Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Intercession, or "Praying to Saints"

 In my conversations with non-Catholic Christians, I find that one of the most difficult doctrines to discuss is our relationship with others in the Body of Christ. Such a double irony, right? We struggle with relating to each other because we struggle with how Jesus teaches us to relate to each other.

This was one of my biggest bugaboos on my way into the Church as well. After all, when we talk about prayer, we touch on the secret sanctuary of our thoughts. It's hard enough to conceive of God being able to read everything that is written there before we even have the courage to dip in and pick out our worries, fears, needs, pain, exultation, and joys, hold these open to God and start to lay them bare to Him. How in the world do other mere human beings get in on this conversation? Are they omniscient, like Him, to hear my prayers and read my secred thoughts? Are they substitutes for God? Do we go to them because we are afraid of Him, or we aren't important enough to trouble Him? Are saints put in charge of specialties, like the Greek and Roman gods? Is this a syncretism carryover? Doesn't the Bible clearly say that there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus? If Jesus is the one mediator, doesn't that mean that anyone else going to God on our behalf is unbiblical?

So, let's start with that last point. The eternal Son of God who took on flesh in Jesus Christ is the only way that we come back into relationship with the Blessed Trinity, a relationship broken historically by the Fall. He is the only one who has taken on the penalty for our sins and has now opened heaven for us and welcomes us back into union with the Blessed Trinity. 

But the mediation of the Son of God is not the same thing as intercessory prayer, and that is illustrated all over the Bible, where we are commanded and taught to pray for each other. "Pray for those who persecute you," for example, from Jesus' own lips. And oodles of other references.

St. Paul also teaches us that in the Body of Christ, the eye cannot say to the hand "I do not need you." All of the parts are made to belong to one another. 

We don't cease to belong to the Body of Christ when we die. In fact, death leads to our glory in heaven, where after thorough purification from sin, we enter the Most Holy Place, where Jesus Himself is. There, union with God is no longer mediated by faith. We are known fully, even as we are fully known. Union is complete, to whatever degree our creation has been filled by Him. 

When we go to confession, one of the aspects of sin that we have to grapple with is that no sin is private, even when it is completely secret. Choices in favor of not-God ripple out from us. We seek reconciliation to heal not only our own hearts and our relationship with God, but also the relationship with the Body of Christ. 

So when I pray, you bet your booties I seek the intercession of those already in heaven. The way I experience it is like this: My soul comes before the Lord, in the majestic splendor of His glory, His heaven. (This actually exists, by his grace, within my soul.) As I pour out my heart to Him, praising Him for His grace and mercy and favor and soaking in His love, I also acknowledge the help that I need to live from this place. After I'm done praying, I need to not snap back into me being Lord and Ruler of all, Caller of all shots, Namer of good and bad, right and wrong. I soak in Reality, and I need to live out of that place of peace, even in the face of suffering, pain, responsibility, work, and all the rest. I call upon saints that I have gotten to know, who have run the race and fought the fight, and by God's grace have won the crown. They have learned to do what I am now wanting to do. Kneeling before the Lord, I ask them now to come in the Spirit and "lay their hands on me," invoking the Holy Spirit through their human love for me to send me that which I need, especially what they can see that I need that I cannot. 

I trust people on earth to do this for me. Or rather, I trust that when my friends obey God's command to intercede, that He will answer. I trust that God will answer as my friends in heaven ask Him, too. How can they hear me? I am speaking to the Head, and they are his members. I don't know if I can find this line in the Catechism, but if Jesus is the head, perhaps the Holy Spirit is the central nervous system. The same Holy Spirit that bids me call out Abba, Father, that bids me draw near Jesus, fills them and compels them. We can't really imagine what the communion of heaven is like, but it is perfect love both for God and for neighbor, because that's how love works. 

The impoverishment of the Christian faith leaves out the glory God gives us in being secondary causes, cooperators with His grace, agents of His love, fully alive in His Spirit, bonded intimately with Him, sharing His own loves and concerns for those still in the race.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Both Sides Now

 When I was younger, I prided myself on everything.

Other people seemed so lazy. They would tell me of the one thing they had planned for that afternoon, and I thought how I could do that in five minutes and thirty other things as well. Other people seemed so stupid. They struggled with things that had such obvious answers to me, as if they didn't even know how to think. They were always complaining of their struggles. I forced myself through things and pushed all the pain away. When I had breakdowns and couldn't cope, other people were uncaring and went on about their business around me in the most callous way. It was clear to me that I was superior in practically every category, and that if people would just listen to me, they would learn a lot.

When I was younger, I was really lonely.

I was filled with anxiety and didn't even realize it. I was afraid at every turn that I would be literally abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me, or that my house would burn down or that I would be killed. I had no reassurance that any other human being had my back in any way that I could rely on tangibly. The good in my world had to come from me, and therefore had to come from the few things I could do well. Working hard to be independent was survival and mandatory. I was always disppointed that I seemed to struggle far harder than I was rewarded for; the crisis was always too small for my effort.

I thought people were hell. God had to teach me that heaven was people. Community. Communion. Outside myself, or rather, people allowed in. All the people, all the way. God's own way.

Jesus Christ gave me His body and blood, soul and divinity. He said, it's for you, and for all. When I came to Him for peace, He told me He's a package deal. "Unless you love the brother you have seen, you cannot love God whom you have not seen." 

"I will take from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh." (Ez, 36:26). 

God's design was never for me to be a prideful machine or to be lonely. Humility enables intimacy to be, thrive and grow. Jesus Christ wants us to learn meekness and humility from Him so that we can actually experience joy and life, beginning here and now. Purification from our sin hurts like hell. But living in our sin hurts like hell. It all depends whether we face going deeper into anesthesia or farther out into freedom. 

I choose the pain of life, freedom, and love.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Disturbing Feast Day

Léon Cogniet (1794-1880), “The Massacre of the Innocents” (photo: Public Domain)

I don't like the feast of the Holy Innocents. That was my main thought as I prayed Morning Prayer at church this morning and chose hymns to play for the morning Mass. In every Jesus movie where the slaughter of the innocents is depicted, I flinch and pull my blanket up a bit to hide. When my children were small I just flat skipped over it. It's a horrible thought and it's even more difficult to figure out how to enter into a liturgical celebration of a horrifying event. Babies saying "yeah! We were killed for Jesus who got away safely!"? What are we doing here, celebrating how great it is to be killed? What will we do next, celebrate child soldiers who join our bloody causes without any ability to comprehend the evils involved?

So I turned these things over in my heart this week. And I found my way clear of that disturbance, to a better and deeper one.

The liturgical calendar can be like the quiet cousin at the Christmas gathering who frequently gets upstaged by the more boisterous guests: feasting, gifting, more feasting, more gifting. But when we learn to celebrate Christmas with the calendar, we are brought right away to martyrdom with St. Stephen, to contemplate loving union with Jesus with St. John, and then to the gory effects of violence and fear in the world with the Holy Innocents. The Incarnation is so incredibly mind-blowing that a lifetime would not exhaust the depths of how God desires to impact us with it. But the liturgical calendar makes it quite clear that union with the incarnate Son of God preps us not only for eternal glory, but also for transformation into His image on earth. And He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is. 53:3). 

One of the deepest causes of grief is sin which causes innocent people to suffer. That could be simplified: Sin causes grief. 

Herod ordered the destruction of life because of his fear, his clutching at power, his arrogance. The thought of sharing the stage with someone, let alone bending his knee to reverence Another, was totally foreign to his soul. Those who carried out his orders were formed in a milieu that accepted force as a higher good rightly served. It's just a few children. 

This is the world Jesus came into, as one of the vulnerable. At this point, the Scripture text makes it clear he is totally dependent on Joseph's ability to receive a directive from God's messenger: Take the Child and His mother and flee. I wonder at the role that Israel's far history of pain and suffering, and  Joseph's, over Mary's pregnancy, prepared his heart at this moment to respond in complete detachment and obedience to just go. Pain and suffering are evils. Pain and suffering, united with the heart of God, become portals for God's glory to shine on earth. That is redemption. This can be pondered, but it is known most purely in the experience of it. Joseph in this moment obeyed God and this obedience preserved salvation for the whole universe.  

I take away two things from this. Union with Christ is a call to His vulnerability. We lay bare our hearts which are wounded and woundable to each other, to God, to our own gaze. I've been the worst at beating and castigating my own self for simply being, believing it to be a great fault. I have walked the path of learning to trust God and wearing Him down at every step, begging for certainty and protection instead of going by faith. I've done the chip on my shoulder, angrily raising walls against others, preemptorily blocking them out of my heart for fear of the harm they might bring. I've done stupid dependence on people who proved I could not ultimately depend on them as my gods. But God's vulnerability draws us into eternal peace. "Nothing will hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain" (Is 11:9). It's true.

Second thing: I must open my heart to the Lord, looking in His light for how I am like Herod. How do my attachments cause me to trample others underfoot? How do I exercise oppression to get what I want? How am I totally cut off from the hearts of others in their joys and sufferings? And how can I experience the same transformation Joseph did, that deep attachment to and freedom for the Lord? 

Jesus enters straight into the suffering of the innocent, and union with Him brings us there as well. May we repent of everything in us which is poised to cooperate with Herod. May we entrust ourselves like Joseph, in our own vulnerability, in the interdependence which is ours. May we walk by faith in God who does not exempt us from dark nights, but who is trustworthy.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Teaching the Our Father, Part One

 I teach New Testament Bible stories to 1st through 4th grade students at our local Sonshine Bible Club. This is my 7th year teaching, minus a chunk of 2020. I know I have learned more than anyone as I've taught.

Each year I try to take some theme or plan, and almost always I bite off more than I can chew. This year, at least to begin with, I have decided to teach the Lord's Prayer. Now, it pays to note that we rotate groups of kids through various teaching stations, so I have either three or four groups of kids (depending on the day; I teach twice a week for groups from different schools) for only 12-15 minutes at a time. Part of that time is for settling in. Occasionally that takes much more time than it should. So, I'm usually left with more like ten solid minutes to teach from the Bible. 

The kids that I teach typically either do not go to church at all, or are rather unlikely to have any Christian formation coming from their families. Many come from family circumstances that hold a lot of pain and brokenness. When I started talking about the Lord's Prayer, only one or two children in each class knew what this was. A few were able to recite what amounted to a gibberish version of it.

So here's how I've proceeded thus far. I started with talking about God the Father and God the Son. This is one of the things that gets the kids confused a lot; they don't quite get the God and Jesus thing. "Jesus is God" is just a statement of confusion to them, because "God, Jesus, Holy Spirit" is vocabulary they are still figuring out. I use the sign of the cross to "draw" God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. 

It dawned on me how smart the old basic catechism teachers were. There were people who went before me who taught clueless children and realized where people need to start. 

I have a musical setting for the Our Father which is not the traditional Catholic tune. I like it because a friend wrote it and no one knows it and it makes me feel special and like I'm spreading a level playing field for all the kids to use a tune no one knows. So I sang the song for them. Now I've started teaching it by phrases.

Then we talked about Our Father, who art in heaven. Right off, I have to explain KJV English, and some kids are absolutely incredulous that words have been preserved from 400 years ago, like "art" meaning "is." Had to explain that one, of course. 

I did not explicitly mention it, but I couldn't help but think of my own experience of coloring my understanding of God with my own experience of my natural father. I decided it is a better thing for these kids, instead of telling them, "Now, your Dad may be absent, or hit you or your Mom, or be in prison or on drugs, but God is not like that," that I would say "Our Father in heaven is all good, all wise, we are precious to Him, He loves you and wants to be with you." 

One week, after having covered this opening phrase, I heard this little boy, above the hubbub of the class settling, shouting out, "God is my father!" God is my father!" It didn't dawn on me at the time, but I think this could fill the holes in some little hearts who have lost their fathers in one way or the other.

I talked about the "who art in heaven" part by saying that heaven is a place where God rules, and asking the kids -- where does God want to rule? I may have helped by making a heart shape, but someone eventually responded, "In our hearts!" I explained that, yes, God wants to be the one who rules our hearts. I'm realizing now they probably understand a more slang version of rule than I intended. I accidentally said "reign" once, and they immediately got confused by that. I tell you, teaching kids makes you watch your every word.

Then I told the story of the Woman at the Well. I had a hunch it would serve as an illustration, and I have to say I learned as I was telling it how it does. The kids resonate with the hatred between Samaritans and Jews. They get it that there are groups who hate each other. Jesus talked to her, treating her with dignity, not like an enemy. He started talking to her like He was God, offering her eternal life. Then, he called out her secrets, how she had five husband and now was with a different man. (The kids get this, too.) They see that he doesn't shame her, but says that the Father in heaven in looking for those who will worship him in spirit and truth, from their hearts. Doesn't matter if she was from the hated group, God is her Father, too, and He came to tell her He was the Messiah, come for her, to bring her back to God, just like He came to do that for everyone.

This is how I learn while teaching. It blows my mind sometimes. Every time I teach that story, it really sticks with the kids. One year, they were retelling it to me months later.

So next, I taught "Hallowed be Thy name." Just the English here was a bugger. What in the world does it even mean? Holy be your name? Ok, no help -- now what does THAT mean? Fortunately, I have the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But honestly, after reading and understanding what the CCC says on this, I still was challenged to boil it down for kids. I tried explaining "holy" and God's name as who he is, etc., and saw I was making no progress. In my first group I went impromptu, and said "let me tell you a story," and saw delight sweep across the face of one boy in the front row. I told the story of Adam and Eve and their sin. I explained how God had made everything good and beautiful and peaceful, and then asked them if that's what they see when they look around them. No. I ask if people do things they shouldn't sometimes, and if everyone doesn't at some time do things they should not do. They know that's a yes. I explain that that state of things being not like God made them, the Bible calls the problem of sin. And that God had a plan to fix the sin problem by sending Jesus to come right down into the middle of our mess to be with us, and to pay the price to take away our sin and open heaven again, so that we could follow him there, and start living new lives here on earth.

So I take another stab at saying "hallowed be thy name" meaning that I want to agree with God about what is true and good and beautiful. I don't want to be like Adam and Eve who listened to lies and doubt and mistrust God. 

I really need to come back this week and firm that up. There's a lot about praising God, extolling who He is, acknowledging who he is in this petition. And I realize that even though I have known that in my head, this really hasn't been my experience of praying this. I am finding I need to stop and include this kind of praise in my prayer time where I just focus on declaring who God is. I mean, I'm an old time charismatic! It pre-dates me being Catholic! But I have kind of dropped this piece about agreeing, lining up with, getting my thoughts subordinated to, setting my mind on, God's name, God's reality, God's person. 

What I planned to teach as a Bible story this week to illustrate this actually just the accounts of Jesus going off at night to pray. As a human being, He communed with His Father. He subordinated all of his activities to His Father's will. He chose according to what the Father showed Him. He emptied Himself and lived as one who is taught. All of that is totally astounding. To do the will of the Father was Jesus' food. He calls us to the same kind of holy life. Totally astounding.

As I tell the kids, the great thing about the Bible is that you can hear simple things when you are 8, and for the next 70 years you can think about them and you will constantly learn something new, because God's word is alive. I realize I do not teach the Bible as something I know; I proclaim it as something God says.

And that's as far as I've gotten. My goal is to write each weekend as prep for my next week's classes. And maybe to report on how they went. We'll see.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Blue Water Laundry Sheet Discount Code


So, I just bought this laundry detergent sheet for the first time. I didn't use a coupon code, even though I saw the box for it -- just didn't bother to do a Google search for one. But, if you did bother to do a Google search, you can use this one. It will give you 20% off your purchase. 


Tuesday, August 09, 2022

A Gift of Grace

Six years ago today, something profound happened. In fact, it was so profound that six years later I know I'm only beginning to take it in and live by its truth. 

At the time, I wrote about it here, surrounding the main event in lots of context. By the sheer grace of God, I had the rare presence of mind to take a short video while this striking thing was happening. You won't see what happened, because it was interior, (you won't see much of anything due to camera and videographer quality) but you will hear something lovely:

This was captured on my last full day in Poland, after a month-long pilgrimage during World Youth Day in the Year of Mercy. Personally, it came at the end of a stormy period of several years where God was teaching me my vocation to love and purifying my heart in some really painful and humbling ways. It was during this juncture that I started formation as a Secular Carmelite.

I wrote a lot about the whole trip in a blog called A Pilgrim in Poland, which is pretty good. As I have begun re-reading, I've learned some things. I recommend it. 𝨾 

I think the most profound things are not "new truths," but the grace to believe truth.
Looking back, here are the graces I have received:
I know that God is Love.
I know that God loves me.
I know that His love is immense, powerful, personal, intimate, insistent, edifying, knowledgable, big, deep, wide, unconditionally available to every living being, fiery, awesome, desireable, healing. 
I know that His love is pain-inducing to the degree that we resist being love-shaped, to the degree we grip our fists, try to possess out of fear of loss, try to feed our addictions and our brokenness. 
I know that He is bigger than our wounds, and that we all have wounds. 
I know all human beings are made not only to belong to God, but to belong to each other.
I know we need not only God to be holy, we need each other. God made it that way. He makes us secondary causes of holiness for each other.
I know He has called me to Carmel to learn to be Love in the heart of the Church. To live in God, and God in me, on this earth, immersing everyone into the ocean of God's mercy and love (which is His heart, the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament).

And while there were years leading up to being able to receive this, and while I am still working it out (and it will remain my life's task until I die), I know that on this day, six years ago, there was a significant grace deposit made, where in a prolonged instant, God gave me this.

Here's a secret. One of the songs the quartet played was Blue Moon. It was actually a pinacle moment of personally receiving this. It is why, on the rare occasion when I go to a restaurant and order beer, I order a Blue Moon. It is also one of the many graced musical moments in my life that make me a devoted non-stickler when it comes to the question of what kind of music God can use to minister life.

The only possible fitting thanks I can think of is to give my entire life to Him, trusting the Lord totally to take care of everything. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Pentecost Retreat

So, this last weekend, Pentecost weekend, I was on retreat at Little Portion Hermitage and Monastery in Arkansas, the home of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the community founded by John Michael Talbot. I'm writing now to try to process that experience.

In the past, retreats or conference weekends were the types of experiences where I would arrive with great, vulnerable-feeling anticipation, which would be met with equally explosive emotional catharsis and maybe either spiritual breakthrough, or at least enough of a feeling of a new freedom, that I could come home and say, "This is what happened...."

This time was different. Probably the last several retreats I've been on have been not like I described above, and that might be a factor of both the retreat and a change in me. But this time was not only different from my earlier experiences, but different from recent stuff too.

Speaking of the old days, this was actually my fourth trip to Arkansas. The first two times were to other retreats at their old retreat center. Well, the first one was actually cancelled, but I went anyway and spent time on my own, because I felt such an intense need to go there. It was on St. John of the Cross, actually (hah!) and was called The Lover and the Beloved. When I arrived, there was a young priest or seminarian who gave me his copy of the book that he had brought to the non-retreat. So, I read the book there. Now, I was not Catholic yet, but I believe I was at that point decided that I would become one. I remember the point in reading the book where I was brought back to my college library and reading the Carmelite mystics, and saying to the Lord, "If there's anyone left on the face of the earth who knows you like this, those are the people I want to be with."

The second retreat was with John and Paula Sanford, on inner healing, and my third trip was to the location I was at for this retreat, while I discerned joining the community. That last time was October of 1993, and I did not recognize anything this time, between it being so long ago, and their buildings burning down in 2008.

So, this retreat was called "Exploring the Gifts of the Holy Spirit." The information presented was not what I'd call new to me. It was a very small group; under 20 retreatants. In theory, the bulk of Saturday was in silence, but in reality not much of that happened. Yeah, that's ok. Being in their gardens and just drinking in the views -- not something I'm necesarily known for -- was very restful. I embraced my inner Franciscan. Right upon entering the dining room (after my GPS sent me on a wild goose chase, and my cortisol levels were boosted), I met another woman from Ohio, and that was pretty much the only social interaction step I needed for the weekend. We sat by each other in all the session and meals and chatted a bit. In such a small group, we were able to get to know each other a bit just from the interactions. 

But what impacted me the most? I think for one it was meeting the anxiety level in me, the froth, the kind of addictive behavior that emerged in a land without data access (honestly, after that was hard, it was quickly very nice). I realized I had been trying to fill myself with work, with social media "connections." But seeing it, I was able to be dissatisfied, turn from it, and seek God. Peacefully.

The other thing that impacted me was just looking into John Michael's face, figuratively speaking. I found in him an authentic and dedicated seeker after God. I found in him the imprint of long obedience, of conformity to Christ, a witness to living in faith, a witness to what happens when one seeks truth and surrenders to love. He was careful with his words, but I got to hear not the part where he is still working at saying the right thing, but the evidence that the Lord has taught him through long experience. He was the most welcoming and open-hearted to non-Catholic Christians of any Catholic, I believe, that I've met. He also spoke truth about the identity of the Catholic Church more firmly than any Catholic I've met. He simply lives in Christ, in Scripture, in the Church. He does not live in politics, in factions, in trends. I know he has said that among Catholics, he is considered too progressive for the conservatives to stomach, and too conservative for the progressives to stomach. I think it reveals how we all want to make gods after our own likeness.

But it really isn't so much about him. It is really about what Christ does in a soul surrendered to Him. 

One point of discussion that impacted me was that of speaking in tongues. I received tongues when I was 19, when I was still Lutheran. I came to associate tongues and charismatic gifts with the non-denominational fellowship I joined and spent five years in. Then part of me felt some disassociation with all of that when I became a Catholic, and part of me never had a good theological grasp of what was happenning with this gift. So to a large extent, I ceased to use it. 

John Michael's comments on this gift, in part, emphasized how it involves our spirits praying and bypassing our rational minds. Our spirits can use this gift to praise God when our minds "can't even." And then he talked about how when we pray in faith, we actually speak into existence those things that we are agreeing with God about. I know that I have found this to happen, that when I am praying in tongues, my spirit then knows what to pray for with my mind. As he put it, the veil between heaven and earth is made very thin when we use this gift. 

Now, if you look at how many words I feel the need to churn out just to finally write about an impact, you see that my rational mind has a lot to say. And I realize I tend to get very elaborate thought trains which sometimes take me off in directions and tangle me. Bypassing my rational mind and seeking instead to agree with the mind of God and speak forth his praise by faith is a prescription I need right now.

I have arrived home with a lively sense of God's presence with me. I see clearly how much we need love, hope. I see more clearly how we have an enemy that wants to rob us. I see how walking by faith is our way of living in union with God. Where there is faith, love and hope grow, too. 

He made one comment about St. Padre Pio and the "Three Days of Darkness." I've had this flavor of thought before, as well. He believes that this is an accurate prophecy, and that we are currently in the Three Days. The beeswax candles without which we won't see? Pure faith. From there, one can extrapolate what it means about "going outside" and "looking out the windows," and the many other things that are mentioned. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Well, it was Clear When I Started

Yesterday was the Feast of the Visitation, and something in the Scriptures for the Mass struck me significantly. It wasn't that I felt a sudden awareness or a "naru hodo" moment; it was more like I saw clearly something which was a long time in coming to that point. Like when you travel down a long, flat road and when you arrive at the landmark, you realize you've been looking at it already for some time.

The Scriptures were about how to love in practical terms, and the comparison was made to the perfection of how Mary went in haste to serve Elizabeth in her need, even after receiving the amazing news that Mary is now THE Theotokos.

Rom 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

And here's how it hit me: My life formation was impacted in a fragmenting way by alcoholism, divorce, and mental illness. I wanted all the bad feelings from this to go away, and that was primarily the engine driving my understanding of love. If I couldn't fix the unfixable person, I could hate them, I could blame them, I could avoid them, I could shut them out, or I could hide myself from them so I could at least feel I had some freedom. Not only do I not remember the moment when I realized I couldn't fix the unfixable person, I do remember the feeling of more and more people in my life falling into the pit of a category called "unfixable people." I even started gravitating towards "unfixable people" (addicts, social misfits, impossible relationships). 

All of these interactions with unfixables also flooded me with guilt: I couldn't do it. I could make zero impact for the good. In fact, I didn't seem to be able to impact anyone at all.

Now, I do remember grace freeing me, step by step, from hating, from blaming, and from avoiding people who caused me hurt. And let's be honest, that came to be everyone, because that was all I expected from people, and so I dished out distance naturally, and hid behind my walls of hurt and my impenetrable armor. God has indeed freed me significantly.

But here I am. Generally speaking, I don't think of "unfixable" people as people that I must fix. Generally speaking, I have learned to accept people where they are. But, I realize a problem spot, and I think this is what the Holy Spirit is showing me. If I could describe it exactly it wouldn't be a problem spot (which is why the blog exists -- I write so that I understand). 

Part of me hasn't let go of the resentment, of the despair, of the experience of having "unfixable" people in my life. I see that I do not accept the broken human condition as a good. It just isn't. But there is a call to action that is stuck in me, when it comes to accepting individuals but not accepting that their brokenness is ok. I have a fiery love which is frustrated. 

Also, I give up too early when it comes to concrete actions of love sometimes because I have conceded that my love is impotent. I have at times mildly to grossly miscalculated the impact I can have on another. Generally, all I know for sure is how I respond emotionally to my own actions. I fail at times to even begin to realize how I impact another -- because of years and years of pouring myself out but never seeing it do anything.

So... now that I write this, what seemed clear and too obvious to me to even put into words has turned out to be much more nebulous than I thought. The sincerity of my love is measured in not feeling like I'm going to get something out of what I do for others. I'm not going to generate my own safety by any kind of juju I produce which is going to reunite my parents or stop their drinking or bring my family into peace. I'm never going to change another person by trying to change them. I am not going to ride on anyone's codependency merry-go-round, even if they hate me for it. Trying to feed myself on someone else is evil, and I hate that (Rom. 12:9). Let my love be free, from a desire to do good for another, not to try to win peace, respect, favor for myself or beat back feelings of guilt or whatever. But let my love be God loving through me, and may the frustration be broken open.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

And I Will Give You Rest

 Come to me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest, says the Lord.

 I feel like, ever since Easter hit, I have been mostly "busy" and harried, with a few breaks. I know that I'm able to plow through a lot of work while at peace and stable interiorly, and I also know that I'm able to be thoroughly non-productive while spinning interiorly. Maybe this has been trying to plow through a lot while also not being at rest, interiorly.

These experiences teach me the need for physical rest; not inactivity, but the right kind of activity that basically pays attention to and honors my physical needs. Stretching makes my back not hurt. Stuff like that. I also need mental rest -- letting go of the list of things to do. I need relational rest, where I really understand the needs expressed (not always directly) by others, and how I play a part in how God will address those needs. It is easier and more natural for me to wear myself out mentally, emotionally and physically to meet the needs around me than it is for me to take the need to the Lord, ask how to respond, especially if what I need to do is to leave it, or direct the person to get that need met some other way. You know, if I have a need, for the most part I will do everything within the limits of my power to meet that need myself. But asking someone else to do the same -- do everything within their power to meet their own need -- somehow that seems treasonous. I seem to have this expectation, which is totally unrealistic -- that everyone is straining at 99.9% of their capacity to deal with their own need. Maybe other people are just really good at spotting someone (namely, me) who is willing to step in and help out. 

So, I come back to "come to me all you who labor and are weary." Jesus didn't condemn labor. But he does tell us that we need to come back to him. I see this as a call to contemplation. Resting in God. 

Lately when I come to prayer, I find inside me a lot of antsiness. Like interiorly I can't sit still. Gotta think about what to do next. If I'm doing this in prayer, I'm pretty sure what comes next is burn out. Prayer is the place of soaking. Soaking in God's presence, love. Resting in his embrace. Often, I need to empty myself out to get to that place of peace; and therefore I write. I need to get the things said so that the words aren't banging around in my head and heart anymore. 

What to do about all the needs people either bring to me directly, or that I can see without anyone saying anything? How did Jesus deal with this during his ministry? People came to him from all sides, sometimes lining up for days, and sometimes without food. This is exactly how the feeding of the 5000 took place -- so much need, so little resource. And Jesus asks Andrew, "So, what are we going to do about this?" I feel like I'm in an Andrew momet right now. "He asked him this to test him." 

Ok, Lord. The need is overwhelming. I've come up with this definition of a human being as a walking, breathing, aching need. And I'm surrounded by them. 

But who are we in Christ? We are a capacity for God. We are the extension of the ministry of Christ in time and space (that's the Church). We are broken vessels, in which the power of God is revealed. We are the scum of the earth, through whom the power of God is made manifest. 

And the difference is soaking in God. Being open to God: "Come to me, and I will give you rest." 

Also, this post is helpful.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Christian Identity; Christian Prayer

 Here's what I'm hearing. Christian prayer is immersion into Christian identity. Christian identity is a spiritual reality, and comes from being engrafted into Christ in baptism and grows by faith, which is nurtured by prayer, that is, by communing with God. The fruit of faith and prayer is action, prompted by the love born in us through the Spirit and the Word. All of this grows out of the seed bed of hope, a position of receiving what God is giving.

Is prayer recitation? Words? This is where we need Teresa's mansions. We need to realize that each journey from the baptismal font into glory is individual, and that every plant grows differently, even though everyone needs the same basic dirt, sun, water, air.

The difficulty comes when there is a disconnect, either between a practice of prayer and Christian identity (when prayer becomes my own effort only, and that effort starts blocking off, choking out, working against, the flowing of the Holy Spirit and the intention of Jesus). Or when there is a wilting on the vine, and Christian identity itself is foreign, and we lose sight of who we are, and any attempts at Christian prayer are external words, and we struggle to find a connection to reality with them. The first disconnect can find us chugging along for quite some time, but without joy and peace -- basically with no fruit of the Holy Spirit. The second disconnect moves us away from the Church either literally, like we leave the Church, or it becomes or remains a cultural, human experience.

All of my Christian life, since childhood, I have felt myself called to Christians with these disconnects, especially to the latter.

I also suspect both disconnects can be operative at the same time.

What I am hearing now is that for me, prayer is my tether to my identity. My identity is not a product of my prayer. I don't make it. I don't fret over it. I don't try to discover it. I receive it. My life is hidden with Christ in God, and as I pray, I am receiving His life -- my life. Communing with God is an infilling. An infilling of His love. It isn't so much that I become enraptured or have any particular emotional experience as much as I am receiving what God is giving. Life. I don't actually comprehend the transaction nor what I receive, but I am aware of receiving. I mean, sometimes I am. Right now I am. I am also called to act, to care, to love, to intercede out of that -- regardless of what I feel, I know that I can immerse others in it, by my will of bringing them before the Lord and sharing what I am receiving with them in the spiritual exchange of "praying for them." I also, from this receiving, move into my active life, after I am done praying (Luke 11:1), and this life shows how deeply or shallowly my receiving soaks, and gives me opportunities to interact with the world around me, now shaped to the degree I have been by Love. And then later I go back to prayer and the cycle of growing and receiving and being washed of faults and seeing my nothingness and God's everythingness starts again. But, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." This is what it means to be a Christian; to bear the presence of Christ in this way into the world. 

I have been baptized into Christ. I pray. This is how Christ comes into the world, now: through us who are formed into living stones, the Church.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Who Am I, Anyway

 I love the song "The Secret of Time" by Charlie Peacock. There's a line in there that speaks to me today: "The moment I found out who You were, I found out who I was..." 

If I see the truth of who God is, with clarity, I will see who I am, with clarity. 

As I see who I am, with clarity, I can see, with clarity, how I should act and what I should do.

This is the way that the pursuit of knowing God gives me practical discernment. 

This is, I image, why Holy Mother Teresa says that self knowledge is so very important, as well as humility. "We will never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God" says she in Interior Castle. It makes sense that in opening ourselves to the one who made us, we come to see ourselves as we truly are. Not that we won't gag at much of what we see. But, to poorly paraphrase Fr. Iain's explanation in one of his talks on St. Teresa, God sees us in Christ in our full potential reached, as we are in Him in heaven, while we experience ourselves journeying towards this. God knows us as we really are. What we really are, we who have the power of Christ residing in us by entering Him in baptism, is fully alive in Christ. It remains for me to become who I am. 

So it remains for me, as long as I am alive, to seek truth, to long for truth, to love Truth and abide with Him. 

This stands in direct opposition to all the thoughts of the post I wrote four or five back -- all the competing voices who were willing to tell me with certainty what God will is for me. 

It always needs to be God Himself that I seek. I think if one puts too much on seeking the will of God, what one is really looking for is shelter for ones insecurity. It is fine and good to admit ones insecurity. But what we need more than knowledge of a particular thing to do is to know to whom we belong. We find security in belonging, but to whom do I belong? 

The Christian Church is primarily a place of belonging -- to Christ first, but also to each other and to the world, the needy, the suffering. 

I've been praying for years that God would teach us how to belong to one another. Yet, we don't know, until we learn what it is to belong to God. 

Part of belonging is knowing that I matter. What I do matters. What I do has an effect, for good or for bad. I can bless, and I can hurt. Part of belonging is to be willing to go without anesthesia -- the various things that block our pain. Part of belonging is knowing what to do with the pain we feel because of being together. 

I cannot know who I am without knowing God, and I cannot completely know who I am apart from community. This explains both why people are hungry for Christian community and why others want to avoid it. 

In part, I think God has made me a trumpet. A clarion. Here's the sounding: it's time to move together, it's time to respond. It's time to pay attention to what is happening in you, and around you. It's time to get ready to see people who are moving towards you, and to see the people to move towards. Time to get into position. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Butterfly Release

Today is Good Friday. I'm not quite clear whether technically the Triduum is Lent, or if it is uber-Lent, but regardless, I am pausing to reflect on what I sense the Lord has been pointing to for me this Lent.

  • For probably the first time (hah, we are constantly only beginning) I feel that I have entered into fasting with some intensity, and without a worried layer of doubt that what God really wants is to watch my misery. As I wrote about early on, that has been hard for me to shake. And I cannot say how fasting works, but I find a resulting clarity and freedom that is striking in its power. When I fast, I feel anything but clear-minded and powerful. But subsequently I find myself with a level of freedom from old tethers that I did not anticipate, and clear resolution to questions on courses of action that had left me frustrated when I tried to just noodle them out.
  • Writing really is a form of prayer for me. I had lost motivation to do much of it here. But it helps me dig to the bottom of my heart, and access to that place is the best place from which to speak to God and make available to Him to receive from Him. But I can kill that process by thinking too much or writing as for publication (even though on a blog, technically, I am writing for publication).
Here's a big gong that went off for me yesterday. I happened to read a Facebook ad for a vagus nerve therapy. It started out (and I paraphrase): "An inability to speak is one of the most common yet unknown symptoms of unresolved trauma." BAM.

Very BAM.

My life started to flash before my eyes. First scene: the first time I was "slain in the Spirit," before I knew what that meant.  I had gone forward, asking for prayer, I was overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, fell backwards onto the floor of the church, and lay there, continuing to be overwhelmed by the presence of the holy. What I became aware of was that my mouth felt like it was electrified, like the angel had taken the hot coal (ala Isaiah) and touched my lips. This lasted for several minutes, and I was left with a permanent knowing that God wants my mouth.

I thought of how, in my early 20s, I tried in a few occasions to tell people about painful things in my life, but all I could do was cry. 

I thought of how I used to panic for days whenever I had to make a phone call.

I thought of the hundreds of times I have keep silence instead of speaking forth what I wanted, needed, or thought. Probably thousands of times. 

I thought of how I found a refuge in narrow denominational or intellectual arguments, because they were words I felt sure of (because they weren't my own).

I thought of how I learned, starting at age 10 writing to my friend Gail, how to safely express myself in writing when I couldn't say things. Of how letters opened up a vein of exposure, healing, and then crisis.

An inability to speak is one of the most common yet unknown symptoms of unresolved trauma.

I believed as a child that the best thing I could do to bring peace to my divorcing parents and family trauma was to "shut up and go away." I got that wrong. And I clung so tightly to that wrong solution. 

When I was laying on the floor of that church, sensing that God wanted my mouth, I realize that I internalized a bit of a belief that God was displeased with my lack of courage to speak up. I thought he had expectations of me that I was not meeting. Sometimes I would feel urged, in a panic, to speak up about something, I wrestled with condemning thoughts that I lacked courage, or that I should not worry that something I was considering saying seemed wreckless or ill-advised; I had to choose courage or I would be failing God. Insidiously subtle temptations.

What I realize now is that when I went up for prayer that evening at church, God saw my trauma and wanted to initiate freeing me from it. The very first time I gave God an opening, He rushed in. He is able to bestow time-release graces that may take an entire lifetime to be absorbed. Blessed be God forever.

A long, long time ago I wrote a reflection after watching a butterfly that was trapped in a car repair shop. It was fluttering up and down the window, "seeing" the outside, but not able to access it through that window. A hand reaching in to bring it to freedom made it panic all the more, because hands like that are able to crush and destroy. I watched that poor butterfly sit on the wrong side of that window, seeing freedom but being unable to participate. I knew that butterfly was me.

Now I realize that God has slowly, slowly, worked with me to restore my voice to me, to give me the ability to speak, both literally and metaphorically. His wanting my mouth is not about "measuring up." It is about him redeeming me, reclaiming me, and setting me to live in his presence, as He wants for every single one of us. It is about His love. Lent is about His love. Purification is about His love. Jesus' death is about His love. His love frees, His love empowers, His love sets ablaze. 

The graces He gives us are personal, and they are intended for making us fully alive in Him, transforming us into a union with Him that is both unique to each created individual, and universal in availability. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit; And Community

The Lord has been faithful to pour out His graces to me this Lent; and I hope to be more faithful than I have been to be attentive and responsive to what He gives. 

Today's thought: if the enemy of our souls cannot pick apart our faith, he will try to pick apart our fruitfulness. One way he can do this is by muting our spiritual gifts, burning us out, heaping up the opposition, blocking the edification; causing us to doubt them, "sacrifice them" in trying to "practice detachment" from exercising them and thinking we are doing a good, unselfish thing. If we do not employ the means God has given us to build up others, we ourselves will be less purified, and there will be less praise and glory rising up from those who are meant to see what God has given us, and rejoice in the help it gives them. 

When we come to serve the Lord, we can expect refining, says Sirach chapter 2. Serving the Lord implies putting the gifts he has given us to work. I love the phrasing of St. Thomas Aquinas: Gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit, or "Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it." There are such things as natural gifts, certain talents or potencies we are born with. These we are called to live fully, and they are to be integrated into our relationship with Jesus. As we give Him our hearts, we are giving Him everything about us; everything we have, everything we are. This includes all of our abilities (and our disabilities!). Everything finds its place in Jesus' heart. 

Not everything easily finds its place in this world, though, and so we face this process of refining. We entrust ourselves to Jesus, and we live in this world. This fallen world is bound to hurt us. We are bound, at some point, to not fit, to be told we in our very essence are wrong, bad, untalented, lacking, worthless. If we aren't very careful, we will internalize these voices (and we will have demonic help with this). If we aren't careful again, we will spend our lives fighting representatives of all the warring voices, spending ourselves in self-protection, self-justification, or self-rejection. Or all of the above.

Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it. To live as human beings in grace in a fallen world, we must first believe in the love God has for us. We must acknowledge the worth He says we have. We must embrace the identity He says is ours as children engrafted into Him by the new covenant. We must stop fighting the warring voices and listen to the One who shows us who we are. We must live in truth. We must internalize truth. 

When we then turn our hearts over to Him daily, asking for His grace, we are not asking for the destruction of our nature. We must stop cooperating with every aspect of the agenda of the enemy here. We must instead seek his purification. We find this purification as we live out the gifts he has given. We allow ourselves to be seen as we truly are. We bring our vulnerable hearts out of their coffin storage. If we have pushed them down too hard and too far, they'll come springing out like tennis balls under water. It might be embarrasing to us and mess with those who try to manage everything efficiently. Conflict might very well erupt with those who don't know how to deal with our nature and try to force us back into our coffins, thinking that coffin is where holiness is to be formed. We might misunderstand the correction we are given, thinking we are being forced back into our coffins, when in fact we simply lack a category in our understanding for what lived virtue actually looks like. 

This right here is the life of Christian fraternal community. Grace perfects nature. I'm not likely to have all the wisdom to perfect you. I'm certainly not likely to have all the wisdom to perfect me. You are not likely to have all the wisdom to perfect me (and this hearkens back to the post I wrote last week, about all the voices telling me what is the will of God, and me gloming on to each individual one as authoritative). What it takes is community.

So many times, what has powerfully spoken to me was not words spoken to me at all, but something I observed pass between two other people. For example (and it almost makes me shudder, now), I recall overhearing a choir member telling our director that he wouldn't be at rehearsal the next week or two. In response: "Ok." Today, this seems like such a normal exchange. But at the time I was just coming out of a relationship that was so cloyingly weird, where an announcement of someone being away would have been met with effusions of how the person would be missed and was so valuable and on and on until you just about wanted to puke... that that "ok" spoke to me as the voice of respectful freedom, instead of the emotional manipulation that I felt compelled to sell my soul to. Yuck.

So what do you do when you need to stand up and say "yuck"? Well, you are going to need fortitude. You are going to need strong internalized truth, and a knowledge of your identity in Christ. You are going to need to exercise the role of the prophet, perhaps, to speak out, or you are going to need to exercise discernment to realize it is time to move out of an unhealthy group, to help it fall apart and disintegrate.

All Christians need a healthy community where we become who we are, where we exercise and grow in our gifts, where we are supported by one another, where we are lifted out of lonliness and learn to belong to one another. Without it, we get desperate and we do desperate things. Without it, the church suffers. Without it, the lost stay lost, and more and more of the baptized drift away and become lost. God gives each of us gifts for the upbuilding of the others. We have to get to the point where we are with others and allowing this upbuilding to happen, open-heartedly allowing grace to perfect our nature.

Friday, April 08, 2022

What is Prayer


As a Secular Carmelite, I have committed myself to a 30 minute slot of mental/silent/interior prayer every day. Let me tell you what this feels like much of the time.

I sit down, and the main thing I am aware of is that I don't even know what it means to pray. I come with purpose, with intentionality, to open my heart, to listen to the Lord in Scripture, to bring all and everyone that is in my heart and present them before the Lord, all this yearning love, but mostly I feel like I don't even know what prayer is. 

I said that once at an OCDS community meeting, and one of the women just reflexively blurted out, "Oh, of course you do." I mean, I just described it above. So yes, I do know what it is. But it feels bewildering. Sometimes it feels like a force field that I'm pressing into. Sometimes the image that comes to mind is someone who hates winter, but is heading out into a wintery night to go to the outhouse, because the interior pressure cannot be withstood.

Sometimes I think prayer should feel like sunshine and roses and the delight of a conversation between lovers. I think even when prayer is consoling, it is never quite that. And I think that speaks to my questionable experience of sunshine, roses, and lovers more than to the reality of prayer.

When it is sweetest the time flies, and I am most aware of Emmanuel: God with... me. At times like that, I find myself suggesting that He deflect his love: Lord, what about xyz and this other person. Surely what I need to be doing is reminding you about them and "praying for them." While the reality that is going on is that God's immense love in seeking out me. 

Always start prayer at your place of felt need. That's where God is going. 

It took me a few years as a Carmelite to lose this idea that long lists of the intentions of others were all there was to prayer. What God wants is to transform me into a saint. To do that, I have to open all the secret hatches, at least the ones I have keys to. And point to the others where I've lost the keys and ask Jesus to access them through other means. In prayer, I soak in God, so that when I leave prayer and interact, I am not wearing myself out over the weight of the world with my own limited energies, but instead I learn to love and give from what I've soaked in. 

I think I have a long habit of feeling that I am poor when in fact I am rich. For the longest time, I truly believed that I was the single most messed up person who existed. The self-centered egotism of youth, no doubt. The voice of an isolated person who didn't realize that everyone has problems. 

Someone said to me yesterday that she has begun having a little interior jubilation when she sees another Catholic out in public, because it reminds her how she isn't alone and that others are walking the same path and fighting the same fight that she is. That was a lovely statement, really. We need to acknowledge the gift we have from God, that we share, that belong to each one, and to one another. 

So, where is this going. Maybe instead of going in to prayer and being overwhelmed with what I feel I don't know, I can go, knowing that I belong, and that my prayer belongs, and my time belongs, not just to me, but to the Church. And I a praying with her for all people. 

That consecration on March 25 -- what a wonderful feeling it was to be in a large crowd of people all praying, and I was one voice among many. It is a great feeling to be one voice, lifted to God, among many. And even when I pray alone, I know that's what I am -- one voice among many. It's just that I can't see or hear the others. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Union of Wills: A Lenten Breakthrough

This morning's gospel and the homily I heard on it helped turn on some lights for me to see and name a problem I have danced with for most of my life. The passage at issue was Jesus saying, "I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me" (John 8:28). 

The homily's emphasis was on how Jesus models for us -- even though He is the incarnate Son of God -- submission to and union with the Father's will, as opposed to Him just doing what was right in his own eyes, the way humans tend to do (Judges 21:25). 

The lights that turned on showed me this: For decades, when I have heard exhortations to do "not your own will, but God's," or even when I have exhorted myself, there was a piece missing, and a wrong piece present. I generally heard it this way.

Random Person: You should not choose your way; you should choose God's will. 

Me: Ok, that's right.

Random Person: And now I'm going to tell you what God's will is.

Me: Ok, I'm sure you're right

The direction that followed was a flood of all sorts of things: Unmarried women should live at home under their parents' authority until they are married. You should never complain about any injustice done to yourself. Your husband is always going to be right, and even if he isn't, it is your Christian responsibility to be on his side. Woman, you shouldn't pursue serving in the church or community. If you become Catholic you are worthy of rejection. Pleasure is wrong. The teachings of the Church need to be re-written by people who use their imagination in prayer. You need to be on hand whenever I need you to feel better about myself. You must never step out with initiative. All you really need to do is keep going to church on Sunday, and don't become an atheist. It doesn't matter. Here's my dress code and rules of conduct that shows that you really love God. Here are the rules to being a good person.

And on. And on. And on. 

Whether these were significant relationships with lots of strings attached or teaching purported to be infallible truth, I have unwittingly collected a swarming brood of voices telling me what God's will is. 

The missing piece absent was the agency of my own will to choose a course of action and to have my own relationship with God in prayer. That wrong piece present made it clear I was to be directed by someone who was going to inform me. Lo and behold, whatever I was given to drink tasted an awful lot like the vessel and not the Water of Life.

But what Jesus was talking about was union with the Father. What St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross point me to is union with the Father. What my Carmelite practice trains me toward is union with the Father. What God Himself has been calling me to, woven in between all of these distorted messages that I then believed I needed and sought out, was a partnership of union of wills with Him. 

So along my path towards union with God, I have needed to learn how to identify and exercise myself in what I actually want. And I mean, on the level of acknowledging my needs on every level -- food and water, for example! It means giving up the violence I've done to myself by handing over my will to others. It means feeling, as an adult, the very real pain of wanting formation and direction as a young child, but having the Gen-X experience of raising myself. 

It now makes sense to me that for years and years, when I have prayed, what God impressed upon me was "to serve me, simply be yourself." When I first heard this, frankly it terrified me because I had no idea how to do it. I didn't know that I had a self, with whom God wished to engage, by which I would excerise self-mastery. To be fully a human being is to bring our wills into union with His, not to crush and destroy our own identity and call that service to God.

This is big. I linked to just a few of the blog posts above where I see I have been grappling with this for decades. Thanks be to God.