Thursday, March 28, 2013

St. Claude on Friendship

Two years ago during the Holy Triduum, the Lord brought this to my attention, as if with bold, flashing neon. I knew exactly what it meant for me. I responded in the way I knew He wanted. I remember exactly where I was: standing in front of my washing machine, putting laundry in. My life has been profoundly changed by this in ways I am still unpacking.

God's ways are like that.

I feel myself moved to imitate the simplicity of God in my affections, loving him only, cherishing no other love but this, which is easy since I find in God all that I can love elsewhere.

But my friends: they love me and I love them. Thou seest this and I feel it, O my God, who art alone good, alone lovable. Must I sacrifice these to thee since thou desirest to have me entirely? I will make this sacrifice with my whole heart, since thou dost forbid me to share my friendship with any creature. Accept this painful sacrifice, but in exchange, my divine Savior, be thou their friend. As thou wilt take their place with me, take my place with them. I will remind thee of them daily in my prayers, and of what thou owest them in me in promising to be my substitute. Jesus, be thou their friend, their sole and real friend! Jesus, be my friend, since thou commandest me to be thine.

St. Claude de la Colombiere
Spiritual Notes, Lyons, 1674

Friday, March 22, 2013

When the Cross is Done Crushing You

Holy Week is right around the corner, and I'm trying to not let that fact make me nervous. Just because God has pulled major, life-changing surprises on me during Holy Week two years in a row doesn't mean He'll do it again. Or rather, if He does, I trust that I will be more ready to roll with it. At least that's what I'd like to believe.

Life has had a feel to it something like a huge cacophony similar to the gaudiest section of the 1812 Overture, when everything is grinding and crashing. But now it resolves to one single, strong note that just sounds and resounds, giving the sense that it has been there the whole time, behind the cacophony. It resounds so certainly that it makes one sure it will turn into a chord and a new melody. Just hasn't, yet.

The image I had about a year ago was that God had been busy building in my life, and that with all the construction had come a significant bit of mess, too. His biggest concern was that I would see His work as His work, and in order to do that, the junk had to be cleared out. He did not ask me to clean it. He asked if I would let Him clean it. You know how kids can get really attached to things that are essentially scraps, junk, not the work of art? I needed lots of reordering, but I think equally I needed God to say this, that, and that are my works of art. They stay. I could be as equally prone to throwing out His work as to getting attached to a box of sawdust as a prized possession.

It seems very clear to me now that God has tested me in three ways: in relationship to Him, in relationship to other people, and in relationship to myself. And it has been no minor testing. It has been rigorous, vigorous testing not once but again and again. I have come to be deeply convinced of God's nature as pure love. There was a post I wrote awhile back where I was meditating on Jesus on the cross. I remember well that all I could feel at the time was an all-consuming sense of painful disorientation. I identified very well with the disciples who ran away, or with John who stood there, his heart probably numb, his head reeling, no understanding, no comprehension at all. As I faced the cross at that moment, that was exactly what I experienced. Total painful bewilderment.

During these tests I've had lots of moments like that one. The Lord kept telling me then that the cross extended to me like that was a sign of His love. This cross crushes you, slowly. But somehow, mysteriously, it does reveal His love. When praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, I used to always admit to the Lord, "I cannot comprehend your love at all." But now that I have experienced this little bit of suffering this way, this little bit of the cross in this way, when I say to myself, "Jesus, you chose to suffer for me because you love me," I can have a little piece of comprehension. Just a little. And that little bit proves to me that God's only motivation towards us is His love and mercy. Every other thought we have about how and why God interacts with us is a lie and a deception. The Lord Jesus is all love. He has taught me this by allowing me to stand by His side, meditate in a sharing way on his Passion, and experience just a pin-prick drop of it myself. It's powerful, terrifying stuff.
He has also made it clear to me that His presence in my life is real. I can only really know the truth of who I am by knowing Him. Conversely, knowing Him requires me to accept the truth about myself and to act accordingly. Relationship with God gives my life its integrity. I cannot trample my own dignity underfoot and still be in right relationship with God. But neither do I need others to agree with me, understand me, like me or even notice me in order to have my dignity and integrity in place.

However, my life is not complete, nor is my love for God complete if I do not love the people around me, even the ones who don't particularly like me back. Sometimes love requires me to say hard truths, or make demands of others. It always requires me giving of myself (again, regardless of whether this is liked, understood, or even noticed). Love for others isn't about me and the pleasure or benefit I get out of loving. Love for others is about love for God. My prayer of late is that I offer my humanity to the Lord Jesus for His love to flow through me to others in the He wants to love. It is too easy for my love to become selfish possession. But God's love says "I want to give all to you. Even when you reject Me."

The proper human response to this kind of love: worship. Lord God, I give you my all in return. For years now, I have been gnawing on this concept of what it actually means to teach people to worship. This is what it is: to teach people to embrace the cross, to know God Who is love, and to have their self-love and their love for other people purified by the cross. And then to respond to the Love that is poured out to, in and through us, with all that we are and have.

In the midst of all that is the entire meaning of my life.

And since I'm still alive, I know I'm not done growing and learning and experiencing the cross. Who knows what this Holy Week will have in store. I know God only does good things. And as long as He continues to draw me to Himself and love through me, I know happiness is mine.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Why Complicate Matters?

My pastor is fond of preaching on the concept that God's ways are quite simple, and people have a way of complicating them. He preached this today, based on the reading of Naaman's healing after he humbled himself to bathe in the Jordan at the command of the prophet Elisha.

I can relate to this, as I have been fond of knotting things up and complicating things.

It seems to me that the knots and the complications come out of us for a reason, and that is to keep suffering at bay.

Look at Naaman. His basic issue was pride. He wanted some special ceremony that would be flashy and would fit his expectations. He wanted to be healed his way. But he had to submit himself. That hurt.

And hurt seems like it should be wrong. If it hurts, if it makes me uncomfortable, if it makes my life hard, it can't be God's way. Right?!?

One look at the cross and it is evident that this isn't right.

But there's something about that cross. It hurts, it is hard, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable, and yet at the same time it brings healing. Eventually it brings sweetness. (Ask the saints about that one.) Like the men thrown into the fiery furnace who lost only the ropes that bound them, the only thing the cross seeks to take from us is the things that bind us to this earth.

What trust it takes to lose creaturely goods to embrace eternal and spiritual goods. What good sense we have when we let God have His way with us, even if we have to get very confused about letting our very good ideas and intentions and safety zones and nice morality efforts all go up in smoke before Him. Let it all go.

It is all very simple. Take up the cross. Follow Jesus. Don't be surprised when He messes with you in ways you don't expect. Love, even though it hurts. Give, even when you think you can't, or shouldn't. Do whatever He tells you. Forgive those who spitefully use you. Lose your life for His sake.

You will find joy, you will find life, you will find meaning, purpose, adventure, and you will know love.

And isn't that what you want, after all?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Feeling Stuck

Sometimes I write just because it is so spiritually therapeutic. Right now I'm just hoping it will still be true today.

For it to be true, I need to shoot from the hip. So, here goes.

Living by faith in the Son of God is really quite terrifying sometimes. It seems that the Holy Spirit's way with me in the last, oh, I don't know how long, has been to round up all the little comforts my heart would gravitate towards, those little nestley spots, and just sort of get rid of them. When I say that that is the Holy Spirit's way, I mean that for the most part I have been cooperating with this, and for the most part it has been peaceful. Oh, there have been some episodes where there was significant kicking and screaming involved, but it was also very evident that the Holy Spirit was making it clear that this wasn't just a comfort, it was a problem.

And all that is good. My ideal way to decorate a room is very sparsely. This fits my temperament. I like empty.

But then that moment hits and I just want a comfy, nestley spot. And they're all gone. They're just gone. Some of those nestley spots were friendships, or situations of camaraderie. I either slide like a dry dish rag off teflon, or I find a welcome like a bunch of serrated knife edges.

And here I am, living this life of faith, and facing this very un-comfort-able moment.

It's easy to begin to wonder if the problem is with the faith part. When I think with my logical brain, I know that I have been living by faith in the Son of God for, oh, a good 25 years or so. More, really, but the first 10 were childhood and choppy and I wasn't very aware of what I was doing. Let's say I have been consciously sticking my neck out in faith and taking steps as I felt God was leading for this quarter century.

The way it works, when you live a relationship with the Lord, is that there are consistent patterns. God has been teaching me to be me, and so the things He has taught me have been pretty consistent. The methods He has used for teaching me have been pretty consistent. My screw ups have, fortunately, changed, but even my screw-ups have helped me make decisions in following Him that seem to help. Screw-ups have a way of revealing wisdom eventually.

Every once in a while, though, I'm tempted to just say Maybe I've misunderstood things, and none of this really matters. Maybe it is all a creation of my mind; maybe God isn't so personal and message-giving. Maybe He's not as real as I think He is.

In reality, reason tells me He is far more real than I realize.

And I trust the patterns. I trust that when I pray, God answers. I trust the big-picture direction He gives, even as I know that I don't understand a lot in terms of detail. He doesn't show me everything. He makes it so that I have to depend on other people's relationships with Him and their work with Him as well.

None of it, though, none of it, gives me answers for how to deal with what is right in front of me, today. God doesn't give me a magic answer for how to reconcile with this friend who probably thinks I'm full of hatred and anger, when I'm not, but the situation has gotten so tangled and the communication so broken that I truly despair of it. None of it answers how to address the situation in my parish, in my community, for which I have prayed so ardently and yet have such a temptation to throw my hands in the air and give up. Nothing explains why I am so sure that these two elements are connected.

Faith. Or just imagination? Maybe it all matters. Maybe it doesn't matter, and I should just watch TV. Or, maybe it all does matter, but what I really need is a beer and someone to tell me to lighten up.

Several years ago there was a snow storm in our town and the roads were not plowed. I remember going out to shovel the sidewalk and driveway, and then I started shoveling the street. There was probably 18" of wet snow. And I was out there, intent on shoveling the roads clear with my little shovel. I felt obligated to do so, though I have no idea why. It was not a doable task for one person. It was a little weird of me.

This image comes back to me, because it is what I feel like right now. I see these problems, these needs, and I feel my utter powerlessness in the face of them. I know that powerlessness does not define me, and yet... dang... I am willing to give my all, but I know my all is very limited. Perhaps God's will for us sometimes is to just be empty and uncomfortable, and to wait. Be stuck.

I read something yesterday about an Asian Cardinal who spent years in a prison camp being "reeducated" by Communists. He fretted at first, telling God how much important pastoral work there was that needed to be done. And God told him He had called him there for His purposes. Talk about stuck.

One must trust God. I know that He is trustworthy. I am convinced that He is all loving, all powerful, and all knowing. So He knows exactly my situation and how I feel about it; He is completely committed to the absolute best for me, and He is able to do absolutely anything to bring it about. I would stake my life on these things. In fact, I feel I have precious little left on which to stake my life!

And yet, I feel so stuck.

Well, self, I think we're out of beer, but maybe there's a nice glass of wine to be had somewhere. Say your prayers, relax, maybe a nice movie. Tomorrow's another day to soldier on. Who knows, maybe the snow plow will come before the melting does...