Saturday, February 17, 2024

Joy Comes in the Morning

This morning as I enter into prayer, I find a strange gratitude welling up inside of me. Gratitude in general is unusual enough for me. But I review scenes of my past and find them a wellspring of gratitude that I wasn't expecting.

Let me be clear. I'm not grateful that these things happened. Bad things happen to everyone, and God is not some ogre who gets his jollies from this. 

When bad things happen, I at least (and I'm guessing this is rather true of everyone) become an expert wall builder. I don't want to feel the bad thing, so I wall it off. I snip the nerves that connect me to the experience. When you lay on your arm or leg and it goes numb, it feels heavy and useless, but it doesn't really hurt. It is after you free it that it starts to hurt. So a common and maybe subconscious reaction to emotional pain is to numb it, one way or the other. I have always done this with my mind. Some people do this with addictions. It's all the same mechanism, I think.

So part of the wonder is that all of this is now out of anesthesia. What was master is becoming servant.

I can trace through a whole list:
My father's mental illness and alcoholism, apparently in full swing already when I was born. His absence, in turn with my parents' fighting. My parents' divorce and my mother's stress and an utterly tumultuous relationship with my dad (for all of us). Feeling like a piece of furniture in a house rather than a member of a family. Gut-wrenching desperation and fear over chronic singleness, concurrent with toxic and sometimes abusive relationships with men who proverbially had red flags tattooed all over their faces. Anger and desperation over infertility. Spiritual confusion all along the way over what God's love actually is and layers upon layers of deception that I embraced. And the terror of trusting through actually being healed.

I am not grateful that a single bit of that happened. Except that last word, of course.

I am grateful to realize that God, by His Spirit, was closer to me than I to myself, through all of that. He never abandoned me. He never gave up on me. He never lost patience with me. 

Why didn't He stop it all? In answer to that, I'll invite you to watch Season 4 of The Chosen. In this world, things are unleashed. It's the way things are. Jesus did not come to stop the bad things; He came to go through them with us. He gave me the dose of grace I could handle, and infinitely more than I deserved as I consistently rejected and resisted His efforts to draw me closer sooner.

The end, the telos, of humankind is not a happy life on earth. We are made for something much more profound than that. We are made for union with God, forever in eternity, and with eternity starting now and entered into now. And as I see my past and see Jesus with me (which I absolutely, totally and completely, could never see in real time) I see the capacity I have within me now to receive the life of God into me. If I'm a thimble, God will fill me and I'll be a full thimble. If I'm a bowl, God will fill me and I'll be a full bowl. Swimming pool, crater, canyon. We don't have to make hollowing ourselves out a project; life does that. God will always, always, pour out Himself more abundantly than we can hold, because His love is always beyond our power to hold. Our work is to receive from Him and believe what He says.

And I know that whatever may come, this is the reality. I don't like pain and suffering. But I also don't have to fear it or dread it. Because God is faithful. 

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Fr. John, Belonging, and Conversion

My first spiritual director, back in the early 90s in Milwaukee, was a Jesuit priest who I was very personally fond of. His was the first daily Mass I frequented, at 5:30 every afternoon after work, in the basement chapel of Gesu Church. His homilies were intelligent and helpful, and I delighted at what I suppose might have been a stereotypically "Jesuit" way of phrasing certain things, for example in his prayer intentions, so they could have a meaning to cover every angle. I wasn't fond on how he would never call God "he," though. I'll never forget the line of the Psalm which became "God Godself is in the midst of God's people." Come to think of it, I did go through a time when it drove me up a wall, and I even was ready to walk out of a Sunday Mass for which I saw he was main celebrant. But the Lord pulled me up by the scruff of my neck and I felt rebuked for allowing my prideful judgment of him. It was maybe a year later I asked him to be my spiritual director, which he did for about nine months, before I left for Japan. I missed him so mightily when I left. He was essentially the only Catholic I had any connection to at the time.

I never wanted to ask him his thoughts on theology, however. It was a time and a place where there were some wild ideas going around, and I thought it possible that he might sympathize with things I would not have known how to handle. 

The one thing he did very, very well was that he accepted me, exactly as I was. And I was a newly converted Catholic who was a big mess. I hardly remember what I talked to him about, but I know I talked a lot, and he listened a lot. He also told me some stories of his own vulnerability, like how he was terrified of flying because he had severe closterphobia. I recall one session where he actually suddenly excused himself and bolted out of the room. He had a pathway into his office in such a way that he couldn't see the door from where he sat. He explained this was due to his closterphobia also. 

He died of throat cancer at age 60, just a couple of months after my daughter was born. I felt alone in the world when I found out, even though at that point I hadn't been his parishioner for over a decade. 

So why am I thinking about Father John tonight? 

I'm thinking about the power of belonging. Belonging both to the Church and in the Church. Fr. John was Gesu's RCIA director and welcomed people into the Church from all walks of life. I remember he referred to those who came in with little religious background as having "less deformation" to work with. I was definitely the opposite (though I did not go through his RCIA). 

Are Catholics weak at welcoming people exactly as they are? Loving people where they are? What about people who are already in the pews? Do we have an ever lengthening list of behaviors that people need to conform to before they are acceptable? Do we think God treats us that way? 

Conversion is about transformation. People change people (or try to, or want to) from the outside in. God changes people from the inside out. 

We are good at saying we need constant conversion. Yes. That's why we observe Lent. But to convert, we have to stop trying to make ourselves acceptable like some kind of DIY, and trying to get others to conform to our standards. We need to seek the One who is Love and let Him embrace us as we are. All of it. As we do, He will give us His own life in return.

This video spurred my thoughts the other day: Ever Wonder Especially this line: "To belong is to be seen, to be known, to be understood, and to be accepted.... Belonging is found in God."

Thursday, February 08, 2024

My Body Will Rest in Safety

I've pretty much always had a social circle of people older than I am. One such friend mentioned his uncomfortable awareness that everyone's chatter now gravitates towards aches and pains and doctor visits. It makes sense. Pain makes us vulnerable and we need to know we aren't alone with our fears of losing ourselves. 

When I briefly cared for my Mom while she was dying in hospice, I made a mental note to change my relationship with my body. I had always softly scoffed at the idea of going to the gym and doing exercises. My farmwoman epigenetics sang a distant song, to the tune that the goal was the work hard rather than sectioning off body movement away from normal daily activities. Eventually I had to admit that I was not chopping wood, plowing fields or drawing water from wells on any regular basis, and I was, in fact, a cushy modern. Through trial and error (and a lot of back pain) I figured out which kind of exercises I needed, and I've gradually worked towards actually doing them. 

Lately I've been doing a program called Hips Like Honey which focuses on strength and flexibility. It doesn't do much for cardio stamina, but even though it is rather gentle, it has really done its job. I love the feeling of waking up in the morning and doing that huge reach across to the other side of the bed to turn off my alarm, and lay down again, and not only not throw my back out, but to feel solid. 

So today I had my monthly chiropractic visit. I am still actively learning to stop tensing my body all the time, and the doc was showing me an exercise to help me out with that. The moment gave me something to ponder. Essentially he said that the tension in my sacrum comes from my back muscles trying to do the work that my core muscles are designed to handle. It's like two siblings going around together, and the loud, overbearing one is always doing all the talking, leaving the quiet, reserved one unskilled in initiating and carrying out a conversation. The overbearing one is tired and overused, and the quiet one needs focused, gentle attention. As he showed me the exercise, I realized, I don't do gentle very well. Farmwoman is out there, hoisting bales of hay overhead and throwing them. I need to find my interior delicate crystal goblet, or.... something like that. I guess when I find it I'll know what it is.

Something significant happened last month, and it is still settling in. Speaking of tension, lately I feel my mouth relaxing in just an incredibly unusual way. In my experience, I feel tension only after letting go of it, and my jaw and my teeth are apparently not clenched anymore. The other amazing thing is that as I read Scripture, or pray it, or hear it read, I feel like it is all about joy, peace, and God's incredible goodness. And safety. And rest. 

If there's a way to tie together these rambly thoughts, maybe it is this realization. Somewhere in my soul, a pre-verbal baby Marie has, for more than five decades, beheld a fear: that joy, and peace, and safety, and rest, and love, and important people, all disappear. And that little girl is powerless to stop it. Using all my might, and tensing myself silly isn't going to stop it. Like aging, like dying, it's a point of incredible vulnerability. But into that moment of vulnerability, someone has come. And He is Love. And Love is eternal. And I realized I will never lose Him. And more than that, every day I live in Him, I will never lose, either. Part of how I do that is I share my woes with others, and they share theirs with me, and the Lord is there (Mal. 3:16). We live our lives together, and even though we grow weak and die, this is where we find joy.

And in the meantime, the exercises that remind me that I'm weak -- I'll do those. Maybe I'll even become friends with gentle and vulnerable and make a soft nook for Farmwoman to rest in. 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Human Formation

I've been thinking a lot lately about human formation -- the process of becoming whole, in terms of how one relates to oneself and to other people. 

I thought about this a lot in my 20s also. Before I was Catholic, and for a time afterwards as well, I was a disciple of John and Paula Sandford, who wrote a lot about inner healing, as they called it. John had a phrase that stuck with me, (and I paraphrase, not able now to find the exact quote): One must be fully human before one can be safely spiritual. I believe that phrase covers a lot of the shipwrecking we find in the church today. It also has accounted for a lot of my own spinning of wheels at times when I thought I was making such great spiritual progress.

The fact that Jesus called me to the Catholic Church on Christmas Eve resonated like a gong through my heart for at least 20 solid years (read the story here). Christmas Eve, both theologically and socially, hits on all the points of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ took on human flesh to live a human life with human people, in order to bring us salvation. And He entered my world, my family trauma, my history of feeling barfed up into existence without dignity and purpose, to bring me salvation. Christmas encapsulates all that so well. 

What I already knew theologically in 1991: that Jesus was true God and true man, and died on the cross to take away sin, and that He pours out the Holy Spirit to empower believers -- all took on a dimension I had known how to describe, and had experienced in rudimentary ways. But I had no idea how much more was possible. Jesus set out to bridge theory and reality for me, by introducing me to His Real Presence. You could say His Real Presence was on a search and rescue mission for my real presence. For that, I needed transformation. I needed human formation.

In my early days I had a lot of hatred inside me. I identified as a misanthrope: a hater of mankind. I had no strong bonds to anyone in particular when I hit college age, and I spent three years in deep self-pity and thinking every day about ending my life. I could go on, but suffice it to say life was a mess. 

All this time I was a committed Christian. But I used to hold God in a drawer called Truth. I loved to crawl up into this drawer and nestle up with Truth and feel right. No one could hurt me if ultimately I was right and they were wrong. When I felt lonely or distressed, I crawled into this drawer and comforted myself with these thoughts. Mostly, I felt distressed when I was around other people, whether that was overpowering women with whom I never felt I could connect, or creepy men who I couldn't make go away, or people I wanted to befriend but didn't know how. My conversation skills were limited to academic ideas, and I hated "shallow talk" which was how I saw all interactions with just about everyone.

So I loved my safe Truth drawer. It was a great escape from learning to navigate reality, and to face myself. 

As I said in the beginning, human formation is about relating in a healthy way to oneself and other people, and it is necessary for a healthy spiritual life. God is an expert at meeting us where we are, taking what we present with, and filling that with His grace, ever widening our path beneath us. Always inviting us to more. The more we say yes, the more He will open up in front of us. He has met me in some very weird places. The beautiful thing to me is that He never seemed to be wringing His hands, worrying about me. 

This path of human formation has been long and arduous for me, as I suspect it is for everyone. To me, the worst scenario is not knowing there IS a path forward. The glory of God is man fully alive, said St. Irenaeus. We are fully alive when we allow the Lord to remove all the drawers and become single-hearted, and then turn that one heart totally and completely to Jesus, to love God and neighbor with His own love, and in our own gifting. 

I want to recommend a book on the topic of human formation, and I'll try to write more about it later. Fearless: Abundant Life Through Infinite Love by Margaret Vasquez. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Snipping off the Hock Lock

Something happened this week that I can't describe. But I have a feeling I will look back on this as a deeply significant moment. 

Words escape me, so of course I come to try to write about it (lol). I think words fail me because the grace I met hit in a pre-verbal place in my soul. But I am curious, by way of pursuing integration, to see if I can in fact build a word bridge to help me grasp more of what happened (rather than obscure it with a lot of cerebralizing).

I also stop and ask myself why I write these things about my interior life. Sure, my premise for this blog is that I write to understand. Fine. I don't have to publish it all, though. (Here's a secret -- I write more than I publish.) The Constitutions of the Secular Carmelites say we are "witnesses to the experience of God." Specifically it says this:

...The Secular Carmleites are called to strive to make prayer penetrate their whole existence, in order to walk in the presence of the living God (cf. 1 Kings 18:14), through the constant exercise of faith, hope and love, in such a way that the whole of their life is a prayer, a search for union with God. The goal will be to achieve the integration of experience of God with the experience of life: to be contemplatives in prayer and the fulfillment of their own mission.

So, I don't write about my interior life, bearing witness to the experience of God, because I am a Carmelite. I'm a Carmelite because I bear witness to the experience of God. This is how I know I am in the right place in my life and in the Church. This is how I fit, how I belong. This feels quite validating.

So, what happened this week? I wish I could tell a narrative, but instead I need to do kind of what the blind man in John 9 did. ("All I know is, I was blind, and now I see.") You know that plastic thing that holds a turkey's legs together? (I had to Google it; apparently it is called a hock lock.) I feel like I had one of those taken off me. But instead of locking poultry legs, this thing held something in me to a way I -- or it -- wanted God to be, that He just isn't. A way I unconsciously was tempted to believe God is, and which subsequently kicked up a fight within me. What I could not see was it was the Holy Spirit fighting to get me out of the lock, and so I put up immense resistence. I was partnering with the wrong side of the struggle. 

At one point I went to early morning confession, not under any feeling of constraint or even the slightest angst. I had learned a lesson again recently that confession gives grace that helps, and I was looking for help. Did the confession; again, no bells or whistles. Received my penance, which was to meditatively pray one Our Father, and ask the Lord to show me which petition of it He wanted to show me something from. Again, the answer was clear, but no peals of thunder or choirs of angels singing. A bit later, I looked up the said petition in the Catechism, and, among other things, read this:

God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings.

And I think right there, God took His cable cutter and snipped off that hock lock. 

Yeah, that pretty well sums it up.

And now I'm back to not having words, because it is just such a flood of peace. I didn't until now actually see how much drama I have carried around inside of me all my life, and occasionally sprayed others with. (Mea culpa.) I am sure this is at the heart of a lot of my habitual stress and tension, trying too hard, my proverbial driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake at the same time. 

But, like a plant that rehydrates at the rate the roots can handle, I want to just be with this. I know that my "integration of the experience of God with the experience of life" is not just about me. I know this has affected my relationships, and that integration means receiving  deeply so that I may give what God has given me, just from the sheer joyful overflow of new habits. 

We are made up of so many layers and facets, and God really does want to take every one of them up into Himself and fill us with His glory. He does really want us to be resplendent with life. I used to find it a little depressing that I had so much need for healing, as if I was infinitely broken. But I think it is that God is infinite love, and He will continue to transform us and fill us more and more for as long as we live. We are made for union with God. There is literally no end to the love we can receive from Him. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Dance, Child. Dance

One of my favorite rules I had for my kids (ok, maybe it was more my son) when they were growing up (right after, yes, you may sing about poop, but not using a hymn tune) was that they were not allowed to berate and say nasty things about themselves. It was more or less a given that they were not to be mean and rude about or to other people, but they seemed to need some help with doing this with regard to themselves. To be honest, the echo of teaching them that rule still helps me occasionally.

Like when I sit down to write this blog post. 

I can be so serious and heavy and complicated, but you know what -- that's just the reality of me facing challenges. So here, serious Marie, have some flowers. 🎕

I mentioned my winter's work of dealing with something or the other in my last post, but to that I respond with James 4:15, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." Cuz' maybe the Lord just doesn't want to waste any time. In the last, oh, 48 hours I've had this image of a hose, laying calmly and quietly on the floor of a basement. If water comes steadily out of that hose, what a difference it will be for that basement.

Ok, so imagine a metaphor where a flooded basement is a greatly desired thing. Work with me, here.

God bless Margaret Vasquez. I just want to say that. And God bless God who knows how to give me exactly what I need, when I need it. 

It's not actually anything new, as in intellectually new: new ideas, insights, truth, revelation. I think it is like Psalm 1 says: "That person is like a tree planted by steams of water (ah -- see, there it is) which yields its fruit in due season."

Right now is, apparently, a due season for me. 

In Margaret's book and in her podcasts she talks about basic principles of how the Lord relates to us, of how we are called to relate to ourselves, back to God, and with others. I am chosen, known, and valued, I have boundaries and openness. I'm not going to go into all of what is going on subterraneanly for me at the moment, but this is definitely one of those moments of cohesion, or "the big click" or, -- of course! --a giant Naru Hodo. Now I get it. 

Yesterday at Mass I had handed all the broken bits that I couldn't quite make any sense of to the Lord at the consecration. This morning I took advantage of early morning confession (which was in itself a victory. I am an expert of talking myself out of going.) And back at home after Mass this morning I had the luxury of a good old fashioned dance party. Two songs. Because the most joyful answers don't always come in eloquent theological explanations the way I sometimes try to force them to come. Sometimes they just come in feeling the connection through space and time and through my whole soul and body, including whatever cells might be left of me that were still around when I was a child, to being a loved daughter of God. And God knows this daughter of His still feels joy at hearing songs I heard when I was 6 or 7. I think every joy I feel with them integrates another layer of my life's experiences. Almost like pulling more of me out of the freezer. I don't know. I'll understand it later. For now, maybe I'll dance some more. Sure glad I'm doing that hip strengthening workout!

Saturday, January 06, 2024

A New (Leg of the) Journey

 New years and new things may suggest each other, but I'm not one to choose some big newness project on January 1. Gosh, even writing that feels exhausting. Life is exhausting enough normally; I don't need to resolve myself any further.

This new leg is more something I am sensing I need and agreeing to. 

I think it just follows on what the Holy Spirit nudged me with last Good Friday with this line "everybody suffers." The second biggest take-away I had after I started praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary was that the suffering we experience is not meant to be a place to camp in, but a place to pass through, on our way to the glory of God. This little revelation came to me as I was out for a walk one Spring day, and I think these little revelations are like slow-blooming flowers, and they are meant to hold my attention for a long time, because they are gonna need awhile to really sink in.

I slipped into a blog post here and there last year that I've been dealing with anxiety more frequently than ... well, more frequently than I'd like to be the case, and more frequently than I'd like to admit. And more intensely than what has been normal for me. In fact, one Spring day I had a full blown panic attack, which hasn't happened for years, and really only happened to me one other time in my life, to my recollection. In the same time period I also had two episodes of anxiety hives, which was completely new. This got my attention and both by plan and sort of by happenstance I made some health changes, including ditching my exercise plan which was itself stressful and taking up one that fit me so much better, and was more demanding in good ways. I also completely gave up drinking coffee. I can't tell you how much good that did me. Between the two of these, my cortisol belly has all but disappeared, and my clothes fit me happily again. I'm also not completely freezing and interiorly curling up into a ball all of the time, despite the fact that our furnace has been functioning questionably for a solid month.

So all these are good things. But I know they aren't all that I need to address. I don't know -- yet, completely -- what I don't know, but I recognize certain sticking points in my life that don't just come out of nowhere. 

One tell-tale thing happened New Year's Eve. I read a friend's Facebook post that was a list of "23 ways I have seen Jesus' love in 2023," with the challenge to follow suit and post your own. I tried it. I started, but I couldn't finish it. I found myself focused on, Oh, that thing -- it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been and I was worried about this, but it turned out ok and This really sad thing we survived ... It was all so heavy. And I thought of a few uplifting things but found myself afraid to share them publicly. Now, that's kind of a new one for me. I didn't like how this whole thing felt. 

Normally I pray about stuff like this, but I've really got nothing, there. No gush of words tumbling from the heart faucet. But I've been going back to St. Ivo and thinking of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. So, I've prayed the Veni, Sancte Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit. 

My favorite Carmelite, Fr. Iain Matthew, OCD, mentioned in one of his talks that, when it comes to allowing God to love us, one of our biggest difficulties is that 90% of us is in the deep freeze. It's there, we have it, but we can't really access this part of ourselves. This image and phrase has been tumbling around a bit, in this process. I want to love God with more of me. I want access to more of me to love God with. He deserves it.

So, I'm praying this way, and as I'm working through my used book inventory, getting stuff listed, I come across the book More Than Words: the Freedom to Thrive after Trauma by Margaret Vasquez (who just happens to be a regular at my parish). I set it aside to read, because it look valuable -- for someone else I know and what they are going through. (heh) 

So, I read it.

We pause here for the classic peanut butter and chocolate collision meme, signifying the creation of a new wonderful reality.

So I've ordered her second book, Fearless: Abundant Life through Infinite Love, and I've begun listening to her podcast about the integration of spirituality and human formation. This is a theme that Dr. Peter Malinowski also speaks and writes on at Souls and that I've been loosely following for a couple of years. But I know there is something for me to address, and I'm going to guess I'm going to discover it as I kind of make this my winter's work. 

One line that struck me from one of her videos was to the effect that God has more love for me than I need to heal my trauma symptoms. 

I think new avenues of growth await me. These often involve a good deal of falling apart, but I figure I'm gonna do that, regardless; or if I don't fall apart I'll just get stony and unfeeling, and I really don't want that. I really don't. 

So, here's to the journey.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Novena of Surrender Of My Heart

The other day as I was praying, I wanted to find a copy of the Veni Sancte Spiritus and vaguely hoped I had one in my basket of stuff on my small bookshelf next to me. (Turns out it I had the Veni Creator Spiritus.) But while I was looking, I pulled out a sheet of paper with a prayer in my handwriting, dated August 27, 2022, the feast of St. Monica. Frankly, I didn't remember ever seeing this before, nor could I remember if I copied it from somewhere, or if I actually wrote it myself. 

Whichever it was, it was exactly what I needed right then. I prayed over it a half dozen times. There are enough phrases in it that I tend to use to make me think I did write it, and a Google search didn't turn up anything like it. I marveled at the fact that at a moment when I was feeling utter devoid of anything positive in me (I've struggled, lately!) I was prompted to go dig for something that one way or the other I had stored away for just this moment of need. 

It is titled: 

Novena of Surrender of My Heart and Intercession

Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are love. From all eternity, you are the furnace of ardent charity. You open your hand, and all created things come from you. We adore you and we gaze in wonder at the revelation of your magnificent generosity.

When you were incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, Lord Jesus Christ, you revealed to us the eternal love of the Father. We give you thanks and praise, most blessed Trinity, for making us one with Christ through the sacrament of baptism. I long, O Lord, to live my baptism and my other sacraments faithfully, opening my soul to receive every aspect of every gift you have given me in Christ, to the fullest extent possible for me today.

And so come, Holy Spirit:
        Come with your purifying fire. 

        Come with your cleansing Word. 

        Wash from me the sin which deals death

        Immerse me in the ocean of the mercy of God, which quickens, heals, revives, strengthens, purifies, enlightens, safeguards and sanctifies me.

        Make me whole.

        Make me one with you, most holy Trinity, that I may bear witness to you and make you known, loved, and worshipped by more of your children

        Until the day the prayer of Christ is fulfilled that all would be one as He and The Father are one.

        Heal our aching world

        Teach us to hope

        Teach us to love

        Teach us to trust

        Break the chains of death

        Revive us that we may call upon your name.


Friday, December 15, 2023

I Will Make You a Threshing Sledge

The reading from Isaiah in yesterday's Mass struck me, weirdly. Listen to this:

I will help you, says the Lord; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and double-edged, to thresh the mountains and crush them, to make the hills like chaff. When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off and the storm shall scatter them. But you shall rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

 What is God's activity here? He's there to help by making me into a threshing sledge. Ok, hold on one second. I thought I knew what this is, but here's an actual threshing sledge:

It's used to pull over the harvested grain to separate the kernal from the chaff. See, I hear sledge, and I'm picturing this: 

But no. I'm a threshing sledge, sharp and new, and double-edged. A sharp piece of board doesn't sound nearly as menacing as a sharp sledge hammer. (Why a hammer would be sharp, dunno, but we've got that cleared up now.)

And why is He making me a threshing sledge? To thresh... the mountains. See, what you do with that item is you drag it over the grain, drag it, drag it, drag it, until everything is broken down. Then you winnow it. Winnowing I at least recognize, even though I've never actually done it. You gather the grain, throw it into the air, and the wind takes the useless chaff away, while the valuable, heavier kernals fall back down to be bagged up.

Here's what struck me. God says I'm going to help you... and we're going to do a ton of hard work. How long do you think it would take to thresh a mountain? To wear that thing down, reduce it to winnowable chunks? 

I think my default expectation of Advent prophecies of the Lord's coming sound to me like, "Ok, just hold tight. The Lord is coming, and He's going to wave His magic wand, and everything that has ever troubled you is going to be transformed into light and glory right before your eyes, and it's going to take maybe a week or so at the very longest, and you'll never have to excercise faith or hope ever again because He's your serious Sugar Lord..."

Um, no. 

He says He going to help me by making me effective against what looks like impossible, insurmountable blockages. He'll send the wind and the storm to carry away all the yuck, and it sort of implies that He's going to be pulling the threshing sledge back and forth and back and forth over these mountains, so I'm going to be covering a lot of rocky territory again and again. And then I get to winnow, and participate in Him taking away the useless and keeping the nourishing. (Then, let's not forget that those nourishing grains still need to either be cooked, or ground for flour, then made into bread, to actually eat.) What the Scripture is talking about is absolutely not instant gratification.

Ironically though, I do find it immensely gratifying. This describes the reality of spiritual growth and progress. 

So, in today's drag across the mountain, I find that in the past, I had broken up something within me that used to be far too depressed and despondent to ever make my life and my time available to anything outside my own survival, really. I mean, I held a job and took care of myself, but interiorly I was semi-catatonic. That piece of Mt. Marie has been broken up. I have gotten used to a posture of, "Anything, anytime, anywhere, here I am for it." But I realize I am still the threshing sledge getting dragged across that. Sometimes, saying yes to things has been life-giving, but sometimes I have said yes to fool's errands and worn myself out.

I'm kind of in a new season of life. My children are adults, and need me in completely different ways than they used to. I slowly worked my way out of being a homeschooling Mom. I have plenty on my plate to do, and admittedly, my posture of "anything, anytime, anyhwere" has made me several people's "go-to" person. Today a lightbulb is coming on as I make another pass over this territory. If I don't manage my time and choose my actions, someone else will, and instead of getting freed up to be able to respond generously, I'm going to be resentful, and working at cross purposes to what I actually need and desire -- which is to seek to live (consciously) in the presence of God. 

If you aim at nothing you're sure to reach your goal, no? I started out buried under passivity, and now I see a new level where I need to be watchful, attentive, and gently active. I have long struggled with ignoring what I need and desire, finding it incredibly shameful to be found in the normal human condition. Poppycock. That's going out with the chaff. I also used to think that old people (like my age now) were all dreadfully lazy, because they weren't like manic workers with the zoomies. Being proud is like being unfamiliar with deodorant. No one wants to tell you how you seem, and few get close enough to you to do so, anyway.

All of this is an illustration of why the prayer, "My life is Yours, Lord" can be new every day. Because the Lord keeps moving my threshing sledge self around, even after I stop and winnow for a while. Then maybe suddenly there will be the instruction to walk forward, because that mountain that once blocked me simply isn't there anymore.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sorrow is Not Lord

If I am to take in the lessons of the Seven Sorrows that I have been learning lately, here's the main thing: I need to hold both the reality of the sorrow and the goodness of God. Hold both, together. I picture this like holding one reality in each hand.

Interiorly, though I think I've done this, I have given sorrow the first place, keeping it the most visible, as if the goodness of God as a reality has to be covered over or buried a bit. But sorrow is not Lord. I think this is the crux of Christian life. Sorrow is not Lord. 

I can't drum up -- in any kind of healthy way -- chipperness that allows me to bear (or ignore) sorrows. Something in my soul will give way, break, die, become deformed, become false when I do that. And I can't stuff the void sorrow creates with religious platitudes or mere observance. No, the antidote is not with me drumming up, putting forth effort, trying hard enough, to make sorrow dissipate, either in my own heart or in the world at large. Isn't this why people get either so angry or frustrated or overwhelmed or resort to escapism or addiction in the face of so much pain in the world? How do you cope with it all?

Christians say the answer is Emmanuel. Jesus Christ has shown His face on earth.

But how does that historical fact turn into access to something that makes a change in me? I'm baptized, I receive sacraments, I'm part of the community of the Church.... But I can still be this person who is proclaiming that Sorrow is Lord, and religious practices can feel empty. How do I move forward?

Here's the good news: The Lord knows my heart so much better than I do. The key is to go into that secret place (my heart), because the Lord is there, waiting for me. Our own hearts can be intimidating: deep, interior, cavernous places. What fears, hopes, desires -- sorrows -- are there? Does it make any sense that the path to regime change (Sorrow is Lord to Jesus is Lord) happens by way of stepping back into sorrow's territory again? Won't I just get sucked in to be its slave again?

Ah, but right there is the lie. The truth is, child of God, that the King of Love resides there. He waits for you there, eagerly. Sorrow as Lord has been trying to starve you off of the love and glory that is yours by right of your rebirth. 

Jesus is a man of sorrows, aquainted with bitterest grief. He knows this territory. He's lived it. He's not afraid of it. He's faced it, felt it, endured it, was killed by it, and then conquered it by getting up again, as it simply not possible by nature alone. And what it means to be baptized is that He has united you to Himself in that supernatural resurrection power. This absolutely does not mean that we will escape suffering. No. It is the human condition: Everyone Suffers. It means that when we suffer, not if, we have access to the same "juice" flowing through us. Grace: the very life of God. This is precisely how we share in His glory. We stand in the very real sorrows, we allow them to touch us (that is, we don't bolt and run, but neither do we chain ourselves to every sorrow that presents itself) and we turn to Jesus with our wills, with our interior selves. Where His love is. We pour out the sorrow to His loving heart, and we draw into ourselves the life He pours out to us in return. This exchange forms a bond of love, and as many times as we do this, with as many sorrows as we remember from the past or live through in the present, His love opens up a highway to flow through us. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity says, we become His "supplemental humanity" through which He lives His life here, on earth. His love that conquers death flows through us into the world. This is prayer.

And in the process, yes, we continue to know sorrow, but we learn not to camp there. The hope of glory -- this marvelous exchange of our sorrow for His power -- enables us to keep moving forward, and to daily dethrone Sorrow as Lord, and to pledge our allegiance to the Good God.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Let Advent In

Tomorrow I'm singing in a community choir Christmas concert, and today was our dress rehearsal. Somewhere along the line this morning I finally became present to the words we were singing. I mean, this is perhaps an unusual community choir, where, for Christmas at least, we are singing almost all sacred music, or traditional carols, so almost every single song is actually about Jesus Christ. I confess I really haven't been tuned into that fact at all.

I confess I've gotten fairly comfortable with distracting myself pretty heavily from my interior life. Did you know that an easy way to do that is to get really busy with church stuff? At least six days out of the week I am leading music in one way or another. I found myself this week getting really bothered and ever so slightly confrontational with the sacristans about small things I noticed that went awry at Mass. Standing around the coffee pot after Mass I suddenly realized there were cobwebs in a corner of the ceiling right there. I confessed aloud to my daughter and a friend who was with us that I thought occasionally I should go to a different parish for Mass so I wouldn't be so distracted with being such a Church Lady.

And we won't even discuss hours passing through my fingers like water as I watch mindless reels on Facebook. Geez. Every day seems to go so fast, and I keep thinking about how I'm never going to get any of these days back. And yet, if I stop to ponder, even sometimes if I think I need to pull out that blog and write so I can actually dig down into it, I reprimand myself with Other Stuff I could be doing. Something supposedly more important. 

Distraction. Everything and anything except...


It's Advent.

Once upon a time, on a Christmas Eve night, a shockwave of grace went off in my soul that reverberated for, oh, something like 20 years. This shockwave taught me that becoming a human being was good enough for the Eternal Son of God. It isn't that I didn't know the doctrinal tenet of the Incarnation. But it wasn't so real to me until then. I can't explain the revelation except to say that Jesus embraced my humanity and said, "It is good. I made this." It was that night that, in my heart, I became a Catholic (followed be being received into the Church about 16 months later), and my Christian identity shifted from Luther's "poor, miserable sinner" who would never change, to a daughter who is redeemed, restored, and healed by the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

But there was another shockwave that followed some 20 years later, and it was the Epiphany. Just search the blog for the word, and you'll see. 

And yeah, so here I am, in 2023, singing Christmas songs and just barely allowing the words to touch my heart. How did I get so controlling? What's the threat, here? 

There's a scary word in those Ephiphay posts: risk. I can't even write more about that right now, other than to say I need to bring my risk PTDS to the Lord. What I know to the marrow of my being is that God is good and there is nothing He cannot fill with His glory. The more cracked and broken it is, the bettter to showcase His glory. Honestly, I am eligible to be a massive, mighty showcase.

You know what? I don't want to be anxious and controlling. I know, better than I know my own name, that there is absolutely nothing for me to fear in God. I've spent my life feeling a fool to myself, so if there's new territory for me to scout there, hey, who doesn't love an adventure. I can set a daily intention to feel what is happening inside, and if I need to stop and smile, or stop and cry, or stop and write a blog post -- all are fine. All are just different verses I sing to the Lord, calling out, "Where have you hidden?" I can learn and I can change. I've been doing it for years. Any worthwhile endeavor takes some work, and I love work, as long as I also have hope and companionship.

This is the path of contemplation. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv'n...

St. Ivo, pray for me.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

St. Ivo

 I don't even remember how long I've been claiming a patron saint every year, on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent, but it has been a good long time. I use Jen Fulweiler's Random Saint Generator. The nature of a saint is that we all have something to learn from them, something to gain from them in terms of the riches of God's love. But there have been many, many times when either immediately or as the year went on, my random saint's involvement in my life proved very fitting and helpful. A few times, they were people who left writings. Usually it was something about their lives that I reflected on, or that frankly came to do a jump-scare on me. 

This year my selected saint is St. Ivo of Kermartin. I had never heard of him, but a perusal of his biography has me just a bit up in my feels, as they say. 

Patronage: Abandoned People; Advocates; Attorneys; Bailiffs; Barristers; Canon Lawyers; Judges; Jurists; Notaries; Orphans. That's what came up on Jen's site.

Lately my prayer, formed by listening to the fourth pillar of the Catechism in the Catechism in a Year podcast, formed by a lesson in Becoming Who I am, formed by a blink-and-refocus look at my Carmelite vocation -- all these point me to my need to be authentic, real, raw with God. To try to do something else is futile and a waste of my life, and to be otherwise through laziness is reason to throw open the windows as I carreen down the highway of life and let in the blast of cold wintery air that sets me right again. 

This entails being honest with myself first about my felt needs. 

And I have felt such a need for an advocate. It's hard to put into words. There's a psalm that says, "Though I constantly take my life in my hands..," or another translation says, "Though I constantly put my life at risk.." My feeling of what an advocate does (or THE Advocate, the Holy Spirit) is to take my life in His hands. The Advocate knows me, knows all the ins and outs, understands it all, and is for me, to plead my case against the Adversary who comes to try to ruin my life with his claims. When I just let that scene sink in, I let out a huge sigh. The weight of things falls off. Without a doubt, I can trust the Holy Spirit. But so often I act like I have to defend myself against Him. It really is more like I need to humble myself before Him. 

Parts of me can relate to feeling like an abandoned child. If not because of actual life events, definitely because I abandon my own self regularly. I recognize in me the anxiety that makes it hard to relax, hard to enjoy things. It's an imbalanced overvaluing of my work and an impoverished eye toward the granduer, majesty, and love of God that actually holds me in life and, in fact, shows a feeling of having been abandoned as the utter lie that it is. 

My sense is that St. Ivo would say to me, "Nope, you aren't abandoned, and you don't have to do everything for yourself. Let me remind you to how the Holy Spirit actually operates for you."

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Become Who You Are

One of the reasons I write is to document the unfolding of life within me. Since childhood I have found that wrestling thoughts and feelings into words helps me understand where I am (hence, the name of this blog, Naru Hodo -- now I get it.)

And this happened with my last post. It frequently happens that when I write something that feels raw at the moment, I soon find that the raw spot becomes a well, and I find Living Water welling up there. At times, it has driven to me create rawness where it was not naturally occurring, out of desire (really, desperation) for God. But no, God is not drawn to a state I get myself worked up into, like emotional coin dropped into a divine vending machine. It's rather that moment of need that I bring, presenting in nakedness. For me, there is a good measure of the feeling that I am not sure what is right or wrong in the moment. In other words, I don't know which of my interior movements are tricking me (trying to maintain self in control) and which are seeing reality, open to God, open to life and growth. Not knowing, I respect them all and bring them before God, as I mentioned the other day.

By the way, though I am not fluent in this school of thought, it reminds me of Internal Family Systems Theory, which Dr. Peter Malinowski speaks about often in his podcasts. It has really helped me stop fighting with myself and has made it easier to hand myself over to the Lord in prayer.

So what I really wanted to get to in this post was the joy I encountered after bringing all of these disparate parts to the Lord after this last little anxiety flair I mentioned the other day. The process goes like this: Something happens, I feel panicked, I feel interiorly compelled to react according to the part that feels moral responsibility. The old script kicks in that I have to take care of everything; I have to be in control or all hell is going to break loose, and when it does it will be all my fault, and I'll be reeling in pain. The witness of my friends kick in (even though they know zero about what I'm wrestling with interiorly). I go to God with all the broken-feeling bits and lay it all out. Then, later, in prayer, God comes and says, "Let me remind you who you are." And He scoops up my soul, reminds me of conversations that have been going on for years, uncovers my heart again, and reminds me of my dignity, the crown He has set on my head, His vision. Strength fills me. Tears flow, washing away the confusion.

That's what happened to me yesterday as I read Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition by Paul-Marie of the Cross, OCD. In the brief paragraphs I read, he simply described the spirit of Carmel. I could go back and quote what I read, but it wasn't the words that were powerful but the experience of God that happened with them. This is the way all the time. This has happened to me with people. Something simple happens, but God inhabits it, and my experience of that person becomes, in that moment, and experience of God. It is contemplative. It is mystical in a sense. 

I'll quote one paragraph:

The spirit of Carmel is none other than this power and life that spring from the divine word and seek to enter the soul; none other than this divine presence that is waiting to be received and communicated in a reciprocal gift. Today, no more than in the first days, can this word wait for tomorrows in which it will be accomplished. (p. 21)

God is ardent, and in his presence is purity. He brings this purity to the soul to the extend we can withstand it. This is my place of safety, and this is how anxiety (inward-bending paralysis) is replaced with love (gift-of-self, available and at the ready).

Monday, November 20, 2023

Greater Safety

Back in July of this year, I wrote a post about a line in the Anima Christi that struck me. And around that time, I had entered a period of detoxing from anxieties that had been too much with me. 

It's time, apparently, for another layer of to be attended to. 

This year I have found a wholistic approach both necessary and useful in addressing things I may have tried to approach only spiritually in the past. That in and of itself can create spiritual problems and anxieties. 

So, physical exercise really and truly has taken up a place in my life disciplines. (In my younger days I liked to think I could ignore my body and it would always serve me fine. Hah.) One phrase I hear in my exercise programs has also been helpful in my discernment: What is coming up for you? Can you just be with it? As in, this stretch is uncomfortable! But if I stay with it (no pain lasts forever, as St. Teresa reminds me) it will be easier to do next time. 

Well, right now I feel something coming up for me, and I've learned that what I need to do is bring it into prayer. Allow it into my honest attention, and bring myself before the Lord without trying to hide from the fear and discomfort it brings up. And not to try to handle it myself (which almost always is going to mean giving myself an easy pass on an immoral path, or even more likely for me, to judge and beat myself mercilessly for struggling in the first place, and to end up a ball of anxiety.)

Bring it to the Lord, and be with it. Honestly. Openly.

A somewhat suprising interaction the other day sent up an immediate flair of anxiety. On the surface, it could have been considered obvious why it was so, but of course surface level answers are wholly untrustworthy and porous. Easy answers like control, and they fear getting deposed by the pursuit of hard truths.

Fortuantely I have many people in my life who have set themselves to pursue God's presence, where truth is love, and love is truth: namely my Carmelite community, and my daily Mass community. They help me bring this anxiety flair before the Lord, honestly and openly, to be defused.

And the Lord says, behold! I am your safety, but I need to you know me as your place of safety more deeply than you do now. For you to live in this world in peace, not reactive, not fearful, facing real and actual dangers, facing real and actual temptations, I need you to hide yourself in Me more deeply. I am the only place where you are going to find serenity, strength, courage, and clarity.

I'm going to quote myself for my own record, from last July:

What I see now is that I had always been separated from God to a degree by my anxious clinging, my fear of abandonment, my lack of ability to trust that He would keep me safe. He was doing a series of surguries in my soul. Really, before each painful one in that series there was an implant of joy and safety. Hard to explain, but in retrospect, it's extremely clear. 

And then he basically crushed the deformed measure I had made for Him. 

And it took time, but a new thing grew in its place, and is still growing. It is vibrant, and it is beautiful. 

Separated from You, let me never be. 

It is sin that separates us, and it is His love that unites us to Him. But it isn't only our active, personal sins that separate us. It is also these areas of weakness due to woundings which have never gotten full Son exposure. It's the ways we have responded in our own power to our wounds. Our flaws and cracks from mishandling can be not just sealed up, but completely transformed to bear the glory of God. And the more we know that we are weak, the more Christ's power can rest on us. Lord, teach me really what it is to delight in my weaknesses. 

It would seem this is a call to delight in my weakness. Right now the only safe place for that is in the secret of prayer. I guess that's why I'm a Carmelite. My design is to live from that place, lest I completely fall apart. 

Only in God is my soul at rest; in Him comes my salvation.


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

A Woman in a Woman's World

Yesterday I had, well, let's call it an interesting experience. You know how you can be going through life, facing forward, living in the present, dealing, coping, stretching, learning. Doing the little advances that successful day-to-day life is all about. Then suddenly something comes along that has you stopping and looking back, looking far around you at places you once traveled through. Small thickets of confusion that are familiar in a distant way. That's what I did yesterday.

But it wasn't just in my memory. It was a concrete thing in front of me, invading my present. 

My parish is running a women's Bible study this fall. 

Now here's the funny thing. Maybe a year ago I visited a parish across the river for confession, and I saw that it was offering the same women's Bible study. I shared it on my Facebook page, being ever the promoter of things. I'm all for it, in theory, and I think I even momentarily looked into what it would take to offer it in my town. 

And I was asked to take a leadership role, similar to what I had done in our parish ChristLife, which satisfied my inclusion needs (aka ego. I was sought out. Thank you.). But ultimately I passed on it. Because to be honest, just the idea of being part of a women's Bible study sends me into the small thickets of confusion.

And I spent a chunk of yesterday spinning this around in my mind and checking out some interesting emotions that it conjured. 

It is intended not only as a Bible study but also as a community building thing. And this is where I needed to admit to myself what, for me, makes for community building. That would be work. That's why I liked the feeling of being offered the logistics and communication job. I even asked if I could do that part without actually going to the Bible study, but no, that wasn't the vision. That's ok. 

Shared work is probably my primary "love language" if you buy that expression. This is something I like about choirs and music; it requires that everyone work together. This is why I tend to take on huge tasks with a lot of excitement -- like the year our Bishop gifted our parish (and every parish) with hundreds of copies of one of Matthew Kelley's books, and my daughter and I gift wrapped every single one. I questioned the size of that undertaking, but my (then 8 or so year old) daughter proclaimed it "a labor of love," and so there was no turning back for me then. When parishes were reopened after our short COVID shutdown, I was asked to buy some rope from Lowes to make the required social distancing thingies look somewhat dignified. Oh no. My daughter and I braided ropes out of white tshirts and figured out a way to keep them firmly on the pews but also made them easily adjustable. That felt so good to be able to do that, whatever your thoughts on social distancing. 

Yeah, so what I don't find a helpful way to give myself is to sit in a group of women chatting about how Scripture impacts my day-to-day life, or study guide questions. Spiritual direction; yes. Theological discussion; yes. Lexical study, historical study; yes, yes. Pretty tablecloths, conversations where words fly fast and emotions fly faster, or women connect emotions to sensible things in attempts to "feel comfortable sharing..." I don't even know how to do that. And generally it makes me feel the opposite of community-built. I tend to sit there with my mouth shut, trying to track (or tuning out, depending on how my day has gone) and mostly feeling a thousand miles away. These days, my thoughts just dash to other things I could be doing. In the past, I sat there wondering why I did not know how to be a woman. Because I figured A Woman's World was what I was looking at.

Yes, yesterday I felt again that jab of feeling like an unwomanly woman. Like maybe I should try harder. Like maybe I was being weak or selfish or inadequate or unholy or rebellious or (insert more) for not wanting to participate. Like I really should. I thought of, and even played, that song by Wendy Talbot from the 80s "Woman of the Word" where she asked questions popular of the day about what women "should" do. It dawns on me now: we think the question "What is a woman?" is newly controversial. (Some) Christians have been making it difficult to answer that question, on a non-biological level, for decades.

In the midst of questioning myself yesterday, I found it extremely difficult to do the work that was actually in front of me. Suddenly I wasn't sure I could do anything.

If you diligently read this blog (😂) you'll realize I've been sinking deeply into the Seven Sorrows rosary in the last few months. After all these years as a Catholic, I am *just starting to sink deeper into understanding the Blessed Virgin Mary as woman par excellence. And as I've been meditating on her sorrows, I realize she has a lot of strength, born of emotional and spiritual pain. She probably did enjoy beautiful objects and she probably did chat with women friends. But there was only one Blessed Mother. In a common way, there is also only one of each of us. I have never been given to conformity, but I haven't always been at peace with being myself, either. It has struck me with terror; it has confused me. But humility says, I am who God made me, no more, no less. I will be me, because it is God's will for me.

This morning, as happens to me occasionally after a day on mental frappe setting, I woke with everything clear in my mind. Following the Lord is not a path full of should. Or as one priest once quipped, "Stop should-ing all over me." One must not should oneself, either. Jesus says, "Follow me and live." He commands, he invites, he speaks to us about reality, but he doesn't guilt us into things, so we need to refrain from responding to that kind of motivation. Ok, I need to stop it. Respecting freedom is super important, and it is grossly counter-productive to Christian life to not respect freedom.

I'm not guilty of being me; I'm responsible to be me, and to learn how to do it well. I need people in my life in order for me to be me well, but I also need space from people, and I can't expect that anyone is going to understand what I need unless I understand my own needs and make them known as necessary. I'm actually responsible to God to invest well the raw material of myself He's given me to work with, to try to gain a return. 

See -- it all boils down to shared work! 😉

*Everything in the spiritual life is always just beginning.