Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Miracle of Love

I'm not done with that 54-day novena yet. But let me tell you, I've prayed novenas that were mostly about remembering, checklist style, to say prayers. But this novena has, I dunno, gotten in my face like a personal trainer and pushed me, sometimes, like I didn't exactly feel like being pushed.

I don't know about you, but I am finding that no matter how selfless I intend to be in praying for other people, there is always something that comes back to "and here's how what's good for them will feel great for me." That just sneaks in there, all the time. Even if I pray for miracles for people I don't even know, some part of me would just like the satisfaction that my prayers could make a difference. That would feel good.

There's nothing grossly wrong with that, because my happiness is made up in part by the good of others. But. There's this other part. This is what started breaking into my consciousness today about this novena.

Miraculous breakthroughs of grace -- I guess that about summarizes what I have been praying for. And today I realized that the biggest miracle of grace I could ever personally witness is for me to love unconditionally, with no hint of personal gain or benefit. Like God loves us. Willing to love despite being ignored, avoided, taken for granted, even disdained and rejected. Me, love. That's a miracle!

But I don't say that sardonically. It simply is true. I offer my life to God for Him to make an outpost of His kingdom of love through which He can access those in my life directly. I offer Him my heart that His love may flow through me. I may very well never realize how He works or when He works, but I know He does this sort of thing even when people are unaware and unconscious of their offering. Supernatural things happen in lives when God's love is made manifest. That is really my only wish for my life, that divine love may flow through me to reach someone else.

So, instead of thinking what miracles and changes I would like to witness in someone else's life (especially when those changes would make me happy!) I can live in the graces I have prayed for by loving, regardless of how I am treated. As St. John of the Cross stated: "Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and there you will draw out love." As one commentator on this famous quote concluded, instead of "waiting for love to happen" one can put love to work in order to harvest the fruits later. If even St. John of the Cross can say this, certainly one can wish in an unselfish manner for love to be reciprocated. God certainly wishes that! I'm quite limited in things I can actually do to demonstrate love, in general and especially in the particular instance at hand, but I can always pray. In that I have great freedom.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Sigh, A Complaint

I want to complain a little bit. I'm not very good at that, so we'll see how it goes.

Way back long ago when I first discovered how hard it was for me to talk, I blamed it on the fact that all I knew how to do, all I wanted to do, was to reach down into other people's guts, and basically no one appreciated that.

It's amazing how accurate that still strikes me today, even though I've gone through layers of dismantling the untruths in that. I struggled to talk because of other reasons too: and the two biggest were my pride and the degree to which I suppressed my emotions. There's probably no separating those two things, at least not for me.

As I look back through mental snapshots of my spiritual formation, I see things like learning to chit chat, realizing the value of a trip to the mall or a museum for the sake of passing time among people, the joy of understanding movie references, and other little signs of love I picked up from being part of the human race. Silent retreats and the profundity of discovering prayer? Yeah, sure, but that's the easy stuff. To really open my heart to people in a group of people: that stuff was downright miraculous, transformative and healing.

Ok, wait. I'm supposed to be complaining.

I'm still the person who really only feels designed to reach down into people's guts and pull up. Maybe the way I want to complain is to God for designing me this way. I get myself into this wanting-to-complain spot not infrequently. First of all, if I do something, I want to be good at it. But I've learned this is not a something that I get to direct, or a talent I can choose to hone. Other people's guts, after all, are holy ground. One may not go there by the force of one's own will. There's obviously quite a bit about this I don't get yet.

However, secondly, I do sometimes find that I am in the midst of someone's guts when I didn't realize I had gotten there. And I have learned that it is really, really hard for people to respond to this sort of thing without a strong emotion. People's strong emotions tend to freak me out, mostly because I'm always so surprised and bewildered by the experience. I'm learning I have this ability to make people really upset. It's not even, I think, so much that *I* upset them as they are upset by what is getting pulled out of them. Subsequently, people seem to get to feeling either angry, guilty, impotent, or (perhaps scariest of all) deeply moved, all of which does not make people rush to embrace me and cry: "Please! Pull more of my guts out cuz I love feeling all of this confusing inner turmoil!"

But you know what? I'm just a normal person, and I'd love to have normal friendships that go beyond stupid fluff, though I respect the value of stupid fluff. I mean, like everyone, I just want to be natural and at ease and be so with others where that works.

Just got a teeny, tiny hint of despair wafting up in that department. Hope is wearing thin.

But here are a few things I'm learning: God is calling me to a prophetic life. It's the normal call of a Christian, but there's something else there, too. That explains why God has been after my mouth since my young adulthood. Also, God is calling me to live in faith. This faith is not the intellectual thing about a list beliefs. This is about seeing and speaking forth that which is not yet seen with physical eyes. This has a lot to do with invisible realities.

A little aside on this point: This morning as I was praying I was presenting some stuff to God, some struggles, and admitting that I couldn't tell what the source of the struggle was. I laid out the options I could think of. I prayed on, and it came to my mind that I recently had a very small business interaction with someone I discovered was quite involved in the occult. This was via computer, and in this business I have an avatar of Pope Francis for my account. The way it occurred to me was this: I say little prayers of blessing on people randomly throughout my day, true. Well, people who are dedicated to evil are going to do the same, especially when they see the Pope smiling at them. So I prayed against any hexes or curses that may have come my way, and suddenly the struggle I had presented to God became so easy to understand, and was wiped away as easily as dust.

Inside, this kind of thing gives me a sense of understanding and confidence. Socially, it is just one more thing I scratch off my list of casual conversation over non-existent tea with my non-existent friends.

So I blog instead, since writing is what I have always done.

C'est la vie.

I know I am not stuck in a bleak spot. I know I am before, in time, something good and significant. I know these things by faith. I just don't really know how to like being here. (There, I think that sounds like a complaint, now. And now I will tell myself to buck up, because being able to like things is not all that important.)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lent is Not a Starting Point

Where I live, Ash Wednesday is unbelievably popular, even among non-practicing Catholics or those who have left long ago for other ecclesial communities. People whom I vaguely know to be cradle Catholics (like the woman who cuts my hair) find it perfectly normal to ask me "What are you giving up for Lent?" even though if I were to ask them, "So, what did you think of last gospel last Sunday?!" they'd probably think I was some kind of religious nut.

A lot of people think Lent is about a bunch of religious rules, and depending on how strongly they feel about belonging to their religion, they may feel roughly that favorably disposed to keeping these rules. Maybe it's kinda like how the Irish want to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's day. It's about feeling an identity.

Some people have natural spartan tendencies towards self-challenge. They may face Lent with grim determination to reach a goal that involves giving up something they enjoy. If they fail, they realize they are only human, and if they succeed, they feel accomplished. They may even feel God appreciates their efforts, and that somehow those efforts may contribute to a better world.

The first time I avoided meat on Friday because I was becoming a Catholic, it was a big deal to me. And when I got dizzy because I fasted all day on Good Friday, I felt somehow I accomplished what I was supposed to. To be honest, I felt too disoriented to feel proud of myself. But if this kind of stuff is all Lent is about, it is dissatisfying and confusing.

I think Catholics get confused because Lent is the first moment where we feel like we are supposed to respond to God and "do something." But Lent is not a starting point. We can't look at Lent as our place from which we will go meet God by our efforts and sacrifices.  Our starting point is the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle. This is all about God's promises and their fulfillment, His tremendous gift of love given into our world and our very flesh, and the supernatural call in Him for this gift of love to go through Christ (read: Church in this time and space) to all the world. Then we get a few weeks for the normality of this all to soak in, and THEN we have the season of penance, preparing for the other magnificent move of God that no human effort could ever imagine or accomplish: Christ rising from the dead and destroying sin, death, and the power of hell. Then we hear all about the supernatural works of God which are normal for us, more time to soak in normal, and then we start over again. Lent is far more about culmination than a starting point.

It is the power of the love of God, demonstrated in His coming to live among us as a human, that has to be our starting point. We have to see that His love offered to us and say yes to it, receive it, and allow ourselves to feel it, experience it, and be shaped by it to whatever degree we are capable.

Then it will make sense when we hear Jesus calling us to follow Him up to Jerusalem to His passion. Love calls "come and be with me." And we answer "draw me after you and let us run together."

There is some endurance and perseverance called for in penance to be sure. But Lent is not about how hard I can grit my teeth. I like to see it as an emptying. I make room. I take the concrete steps in prayer, fasting and almsgiving to make room in my heart, in my schedule, in my house, in my way of living. I make room as an act of faith. My faith is in the One whom I know loves me, the One whom I wish to invite, the One with full rights to all that I am and have. I do not stipulate if or how He must fill what I empty. It is only available to Him. I am available to Him. I become free to hear Him say "go here, say this, give that," or "wait there."

Because He has a will, a desire. He loves and cares for me so fully and completely, and I desire in return that what He desires is also fulfilled. This is peace for me.

We are like onions. And we need cyclical rhythms. The process of living and growing continually makes for stuff that can stand to be pruned back and for ripe fruits that are ready to be shared. During Lent we all become a prophetic sign that life is about more than this earth. We live here with our eyes and hearts fixed on the glory that follows. "For when Christ our life appears, you also shall be revealed with him in glory" (Col. 3:4).

Friday, February 07, 2014

I Am Coming to Move Among Them

This morning as Jesus was exposed upon our church altar for adoration, this is what occurred to me.

I am this girl:

I am a beggar before God.
And I live among beggars.
There is no shame in this. It is simply our status before God the creator of all. He is incredibly good.

Beggars are not always incredibly good. Mostly we are incredibly needy. And most of us don't like that at all.

Some of us don't like it so much that we start to hurt each other and become very bad. Our need and pain makes us merciless.

I know Jesus loves us so much. I come and tell Him, "Lord, they don't know You, and they are hurting each other!"

And suddenly I am overwhelmed by the compassion erupting in Jesus' heart in answer to this summons. "I am coming to move among them."

That, my friends, is His promise to the world and His call to the Church.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Well, DUH!

Here's what I've learned recently: People like to read posts by me when I use words like "pissed off." I suppose I like to write posts where I use words like "pissed off" too, because then I'm writing raw which sometimes means I don't bury my thoughts in 5,000 pounds of words.

Admitting pissed-offed-ness is healthy for me in many ways, or it can be. The best thing, I suppose, is when it is quickly followed by a "well, duh!" moment as I start to see what my problem is, or what I can learn out of it.

So, yeah. Here's my "well, duh!" moment.

God is teaching me to pray. It is as simple as that. And as mind-blowing as that.

Cuz what have I just said, anyway? I've said God is real, He is a person, relational, and He has initiated a relationship with me in which He interacts inside my personal life without my sometimes recognizing it right away, and He is guiding me, instructing me, working with me in a back-and-forth as I walk through my particular life circumstances. One can extrapolate from this that because God is purposeful and not random, He is doing all of this for reasons, purposes that He knows all about and I don't, and I'm coming to understand bit by bit.

Yowza. That is actually spine-tinglingly amazing and makes getting out of bed in the morning a freaking adventure.

Prayer is not a sort of "I'll be good and let everyone walk on me while I put up with it" stance. It's not "I'll persist in the irrational thought that good wins if I just endure enough self-flagellation." Prayer's goal is union with God. And God is awesome merciful power, love and justice. I forgot that. I lost sight of a lot of things.

Like I forgot about a post I wrote during Advent where I wrote about my need for greater gratitude. Here's something about gratitude: it explodes when you thank God in faith, in advance, for things that haven't chronologically happened yet. Long, long ago I read the book Prison to Praise that basically goes on and on about this principle. Getting too into "principles" can produce strange Christianity in many different directions. But let's take this novena that I'm praying right now, the one that was the spark under my last pissed-off post. The practice here is that for 27 days you ask God for the desired graces and then for another 27 you thank God for the graces He is pouring out. I have always struggled with this part. Start thanking God when you don't even see the astounding things taking flesh?! Well guess what?! I have a hard enough time giving thanks for the things I do see, let alone what I don't see! But as I was able to admit I was getting mad over praying for this person (and see the last paragraph for why) and I purposefully picked up my two prayer feet, stood them up and started walking them forward, thanking God, well, things have changed. In fact, all of a sudden I realize that life is really completely made up of billions of things for which God deserves all thanks and praise and which I spend a great deal of time taking for granted, or whining that I don't have it better.

There's something else I learned. God seems to like to use (I'll put it this way) this certain subset of persons with whom I get annoyed to introduce new things to my spiritual life. I should get that by now. But I suppose the nature of new things is that they spring up without being able to anticipate them.

Then there is Elijah. Even though I knew this on one factual level, it is hitting me on deeper levels that part of my Carmelite vocation is as a prophet. Like Elijah. I can't say I grasp all that that means, but I do realize a greater depth of its truth. And the life of a prophet is a little weird. (Check.) And prophets do their bit, and it's done and that's all. Let it go. But then pick up and move at the slightest nudge. There's a heck of a lot of interior detachment required here. But God knows when to send a raven with some bread...

So,  yeah. I shall not fear becoming pissed off, only getting stuck there.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

A Pissed Off, Cranky Post (which makes me feel better)

I am cranky. I feel like I need to shoot from the hip just now, verbally, if nothing else to just try to loosen my crankihood out.

Honestly, sometimes understanding things is worse than not understanding things. I mean, I have a certain comfort level with the anguish of wondering. That's weird in and of itself. But there are times, like I feel right now, where it is the things I understand that make life less pleasant.

I'm feeling a very high level of frustration with my way of social interaction. I feel like God is bound and determined to sequester me in certain ways. Lately, about the only time I feel deeply and profoundly accompanied is when I am immersed in reading the lives or works of the Carmelite saints. I feel more certain of my Carmelite vocation than I am of my name or my desire for my next breath. But when it comes to dealing with flesh and blood human beings, it seems the more I try to put myself into it, the more I feel myself cocooning. Reflexively. Then there are the people who seem to be to my life like a stick in my eye. Then, I see people turning to me for a comfort, a refuge, and I clunkily am about as comforting and refuge-like as a chain link fence. I am so bad at faking "consoling."

Faking is not something I want to get good at. But it seems clear to me that I must exude something like porcupine bristles to people. Maybe it is just my perception, but I feel like I propel people away from me.

Humor and happiness attract people, and you know what, I usually am filled with these, visibly. I don't feel particularly depressed or upset or angry. I just feel.... sequestered. It seems my efforts at moving towards people just don't work, and haven't worked. I know that I am called to pray. I'm still in the midst of that novena that I started January 1. I have to say, if there is anything that makes me mad right now, it is praying for that person. Maybe that is the source of all my upset. I am now in the stage of thanking God for all the graces He has poured out -- and I know they are many -- but man, I have just never felt so upset about praying for someone. This someone doesn't know it, of course.

Just yesterday, and the day before as well, I was at meetings where I heard Dr. Mary Healy talk about the coming "tsunami of the Spirit" in the Church, and about her experiences of miracles of healing, as well as a prophetic convocation she attended where leaders in the Catholic charismatic renewal came together simply to listen to God speak to them. Again and again as she spoke I knew God was giving me nods of confirmation about things I've been hearing and experiencing over the last couple years. This novena prayer is not disconnected from all that. On the one hand, I've heard "it is coming" (in reference to some move of God) all my adult life as a charismatic. On the other hand, I do get the feeling this is different, because God has found ways to hook my own personal life into this "it". I think my problem is that I am lousy at waiting for God.

Just remembering now something that happened this morning. My son and daughter were getting ready for Mass, and on my instruction one was in the shower while the other was taking a bath. Well, drawing two things of water at once caused a bad situation for my son in the shower. And, since I have trained him well in how to completely freak out and be intolerant of momentary discomfort, he was screaming at the top of his lungs for us to turn the water off. Repeatedly. To be heard clearly up two flights of stairs. I saw myself in his reaction, and realized that when I encounter something that could be handled by some patient endurance of unpleasantness, I tend to respond with pouring out all my energy, and then when that doesn't work, I pour out even more, and then even more until I am completely and totally exhausted, drained, and hurting.

Maybe this is what I am doing. I am facing something that does cause me significant discomfort. I have every reason to believe that God will change it, and I know the only thing I can do is pray. So maybe instead of pray AND drain myself AND exhaust and hurt myself, I can pray and ask God to heal me and to give me joy or at least diverting occupation while I wait for Him to do what only He can do.

Sometimes it's just a pisser to not be the one in control, to not be able to make people respond to me in what seems like nice ways. To not be able to surround myself with the friendship I need but don't even know what it looks like.