Monday, December 22, 2014

The Redemption of Fantasy Addiction

Here is another quote that struck me recently:

"Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, 'I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me' (Luke 1:38). She was saying, 'I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.'
"She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities. And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.
"To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear.
"The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."
---Henri Nouwen, from "A Spirituality of Waiting: Being Alert to God's Presence in Our Lives", Weavings, January 1987
What struck me about this is this matter of our imaginings:  "The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction."

I live a very interior life by personality. As with all personality types, this means I lean toward specific strengths and weaknesses. And certain weaknesses can lend themselves towards even addictions and interior pathologies. I have had my own experience of this when it comes to the life of my mind. From a very young age, I learned that I could escape emotional pain by constructing an imaginary world that eliminated problems I could not change and provided saviors I otherwise did  not experience. This is a coping mechanism, a self-generated sort of mercy that serves a frightened child. But addiction arises when no other mercy emerges to move a soul from "coping with" to "dealing with." Mix in layers of religious ideas in accretion to this basic coping addiction. Compound it with a strong intellectual bent and a weak social bent. Yeah, you have a mess.

Among other things, one ends up with elaborate mental constructs about God that don't so much take the reality of a personal God into account, while never denying Him and while in fact crying out to Him regularly in desperation. One also ends up with severely contorted and intensely felt passions about other people and what they could and could not, or would and would not do for one. It is like living in a completely invisible but completely impenetrable bubble of Saran wrap, blocking a vital connection with reality.

And I lived this, on varying levels, for many years of my life.

Today it is easy for me to look back and see the work God has done in freeing me of all this. It was  during a most painful spiritual trial, when God seemed farthest from my cries, that I became aware of a distinct lack. It's hard to put into words, but that old place where one version of this coping mechanism had always kicked in was as if a lump I had had all my life on my arm or my leg was suddenly not there. I could feel its absence. And thinking about it couldn't make it come back. It was astounding. It was this kind of indisputable interior evidence that showed me God was active in me profoundly even though I otherwise felt like I was breaking apart.

But back to the quote, which reminded me of something I've blogged about before in this post called We are Saved in Community. It was a dream that I had which became part of the interior "catechesis" God gave me during the time I was becoming a Catholic (when I had really no human being to reliably teach me). In this dream, a voice asked me what I would like to eat, and I asked for a slice of pizza. "Is that all? Just a piece of pizza?" The voice seemed to want to stretch my imagination a bit. So I thought about it and changed my request to a whole pizza: large, and with lots of toppings. See, I was working my interior fantasy thing to its limit, to the wildest desire for myself that I could muster. But then in the dream, the voice seemed a bit disappointed with "my wildest," and asked me if I was going to insist that it had to be that. "No," I tentatively answered, but I was confused, because the voice seemed to want to know what I wanted. Why did you ask if you didn't want to hear my idea, I thought. Then in the dream my grandfather appeared carrying a huge container of homemade beef stew, and suddenly I was aware of an enormous banquet table set for many and stocked with all manner of delicious and lovingly made homemade food.

Now the point of what I learned from this, and the point of which this quote reminded me is that God actually is interested in my being aware of my imagination, my fantasy, my desires, my predictions, my earth-bound desires simply so that I can understand how tremendously transcendent and enormously good He is. So that I can begin to comprehend how far beyond my comprehension His love for me runs. How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of God. How far beyond my puny human power of desire His ability to fulfill me goes.

Sometimes my tendency is to waste a lot of energy on condemnation of what my mind dreams up to express my desires in life. But Nouwen here teaches me that my attitude should not be condemnation but surrender. I'm really not wedded to my request for a piece of pizza! But God wants to rouse my longings for what He knows will truly satisfy me. God is Reality; the mental world I wanted to construct was a feeble cry for Him to save me. 
 
And now I see He is here. He longs for my cry, and He personally steps in to save me.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Loneliness and Christian Emptiness


Earlier this week, I came across this quote which speaks volumes to me:

God looked over the world for an empty heart -- but not a lonely heart -- a heart that was empty like a flute on which He might pipe a tune -- not lonely like an empty abyss, which is filled by death. And the emptiest heart He could find was the heart of a Lady. Since there was no self there, He filled it with His very Self.
~ Fulton Sheen, The World's First Love: Mary Mother of God
In a manner of speaking, one of God's goals for us is for us to become empty. This emptiness, of course, has to be understood, as Sheen's sense has it, in the Carmelite way. Empty means ready. Empty implies availability, and it implies purpose and community. One is available for something, or rather for Someone.

It speaks, of course, to the scene of Joseph and Mary journeying to Bethlehem, looking for available space where Jesus might be born. Is my house, am I, available? Not much is made of this in Scripture, but much has been made of it in meditations such as the custom of Las Posadas

The enemy of this kind of emptiness is loneliness. When I read this, the naru hodo alarm rang within me as my personal history instantly shot up multiple instances of proof of this. Oh my goodness how my nature has recoiled from self-emptying for fear of loneliness, of that sense of being left out of the life-stream that certainly everyone else was deeply enjoying. The voices that speak contrary to truth: the world, the flesh and the devil, scream that I must have things, people, experiences that fill me, things I can possess, things I must hold on to to stay afloat. For certainly life revolves around something I don't have but need, or something I don't have enough of, or something I might lose, or something someone else controls and I have to posture myself in order to receive. Certainly without having, I am nothing.

Right?

Um, no.

In the midst of frantic craving I lose sight of reality. Reality is that the God of the universe, the Blessed Trinity, created me for a purpose. My purpose is to love and worship God in a holy communion of persons. I worship God as I lay down my life, as I empty myself and empty from myself all lesser pursuits.

I do this not because I am a masochist and don't believe in or want good things for myself. It is not Christian to understand "empty" in the sense of "denude." I do this out of great faith in the One who reciprocates my emptiness with Himself. The availability we offer to God is always for communion. God's ultimate goal for us is union with Him, not for us to become simply a great void. As I relinquish my obsessive self-factor I see that God loves, gives, and is deeply merciful in response to enter into human misery and to be, literally, God-with-us.

To break it down and make it real simple: faith in Jesus calls me to abandon everything to Him in love. I long to be empty, I agree to be emptied, I move towards emptiness because I know, love, and trust in the One who fills. And that infilling is what every smidgeon of my being longs for.

Oh yeah, there might be long, painful gaps where there are no blissful feelings. Stuff of earth feels useless and the bliss of heaven is nowhere. You experience loss, dependencies will be broken, and temporal security will be shaken.

But I believe and trust in the promise -- no, in the One who made the promise. He is faithful. He is true. I love Him; He calls me. To wait for such a One in emptiness is not the death-filled abyss of loneliness. It is the strengthening and deepening of love. It is worth giving your life for. In fact, it is the only thing worth giving your life for.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hope, Heaven, "Epiphanic Pointers"

I value words highly. I especially value words that are able to convey something that is deeply meaningful to me. Sometimes I'm not able to pull it off myself, but I find someone else who has. That's when I post quotes.

"Hope is the virtue that prevents us from setting our hearts on this world as the final aim of living. Knowing how much more awaits us in the life to come, we shed all clothing that would kill or erode this hope. Thus we learn the greatest lesson of Christian commitment: how to live in this world in service to God while at the same time rising above the things of the world (cf. John 15:19). I mean things insofar as they are seen as merely worldly rather than as epiphanic pointers to the Most High. We thus comprehend what it means from experience what it means to care for the persons, situations, and things entrusted to us by God without tarnishing our green veneer of hope for the home He has prepared for us from the beginning."

Susan Muto, St. John of the Cross for Today: The Dark Night, p. 277, emphasis mine.
 I have waited years to come upon this phrase: epiphanic pointers. Yes. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When Weirdness Gives Way to Delight

This has been a strange Advent for me thus far. But if ever I have known a peace that surpasses understanding and a joy that makes no earthly-calculable sense, now would be it. My heart is so full of a peaceful gratitude that I just have to write about it.

There is something about following the Lord's lead. It grieves; it consoles. It confuses; it gives clarity. It takes things away; it gives everything. The path is dark, but it gives light. I feel heavy, but He gives freedom. The more I follow, the less I understand where I am going, but the more sure I am. I want to say everything to explain, but words fail (multi-dimensionally); and something deeper than words germinates.

All I can say is that I am so grateful to God for my life and His call to me to Carmel. Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, my spiritual father. His words almost always embody to me exactly the state in which I find myself tonight. He is all about renunciation, detachment, penance, and self-emptying. And yet I find such joy in his words. It's the type of joy that makes me want to embrace my own soul, this dwelling place of God, and exclaim that indeed, something makes my life make sense. A human being is actually able to convey to me that my life makes sense. It is the opposite of the feeling of alienation, disorientation, self-loathing, and mistrust. From the first time I met St. John and St. Teresa of Avila when I was in college, this has been the affect these saints have had on me.  And a few years ago it was like St. John of the Cross seemed to seek me out to explain what I deeply needed to understand about where my life was going. I can't find adequate words to describe the delight this gives me. For someone with an intellectual bent like me, there is a strong temptation to view life at its core as absurd and meaningless. This is the joyful dance of knowing that to be a lie -- and that another human being is an instrument of that certainty, which can only come from God.

Jesus said to His disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can one give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Intercession Evolution

This morning at Mass something prompted me to think about the path on which God has led me in learning to intercede for others.

There was a time when I did a whole lot more thinking than praying, and most of that thinking centered on myself, even though one could term it "thinking about God".

The Lord had to catch my attention before He could shift it, and in my case He did this by making me feel my needs and then by meeting them through other people. And after this, I began to feel the urgent need to pray for others.

Sometimes this felt need was extremely intense, and it seemed I could not escape it. I could not turn my heart to any kind of prayer at all without feeling this compelling need to pray for one or another specific person, or for some collective of people.

Out of this compelling felt need, I developed a discipline of daily prayer with this intercessory component. In other words, the need I felt to intercede overcame my natural haphazard, start-again-stop-again approach to everything in life. Where I once mostly lounged and lazed around in my general thoughts about God, His will and His ways, I was now steadily walking in prayer.

It is said that you can never remain angry at anyone for whom you pray. But there can be dangers as well as blessings in interceding. It is possible (ask me how I know... no, don't) to start to feel the good one is praying for to become one's project, one's possession, one's attachment. And as soon as a soul wants anything other than God, there is a need for purification in that soul. The way God led me when this happened was first to call me to penance. The penance followed the pattern of a compelling sense of my need to do this at first, and then a discipline. At first it seemed to me the process was mostly about penance I was offering for the good of others, but in due time I realized how much I needed it to purge me.

But there came a deeper purging, too, because the need for purification really goes deep. In this step, it seemed I simply could not deny that God knows through and through every desire I'd ever presented to Him. I had asked Him repeatedly, I knew He heard, and I was not seeing much if anything of the outcomes I had desired. But regardless of how intently God Himself seemed to beckon me earlier to pray, now it seemed God was simply saying, "Shhh. You, come to me."

Can I just say yes? Can I let go of ever seeing results? Can I realize that God's ultimate desire for me is that I grow in union with Him? Can I want that more than I want to see thousands of people exhibit tangible and measurable characteristics of conversion? I say I want to see the Lord Jesus be loved deeply by many, but it seems the Lord is content that I concern myself with my response to Him instead of theirs. Do I pray and intercede so that I feel or look powerful, or do I pray that I may know Love and hide in Him? How in the world do I reckon myself so terribly small that I really and honestly want nothing at all but God?

This, like everything else, is only a work of God's grace. It's utterly impossible for me. Just like causing my own existence, or sustaining the universe, or planning salvation, or creating a world-wide family of communion. Just like all the other things God gratuitously does for me and for all of us.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Insecurity, Conformity, Freedom

Our Lord has a way of coming on pretty strong sometimes. Don't know how else to put it. It's been one of those times of late. It is actually very much like having a rushing wind come blow through, because things that don't normally move or that I don't normally have to think about start fluttering and flying all over. Uncontrollable movement. And sometimes, all I can do is say, "Wow, look at that thing flying around!" It's one thing when it's a Styrofoam cup (like the one my daughter and I saw blow down the street today), and it's another thing altogether when it is something you thought your internal security was directly connected to.

But regardless, the net result is that stuff gets moved around and I'm left looking at it all.

And in this blowing, one of the more discussable things I have found tipped over is a blechy residue of conformity.

I think at heart I have always been a non-conformist in the sense that I have little natural inclination to look at others to figure out what I should do. I've never been one to try to blend in or match others, especially when the issue is the basic question "Who am I?".

Conformity, to me, seems to have roots in insecurity. I see insecurity working in two different dimensions: personal and social insecurity. My personal security is pretty strong by my temperament. I don't naturally have a lot of social security, but I have been through a lot of things the hard way and have developed my social security muscles that way.

It is, though, in social or relational settings that I am most vulnerable. And what this wind has made me realize is that I have areas where I have been controlled by my fear of others' judgments. I have felt there are certain things I must do because I want to be sure to be included on the right bandwagons: liturgical, fashion, intellectual, etc.

And in that blowing wind, I realize this is wrong and it is silly.

First of all, who wants to be on a bandwagon with a bunch of judgmental boors, anyway?

Second of all, I know myself well enough to realize that it isn't other people's standards that actually concern me; it is my own made-up standards of what I currently figure is the ideal that hamstring me. So many times I have gone through "if I do xyz, so-and-so will be hurt/upset/angry" and then I learn from the mouth of so-and-so that no such thing is actually true and that it was me keeping myself locked in a cage all along.

Some people have a natural tendency toward rebellion. I have a natural tendency toward submission. It sounds weird, but I have always longed to find someone to tell me how to live. Even though, with the non-conformist thing happening simultaneously, I often have the urge to do exactly the opposite of what a group is doing or what someone specifically instructs me to do. I realize what these seemingly opposite desires of mine mean: I have had all my life is a driving call from God for my innermost being to belong to Him alone. Only God is really able to show me how to live while actually bringing life. Any other person or system that is not in sync with God or His will for me will crush, abuse, or limit.

That is not to say that God will not bring the cross. Oh yes He certainly will! That's a clear sign of God's authentic presence. We may even use the word "crush" in connection with the cross, but the cross always brings life. Life is found in repentance from sin, in an amended life, in greater detachment from created goods and greater attachment to eternal goods.

And it's not that I want to thumb my nose at even my imaginary judgmental community and do "brash" things to prove a point. What God has always pointed me to is the glorious freedom to be myself. To choose for myself. Maybe that person who makes a bugaboo about how we all need to do X is really saying it vacantly, out of a need to say something, or some other need. Goodness knows that not every word that falls into public hearing is well discerned, chosen, or intended or actually worth listening to.

Freedom doesn't mean doing whatever the hell I feel like. Freedom means having the power to live in increasingly deeper union with God.

And that, my friends, is exactly what I desire.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reporting from the Bottom of the Pit

So, it's true: I've been feeling the tug of depression lately, and yesterday pretty much the tug-of-war rope snapped and I fell over. It happens. It happens to some people a lot, and it happens to me often enough for me to remember very well exactly how it goes.

But here's how my life works: while I am sitting where I have fallen, I am also analyzing the experience. So I have this thing going on where I have feelings of depression just like I might have feelings of fever or sinus infection. And at the same time I have a slightly delighted appreciation for what is going on, too.

I'm not quite able to put these in any logical order. But here are some pieces of the realization.

Communion with other people and with all of creation, in Christ, is pretty much what heaven is about. Our earthly sojourn is about recognizing the difference between the goods of earth and the higher goods of eternity, and choosing. God always presents us with choice, and He's constantly upgrading. The good things of this earth are by no means contemptible, but the more we recognize the infinite goodness of heaven, the more we are drawn to choose that in everything and in every way. That's what dying to self and dying to sin are really about. I look at how beautiful something is here, and even so, by grace, I am willing to say yes to something higher, like loving Jesus in His distressing disguise.

I can't expect ultimate help from penultimate sources. My husband, my best friend, can't give me what I need because they don't have it. What I need is from God. God always provides what we need, but sometimes He doesn't give it to the people we want it from. The solution is to turn to God alone. That's not a problem; it's God's design.

God makes Scripture come alive as we live with Him and live in His Word. His Word is alive, but maybe it is like a virus: it needs a host body to live in.

The most obvious thing to do when in need is to ask for help, specifically to ask for prayer.

The devil will do everything he can to harass, submerge, irritate, discourage and lie to me. And to end my life. The devil is not a gentleman.

Purgation is the greatest gift God can give on this earth, but it sucks. But it's worth it. The sucky feelings don't last.

Depression takes all of one's power and turns it into jello. That's why in these moments it is vital to surround oneself with prayerful people. Thank you, God, for Mark Zuckerberg because I'd be in danger without Facebook.

And that's just it: the Christian call is all about being faithful with the graces God gives to each one each day. I can't stop disaster in Syria or North Korea or change the course of history by some great plan I devise, but I can be faithful to whatever grace God gives me, offering my joys, sorrows, labors and prayers for the salvation and conversion of the world. That's what God wants and needs from us so that His mission can go forward.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Patron Saint of 2015

I wait for this day every fall. It is the last day of the liturgical year; tomorrow begins Advent. And every year I have this custom to basically pull out of a hat (actually, to randomly select by computer program) a patron saint for the year.

It is almost disconcerting how excited I get about this.

And every year almost the same thing happens.

I greet the day with great anticipation, I go to get my new saint, and my initial response is something like Huh? Who? But as the year progresses and I do what I can to learn about this saint and ask his/her intercession, I develop some kind of fondness for him/her, and I also see how whatever glory was in his/her life speaks to me in my concrete circumstances. Sometimes there is an prophetic tone to the choice that I only recognize as the year moves along. And almost always I feel the transition from one patron to another with a tinge of bittersweetness. Yes, I have issues with getting emotionally attached even to patron saints.

My new patroness of 2015 is St. Catherine of Sweden. She was the daughter of St. Bridget of Sweden, was married young but persuaded her husband to a vow of virginity and was widowed soon afterwards. She accompanied her mother on pilgrimages for years after that, and concluded her life as Abbess of the convent her mother founded.

I'm going with this picture of her, since I like the headgear she's wearing. Looks very Scandinavian.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Mysticism and the Normal Life of Faith


What's on my mind today is a phrase I've heard in various settings. This was not directed to me personally, but to an audience of which I was a part: Of course you've had touches of mystical experience. If you hadn't, you wouldn't be here.

This phrase strikes me like summer. Summer is when the warmth in the air allows the pores in my skin to open fully and soak in the comfort of not needing layers of clothes to produce heat for me. Summer is when I don't have to buffer myself against my environment. I can just be. Such peace, beauty, and union with all that is good.

People get afraid of the term mysticism for many reasons. I would simply call it the experience of God, who is real. Now, granted, I realize a lot more theological nuancing than that is necessary, but let's take it for granted that I am speaking of someone who is in union with Christ's Church and in submission to his Bishop who is in union with Rome. It also presupposes a healthy prayer life rooted in Scripture, liturgy, and community. It supposes that one is seeking to live a life of virtue and penance and mortification from sin in all its forms, but probably especially pride.

But with all that, mysticism is simply life with God, who is real, personal, and who acts as such. God is Emmanuel.

Years ago when blogging was still new I remember reading a Catholic blog where someone had the courage to ask whether mystical experiences were a common factor in people's stories of conversion. Several people tentatively acknowledged this to be true, almost as if they were letting out a closely held secret. Perhaps it is because Catholics are talking more with each other via social networking, or maybe it is because of the particular circles in which I move, or maybe it is a broader move of God, but since that time I have heard countless stories from regular ol' Mass-going sinners about experiences of God intervening in the course of their lives by vision, locution, revelation, and visitations of various sorts. For believers, it seems completely normal.

These things don't make people holy or special, or even necessarily does it mean that they understand what God may have been trying to convey. I also know that real visitations from God can be grossly misconstrued and dangerously interpreted so that people run off in weird and dangerous directions. I'll never understand why God is so peaceful with allowing us humans to play such an active role in the salvation of the world. I mean, I get it, but it puts me in awe. God takes such risks and is patient with so much foolishness from us. If we were better at acknowledging these simple truths, I believe there would be less foolishness because everyone would be better equipped to speak to these experiences, and fewer people would be deceived by the further ends of weirdness.

Bottom line: I believe that Christianity is broken and in serious danger when we do not consider that our faith and life have this mystical dimension as a part of being normal and healthy. We say we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and is that not a mystical reality? My goodness, yes. If we lose these basics, a faith becomes a ritual-based morality system that is opposable based on personal taste and perceived "common good." But if Almighty God interacts with human beings, well then, every knee needs to bow to this ultimate reality and every heart needs to align itself with it.

If Christianity is not mystical it is worthless.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Graces, Math, Practice and Delight

I'm not one given to sentimentality, particularly not about things like thankfulness on Thanksgiving. Reality is good, but I often find sentimentality is more in touch with creativity than reality.

So here's my take on what I am thankful for today.

The other day I experienced something that I could recognize as clearly a gift of grace. There was a situation that was not unlike other situations I've been in in past months and years that has caused me grief, bitterness, pain and turmoil. But on this recent occasion, it came and I was ok. I greeted it with acceptance, and there wasn't the slightest bit of pain involved. In fact, I had a smiling feeling of delight precisely because I recognized the grace involved in this. I was happy in facing this difficulty.

A day or so passed, and I admired this little experience. Ah, how good God is to me. I'm making progress. Indeed.

And then out of the blue, in a setting I didn't at all expect, there were comments innocently made to me that cut me down to the heart. Ouch.

Oh, wait. This is just like that other thing I was just so happy about. Ok, take a deep breath, and go to the same place. I managed.

Then there was another situation where I was already prepared for it to be rough. I was not disappointed. But dang, all of a sudden I realize that the same principle is in play here as in that graced victory the other day. No wonder I've never liked it. The pummel came like a slow, swinging pendulum. Again. Again. Again.

Sigh.

There's nothing at all wrong with delighting in evidence of grace working, because it is the gift of God. But there's everything wrong with sucking on the sweetness of being a location of God's grace working. Yay me. It's going so well for me now. I'm so, you know... where it's at.

It reminds me of my daughter's approach to learning math. She will dutifully sit with me, attend, and while I work with her, she will grasp a concept. Her face will beam. "Ok, now you do this same thing on this two-page exercise, all in different ways."

Wait. What?

"Oh, and this is a skill that you'll be using over and over and in combination with much more complicated skills for the rest of your life."

Crap. It's not fun anymore.

Well, guess what my dear. It's lovely for you to find it fun, but the need really is that it becomes second nature to you, so that you have the skill to do this automatically and use it in situations where math, or virtue, is actually called for and needed. Because that's the whole point of learning. It forms you, and you master it. And so you are more fully human in this one little way. Oh, and there are hundreds and hundreds of these little bits for you to learn. Some will come easily and stay with you, and some you'll probably have to do some little mental gymnastic to accomplish for the rest of your life.

Let the delight of your soul simply be looking at your Lord and loving Him. Let everything bring you back to Him, lest you get stuck in even the most lovely bit of creation or the most wonderful effect of grace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unexpected Presence

I didn't sleep well last night, and currently my children and I are scurrying about, getting the house ready for Thanksgiving guests. My daughter, who can be such a balm to my soul, has been consistently asking for more tasks to do to help everything go smoother.

So this morning I was dealing with my third or fifth load of laundry in the basement. Dryer humming, water emptying into the machine. I was quietly intent on what I was doing. Suddenly I turned and saw a bright blue sweater containing my daughter sitting on the chair in the laundry area. I screamed at my full energy capacity for a good solid three seconds as I held my heart in my chest to make sure it didn't fall out. She and I collapsed into laughter for a few minutes as we both recovered from scaring each other to bits. I did not hear her enter. I did not see her sit down. It was just all of a sudden -- she was there.

An hour later I still felt the physical change from that few seconds of a scare.

And I told the Lord, "You know, this is what you do to me! All of a sudden, when I don't expect it at all, You show up just like that." I'm not saying I see Jesus physically present in a blue sweater (or any sweater, or at all) in my laundry room (or other places. Just being clear.), but yes, spiritually He does have a way of just showing up to me like that. Now I don't feel so bad about it scaring the crap out of me.

Do you suppose that He has that sort of crap scaring-out thing in mind? I firmly believe that part of understanding God's personal love for us is realizing His sense of humor. What greater bonding is there than to share this kind of moment of raw reaction? It may not be the most sophisticated form of prayer, but whoever said prayer always had to be sophisticated?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To be Seen and Heard

Today I was reminded of an elderly gentleman who used to write letters to the pro-life office at which I worked over two decades ago. He may have written three or four times, and he always inclosed with his letters a significant stack of photos. The letters made me raise my eyebrows at the time, and today as I thought about them, they made me sad for him.

I don't remember the exact wording or content of the letters, but in general they revolved around his belief that God was sending him messages through the candles in his church. Specifically he was convinced of these messages because when he looked at the candles, they seemed normal. When he took the photos and had them developed (because, you know, that was how it worked in those days), there was a special "twist" and shape to the flame. This shape consistently showed up in all of his pictures. He was convinced that this was in answer to his prayers.

I recognized the kinds of pictures he sent, because my elderly grandfather who could not hold a camera steady took similar completely blurry pictures.

Today I thought of a spiritually hungry and lonely old man, sending his revelation to the only people he could think of who might listen and be interested -- the state Right to Life office. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

This story reminds me of the adage that we must be "fully human before we can be safely spiritual." In other words, if we don't have certain human needs met, if we are starved for companionship or deeply lonely, or if for whatever reason we have a psychological crisis underway, we need to address these things before it is good for us to go off in solitary retreat and ask God to speak to us. And in the same way, we who do regularly seek God and ask Him to speak to us need to take into account that the basic and primary needs of those around us are not for theology lectures or liturgical precision directives. This is what Mother Teresa had to say about the need in the West:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Today as I think about the man, his pictures, and his sending them to our office, my response can't simply be to pity the poor soul. My response needs to be to go into the silence where I learn the way God's mercy sees and hears people's desire to be seen and heard. It is nothing that I see or hear someone. It is everything that God sees and hears them. But how will anyone experience that of God if they never experience it from a person? And if they do not experience God seeing and hearing them, how will they believe that God loves them and calls them to serve Him?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deeper Silence

Here's an irony: I spend this month with the writing-every-day challenge, saying more, putting more into words than I typically do. And at the same time, I find myself being called deeper into silence.

When you spend time with me in person in at least a slight variety of settings, you realize that I am not often a talkative person. Listening comes naturally to me, and I like to think before I talk. I can be comfortable sitting with someone in silence.

But none of that is what I mean. I probably couldn't get more silent that way if I tried, at least not while my children still live at home with me.

The silence I am talking about is stillness. It involves the mind, the soul, and the attentiveness. My mouth is calm, but my mind is able to go a mile a minute.

Over the last several years, I've experienced other times when it seemed I was being called to deeper silence, and in retrospect those were about deepening prayer, or turning off the talking-inside-myself and turning fuller attention to reality, to God's presence, and to God's Word. As a result, I don't have racing-brain like I used to. I don't have the thought-obsession I used to. Each of these seasons seemed to be proceeded by a more intense outward focus in my life in general. And now I find this looping back again.

It's the "be still and know that I am God" moment. The one who beckons is God, and God is real. The reality of God is also scary and disconcerting for those of us who live in the mortal coil. And yet, it is silly to think in terms of being called without concerning oneself in the first place with the One who calls. God is a Personal Being, not a force. He acts with design, with purpose, and for good. There is a dynamic going on that is not of my origination.

Here's a little secret: ever since I was a child I would get very nervous at the prospect of contact with God. Every Sunday when we pulled into the church parking lot, I had a sense of expectation that was like butterflies in my stomach. Now, for better or for worse I have grown accustomed to some means and avenues of encounter with God. My church didn't even have a tabernacle in it as a child like my parish does now, but I do not regularly tremble when I enter a church anymore. But there are moments, like what I sense now in this call to deeper silence, prayer, and stillness, that make me nervous. It always involves a sense of death, which means unknown, fear of loss, the need for courage, vulnerability. It is a gift, and I know that, but I also recognize that I fight and resist God every single time He gives me a gift.

Lately I have been asking St. Therese to pray for me, to teach me to "simply love." Because it seems that's what it boils down to. Leave the drama, leave the complicated thoughts, leave the desire for a human buffer, enter with trust and humility, and simply accept that God is real, and He calls. This is a normal relationship with God. It is to be lived.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sin of Superficiality and the Antidote of Love

I don't usually blog about other people's blogs, but today I will.

A Facebook friend posted this from Ten Thousand Places called The Essence of What God Wants. The author is a priest apparently affiliated with Madonna House, which was founded by Catherine Doherty.

What strikes me about the post is two-fold.

First, he talks about the sin of superficiality among Catholics. Everyone wants some label. Conservative, liberal, Traditionalist, charismatic, communal. I used to really love labels for all sorts of aspects of my life, and I think it was because I was new to sorting through a lot of things like being a Catholic (once I came home from Japan, settled in, and got finished being a grad student and therefore too busy to do anything other than study), being a wife, and being a mom. I wanted a label to define everything I believed, everything I practiced, and that showed me with whom I fit.

After a while I realized I change and I didn't always fit and I didn't stay sure about all of my theories forever. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, "Catholic" is enough for me. I don't want to hear political terms connected to my faith at all. I believe in Tradition, I exercise charisms, and I seek to live communally. But I am a Catholic. If that doesn't cover all that and more, we are in trouble. Superficiality as a sin is spot on. That's all a faith-label is.

The other thing that strikes me is the antidote to this superficiality, which he cites from Doherty's writings: it is to feel God's pain. We feel God's pain by falling in love. When we fall in love, something deep in the heart rips open. It's true. And suddenly we can realize the way God is not-loved by ourselves and by others, and we marvel at how God lets it persist, and the agony it must cause Him.

I wrote a song ("Deliberate") that I put on my CD that used this exact image of being taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. This was a phrase that was impressed on my early in my journey as a Catholic, except at that time I knew I had only made progress through the first three stages. There is something about being given, like Jesus is, that teaches one how Jesus is also rejected. I'll admit that this process of being in the hand of God to be given as He wills is frightening. But as I just wrote the other day fear, when in the hand of God, is silly and useless. What is required is faith and courage.

Don't you think it takes a lot of courage to love?

Friday, November 21, 2014

RambleRamble NO RambleRamble

So, yeah, that daily blogging thing is going better than I thought it would. It is good for me to go back over my day and capture something significant to ponder over and work out. It is actually easier to write (and process) this way than to write once every two weeks or something when I have the proverbial ton of thought, then, to work through.

Sometimes when I read other people's blogs I have to admit I am amazed at what people find inspirational and helpful. Someone will have 500 comments of oohing and ahhing over something that strikes me like "if you wrap your bread and seal the bag, it will stay fresher," and I scratch my head and wonder why this strikes a chord with people. I'll write something that seems soul-moving and profound, and the only reader I'll get will be a bot from Russia.

No one ever said life was fair.

And even I can't handle being in the depths of profundity every day. I am a very serious person, and I'm comfortable there, but since I live in society with people who are nothing like me, I need to develop other comforts, and other abilities, too. One of those abilities is to say, "No, I disagree" or "I have no idea what your problem is, but there it is again" or "Thanks, you depressed me." If I am me, I do need the comfort to identify other people being "other" and even to just reject what they say. Yes, for some people this comes naturally, all the time. I always want to be open to whatever possibility a person offers, and sometimes I want that too much. I recall a certain episode in my life where I wanted a person's advice so badly that I eagerly took some of the worst advice I was ever offered. I am really learning that the only directives I can be that eager for come from heaven.

Yeah, so, even when I ramble I can get out what I want to say. Gotta learn to finesse my words a little bit, too, sometimes.

Learning awesome skills, I am...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Don't be Afraid of What You've been Given

While people were listening to Jesus speak,
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
Yesterday I heard this gospel, and it was all lit up in my ears. (You only think that's an oxymoron.)

The people were thinking Jesus was going to offer them a completely finished work, something they would simply consume like a product. They did not realize that the kingdom He embodied and was bringing was the Way they needed to come into union with, build, and live. And they certainly didn't grasp that that Way was the way of the cross. One does not consume the cross; the cross rather consumes one.

This nobleman went off to obtain his kingship, but first he entrusts gold to servants. "Engage in trade," keep what I've given you busy and growing. There is a necessity for faith here. The servants had to trust the nobleman's ability to get what he was after. They had to have a bond of trust among themselves that was stronger than the corrupting power of gold.

His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
They had quite a bit to act against, since he was rejected on a grand scale by the very people he intended to rule.

But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”

After he had said this,
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
 Now, I'm not sure what happened to the other seven since only three reactions are mentioned, but it is fair to say that some of the servants remained faithful, trusting that the nobleman was going to accomplish what he set out for, and they stayed busy with investing, despite the naysayers.

What dawns on me is that the investing these servants were to be busy with was a testimony to their faith in the absent nobleman. The dynamism of putting capital to work was to strengthen their own faith-resolve as well as mark them out as decidedly different from those who were actively working against the establishment of the kingdom. Who is the wicked one here? The one who wants to stay neutral. The guy who hides what the noble gave him doesn't want to put out a lot of effort or risk faith that the noble will be crowned, nor does he want to completely reject him by going with the anti-king faction. He just doesn't want to commit his life one way or the other. The fact that he has the gold coin betrays the fact that he had been in intimate enough communion with the noble to receive it. But all he wants is to give it back, sort of regretting that he ever got mixed up in this ordeal in the first place.

That guy is not just lazy, he is a coward. He is afraid of the dynamism of living, afraid of enemies, afraid of the noble, afraid of what he had been given.

And that just never can be the right answer. It seems the one who is afraid of what he has been given does not actually believe in the Giver. He does not really believe it has been given to him; he believes it is some freak accident that his own freakish nature has originated. He is proud. He does not realize he is a contingent being, that he did not make himself.

The joy of the dynamism of working and investing is that of trial and error. This works; this flops. This needs something else in order to go further. All this development process is like growing in holiness, and it is the work in building the kingdom we are called to do. We only do it with the gold we are given. The capital is not ours, but the development of it is. We have all the helps of grace we can ask for, as well as all the goads we need (like those anti-kingdom workers whose efforts spur us out of comfort). I would rather move forward by trial and error, trusting the grace of the Holy Spirit to correct, guide and inspire, than sit and fret and worry and be afraid and stew in my own juices.

Work in the kingdom is meant to combat fear and to build trust in the One who gives everything we have.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stop. Don't.

I need to take a break from heavy thinking, writing and evaluation for tonight, but I don't want to give up my daily blogging streak.

But I do want to comment on something I experienced today.

Since when did this beloved-to-me 80s classic:

become this:

No. Just no. (Ok, yes, I know I'm 16 years behind the times. But I only discovered this horror today. I'm sorry.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Do I Meet You?

This morning at Mass, I was thinking about the different ways we can meet each other. The priest gave a very simple but profoundly true homily about how we need to encounter the Lord in the same way we encounter the people around us: we "rub elbows" with them, experience them, get to know the by the things we do together. He talked about how we can come to communion every single day and receive Jesus sacramentally, but he raised the question of whether we are really allowing Jesus into our private territory. Because Jesus doesn't just go there without being asked.

It was basic and profoundly true.

How often to we meet people in ways that actually allow them into our private territory? Do we even know how to do that? Do we even frequent our own private territory? I'm convinced that many people avoid their souls and seek distraction in order to keep avoiding their souls.

I wrote yesterday about our need to entrust our dignity to others and experience it being honored. We do this in ways big and small, and of course what we can control is not the response we get, but the ability to entrust ourselves. It takes some wisdom and learning how and when and how much to do that.


There are many different ways that hearts can range from closed to open, with a lot of thoughtlessness mixed in, and with emotions that range from fiery to dull to absent. When people are always dull or absent, engaging them is like pulling teeth. Fiery emotions meeting head-on can be extremely difficult in a different way, but at least there is something to work with.

But there is that moment where one heart can meet another and truly entrust its dignity to the other and experience being honored, appreciated, cared for, valued. When that happens, I think there is a permanent shift in the fabric of the universe, because God makes His mark. Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est. To have this experience ruins one for life, you might say. It is not so much the experience of a person, because that same person might turn around and mar and betray, or die. But God speaks, God acts, and God transforms. Even if I then turn away from Him, that will stand for the rest of my life as evidence God has deposited with me. He will always call me by that truth, and I can always remember and choose again to believe.

To experience this is a gift and a grace. But there are so many hindrances to meeting others on this level, as I alluded to earlier. Thinking those through is for another time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

That Could be Sold and the Money Given to the Poor

I am becoming instinctively aware that there is a certain realm of the dignity of the human person that is graspable, but hasn't been grasped by me.

I could run to blame it on temperament or upbringing or other things, but maybe instead I should just look at it and see what there is to see.

(Geez, this is one of the things that zings me about November daily blogging, but then again it is one of the reasons I do it: it makes me vulnerable to my own thoughts.)

What conjures all this up in me is a certain event I'm watching develop which has reminded me of both a Scripture and a comment I once heard made that I think unintentionally quoted that same Scripture in a way I was able to recognize as unnecessarily sad. The said Scripture verse comes out of the mouth of Judas Iscariot, no less: "That could be sold and the money given to the poor." Scripture makes it clear that Judas had no real concern for the poor; he was a thief and was looking for a bigger treasury to steal from.

Now, before I go further, I wonder exactly how Judas stole. Did he take coins and deposit them in whatever banking system there was? Did he hand them off to his family? Did he make sure that he unevenly distributed whatever he bought for Jesus and the disciples, giving himself first and best dibs on food and supplies? When he was out to buy fish and bread did he pick up an extra chocolate bar, just for him? Whatever it was, somehow he took unto himself something that belonged to others.

And who were the poor, to Judas? Were they the unfortunate ones, people for whom he cared deeply? Was his heart filled with compassion? No, they were an excuse. He used other people's misery as an excuse to take stuff for himself. He may have even believed that the extra money he sought really was for them, because I'm sure some was indeed given to the poor. But in reality they were an excuse for him to pursue his comfort.

(Now here's a thought: was Jesus some kind of lame mismanager for not kicking Judas out of his position? Did Jesus not realize what Judas was doing?)

We have to remember what it was that prompted this comment: Mary was "wasting" expensive ointment on Jesus, expressing love in what Jesus saw as a prophetic and symbolic gesture: she was getting him ready for his burial. Jesus approved of her extravagant act of love. Was He somehow unmindful of the poor and starving? Such a thought should not even be articulated. As always, He values love above all things, and He knows that the sacrificial love involved in Mary's offering is worthy of acceptance and that His own offering of His life is the singlemost worthy act ever to be performed on earth. His death is worthy of all reverence.

Perhaps right here is the crux of the matter: why did Jesus offer His life? Because that singlemost worship-worthy act was for me. You. Him. Her. It was because human beings have immense dignity that Jesus gave His life. Because we are God's creatures, and the Blessed Trinity considers us worthy of Divine Blood as the price to pay for our ransom.

That's where I stagger and fall over and can't quite take it in.

That second time I mentioned, when I had heard words like this, was a few years ago when by odd circumstance a Protestant relative of mine happened to witness a May Crowning, with lots of children bringing flowers their families had purchased to lay before a statue of Mary. "They could have given that money to the poor!" was the almost knee-jerk response to witnessing this understandably difficult-to-digest event. What was really being said: Mary doesn't deserve that kind of honor. It's a waste to put flowers in front of a hunk of plaster!

Catholics understand (or at least are slightly more likely to understand) that teaching children to express love to God for the gift of our spiritual Mother is of great value. We understand what loving Mary means. She has immense dignity. Loving her is right.

Now I think of my own thoughts rumbling through me. My history of dealing with money, the poor, my own needs, and my own sense of dignity has not been without violence. The only natural virtues I learned to develop in this regard have been miserliness and suspicion. (Perhaps, deep down, Judas just couldn't trust in care for him coming from anyone but him. Maybe he stole because he couldn't entrust his dignity to anyone else. And so he lost it.)

For probably 15 years, the Lord has been enlarging my heart towards the poor to the point that I really long to effectively give more away. But giving things away, I realize, means nothing without love, as 1 Corinthians 13:3 makes clear. And love, if it is like God's love, is rooted in the reality of the incredible dignity of the human person -- that dignity that is worth dying for. We all possess a dignity which we need to learn to entrust to others, and we need to have the experience of it being honored and respected by them. And we need to extend that honor and respect to those, especially, who do not have it for themselves.

To really be able to look at another person and say, not "You're worth spending ten bucks on" but "You are worth dying for," especially with no personal gain to be necessarily had in return, well now, there's something worth opening myself to the Lord for.

Because that sounds Christ-like, doesn't it?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Emotions are Stilled

Some days are lessons, and some days are practice of those lessons.

If last week's lessons included discerning the steadiness of God's activity in my life despite emotional roller coasters that swirl at the same time, then today's practice is recognizing that same activity, that same presence, the same reality of God when there is no emotional engagement at all.

This kind of thing can take on roller coaster dimensions if one allows it to, and if one requires a certain level of emotional ruckus to feel alive.

Emotional ruckus is not mandatory, though.

A day like today (when my digestive system is recovering from a mid-night disturbance) reminds me that God's presence with me is something I open myself to and become aware of, not something I generate or need to generate by working myself into any kind of state. He is the Ever-Existing; I am His creation. I am not responsible for Him; He is responsible for me.

In other words, I can feel sick and peaceful, because I know God's presence with me is not dependent on my ability to conjure Him up.

It seems what I've been meditating on here recently rhymes with St. Therese's notion of spiritual childhood. He does everything. I bury my head in His chest, and what He puts in my hand, I pass to those I am called to serve. I have always carried this burden of a notion that the well-being of everyone and everything (my divorced parents; my alcoholic father; every problem I met) had to rest on me. But this new injection of life of spiritual childhood teaches me rely on God in faith instead of to surrender to the deceptively self-centered notion of "service" in picking up all the slack for other people's lives. The devil does not try to pull Christians off course by tempting with blatant mortal sin nearly as much as with good pushed to compulsive excess and done for the wrong reasons.

And I'm leaving that junk behind. There is so much peace without it.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Realizing What I Forgot

Today I had one of those moments that I might have thought was never, ever going to happen to me. I realized that I had forgotten all about a pain that had once been so deep as to control my emotional life, namely, infertility.

I was talking with a woman I had just met, and as we were getting acquainted and she was telling me about her large family, she asked me how many children I have.

I told her, I have two. Not only did I not explain, defend, or mourn over the fact to her, I didn't even really think about doing it. It was only her expression that stirred me to remember I once would have done that.

Living among faithful Catholics can be difficult for women whose family size seems inadequately generous. Yes, people make either judgments or assumptions. Because there is nothing that is considered everyone's business as much as the intimate details of other women's reproduction. The sense of a required story to stay in other's good graces can be overwhelming. I've heard it so many times both from women who struggle with low fertility, or even just women who for other reasons have "small" families. And how many times oy vey! have I heard from some people that every last evil in the world is caused by all those selfish women who would rather live in their nice houses and go on trips rather than have children. Because we all know that women with few or no children choose that.

It can be a cesspool of judgment and rash talk.

But you know what, I know my own story. I am personally very happy to share my story. But I don't feel compelled to defend myself with my story. And my story is by no means dominated by grief and mourning. Becoming a parent has been a wonderful gift from God, just as He fills my life with so many gifts. My life isn't like anyone else's that I know, at least not in detail. I can also respect that others have a story, gifts and a call. And today I realize there is great peace in not only being myself, but in allowing myself freedom from all the thoughts or potential thoughts from others that could reach me. In the right context, to be able to say, "you know what, I don't care" is extremely healthy.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Grains of Sand

I don't have much left in this day in terms to time in order to meet my daily writing commitment, so I'm winging through it today.

A whole bunch of experiences today have reminded me of one of the big lessons I learned when I lived in Japan (and came out the other side as it were through a purgatorial meat grinder). And the lesson is this: relative to the might and grandeur of God, all human beings are pretty much like grains of sand. We find ourselves so amazingly different one from another, and we can develop jealousies and insecurities or self-hatred based on who we think we should be. But really, when you zoom out with the macroscopic lens, we are all basically the same.

And this is meant to be a reassuring, humbling, and peace-making thought.

This is what allowed me to come back from Japan and trip and fall into a job working for a very well-known person (in Catholic circles) and not treat him like he was anything other than my brother in the Lord and a normal person. I think it is also what has taught me to have respect for people I once would either have looked down upon or been afraid of. I, you, they, we are all equal in our need, our humanity, our propensity for greatness and holiness, and our propensity for sin and evil.

And my thought goes back again to that theme from my retreat this year: we all tend to spend energy on covering up our miseries and the things that cause us to desperately need God's mercy. Or just the things that make us uncomfortable, that make us feel like weirdos, so different. I had so many people tell me this sort of thing this week, including myself. Next time I'll say "yeah, you're so different, just like everyone else!" As long as we have the Lord, there need be no fear in how we appear to other people. We might have problems, but we are all works in progress. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from every sin" (1 Jn. 1:7)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Second Thought, Maybe this was a Good Day

Today was our first snow fall of the season: not a lot, just enough to say it snowed. The house feels cold, the sky is grey, and my children and I were exceptionally unmotivated to do much that required a great outlay of energy.

Some days are like that, and I'm ok with it.

And somehow this seems to fit with a little flash of insight I had when praying this morning. It fits with, or rather follows on from, the post I wrote yesterday.

It was after one of the most unscintillating times of prayer I've had in recent days that I had this thought about the value of reason as governor of my choices and actions. It fits with yesterday's post because so often in the midst of those intensely formative moments of experiencing God's calling me forward, when all the emotions and passions are getting riled up in me, those can get the upper hand. Even if it is the most intense emotion in the world that inspires me to say or act or commit to something, this is not automatically good unless it also conforms with reason. Reason asks questions like, "What does the moral law say about this? How is this going to affect the commitments I already have in place? Am I conveniently avoiding any truth, here?" and etc.

No, this isn't rocket science. But subjectively, if I were to always operate this way in the case of really riled up schnee* in me, it would be a huge movement of grace at work.


Because, you see, I have often tended to be ruled by my own impossibly high standards of perfection, all of which tend to grow out of or get wrapped around said soulish excess to the point where it seemed I didn't know who I was or what to do without requiring my soul to be puking out chaotic, pressure-filled demands.

This is how people get driven through life by ideology, or by ideology cloaked as theology or spirituality, which is probably far more toxic.

But today I thought, "I'm tired, it's cold, it's gray and snowy; we have these books to read, this outing to do. It's ok if I don't pushpushpush for a lot of unreasonable accomplishments and spend the day getting angry that we aren't all meeting some stupid, made-up, and impossible standard that says now our behavior is acceptable."

Yes. I like this. And I think my inkling is starting to unfurl.





*"Schnee," by the way, is a family word I borrowed from a co-worker many years ago, which basically means what it sounds like you are trying not to say.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Being Called On

So, maybe I've reached that magical time in National Write a Blog Post Everyday because it's November (er something like that) where I get to dig a bit.

I had an inkling yesterday. That's a technical theological term for a little thought that surprised me and said "Hi. I'm not all here yet, but I'm going to be significant." I get these, and I've learned to pay attention to them. But they require some digging, some working over, and some living with.

This inkling was about the experience of being "called on." By that, I mean being encouraged to go deeper, to grow, to rise to a challenge. And in this case, I mean in spiritual matters. In other words, in real life.

More specifically, I thought of various occasions where another person has called me on in various ways. But here's the key: the inkling is about what, or perhaps closer to say how God was actually teaching me in those moments.

I'll give the clearest-cut recent example I have.

Three years ago I had a couple of kind of strange months conversing with a man in formation as a monk who I had met almost, but not quite, out of the clear blue. He is a musician; I had two of his albums produced before he went to the monastery. What did happen out of the clear blue was that he challenged me to write a song every week, record it, and send it to him. Even though he is younger than I, he kind of scooped me under his wing like a little bird and gave me a firm butt-kicking about music production. At first we conversed quite a bit, via email and chat, then only on Saturdays. But he had my attention, and, dang -- I started churning out music like I hadn't since my 20s. I was in the midst of recording my CD at the time, so music was very happening at the time. But the weirdest thing was that this happened. A little monklet causing me to turn my heart completely to music like I hadn't. And then one day (we agreed on the length of time it would be, roughly the season of fall) he basically said as of the next day he wouldn't be talking with me, but that I should send him my CD when I finished it.

It was weird. Out of the blue he was there, then he wasn't. But I saw the many differences it made to me.

I could narrate several other stories, like the manipulative ex-con 26 years my senior who taught me, as a 19-year-old, about charismatic gifts and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The seminarian who first caused me to realize what love means, and whose friends prayed me into the Church. And others.

But the inkling I began writing about is really this: It has always been God. The one calling me on, calling me deeper, challenging me to move ahead, has always been God. He has used a variety of people, but it has always been Him. Usually, my response has been to resonate so intensely, so powerfully, so dramatically, so seriously to these instruments of His that it has made my soul quake.

And that's a euphemism for saying my immature soul has kicked up a wide variety of crap in the midst of God's work.

I think humility sees both: my soul goes on a drama fest, and God is at work. Both are true. Some portion of God's work is really all about calming down all the drama. Even though it has looked an awful lot like He orchestrates it in the first place. It seems what God desires is that I am able to enter into certain situations without getting my soul all coming apart at the seams. And that makes me understand why St. Teresa of Avila says that courage is far  more important to the spiritual life than it seems at first.

So, it has all been God. God does indeed employ persons as His instruments. That still makes me shake my head. Why, Lord. So much potential for screw ups! Does heaven sometimes call us on directly? I think so, but the Lord seems not to prefer this route. At least, when I have sensed direction this way, it has generally taken years and years -- and lived experience with other people -- for me to understand heaven's intent. The Lord really has a thing about Church.

Ok, I'll file this as mulled over, and see if there is something else to come from it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An INTP Contemplates a Social Invitation

This morning I received an invitation from a friend to a get-together. The invitation was extended to a group of women who make up pretty much the closest friends I have. We would pray, we would eat, we would chat and spend a few hours soaking up each others' friendship to heal our souls.

I read it and I felt the cold chill go down my back. My muscles tensed. I breathed deeply.

I was just about to email the friend back with a question, not exactly a commitment, but trying to work my way there, when I read it again. Carpooling strongly suggested? Escape routes blocked! I put my phone down. Ok. Calm down. You can do this.

Had to stop for a moment of self-awareness. It helps me to step back and look at personal situations objectively. I imagined myself explaining what I felt at the moment to someone else. I imagined what contrast I could paint to put someone into my shoes.

Suppose I orchestrated an event that would foster bonds of friendship, something that would bring a deep sense of value and meaning to me and help me look at those other women as comrades-in-arms. What would it look like?

Marie invites you to a prayer solidarity gathering. We will gather from 2-4 am in the garden beside the Cathedral downtown. We will kneel on the ground outside, mostly in silence, with the exception of perhaps chanting a psalm or two together. We will pray silently for each other's needs, but especially in reparation for sins committed in the downtown at night and for the conversion of the town.

As I ran that over in my head, my first thought was "They would think I was being sarcastic." But I knew I wasn't. I imagined what words would spring forth from people to describe such a thing.

Dangerous. Difficult. Painful. Brave. Sacrificial. Unreasonable. (unvoiced: Weird)

So I kind of smiled inside. Yes, Imaginary Voice of my friend. You understand. You understand what it feels like for me to go to a women's chitchat lunch.

But no, I thought, I couldn't really take myself seriously, so why should anyone else, unless I was really prepared to do such a thing. I mulled this over in my head awhile.

And then it struck me. I already do this. Except I don't pray outside at the Cathedral. (Yet. I like this idea.) I pray in a Eucharistic chapel once a week at 2am. And it is only for an hour, an hour that always seems to go by way too fast. And it dawned on me that I could invite people to join me, and we could indeed work on growing this type of bond as we intercede for mutual needs and for conversion.

This would totally work for me as "friendship that heals the soul." To me, bonds really form through sacrifice, and good bonds form through mutual sacrifice. Ironically, it doesn't feel like quite as much of a sacrifice to pray in the middle of the night as it does to do the chitchat thing, and this probably has something to do with why I have a sense of a bond with some of these women in the first place, regardless of whether it is reciprocated, because it costs me something to "chat".

But there's something about that sacrifice. It needs to be an act freely chosen and carried out, not just an act I survive because I can't avoid it. That doesn't build up love. And sometimes I treat social settings like things I survive, because it feels like I imagine people would feel about kneeling outside in the middle of the night in silence. I can easily think of 300 things I'd rather do!

An act of love really has to come from inside me. There's no use any of us pretending, and there's no use any of us being afraid to love in the ways peculiar to us.

So, maybe I will go to the chatfest. (I haven't firmly decided yet.) After all, I can study how it all works. But maybe I will invite them to join my holy hour once a month, too. And who knows; someone might even seriously think about it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Takes All Kinds

This morning as I was driving home from Mass I was musing on this thought: I wonder how many of life's difficulties, big or small, are created when we presume that other people have the same perspectives we do.

I had been chatting with a friend about an idea. He is practical and his first thoughts are about how difficult things are and everything that could go wrong. I am ambitious and willing to work extremely hard to make things go well. It's not that one of us is right and the other is wrong. He presumes no one will pitch in and he will be stuck with lots of work. I presume everyone will pitch in, and by now I should realize that not everyone is as die-hard as I am. But I've seen things that he thought were impossible yield good results because people did actually come together and pull it off. And yes, some people just really enjoy doing difficult things! And some don't!


So I'm back at that pesky reality again in this post about how God has created so many different types of people with varying temperaments, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. I used to really think I was just extremely defective, instead of simply different from others. (Oh, I'm defective, too, but not in the way I was thinking.) It is very, very good that my friend has the ability to make practical plans, and it is good that I want to pour my heart into a giant challenge, and we both need lots of other types to provide several other perspectives to really do something good to build up the kingdom of God. And that's what it takes -- each person offering who they are with humility, being no more and no less than who God has gifted them to be. If we really believe that God builds us living stones into a dwelling place for His Spirit, then we have to be willing to say "here's what I've got, now you show me what you've got, and you, and you, and you" and then, through us together, God does what only He can. Pride probably hides things as much as it boasts about things. Both are means of trying to stand aloof and keeping oneself untouched.

It has always impressed me that one of the first thing an authentic conversion produces is movement towards other people. Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, then Jesus follows Matthew back to his own house and his own people. Jesus explains our judgment will be based on how we treat "the least of these, his brothers." Even a cloistered monastic who seems far removed from everyone is in reality praying and wrestling for the salvation of all and is in close union with the suffering of the world, because Jesus is.

If we were all the same, how could we love without simply loving only what we find in our selves? Perhaps humanity requires diversity simply because we require the exercise of humility and charity for salvation.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Yes, We Use This for Family Prayer Time

I wonder if we might be the only household anywhere who currently uses the combination we are using for our family prayer time.

Currently, we read the daily reading from this, along with a decade of the rosary:





We've used quite a variety of things through the years, but a few months ago I decided on Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. While we haven't read every entry of the year yet, everything we have read is entirely compatible with Catholic faith. In fact, it does a very good job of emphasizing the life of discipleship that, while thoroughly Catholic, tends to be overlooked or gets all the teeth pulled out of it by the average Catholic devotional writer. It is somewhat frustrating to me that the depth of challenge most Catholic devotional materials get is "maybe you could try to think about God a little today." And as much as I love and live by the liturgical year, there is also something refreshing to me to have a devotional that addresses perennial spiritual needs of Christian disciples, so that it has more of a spiritual reading flavor than liturgical. 


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Those Parents Who Brought Their Toddlers to Confession Today

I didn't know them, but then again even if they weren't visitors from another parish I am a little bit out of the parents-of-toddlers loop. We parked at about the same time, and right away I realized I needn't rush to beat them into the confession line, since they were going to be unpacking out of the car for awhile. Dad came inside the church by himself, but several minutes later it seems the fascination of everything outside, in the bathroom, and in the narthex had worn off, because eventually one little boy face poked through the door. He saw the holy water font and dove for it like a winning layup. I broke into a laughing smile. He was obviously excited about holy water.

Eventually he came running past me straight into the arms of his Dad, and then I saw a woman enter with a slightly older boy in tow, and she was mouthing "Sorry" to him.

What ensued included those very whispered verbal tours of all the beautiful things in the church that most Catholic parents have probably done. I overheard one bit about the Divine Mercy picture. Dad and Mom were explaining bits of how everything reminds us of how God loves us. Little boy #1 was asking insightful questions about why the picture had light in certain places. (Specifically, he meant around Jesus' head and his hand extended in blessing. But He asked not, "why is it painted gold there" but "why is there light coming from it." This boy saw it the way it was intended to be seen.)

Moments later little boy #1 and little boy #2 were sent a few feet away, a specific place for children in the church, still within eyeshot (Though not my eyeshot. I was taking it all in by hearing.) Within moments, there was a bump on the arm of Littler Boy. Weeping ensued, which seemed to trigger some type of innate memory of all suffering and woe that has occurred since the dawn of time, and it was all mourned once again. Both parents went to give comfort, to console, to quiet.

And I understand why they did that, of course. Just like I understand why they whispered their lessons about the sacramental items around the church. It is part being good parents, and it is part their cortisol levels going through the roof as they worry about What Others Will Think. In fact, I could feel their cortisol levels rise.

But it ministered to me to simply hear a child honestly wail over his bumped arm. Healthy children don't hide when they are hurt. They cry, let it out, and then it conjures up My, I'm actually a bit hungry, and tired, and frustrated too. And I was there at confession because I was going to tell Jesus where I hurt, too. I really needed to unload it all on Him, at least as much as I could identify. It was good to have company and have someone show me how to just naturally let it out. And to find solace in Mother Church and Jesus.

And then, as Mom escorted the boys back out to the narthex again until her turn came, I overheard the Older Boy commenting that he had actually bumped his head, too. He was not going to let Little Brother be the one getting all the consolation. He wanted in on it, too. See, even for him, one vulnerable expression of pain triggered his own needs to the surface, too.

So, dear parents that I don't know, thanks for bringing those two boys to confession today. They were anointed for ministry at their baptism, and don't you doubt for a minute that they are living it out. Thanks for teaching them, for making them aware of Beauty in the church. Please keep doing it, and always teach them beyond what you think their years can hold, because that's where kids typically are, anyway.

And I hope your cortisol levels are ok.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Steppin' out of the Ghetto

Just recently I had one of those interesting experiences that made me realize how much time I spend in the "Catholic ghetto." I met someone whose family had experienced something difficult, and I said, sincerely but without a bunch of self-conscious thought, "I am praying for your family."

Now, I don't personally know the person I said this to at all, but his response to me was interesting. Subtly, he communicated I don't need you to pray for me. Somehow, it was simply an uncomfortable thought to him, or so it seemed. And stood in contrast to me to how this exchange usually goes among Christians, whether any of the words are genuinely meant, or not:

I'm praying for you.

Oh, thank you so much.

Somehow, instead of this ritual exchange, there registered some sort of sense that I was telling this person he was a mess, and seriously in need of help.

Come to think of it, I once heard a similar conversation between a religious order priest and a man I knew actually had some significant issues and who was not practicing his faith in the slightest. In that case, the mere fact that this man was talking to the priest made him assert how righteous he was and how untroubled his life.

So really, in both cases, it probably was a case of the person feeling subconsciously very aware of his misery, but feeling the need to duck behind something quickly to avoid it.

And now it occurs to me that this response to "I'm praying for your family" might have been the most genuine thing I experienced that whole day.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stuff and Bother

So it seems the Lord wants to make sure I don't get too full of myself by having two delightful days in a row. Or, perhaps I could just say that some days are good and feel good, and some days have good stuff in them which is made evident in contrast of bad feelings.

Right now what is on my mind is possessions and possessiveness. (Ooh! a word with three double-s sets. Can you tell I've gone back to drinking coffee?)

Two observations: many years ago when I was married without kids, there was a priest I knew who was starting his own branch of the Carmelite order. (He's another story, which this is not about. Ditto coffee.) But here's the thing: every time I would walk into my basement, I would have this thought that was connected to him, the gospel, and my need to divest myself of "stuff." To get rid of things, and to not accumulate more. And that was, as I said, before kids.

Except in those days, I responded to my thoughts with a sort of "yeah...." apathy engendered by it being an unlived, unshared ideal. A private thought in my private brain. And so I never really did much about it.

As years have passed, I realize that this was a little nudge from heaven. And I realize I have to nurture nudges from heaven by talking about them with others. And acting on them.

Which leads me to my second observation: I've witnessed in my own life and in the lives of others that when moments of trial clear and we have come through them, there is a natural tendency to declutter our space. Suddenly, stuff looks stifling and we realize someone else might need the things we have.

I love simplicity, but I live with stuff. Stuff is somewhat inevitable with growing kids with changing needs and interests. But it does frustrate me to have to maintain stuff, especially stuff that's not of my choosing. It's hard enough for me to maintain the stuff that is of my choosing.

And of course, the chaos of stuff reminds me of deeper issues of possessiveness, of keeping, of needing, of wanting, that rub me raw in all the ways that remind me that to be human is to be a walking, gaping, aching need. Contingent being and all that.

Which is fine.

It just feels, you know, meh. Muddling through life. Some days we gracefully leap through life like a ballerina. Some days we blob with one sock falling down and our pants feeling too tight. But both are a type of forward motion. So, it's fine.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Loving Intercession

I had such a delightful day today. I spent several hours interceding for people I barely know as they attended a retreat. There are plenty of times when I get impatient after praying quietly for 10 or 15 minutes, but those hours today flew past. And I was left with such an incredible peace, gentleness and eagerness for the rest of my normal routine that it was evident that God's gift was simply at work here.

This wasn't the first I had prayed for this crowd; I've been praying, first vaguely and then specifically, and then with great intention for them over the last several months. But I've discovered something again, experientially. Prayer engenders love, just as love engenders prayer. One can choose to pray just as one can choose to love, but it takes time for it to really catch on and grow (or, it takes time to get all the personal possessiveness to die away and the real love to come forth). I can see now that when I sensed God summoning me to pray for this group, He was really inviting me to love them. There's growth involved in that equation, and I've seen it happen already. Loving anyone causes our hearts to open, to be challenged, to change. There's an open-ended dynamic and we can't forsee where it will take us. For love to stay alive, we have to keep living with that open-ended dynamic. It's an adventure.

And that's exactly why prayer is an adventure. It is not only love for the person or the group, it is experiencing God's love for the person or the group. It is responding to God's wishes for the person or the group, as it involves me. It is receiving God's gifts that He wants to share with them, or recognizing the gifts He has already given that are meant not for me to horde, but for me to share. Or begging for the gifts which it is evident they need but are being horded by others or need to be developed. It is worship of God: offering of self, whole and complete, which also involves the good of my neighbor.

Yeah, this stuff is so much fun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Some People Mystify Me

There is much that surprises me about people, always. It is fascinating to me that God makes people with such variety, but frankly there's a big chunk of this variety I don't like much. Oh, I don't think God is really responsible for the bits I don't like; we have a way of mucking up who we are. But there are templates that still mystify me.

One such type of person is the one who truly believe s/he understands my thoughts, ideas, words, and intentions better than I do. I've known a couple of these people, and trying to communicate with them is maddening. If I say "The sky is blue," I might be told that I really mean the rabbit is brown. What can I really do in such an exchange but close my mouth and walk away. It is as if the other person wants to have a conversion with him/herself with another person as an observer.

I am also intrigued by the type of person who constantly tries to get things to be to their own advantage. And yes, this is intriguing to me, not maddening. Depending upon the age of the person, it seems there is something juvenile and selfish in this, and yet there is a "skill" here that stands in stark contrast to my own natural bent, which is to disregard my advantage or even not recognize it. I'm getting better at identifying what I actually need or want in a situation, which is good. But when I see someone truly wheedling their way through life, it is somewhat amazing to me. I would never survive as a street rat.

Everyone has their strengths, and I realize mine are somewhat unique. It is hard to have unique strengths, especially without a good understanding of how "normal" people operate. I have had a tendency to assume that others are motivated as I am (and have painfully learned otherwise) and also have gotten very frustrated when I meet people with weaknesses where I have strengths, because it just doesn't seem so hard for them to simply stop being so silly. I'm sure I appear similarly doltish to them. Sometimes I'm not sure my strengths are apparent at all, or if I just seem generally doltish. (I admit there are some people who appear generally doltish to me!)

Mostly I am glad that I am not the sort to give much concern at all to what other people think about me. Occasionally, I do need to purposely spend some energy thinking about what makes other people tick, especially if I'm struggling to get on with them. I believe in letting other people be other people without worrying about them or judging them. But then there are those mysteries, and I am forced to ponder them.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Mercy of God

Today God calls me back again to a message He has been repeating to me in the last few months in particular: Mercy.





I love this image of Jesus Christ, King of Mercy. He is flanked by angels who both adore His mercy and who are ready to do His bidding to mediate this mercy to His children, for whom it is intended.

Today I am reminded that I am dependent on God's mercy, and that mercy is the currency I must use in all of my interactions with other people, even in my thoughts of them.

Several weeks ago I wrote about my annual retreat, and in particular one oft-repeated quote from Pope Francis about how God does not meet us in the center of our certainties, but on our peripheries, on the fringes, in our sins, in our places of vulnerability. I remember the first time I heard a preacher say that God created us with strengths and weaknesses, on purpose. I was a little appalled. Weakness sounded too much like sin to me, and I couldn't grasp God making us with weaknesses on purpose. But that was largely because I could not bear to face my own weaknesses, because I felt like I was the only defense I had. If I admitted weakness, I may as well just lay down and die.

I missed the fact that God has indeed created us as communitarian souls. God created me with a weakness because He created you with a related strength (and vice versa) and He means for us to serve one another. This is the new order of the kingdom of God.

When I am looking down my nose at someone, or when I cannot see past an arrogance that flommoxes me or some other injustice perpetuated, I forget that the basic definition of a person is a walking, aching need. We are all gaping needs for God's mercy. Yes, some of us put a lot of energy into self- and other-deception to say "I don't need love and mercy, thank you very much." No one likes to poke around in things that are uncomfortable. (I take that back. I actually do.) And it is tempting sometimes to use mercy like a club: I can see that you are an arrogant son-of-a-bitch and you have a lot of hurt in your soul, so you really need mercy, you lousy excuse for a human being. But somewhere around this moment, that parable about the unmerciful servant clears its throat and reminds me that I only know how to give mercy by receiving mercy. And if I'm not receiving mercy, I'm out of the flow of God's life. Some individuals, shall we say, have a capacity for deepening our need for mercy by making us confront ugly tendencies in our hearts. Thanks be to God for those called to be our irritants.

And thanks be to God for His unfathomable mercy.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Blog Evolution

There's nothing like a commitment to daily blogging to reveal that most of the time I desire to say nothing. Or that I feel like anything I have in me to say is either too grumpy, too boring, or too depressing to put into print.

There's a columnist that writes for our local newspaper who, it is evident to me, struggles with this same thing. And yet, because she is paid to fill a space each Sunday, she picks some minute detail of her week that can be publicly consumed and writes several hundred words about it. I read it every week I get my hands on the paper, just sorta to see if she's pulled it off.

I started this blog eight years ago, before there was Facebook (for me, at least). I had small children, and I really needed to sit up late at night sometimes and work out thoughts that didn't involve Barney, nursing, or race cars.

It was stiff and clunky at first. My first major direction was unschooling. I was learning how to let go of being a control freak parent who felt the need to micromanage. Then I started to be involved in Communion and Liberation, and I wrote a lot about that as I struggled to learn the complex intellectual language of Giussani. And in the middle of that, unbeknownst to me, I began chronicling a spiritual path that led me to where I am now, having entered formation as a Secular Carmelite. I've learned along the way, both by life and by writing, to find my own voice and my own silence.

This blog has been a place of solace for me, and also an experience of extreme vulnerability, especially when I developed regular readers that I wasn't expecting.

I have been told that I should write on spirituality, to help other people understand how God calls to them and work in their lives. It didn't really dawn on me in those moments to mention that I do actually do that. I know that writing is a form of prayer for me, and there are times when I go back and read things I've written myself and find God speaking to me something I'd forgotten or lost sight of. I also know that very few people actually read my blog. And that's ok. Really, sometimes it frustrates me that my brilliance is not noticed, but then I get over it. And sometimes I go back after a year or two and read what I thought was brilliant and realize it is so dense that no one could hardly follow my thought through to the end.

But writing is for me. And if I don't hit "publish," the vulnerability aspect of it is diminished, and then it isn't writing in the same way.

I just wish I had had the internet and a blog when I was a teen and a 20something. I think my life would have been much, much better.