Friday, January 31, 2014

The Shocking Penance

A few days ago I had an opportunity for the sacrament of confession in a venue that isn't typical for me. It was one of those situations where a specific prompting and a specific opportunity coincided and then along came a specific priest to whom I confessed.

Grace is just so cool, ya know?

I don't know about you, but I often meet a lot of internal resistance when I set out to go to confession. Because who really likes it? I don't. My most tempting tangle is to start telling myself I don't need to go. I can get legalistic and figure since I haven't killed anyone in the last month, it isn't strictly necessary for me.

But love doesn't operate that way. Love sees all sorts of things that have stood in the way of being totally with the one who is loved.

There have been so many times that I've driven to confession and felt like I was driving to my own execution. Because it is a death.

Well, anyway. This kind of rumination probably gives a good backdrop for what I wanted to say about this particular recent exchange.

The priest actually did a mock "Oh my! That is so shocking!" to me, just to get me to lighten up and laugh at myself a little bit. He stopped me dead in my verbal tracks from drilling down deeper into a certain issue. He made me see that confessing can be a very simple matter. I confess, I'm sorry, that's it.

And then came this shocking penance that actually made me burst into tears: He told me that for a whole week I was to be nice to me. I suppose that could be misunderstood, but when you consider that I can be morbidly serious and carry the weight of many on myself without it necessarily being God's way of doing things -- this penance has really struck me. Especially because it has been a time-release one, causing me to pray daily that I can see how to do it.

The marvel is that I realize when I show myself more mercy, I am suddenly far more merciful to those around me. Far less stressed, far less intense, and with more openness to the joys life brings. More openness to heaven. I remember that it doesn't all depend on me -- at all. In the midst of all of my very adult responsibilities, I can be a little child.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Men in Sandals" Or, Boy Howdy, We Sure Did Need that New Evangelization

Another book review type post.

Ok, I'll make a quick break for a confession here. I recently went through the public library resources and requested everything that came up with the keyword "Carmelite." So, yeah, I have more books to read now than I can shake a stick at. I hope to slog through most of them, though.

This book I'm commenting on was one of those. I've already returned it to the library, so I can't make physical reference to it, but I don't have that much to say about it, really. It is called Men in Sandals by a Carmelite priest named Richard Madden. It was written in the 1950s, and was supposed to be the sort of book that gets young men interested in becoming Carmelite priests.

If it proved one thing to me, it is that those pre-Vatican II days were decidedly NOT the Church's glory days.

The book saddened me in many ways. In a book supposedly about the life of man discovering a vocation to Carmel, there was only one reference to "loving Christ," and that was in the chapter called "No Wife." It was along the lines of "You see, as priests we love Christ, and so we don't get married." The rest of the progress through formation all sounded like "well, we grit our teeth and pretty much hate the hard stuff, and we don't even really know why it is necessary, but obedience tells us it is better that other people make these choices for us, because that's the path we've chosen to holiness." Any concept of conversion to or personal relationship with Christ was quite foreign to the whole discussion.

All I can say is "egad." No wonder vocations dropped like flies and when Vatican II did hit, scores of religious fled the scene. If there's no flavor of love affair in a vocation, then how can it even be possible? All that is left is a cultural attraction to personal effort in religious practice.

I happened to google the book just for fun before I started writing and I discovered that this priest passed away about 18 months ago and that he lived about an hour north of me. One obituary that I read made a passing reference to his being "dismissed" from the Carmelites in the late 80s on a matter of disobedience. (Other obituaries made no reference to any such incident.) It seems not a surprise to me, and perhaps whatever this dismissal amounted to was, for him personally, really making right the experience of "obedience" he wrote about. At least, I hope so.

I did cringe a bit to read that the book had been a national best seller in its day.

But the next book that I've started is already significantly more edifying. More on that in a post to come.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Detachment and Happiness; Heaven and Purpose

It seems there is something the Lord is quite intent on me getting: to wit, heaven is the goal.

There are lots of things I don't mean by that. I don't mean that this life is inconsequential. (I believed that at one point.) I don't mean that the only point in life is being super-spiritual (I lived that way for a time, too.) I don't mean that all one can do is wishfully and vaguely hope for better times ahead in "some heaven light years away."

I mean that right now, in my concrete circumstances and relationships, the meaning, the divine intent of every last bit of it (and yes, this implies that there is divine intent in every last bit of it) is to bring me, right now, into union with heaven. I define heaven as the Blessed Trinity, the souls of the just who abide with Him in eternity, and the life of grace at work in souls and through souls in this world.

Last January I wrote a few posts about detachment. God was doing some work in me at the time that felt like a slow-mo explosion. It's pretty obvious to me now that there's a standard pattern when it comes to this whole matter. First, there is something I perceive as good. I am designed to want goods, and so I set myself to go after this good I perceive. The trick is that I am not born with a fully developed (let alone sanctified) understanding of what "good" is. Good, ultimately, is God. I will never fully comprehend God with my intellect. So I can go through life wanting, mostly, "my god." I want whatever satisfies me in the moment (however base or nobly refined that satisfaction may be). My only option out is to be sanctified, to be made holy. And this comes about through the process of surrender to the God Whom I cannot control. This results in struggles for me, and lots of times that I just don't get satisfaction the way I think I want it, even when I think (and truly am) wanting in the holiest fashion known to me.

In other words, sometimes, the more I tell God I want His way, the more often I will have little but real pains over not being happy with my thing, until He is the only Thing.

Because God wants us to know that our only happiness lies in Him, and to follow His lead into the fullness of happiness.

In my Protestant/pentecostal days when I thought it was fine to take liberties with Scripture, I used to re-translate 1 Cor. 15:19 which says "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied above all men." In one of my early Bibles I actually bracketed the word "this" and wrote above it "the next." In other words, if the only hope God holds out for us is heaven, well, forget Him. (In those days I was focused on God's redemptive power healing my circumstances and delivering me from the pain of the moment. That's not bad, God does that; but if I try to stay in that place I morph into a prosperity-gospel heretic where I employ God as a means to a happy life.)

But the truth is, God longs to give us heaven, and He wants to start now, not when we die. Heaven is not about wish-fulfillment on earth. This is the nub of what God is driving home to me. I don't care about stuff very much, but I realize I actually need to care about it more so that I can be diligent in serving with it, whether that means giving it or selling it to have money to do good with, or using it myself to bring good to others. I do care about relationships, and although I've had the snot beaten out of me over this in the last couple of years, I realize that valuing relationships for what they are for is something I also need to care about more. The point of my relationships here is not for me to hold them tight or enshrine them or try to make them stay one certain way, but to allow each person to draw me to love heaven, and to love each person in their being drawn to heaven, too. One thing heaven is is perfect communion, through Christ, with all who belong to Him. That God has taught me. Nothing on this earth is worth clinging to in light of that union, not even the sense of "my god" in the midst of my relationships with those loved ones.

I can't sort it all out in theory, in a blog post, only in living. I can continue to pray, reaffirming that God, the All-Wise, All-Loving, the All-Powerful, Who encompasses me, draws me, leads me, sustains me, and is all to me, is completely allowed to arrange the people in my life exactly as He wants them, and that I desire to learn to allow His love to flow through me to everyone as He desires it. I can learn not to fight Him or reality where I find His work. When I want to hold on tight to something of this earth, I can turn to Him instead and ask to be held tight.

And He will do that. Sometimes I will feel it and sometimes I won't. But He will always leave evidence of His presence, calling me on to Himself.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Review and Thoughts on "Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul"

I've just finished reading Cathleen Medwick's book Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul. I picked it up at my parish library, simply because it was about this foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, my spiritual madre.

When I read the first bit and realized that the author's perspective was as a secular non-believer, I briefly considered setting it aside, but quickly decided against that. I didn't at all perceive that this book disrespected the supernatural dimension of Teresa's life, nor was there a strong attempt to re-cast her as a New Age heroine or a raging feminist. In other words, it aimed at accurate  history, not a political re-writing of history. There were times when it seemed the author was mystified at what faith could have grasped, but perhaps that made her perspective all the more valuable to me as a reader.

But I was intrigued by her initial discussion of how mysticism, and particularly Teresa's mysticism, has been perceived by secular scholars. (This perhaps gave secular readers the chance to use these views as interpretive guides along the way.) It boils down to basically two views, or more likely a combination of them: Teresa was either somewhere between psychologically unhealthy and mentally ill, and/or she suffered from sexual repression that found its outlet in spiritual imaginings.

It's not that this perspective was news to me. I seem to remember encountering this reasoning when I studied mysticism way back when, before I was a Catholic. And even in Teresa's day she was accused of stuff like this to her face.

At one point in the book, as I inserted myself into the historical moment and pitted her experiences against the array of responses to her, I suddenly felt myself cast into the same moment of decision that her contemporaries must have felt (with the difference of historical finality being on her side). It seemed to me that believing Teresa was indeed a saint and worthy of the title Doctor of the Church was subjectively more of an act of faith than believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

It was simply interesting for me to bump up against this non-believing perspective right now because I've encountered my own taste of this reasoning in my own experience. It is simply good to be able to look at mi madre and know I'm not alone. To be able to feel like a miniature, a daughter, next to a great woman who suffered through worse makes me feel happy.

In fact, I'm realizing that for all the stuff I've experienced in the last couple of years that has felt like the end of the world, the most and the heaviest at the time that I could endure -- if this all was to lead me to this point where I am becoming a Secular Carmelite and can call myself a daughter of St. Teresa -- if all the rest of my life is simply quiet and pedestrian, it has all been worth it simply to have this great honor.

She was a busy woman, that's for sure. Personally, I still resonate a bit more with St. John of the Cross for his intensity, his scholarliness and his reserve, but St. Teresa gives me that assurance that hard work and even terseness in relationships (along with great tenderness, and complexity) is not foreign matter to a holy life.

Holy Mother Teresa, pray for me!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Whose Responsibility is My Happiness?

Earlier this week, a friend of mine shared the article "10 Things Happy Families Do Differently." The picture with it caught my eye, and I was in a browsy mood, so I checked it out.

One particular statement from this article has stayed with me since I read it: "Everyone takes responsibility for their own happiness."

Now, I'm not usually one who gets a lot of out people's pithy lists of tips for how to make life all better. And my response to this was not along the lines of "Gee, thanks. I'll try that." But seeing this concept expressed in just this way in this context some something of a little naru hodo moment for me.

Two memories stood out as I've thought about this. The first involved the formation of my sense about where happiness comes from. And the fact that, in this formation, happiness was a commodity for other people. This happiness was supposed to come from me.

Oh, I would never have explicitly articulated it this way in my earlier years, but growing up in a post-alcoholic-divorced home taught me that it was my job to make the people around me happy. (Or stated conversely, everyone's unhappiness was my fault.) I decided that the easiest way for me to try to bring happiness was to "not bother anyone" and so I perfected my ability to lay no burden on others. Still, of course, others weren't happy. My eventual conclusion: my mere existence was the problem.

It never really entered into my calculations, this notion of where my happiness was supposed to come from.

The second memory involved my children when they were very small. On one particular night a common bedtime scene was being played out where my tired daughter was crying over some tiny nothing, consuming all my ability to be present to her and calm her so she could go to sleep. At that moment, my son entered her room, seemingly totally oblivious to the emotional drama unfolding, and asked me to intervene with some need of his that involved something like finding just the right lego to make his creation look just right. I can still see exactly where I was when this thought formulated inside me. It was sarcastic at first, but the reality of what I said impacted me shortly thereafter : "Boy, I wish I could consider my needs so dang important that I could overlook everything around me to get them met!"

My son did nothing wrong; he merely had no sense of timing (at age 5 or 6 or whatever). I, on the other hand, had a gut instinct that needs and desires are always supposed to be sacrificed on the pyre of someone else's issues.

In 1993, right after I came into the Church, I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group. In one of the many gift shops I saw what struck me as the most beautiful t-shirt I had ever seen. I literally gasped as I said, "Oh, I want one of those!" Now, this is not a normal comment coming from me because I don't care about shopping and care even less about "stuff." It was the beauty of the metallic gold embellishments that made me exclaim this in something like awe. I'll never forget an older woman from my group saying to me, "Well, you just go ahead and get it, then." I think I triggered something in her maternal heart that prompted her to "give me permission" to buy it. I did, and I still have it. Perhaps it is telling that this was an unusually memorable experience from my earlier days of seeing and pursuing something that brought me spontaneous happiness. I don't remember making choices like this on any regular basis until recent years.

Pursuing my own happiness used to leave me with a sense of guilt. If it was my job to get out of everyone's way so they could be happy, being as small and non-existent as possible, well, it didn't make sense for me to be filled up and big with happiness. Geez, the more I write about this the more diabolical it sounds.

Each person has the vocation, the duty, and the need to pursue happiness, beatitude, God. It is true that no one finds it alone, in isolation from others. But I am responsible for my pursuit of God, and you are responsible for yours. I am not responsible for yours, although mine actually can inspire yours, and yours, mine.

Of course children need adult wisdom to learn what will mess up their pursuit of happiness. Or better put, children and adults need biblical and saintly wisdom to learn how to pursue true happiness. Without it, we end up indulging ourselves with idolatry and filling ourselves up with not-god, at the expense of other things and/or objectified people whom we appoint to be god to us and make us happy. It ain't gonna happen. Nothing other than God satisfies the quest for happiness. Yes, created things can help us; we require their help. But idolatry not only leaves us unfulfilled, it actually empties us of whatever happiness we have found.

Personal responsibility for happiness means that I seek truth, beauty and goodness with all my heart, through every aspect of my life, and that I open my entire life to interact with the One I find. Yeah, I imagine if everyone in a family did that it would make for a happy life together indeed.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hunger and Vulnerability

We have two new kittens that are still a little skittish about their new home (shared by two older cats). The other day, I had a train of thoughts kicked out onto a track by observing the more skittish of the two new kittens.

Kitty was cautiously approaching the food dish, just about to start munching, when I happened to notice one of my long red hairs draped over its tiny, black, furry body and by instinct (for I am always picking my hair off of things) I bent down to take the hair off the cat. Well, the kitty instantly went as low to the ground as it could go and ran away. It hovered about five feet away, watching the food dish and watching me. Every time I looked towards it, it hunkered down again. Finally I stepped away from the room for a minute, and when I came back it was munching the food.

I'm no animal behavior specialist, but it struck me that hunger and vulnerability go together.

When the animal is feeding its face, it can't bite an attacker, nor will it as easily see an attacker approaching. I imagine even smelling an attacker is affected with one's face that far down into food.

But of course I wasn't primarily thinking about animal behavior; I'm thinking more about human behavior. And while I'm sure there are some observations to be made about human behavior regarding food, I can relate better to more intangible hungers.

When I am "hungry" for something -- when I feel a great, driving need that requires satisfaction for me to be able to function well or concentrate on anything other than it -- I am in a place that makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability is by its nature rather frightening, because it implies that the chances of incurring hurt are somewhat high. There is risk involved. It requires weighing the value of the need versus the value of safety, and the chances of the need being met versus the chances that I will get crushed by the danger involved.

There are basic human needs, but it seems to me that the things that really strike at our vulnerability do so precisely because they are subtly unique to us. It's the way that certain type of question suddenly is addressed, that certain person's certain look or comment pierces us, that particular phobia presents itself. When someone knows us really well, a glance shot in their direction in a certain circumstance will communicate "It's happening. Help me!"

Now couple that unique vulnerability with the driving need that forces one to face that vulnerability and either walk through it, or slink back with a feeling of defeat and a safety that makes one feel like a pathetic coward. When safety and victory never feel like they happen together, life is sad and very unsatisfying. But who feels satisfied when crushed by danger?

It gets confusing, no?

What helps me to sort these feelings out for myself is, well, firstly having felt pathetically vulnerable in most completely average circumstances for years, and secondly, being able to stop and rationally evaluate my feelings.

Yes, it helps somewhat to realize that I've never ever seen the floor open up and swallow anyone as they walk into a room. I've never seen anyone struck by lightening when they asked a question, nor have I seen anyone mercilessly taunt an acquaintance as they approached to make simple conversation. Having repeatedly witnessed safe execution in average circumstances, I have developed trust that I would not die in situations where I felt I might.

(There were many times when I lived in Japan that, by all cultural considerations, I really *should* have died, like the time I preempted the 30 other important people, including the principal of my school, and gave my amazing speech in English to the school assembly and all the parents, all because I thought someone nodded towards me to do so. No one could understand me, everyone --except me-- knew I'd committed a terrible faux pas and was horrendously embarrassed for me. And then there was the time I was trying to speak with the principal at a social gathering and dropped sushi on my shoe. And the time a man thought I was desperately trying to watch him pee. Yeah, ok, so I've had lots of experience with social vulnerability gone seriously bad.)

My tendency to rationally examine my emotions has developed with experience but is helped significantly by my temperament. And it has helped me to learn that God creates human beings needy on purpose. And it isn't to humiliate us. He does not wish us to grovel to anyone, let alone Him. It is simply that the fact of their being a God necessitates that creatures are not God. Creatures are not self-causing nor are we self-sufficient and therefore we need. To be precise, we need Him. Our need is our friend, that's the big take-home point. When we own our need and make friends with our need we realize that God-shaped void, we learn we are made by Him for Him, and we find that finding Him gives us peace. Our need is met in Him. As long as we do not, cannot, recognize our need as our friend and instead we hide and hate our need (and therefore ourselves), we resent the void. We grasp for whatever temporarily makes us feel "safe," which generally means not killed by vulnerability, but with a growing self-loathing for our pathetic cowardliness. (Or our obnoxious pride, which is a cover for the pathetic cowardliness.)

So, what's the way to real victory? It is union with Christ, which means bringing one's need to the cross. By that I don't mean saying some words in prayer, although that's probably a necessary component. I mean, first of all, being stripped-bare-naked-honest about our needs. That can take time, because we are the ones most deceived by our own lies, and most ashamed of our own truth. Then it requires taking that honest need to Jesus, to the cross, in repentance for all the ways we have tried to be our own savior and all the harm we have inflicted on ourselves and on others in the process, as well as our offense against God by rejecting His love. Then it requires a deep bath at Jesus' cross in the fountain of His mercy -- really allowing His love to enter and flow and wash down deep everything that has been so starved and dried without Him. Receiving love requires broken pride. We have to let Him break it all down in us. This is probably going to seriously mess with our relationships with other people in our lives, since pride blocks others out.

These things need to have a decisive beginning at some concrete point in our lives. No one passively floats into this union with Christ. Maybe you've believed in God all your life; this is different. This is as concrete as deciding to move to a new state and then doing it.

And these things will hurt. They will bring you through many moments of vulnerability. But only God, the source of all things, gives peace and safety. It seems a contradiction that the God who endured the cross and calls you to follow Him also is the only source of peace, but it is not. This hurt and suffering are not the final word, but are the release from the uneasy "safety" we know that makes us feel like pathetic cowards. 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Epiphany and Mission

Lutherans have two things over Catholics when it comes to liturgy: 1) The Sundays Catholics call "ordinary time" after Christmas and before Lent Lutherans call "1st, 2nd, etc. Sunday of Epiphany." 2) The Sundays Catholics call "ordinary time after Easter and before Advent, Lutherans call "nth Sunday of Pentecost" (or actually Whitsunday in my old Lutheran hymnal, which loses the effect somewhat.

I like that so much better. Another way to deal with this is to realize (as I wrote once before) that Pentecost is our ordinary. I would also add of course that Epiphany is our ordinary. And in the last few years I am coming to a growing appreciation of what that means.

It took me awhile to realize that the feast of Epiphany has been trying to get my attention for years. I wrote this last year, this in 2010 (as well as this, apparently before I learned to spell the word), and then of course there was that whole "joining the choir" story which happened on Epiphany Sunday of 2009 that I feel like I have told to death. Well, I see that the Church would have us reflect on Epiphany as Jesus' entering into his earthly ministry, and therefore we should think of our entering into His ministry also. Hence, the connection with Pentecost/ordinary time. The "ordinary" thing is that we live the supernatural ministry of Christ on earth in time and space in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Living the liturgical year makes me want to stagger with the beauty of it all. We grow; it moves us onward. It moves us onward; we grow. We don't cycle through "the same old thing" every year any more than lovers experience "the same old thing" in being together day after day.

Epiphany, like Pentecost, needs to be understood and experienced subjectively. God personally empowers because He personally calls. He calls me to fulfill a certain mission that is mine within Christ's all encompassing mission of the salvation of souls. Serving Christ means serving His mission to bring His love home to roost in more and more souls. His love is the power of salvation, the power to heal, to make whole, to make right, to restore, to raise up in royal splendor, to share His own life. To bring people into union with Him.

How does anyone really do that? I mean, try as I might, there ain't nothin' I can do to make another person love God or know God. Only God can really do that.

I see that my call is to love God with all my heart, which doesn't so much mean having a certain set of feelings or going through a checklist of behaviors. It means giving myself to Him as a gift. For me, it seems to mean saying, "Here I am, Lord" and then simply remaining there. It's that whole Carmelite idea of emptying oneself, making room for the God who fills. I can't fill myself; I can make nothing of the sort happen. But I can offer myself. I can die to myself by giving myself in love and service to the people in my life. I can desire God, and love others to demonstrate that desire. I can long. The longing, the giving, the being-open, the emptying -- these are all really evidences of the God Who is there, making all of that possible. No human could do these things merely hoping the universe is not an empty, heartless mechanistic cipher.

That's a weird mission. Maybe. But it really is only the presence of God that draws souls into union with Him, and therefore it is only through souls who know this surrender that God can draw souls into union with Him, because that whole Church thing is God's plan. Oh, I would also say that simply by baptismal grace God is present through us; we don't need to be some weird mystic freak to draw people (though it seems to help). No, I take that back. In reality, the definition of a Christian actually is "weird mystic freak," if one must put it that way. God's divine life present in a human being by grace brings the mystery of God into human experience, and that is the essence of Christianity. Without that dimension we just have a set of moral guidelines and good people trying to carry them out.

Epiphany is not through with me yet. I'm sure we've only just begun...

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

May God Bless Us in His Mercy

Happy New Year!

I am beginning this year, in one aspect at least, in the same way I began 2010, and that is with a 54-day rosary novena. In 2010 I had a pressing spiritual question, and I wanted light to understand the question. Of course at the time I had no clue where I was headed. The technical way I framed this spiritual question at first now seems like pointless chaff, so quickly was it blown away. It doesn't really matter though how one frames ones questions as long as one prays, because God has a way of blowing away the froth and uncovering the heart of the matter. And as long as we don't panic at being denuded He will get the job done rather quickly.

In a short time I found that I was heading far away from my technical question, out into new places. Sort of like Abram heading out from Ur. I could trace the path all the way from that first rosary on January 1, 2010 up to today. The Lord has given me so much. I see that. He floods me with blessings, and I have come to recognize them. Four years ago I would not have recognized His blessings. How patient the Lord is with my refusals. A short list from just the most recent hours: the experience of helplessness, failure of human help to materialize, my own long hours of best efforts being for naught, having to wait, a reminder of rejection, physical exhaustion, financial strain... these, and more, experienced with a deep sense of the presence and grace of God calling me to not only rely on Him, and to know precisely that these actually are goods coming from His hand.

Life is rough sometimes. I went through a really bleak stretch between 2012 and 2013. I see that the most important and the most valuable thing is to continue to pray, continue in relationship with God no matter what. No matter what it feels like, no matter what happens, and regardless of one's ability to make sense out of anything. Keep praying. I actually found my prayer expanding, which seems ironic but I imagine that is actually the plan.

See, that reminds me of something else. The closer one draws to God the more one realizes the truth that God really does not only have "a" plan for my life, He has "the" plan. In a mysterious way that by no means excludes my free will, creativity or responsibility, God is my designer. He knows my purpose through and through. I do not make myself; He makes me. I want to be fully alive, totally and completely. The closer I come to Him, the more I experience that. "Trying to find and do God's will" too often makes stiff, frightened and frightening creatures out of people. So often it is more about conforming to whatever "good, religious" social pressure one can attach oneself to -- all the while mercilessly criticizing those outside that fake attachment -- more than anything that has to do with the reality of God. There is so much that is right about the rejection of religion as many people experience it. God is so very real; again, if we are not afraid of the denuding, He will show us what is fake and dead in our religious experience and cause it to drop away.

So, here I am with the 2014 rosary novena to start the year. It is the one where for 27 days I ask for certain graces and then for 27 days I thank the Lord for having granted them. I am praying for a particular person and for all who share a similar need. I woke up on Christmas morning with the experience of this need right smack in my heart, or perhaps I should say spirit. It was like waking up with a wrapped gift next to me in my bed in the sense that I felt immediately this thing that was not actually a part of me. I wondered for just a moment to whom this might belong, and then made the connection, and then sensed that this meant a new rosary novena. All of this took less than 30 seconds from entering consciousness that morning. This is often how I receive and interpret directives or signs. The fact that I did not forget the exchange 30 minutes later also helped. And if it is all nothing more than my imagination, will it hurt to pray a 54 day novena? God looks at our intentions, and He knows how I'm made, so I don't worry myself over making a mistaken novena (although I would have, once upon a time)!

And now, too, I have a purpose and intent with my prayer. I fully expect that I have no idea, really, why I am setting out to pray this, and what I love about living the Christian life is that I realize how little I know. Every day we are just waking up and beginning.

Thanks be to God simply that I can straggle along with His motley crew of followers!