Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Feast Day Gift (Or, When Things Make Sense)

Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelites, my spiritual mother, mi Madre. I use that term with deep affection and a tremendous conviction which is far beyond my ability to simply drum up from myself. I have been called. Though I am still four years away from my definitive profession, there is probably nothing of which I am more sure than this: I am called to be a daughter of St. Teresa.

Several days ago I met some Carmelite nuns who happened to give me a prayer card with the official prayer of the Centenary (we are celebrating St. Teresa's 500th birthday beginning today and for a year). I had read the prayer several times before today, but in typical feast day fashion I read it today and it blew me away. Here is the text:

Saint Teresa of Jesus, holy mother,
wholehearted servant of love,
teach us to walk with determined fidelity
along the path of interior prayer,
attentive to the presence
of the Blessed Trinity,
God dwelling deep within us.
At the school of Mary our Mother
strengthen within us these foundations:
a genuine humility,
a heart free from attachment,
and an unconditional love for others.
Share with us your intense
apostolic love for the Church.
May Jesus be our joy,
our hope and our energy,
an unquenchable fountain
and our most intimate Friend.
Bless our Carmelite family.
Teach us to make your prayer our own:
"I am yours, I was born for you.
What is your will for me?"

God weaves the weird bits of our lives into a tapestry that eventually makes sense. And this morning after Mass was one of those breath-catching and tear-spilling moments when I saw, instead of the random chaos of threads, God's weaving work.

Here's what I see now, clearly.

God has been calling me to Carmel since I was a Protestant. That I know, and I've written about that stuff here. And even in that post I had a strongly inkling about the rest of what I'll write now.

A few years ago I went through a horrendously difficult spiritual season, that followed directly after a gloriously powerful spiritual season. Both stemmed from a relationship that had no real reason (other than God's design) not to be average and mundane. But instead of mundane, it was mystical. No, actually, it was both. At the same time. God did lots of unusual things in conjunction with this person, through him, but completely without his knowledge. I knew all along it was God who was communicating with me, acting in me. These seasons have occurred to me in the past in smaller or greater degrees, but they hadn't for about 20 years at that time. I rather thought I'd outgrown that sort of thing.

The Lord even told me towards the beginning of all this that this man was like St. John the Baptist for me. I remember saying, "Gee, Lord, I hope he's not going to die in three years." Well, he did not die, but after three years there was a sudden death-knell to the glory of what had been our friendship. And one of the final kicks in my gut came on the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist. Nice touch, Lord.

And what set the death-knell in process was also a mystical thing, an action God required of me. It was a firm call, with a set time. It left me wide-open vulnerable to far more than I realized at the time, even though I had no goal other than obedience. I knew God was launching me forth, but I had no idea where -- I didn't even think about that sort of thing.

The image that time evokes is St. Bernadette hearing the Blessed Mother say to her, "Drink from the spring, wash in the spring" when there wasn't any spring. The Song of Bernadette depicts her scratching in the dirt, wiping mud on her face and eating weeds. People carried her off presuming her to be crazy. And then the water flowed, and the healings started.

What happened as the upshot of that obedience I carried out, that wiping of mud all over my face, was the most spiritually painful thing I have ever endured. It was a solid 18 months, with several extra bonus periods dribbling over, of soul-searing pain. I've used this analogy before, but it was like God spent those first three years gently caressing my head, and gathering back all of my (very long and thick) hair into His hands. But then in one movement, He cut it off. I had to decide who that was with His hands in my hair: were we like St. Francis and St. Claire -- was God responding to my loving entreaties to belong entirely to Him? Or was it like the WWII movie I once saw -- where I was a Jewess and God a Nazi barber, shearing away my hair and my dignity. What pained me the most was that in the deepest part of my feeling, I wasn't sure.


Here's what I know now.

During this long searing process, I gained three things, had three new foundations laid in me (check out that prayer again):

Humility. Oy vey. Pride and self-righteousness underwent mass destruction. God wanted me to see clearly everything I'm made of, the good, the bad and the ugly. And the beautiful.

A heart free from attachment: Oy vey again. Yes, I became very attached to this man, like a little child gets attached to, say, a puppy that it loves dearly but also relies on for comfort. God gives us comfort to heal our wounds, but He also knows that if we rely too long on comfort, we stay childish when we should be growing strong. To everything there is a season. And to really learn detachment, we have to really experience an attachment that can safely be broken.

An unconditional love for others: Oy, oy, oy vey. You see, after things blew apart and St. John got his head lopped off, there were many, many facets of what happened that angered me deeply. But God would not let me turn to bitterness and hatred. In fact, He insisted that I use this as a means to learn to keep loving, sans the good feelings. In fact, I tried refusing to love this man, and I found I could not love anyone. The Lord showed me that if I want to to try loving the way He loves, it's going to hurt. But it frees.

This season of my life hurt so badly primarily because love, detachment, and humility were so terribly foreign to me. I felt like I was dying. And in fact, I was. I was dying to myself.

And I was having the stage set for my being called to Carmel. It was a huge gift. It was a mystical gift and an intense trial of faith. And today mi Madre sat me down to show me how it makes sense.

Oh, and there's one more thing. A month ago, on retreat, the Lord gave me this one phrase that captured what had remained ineffable to me for years, this thing I knew and longed for: Apostolic Love. And there it is in that prayer: "Share with us your intense apostolic love for the Church." Of course St. Teresa had apostolic love: she went all over Spain making new foundations of the new reform of the Carmelites. She was entirely fueled by love and she worked as hard as she prayed.

I'm nothing original. I'm just called to be a daughter of St. Teresa. It all makes sense. Ha!

No comments: