my life is going to show me that. Cuz I read the last paragraph."

I've learned that when I come to God I should say "Here I am, Lord. Anything You want, I want it too." So often my approach has been more like "Lord, I want to understand. What does this mean?" He knows my bent, He knows my needs, and understanding is not bad. What gets bad is anything that becomes a precondition for self-donation. "I'd be able to give you anything, Lord, if I just understood what was happening." Nope. That's not trust. That's not loving abandon. That's calculation.

I've learned that when God puts something in my heart to do, I should do it. It is God before whom I live. He is the one who matters. My mistakes in discerning the what and the how -- they can not only be redeemed, but they allow me a chance to be refined and to do better the next time around. And there will be a next time around. What is the worst thing that could happen? I could feel foolish. God's love is big enough to cover it. And I don't need all that pride baggage.

This doesn't mean that my life won't ever feel like it is being shredded alive. But that is a grace and a blessing, too. God is all-loving, and He is sovereign. No part of my suffering escapes His notice. This present moment is such a small piece of the whole equation.

For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence. Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God. Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. -- 2 Corinthians 4:11-18
I've learned that God keeps His promises not to make His people feel smug and self-righteous, but because He is who He is. He is worthy of our worship. He is worthy of our lives. When we worship Him, we are seeing Him, and in the perspective of other people we are pointing to what we see: to heaven, to glory, to eternity. We are living signs. We are the living proof that He is faithful, that hope is reasonable, that love is reasonable, that peace is reasonable. Because we point to the fact that God is. When God fulfills His promises in our lives, it is about Him, and only then it is about us, because we are about Him. When our hearts are all His, He gives us everything we want and everything we ask for, because it is His nature to give Himself. Our worship is all about our saying, "I was in terrible need! I could do nothing for myself! But I cried to the Lord, and He rescued me. He saved my soul. I am running to meet Him. I will never stop." It is the todah sacrifice. It is the Mass. It is knowing that we exist so that we can give ourselves away, to Him, and to everyone in His name and at His bidding.

So, maybe this post hasn't been exactly amusing, but I could sense that only in a state of weakness could I bring out what God has given me. God has called me to fast, and because extended food fasts are tricky on my health, and because I had prior good reason to, I decided to do a particular sleep-fast, getting up earlier than usual, knowing that occasionally (though not of late, at least, not until today!) I am susceptible to insomnia. There is something to the voluntary weakness of fasting that is actually rather delicious. To hear God say "Give yourself to me," and to be able to respond with my very body. It is amazing. It is a grace. And I thank Him and give Him praise.