AUTUMN’S ABUNDANCE

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Autumn sunset on our family farm. Photo courtesy of my sister, Lori King.

Recently, a wise friend reminded me of my word for the yearSAVOR. She sent me a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas to help me in my daily savoring:

LET EVERY DAY
Let every day combine
the beauty of Spring,
the brightness of Summer,
the abundance of Autumn,
and the repose of Winter.
And at the end of my life on earth,
grant that I may come to see and to know you
in the fullness of your glory. Amen.

As autumn begins anew, Aquinas’ prayer prompts me to consider the abundance that this season brings. The harvest. Living in the Midwest, I can see firsthand nature’s abundance as the corn and bean fields yield their harvests, leaving the land to surrender to its winter repose.

I want to ponder and savor the harvest in my life as well. I encourage you all to do the same. Take some quiet, leisurely time in the cool weather—maybe in front of your fireplace in a cozy blanket. Let God bring to mind what your harvest looks like this year—the who and the what. Don’t forget to look inside your heart and see what seeds have born fruit this year.

2020 may have felt more like scarcity and letting go rather than abundance, but I’m confident that time with God will shed light on the abundant harvest that has also come to pass. Fall offers a time to come inside ourselves and to reflect. To that end, I’m going to share song lyrics that are rich with possibilities to ponder, and to see God’s hand in your life. The song is based on Augustine’s Confessions—a work of deep reflection on self and God.

I suggest that you read this slowly. Twice would be good. Pay attention to what word or phrase stands out to you. Read it again going deeper. Consider its message to you. Read it a fourth time and let a prayer spring up in your heart that you can offer to God. Read it one last time and sit quietly. This can also be done one stanza at a time.

O BEAUTY EVER ANCIENT

Oh, late have I loved you,
Oh, late have I turned;
turned from seeking you in creatures,
fleeing grief and pain within.

O BEAUTY EVER ANCIENT
O BEAUTY EVERY NEW
YOU, THE MIRROR OF MY LIFE RENEWED
LET ME FIND MY LIFE IN YOU!

 My unloveliness I ran from,
turned to seek you in all things,
things you fashioned as a pathway;
yet I lost myself in them.

This created world is glorious,
yet I could not see within,
see your loveliness behind all,
find the Giver in the gift.

I had wandered far, perceiving
that I walked my road alone.
Yet you called, you shone, you summoned
and you drew my spirit home.

In your loveliness you made me
in your Godly image true;
by your grace you have renewed me;
let me live my life in you!

–Roc O’Connor—from Morning Light CD

This reading, listening, reflecting, and praying practice can be done with any piece of Scripture or literature that moves you.  It can be a lovely meditative practice during this season of harvest abundance as we enter into winter’s repose.

 May your autumn reap an abundant harvest!

LOVING BEYOND MY PRESENT CAPACITY

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

 This past month I have been pondering how to listen and to care. (see last month’s blog entry—A Heart of Flesh). I have asked God for that grace and tried to carry that thought into my day’s activities. It can be challenging to discern God’s will, but I feel certain that, overall, God’s will for me is to grow in love as my life unfolds.  I want to shed those things that keep me from loving well.

I recently read some advice that Francis de Sales gave to one of his directees:

“She was to learn to love beyond her present capacity. She was eventually to learn to love all that life presented to her. By doing this she would open herself radically to the presence of God in all events. She, like the Savior she adored, would stretch out her arms to embrace all her “crosses,” knowing that in the act of authentic loving, resignation in its most profound sense, she was being fashioned in the image she loved and bringing that image into the world.”    Wendy Wright, The Bond of Perfection.

  • To love beyond my present capacity.
  • To love all that life presents to me.
  • To be fashioned into the image that I love —Jesus.
  • To bring that image into my world.

Quite a lofty challenge Francis de Sales offers me—offers us—today. I’m drawn to the idea of paying attention to my present capacity as well as the capacity of others.  And I’m hopeful that God can always increase our present capacity. I pray for the desire to accept this challenge, the courage to walk it out, the patience to get back up when I fail, and the humility to keep asking for help.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Seneca

I have adopted a friend’s simple and sincere prayer: “I can’t do this God. Please help me.”

I’m reminded to be gentle with myself and others as we are unfolding into God’s design.

“O God, no one is beyond the reach of your love; help us to appreciate one another as we are, not expecting more than we can do or give at the time.”  Peoples Companion to the Breviary

A HEART OF FLESH

Give us hearts of flesh, O God, that we may serve you.

This morning I was drawn to a passage in the book of Ezekiel that has captivated me for many years:

A new heart I will give you,

And a new spirit I will put within you;

And I will take out of your body the heart of stone

And give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

 I was again reminded that it is God, the Divine Mystery, who fashions the heart and has the power to heal and transform it from stone into flesh. As I look at myself and my world today, I sense in a new and deeper way how much we all need soft hearts of flesh to live well in our current circumstances.

A family friend offered this simple yet very demanding suggestion to help navigate today’s waters:

Listen and Care.

I believe that a heart of flesh fully listens to the other and cares. I want to ponder that a bit and ask for the grace to carry that out day by day. Listening and caring may offer a way to live in the fullness of life under any circumstance. A soft heart of flesh keeps us human and capable of seeing the humanity in all others.

To go a bit deeper, here is a reflection to consider:

“Transformation through immersion and consciousness depends on our capacity to be penetrated by the Mystery of Christ. Our being, our substance, must be porous in order for the Mystery to enter, to penetrate. That is the crux of the matter. It is not enough simply to be immersed in…life. We must let ourselves be plowed so that the furrows of our person become deeper and deeper, so that our earth becomes softer and softer. This is something our being craves, but this plowing is kenosis (emptying, the death which must precede new life, rebirth) and kenosis is not easy. In the measure that our being becomes porous and open, grace can penetrate us. Depth is possible. Transformation is possible. Thus, an ever-deepening penetration by the Mystery can fill us with spiritual being.”   Jean-Marie Howe, “Cistercian Monastic Life/Vows” A Vision

I see these words speaking to how the Divine Mystery transforms our hard hearts of stone into soft hearts of flesh. We are plowed by life’s events, by deep pain, and invited to surrender our prideful ways and allow God to make us porous so grace can penetrate us and make us soft. Painful, but oh so beautiful in the end.

I am reminded of times in my life when I have experienced what I call a deep cut – when I have been deeply hurt and wounded. Though painful to walk through, they ended up being times of great awareness and spiritual growth. My tears softened me and Divine grace entered into my being, changing me. Each time, I have been left with a sense of how little I am and how much I deeply need my Maker. Best of all, I receive the grace of a deeper knowing of how much God loves me.

When I’m softened from the hardness of anger, resentment, and fear, I am truly free to love well – God’s way. I receive the grace of a heart of flesh. A recovery friend of mine often poses the question, “How free do you want to be? Are you willing to go to any length for that freedom?”  Those questions are powerful motivators for me to allow myself to be plowed by the Divine.

Today’s morning prayer time was followed by Sunday mass. The Old Testament reading from 1 Kings related the story of Solomon asking the Lord for an understanding heart so that he would know what was right. The Lord granted this request and gave him a heart so wise and understanding.  Hard hearts keep us stuck but a soft heart is able to receive God’s wisdom and understanding. May we follow Solomon’s example and ask God to fashion in us a wise and understanding heart.

I encourage you to take a few moments now. Breathe deeply for a few breaths. Reread the Scripture and reflection passages here. Sit with them. Let them penetrate you. As you finish, ask for the grace to live with a heart of flesh that cares.

PONDER ANEW…

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At mass this morning, I joined in declaring the words of a lovely old hymn:

Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriends you.

2020, with its coronavirus, has offered me the time and the material on which to reflect, to pray, and to ponder. My hope is that God will sort this all out and show us the way. However, I have my moments when I long for all this to be over. To move on to the next thing. To close this chapter and put it behind us. Yet today, I find myself drawn to these words: ponder anew.  What does that mean for me now?   Could it be an invitation from God for me to stay put in this present discomfort and to take me deeper in some area? To continue to go to him and to ponder, perhaps in a new way?

I sometimes lament: “Am I at this place again?”  This old hurt or fear or resentment. Maybe God is calling me to go higher, inviting me to learn to love beyond my present capacity. Perhaps God is perfecting me. Bringing me to something that I have not been able to do up until now.

So, I have a decision to make. I can resist or I can receivestaying open to what God has for me in this moment. To receive means to let it be done unto me. To let go of my natural desire to control and let God lead me. Be not afraid. Trust in God’s tender care for me and all His creation. Constantly claim God’s strength—His sovereignty. So, what does that look like in my day-to-day?

I can start by pondering anew. One way I do this is by reviewing my journals and my notes to self, reflecting on how they might apply to my present moment. In my review, here are a few notes I plan to ponder anew this month:

  • We’re not here to make an impression. We’re here to make a difference.
  • We make a greater difference by the love that we give rather than the positions that we take.
  • You can either play God or you can reflect Him.
  • Criticism is a detriment to the soul whether I’m criticizing another or myself.
  • We can meet as equals and help one another.
  • When I pray, I am saying that I’m willing to be helped.
  • What is the best and most loving thing I can do in this situation?  What would be most loving to myself and to others?
  • Seek the good, the common good, in all things.
  • What is God up to and how can I cooperate?

Each of these statements challenge me to think more deeply about areas where God is still at work in me.  In a time of division, fear, and uncertainty, I sense that God is not done yet. Though I might want to be done, I believe God has more to say, more to do, more to give. God has more. He’s not done with the world, and he’s not done with me.

I recently ran across this prayer in my journal that I think applies not only to one’s family but to our world and our common good:

Lord, pour the balm of your mercy on the wounds of my family—the wounds I have suffered and those I have inflicted.

I’ll close with a piece that speaks to me personally and globally and gives me hope that there is purpose to this time.

 PATIENT TRUST

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability—

And that it may take a very long time.

And so, I think it is with you:

Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow.

Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

                                                                             Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

 

 

 LET US NOT FORGET…

Lake Bloomington

Last fall I joined a small group, Retreat in Daily Living, for a 32-week prayer practice using the Ignatian exercises. I feel as if I have spent much time of late with St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, and I have thoroughly enjoyed their company. I’ve had the privilege of feasting on a rich buffet of high-quality spiritual cuisine. Midway through these exercises, the pandemic came upon us. In a sense, I have experienced a retreat inside of a retreat. And like all good retreats, it has been a time apart from the normal and a season of less. Retreatants normally describe their time of separation as a blessing—a time of healing, a pruning process. Many wise folks recommend periodic house cleanings and heart cleanings. These past few months have allowed time for both. This Ignatian prayer retreat has come to an end just as we are coming to an end of sorts to our mostly at home season.

I find myself drawn to stepping back a bit and reflecting on life in recent times—what has it held and what have I learned? How do I carry on from here?  I have a sense that I have been given something valuable, and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to forget what has come my way during this time. Ignatius believed in the value of paying attention to God, to oneself, and to others, and to receiving the gifts that each brings to us. We are invited to see and experience how all creation is ongoing—a process unfolding. We see it in the spring flowers blooming, the trees budding, and the earth greening. In my own ongoing creation, I can look to nature as a guide showing me how to surrender to the Creator and His sovereignty. I have been learning to: Stay little. Pay attention. Receive. Resist not. Let God take me deeper.  I allow God to lead me.  I stay fully present to each moment and movement of God. I experience His slow and gentle work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I am struck by how God has protected, pursued, and corrected me during this time. I hope and pray that my vision has been sharpened by the exercises.  There have been times that feel like a new depth of reality. I would describe it as vibrant— as if life just shimmers.

Each week as we met in group to describe our prayer experiences, we were invited to share the one thing that came to mind to describe the week’s experience. Reflecting on this season of retreat, I felt led to ask God to show me the one thing I have received from Him during this time and to let Him take me deeper into that truth.  I’d like to share my ponderings on that question.

The retreat facilitators often encouraged us to go deeper with a feeling or an awareness. In the beginning, I found myself recalling heart hurts from long ago. At first, I felt that I must be doing this wrong. I thought this was about going deeper in my faith walk.  I now see that God needed to clear away some old ruins in my heart—to do some heart cleaning—to make room for me to experience more of Him in my life.  I recently heard this heart cleaning described as God putting His finger on a wound and how that hurts.  Yet, we trust that God’s hands are healing hands; His touch loving. As we think of God Incarnate, Jesus, we can imagine Him bringing us into His own wounds. We can lay on His pierced side to find healing. As the retreat continued, I was drawn more to simply rest and relax in God’s presence, trusting Him to do the work that needed to be done—slowly and gently.  I needed only to rest upon the side of Jesus in my smallness and weakness. Before beginning to write this piece, I began my day by participating in an online mass. These words from the homily reached out to me…

When we descend into the depth of what troubles us the most and frightens us the most, we will find Christ there.

These words feel like truth to me—a truth I desire to experience, a truth that comforts me, calms my fears, and gives me courage to go forward. I can learn to be with suffering—in others and within myself. To suffer with Christ. To sit with my own woundedness. I know that I have a resistance to sadness. I prefer to stay in my head rather than in my heart.  I now see that when I’m thinking, “I’m not doing it right,” I need to go to God and ask what He would have me do, remembering that God always does it right. An Ignatian retreat focuses on the life of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. I have spent much time reading and reflecting on how Jesus lived and loved here on earth. I am continually struck by how often people in Jesus’ life got it wrong. How often we humans can be wrong—how often I am wrong. I also saw how Jesus always had a better way.  I am coming to believe that only God truly knows me and wants to show me the best way to go. I can pass from former ways into newness of life.

These awarenesses over the past few months have led me to focus more on the Divine and less on human frailties—mine and others. I am coming to sense Jesus as a dear, faithful friend. He wants the very best for me, and always treats me with respect, patience, and lovingkindness. He wants me to do likewise. To love well whomever He puts across the table from me. He is an advocate who fights for me. I am also beginning to see the role and power of silence in God’s plan. To be still and know.

As the retreat came to a close, we were asked to reflect on this question: How have I grown in faith, hope, and love, and where does such life-giving growth lead me now? I pray that I may continue to ask and answer these questions in the days ahead. For now, I ask God:

  • for the grace to be a faithful and faith-filled presence in another’s life and
  • to give me a listening heart that I may hear the hearts of others and accept our differences.

I want to stay very connected to God and slow to react. To wait and let God aim me. To first pay attention to what is going on in the well of my heart. Then look for God’s loving presence in myself and in all.  I can then relax, and wait to see what happens next.  I remain in God’s love. That may be the one thing God is saying in this unprecedented time of pandemic:

Remain in my love.

 Oh, please Lord, let me not forget.

 

 

 

 

Lake Bloomington-2

SIT. STILL. QUIETLY. ALONE.

Sitting still--high back chair

At the beginning of each new year, I pray for God to give me a word—a theme or focus for the upcoming year. This year I felt drawn to the word savor and particularly to its meaning: to take delight in. I began my year paying attention to all that I could delight in and then savoring each thing. However, of late I’ve realized that I have not been thinking of this word very often. So, I asked myself and God, “Can I still savor during this time of pandemic with all its pain, suffering, anguish, and uncertainty due to illness, death, unemployment, and isolation?” “Can I experience Easter joy this year?”  I felt the answer within me, “Yes, you can.” The scripture verse that came to mind was:

Be still!  And know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

God is giving me a time with very few distractions and only a small amount of decisions to make. I have a slow, simple routine. I am in my home every day. I start each day with a leisurely prayer time and a good cup of coffee. I ask God to show me who He would have me reach out to that day. My husband and I attend daily mass online. My main outdoor activities are morning walks in my neighborhood and afternoon drives with my husband in our Mini-Cooper convertible. As the weather warms, I am able to savor times on my front porch and back deck drinking in the wonders of Springtime in Illinois.  I serve as a mentor and spiritual companion to some precious women here and in the Dominican Republic. I continue to do that online. I also attend recovery meetings via Zoom. I write. I enjoy Face Time conversations with my four children and my large, extended family. The sameness and simplicity of my routine give me much calm and very little stress. Since I can’t do much planning for the future, I find it easier to live one day at a time and to carpe diem (seize the day).  I know from experience that both of these practices result in a very full and rich life. Much to savor.

As this year unfolds, I have reflected on what it means to receive as that relates to savoring. God has always gifted me with a lot of energy and an optimistic spirit. So, I naturally lean towards being proactive and taking the initiative. There are times in life when this is appropriate and helpful. However, in spiritual and emotional matters, it is not beneficial. When I take the initiative or try to control, I don’t allow God or others to give to me. I miss out on the gift.

The eleventh step of the twelve-step recovery program states: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”  In short: sit still, quietly alone.  We have the opportunity to make this a part of our new daily routine.

Some are referring to this time of staying at home as imposed monasticism. Over the years, I have spent time with Catholic nuns in monasteries. I cherish those times filled with stillness and peace—God’s presence so real to me. During this current season, I notice the parallels with a monastic way of life. I sense God drawing me to take delight in His presence in all of His creation—His people and nature.  To allow God to gift me in many ways and to receive the gift of His love from Himself and from others.  I have the time to treasure and ponder many things. To go slower and deeper with life’s bigger questions. To explore myself and my world. And in this way, I am able to savor.

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Two years ago, I started meeting with a Franciscan sister in her home, a stately monastery in all its splendor. As we talked, I sensed how fully present she was to me and to God. I could tell how much she enjoyed –took delight in—getting to know me.  It felt like she was thrilled at the fact that God had brought a new person into her life. Her attitude of gratitude and trusting surrender to God’s plan was apparent and attractive. That memory has stayed with me. I left with a strong desire to live like that, and to relate that way with the people that God puts in my life—to savor them, to take delight in them. As well as to be open to God putting people in my life who will savor and delight in me. I find that to live this way well requires a slower, unhurried pace. I need time to pay attention—to God, to my interior life, and to others.  So, this imposed monasticism offers me this time. I pray that I will give and receive love better as a result of sitting still and listening more.

These days of pandemic have much to teach us.  We have seen people at their best and at their worst. I remind myself that we have never been this way before. Therefore, I think it wise to be very gentle with ourselves and with others. Planet earth is hurting and we have an opportunity to look after one another as best as we can. Let God bring to mind those that need a loving touch. Receive the loving touches given to you as a gift from God.

When I spend time alone with God, I sense His immense compassion. I see how Jesus was never surprised by human weakness. Yet I am so often surprised by human weakness—in myself and in another. Jesus’ response to weakness was mercy and love.  I, on the other hand, can be quick to judge, be critical, and feel superior. When I sit quietly, God gently shows these things to me along with His mercy and forgiveness towards me. I see how He is guiding me and transforming me little by little, reminding me that I am still in the making. This gift of time is changing me. I want to be quick to give and receive forgiveness.

“If at times we can just be, just quietly sit in the sun of God’s love for us, if we can believe that the One who formed us in the first place is waiting to transform us in the embrace of love, then in what we are doing with our lives, God will increase and we will decrease in the best sense of the word.”  Elizabeth Meluch, OCD

We just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday in the Catholic tradition. This year as I pondered Christ’s wounds on His hands, feet, and side, I was also struck by His wounded heart. His friends wounded Him in their human weakness. We do indeed have a God who understands our woundedness and helps us walk alongside others in their woundedness. God has insight into people’s hearts and people’s hurts. Jesus always meets people where they are and how they are.   I have often underestimated the power of simply being in God’s presence. Who we spend time with changes us, so this matters. I believe spending time with God in prayer and reflection will make me more like Him. His presence and love expressed in and through my life have the power to change lives around me.

As this season of pandemic continues, let’s remember that the life of a disciple has a very long apprenticeship but can yield a beautiful bounty—the mind and heart of Christ. I believe this all begins when we learn to sit still, quietly alone. And from that place, go out into the world with Christ’s peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness. That is a great gift to the world.

“The role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can richly give to others.”  The Rule of Benedict

LEARNING TO BE HOME — Let Us Walk Each Day in Love

Front door with spring wreathToday is Day 12 of our Self-Quarantine— Saturday, March 21 my husband and I found ourselves donning protective face masks and plastic gloves, and boarding an international flight in the Dominican Republic to return to our home in the States.  The DR had closed its borders as a safety measure against our current pandemic. We were fortunate to be among the first wave of visitors returning to their homelands, cutting short our winter stay on the island.

Our home state, Illinois, was one of the first states to require that their residents stay at home for the common good. Even though our two-week self- quarantine is coming to an end, we will still be staying at home. Many of us are learning to Be Home.

I am very fortunate to have many faith-filled friends and family in my life who are looking beyond the horror of this pandemic in search of the gifts it holds for each of us. I am grateful to be home with a husband who is like-minded in his spiritual beliefs, and who joins me in digging deep into our faith—in leaning into the One who is strong and wise. Lent has certainly taken on a deeper meaning this year. We are also having many virtual conversations with dear friends and family encouraging one another to look for the gifts, to recognize and honestly acknowledge our fears, our losses, and our sadness, and to pray for one another and the world.

As I wrestle with wanting to do more, I am filled with awe and gratitude toward all those who are sacrificing so much for their fellow citizens. All those on the frontline like the medical community and the dear souls who are coming forward to help. Those braving going out to work every day. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. The sacrifices that so many are making for the good of others. I am reminded that my small sacrifice can simply be doing as I’m told—staying home—making the most of that time, and loving well whomever God places in my path or on my heart each day. Not being able to visit my 98-year-old mother in Florida, or spend the Easter holidays with family, while very sad, is a small sacrifice compared to the sacrifices so many are making each day to keep me safe.

There are many powerful words that have been written these last few weeks. Rather than add more words, I’m going to share with you some of the words that have been most meaningful to me.

A ministry in my own community shared this blog post on how we can redeem this time:

https://www.themoriahfoundation.com/site/blog/post.php?permalink=redeem-the-time

My youngest brother did a Face Time interview with my youngest sister who lives in Italy. It paints a picture of our fellow world citizens and offers a reflection filled with hope:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWe78ujf6vw&feature=youtu.be

A current favorite podcast of mine, Abiding Together, did a special video podcast on fear:

https://www.staceysumereau.com/bna-5?utm_campaign=4e596a0e-896c-4bae-b5a9-cdf54c4de190&utm_source=so&utm_medium=mail_lp&cid=b39c04d1-cb4a-4ba6-97af-0c90335fda4f

A Chicago ministry that I follow, Transforming Community—Ruth Haley Barton—encourages us to look beyond:

https://transformingcenter.org/2020/03/that-the-works-of-god-might-be-revealed/

Her blog entry ends with the wise and timely poem written by Kitty Omeara :

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

I pray this will be so.

So, if you are on the front lines of this battle with The Beast (as many are calling Covid-19), I salute you, I thank you, and I pray for you. If you are called, as I am, to be home, I encourage you to not waste this time. We may never pass this way again. Take this rest as a gift and allow God to transform you so you can help transform our world, little by little.

  For out of this personal rest comes an explosion of goodness, first in ourselves and our lives, and then we can take that out into the world. (Matthew Kelly-Best Lent Ever—February 26)

Spring flowers--Janice

Let’s hold on to the hope that spring always brings us: in today’s ever-changing world, Nature’s rhythms remain the same.

JOURNEYING TOWARD INTERIOR FREEDOM

Cabarete sunrise 2020Last month I wrote about my desire to exchange contempt for compassion.  I am so grateful to God for gifting me with that awareness.  He is giving me the time and space here in the Dominican Republic to allow Him to do what He still does—teach, heal, and perform miracles. God cultivates me in the stillness, but also in the messiness, and in the darkness. God has chosen a stunningly gorgeous location to show me some messy and dark places in my life. Yet He is doing so in such a slow and gentle way. When I feel gratitude and genuine sorrow rather than shame, I can be pretty confident that it’s God’s voice that I am hearing.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:1

A topic that we are discussing in my Spiritual Direction course is Interior Freedom.  This is the type of freedom that allows one to truly love God’s way—with pure motives.  I know that I will never have completely pure motives, but I believe God wants to continue to heal me and grow me along these lines. I know that when I’m afraid, feeling guilty or obligated, or seeking another’s approval, I do not stay true to myself. I am not genuine in my love. I am not experiencing interior freedom.

During the season of Lent, we hear that God wants us to render our hearts to Him. God wants to free us—to take our hearts of stone and give us new hearts, hearts of flesh. This freedom allows us to be driven by our strengths and not by our weaknesses. Years ago, in the twelve-step recovery program, I heard God’s transformation process explained as God taking a scouring pad to my insides and gently yet persistently scrubbing away anything that gets in the way of God’s image shining forth.  My spiritual director recently asked me to visualize what that looks like for me now.  What comes to my imagination are the big aluminum pots that I have seen many Dominican women use to cook. I’ve always been drawn to how thoroughly they clean these pots after a meal. They tirelessly scour them with a brillo pad until they truly shine.  They leave them light, bright, and clear. Through the transformation process, God wants to give us lightness, brightness, and clarity.  God wants us to shine.  And He wants us to see everything and everyone in our lives with clarity.

“We encounter Christ in our relationships with others.” The Ignatian Adventure.

God has been lovingly showing me how I respond to people who are different from me—who hold different views, opinions, or see a situation differently than I do.  With a strong personality, I find that I do not stay true to myself. When I am living in fear, I’m not being my genuine self at that moment. After a period of time of not honoring myself in interactions with another, I become upset, unsettled, and I simply don’t want to be around that person. I believe this speaks to interior freedom—or lack of it. I recently read that we lack interior freedom because we have excessive attachments.  Taking that to prayer, I became aware of how I can be excessively attached to my idea of what something should look like or how someone should be. Interior freedom means letting go of my idea and accepting God’s lead.

My daughters Rachael and Beka recently illustrated for me a powerful example of interior freedom. They were able to share their genuine selves honestly with each other as they walked through their differences regarding a topic that mattered greatly to each of them. They lovingly allowed the other to share from the heart without judgement and to just be together in that process. They were even able to recognize and comfort each other in their distinct struggles with the situation. They trusted God that if they each stayed true to themselves, God would sort it out.  I looked on in awe, grateful to be a witness to such Holy Ground.  So of God—Good, True, and Beautiful.

I also experienced some sadness reflecting on how my relationships with family and close friends have not always gone like that. I long for relationships where we each can be honest with the other about how we are thinking and feeling at the time, with no pressure to be different or to change.  I sense that the ability to do this is tied to humility —to walking this earth the way Jesus did. Jesus was humble and kind, slow and gentle. He had a listening heart. I want this. In reflecting on the Gospels, I see how so often we as people can get it wrong, but Jesus always has a better way, a new idea.

I want to go to Jesus each morning to seek His counsel—open to His divine wisdom. Not pushing my way on anyone. Praying for poverty of spirit. Receptive to being shown where I need healing and change. Journeying towards interior freedom.  The tenth step of the twelve-step recovery program suggests: Continue to take personal inventory, and, when I am wrong, to promptly admit it. Was I resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Show me the harm that I may be doing to others—my blind spots.

This past month the reflections in The Rule of Benedict* have dealt with humility—how appropriate!! Here are two quotations that always move me deeply:

“Aware of our own meager virtues, conscious of our own massive failures despite all our great efforts, all our fine desires, we have in this degree of humility, this acceptance of ourselves, the chance to understand the failures of others. We have here the opportunity to become kind.” *

“The humble person handles the presence of the other with soft hands, a velvet heart, and an unveiled mind.” *

If both parties in a relationship are willing to do this kind of deep interior work, great strides can be made towards loving well. Loving as Christ loves. We all can rest in God’s caring hands as we make this journey. We can simply unfold ourselves and become—like flowers blooming. We become matured, ripened, and whole.

Our time here in the Dominican Republic always nourishes us and everything that is important to us. God seems to be saying to me of late, “Stay little today, Cherry.”  To live with less of me and more of God. To allow God to reorient my life so that I live moment by moment trusting in God’s goodness and greatness to lovingly care for my smallness and frailties. This is living with interior freedom.

“To remain little means to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God, and not to worry too much about one’s faults.” St Therese of Lisieux

All said and done, at the end of the day, can I answer “Yes” to the question, “Did I love well all those God brought my way today?” I hope to pray as Pope John XXIII used to pray—”I’m going to bed now, Lord. It’s all in your hands.”

I leave you with this passage which always brings me peace and gives me hope for myself and for those I love:

“I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes.” Philippians 1:6

*The Rule of Benedict, A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

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EXCHANGING CONTEMPT FOR COMPASSION—What my God can do…

sunrise from balcony

My spiritual director recently asked me, “What is God’s essence to you?” I was taken aback by the question, but also intrigued. So I went to prayer, asking God to reveal the answer. We have been in the Dominican Republic for over three weeks now. When we arrived, January weather was upon us—lots of rain and high winds. The palm trees were waving to me, dancing with abandon. This seems to have passed, and I am now sensing a stillness in the air. Each morning as I come out to my balcony and greet the day, I notice how still the palm trees are. As I sink into the rhythm here, I also sense a stillness come upon me. I definitely feel that I encounter God in the silence and stillness. A new thought has been coming to me. Perhaps God’s essence is stillness?

In silence and stillness, my heart waits for you. (Psalm 62)

It seems that God not only reveals Himself to me in the stillness, but He uses stillness to reveal myself to me. To show me my essence and the condition of my heart. These winter stays in the Dominican Republic the past four years have been so healing for me. While I didn’t come with any expectations this year, I sense a greater openness to surrender to God, His ways, and His plan for me. I feel He has given me the desire, or the grace, to long to go deeper with Him, to allow Him to transform me more into the image of His son, Jesus.

In one of the Spiritual Direction classes that I am currently taking, we are following the life of Jesus from his birth to his death as told in the Gospels. Recently we have been looking at the concept Poverty of Spirit. This seems to me like an old term—one that I am drawn to understand more fully, or should I say, experience more fully.  I recently read in the Rule of Benedict, “…in the dark days of the spiritual life, when we have failed ourselves miserably, we must remember the God who walks with us on the journey to our best selves and cling without end to the God who fails us never.” I believe this speaks to Poverty of Spirit —a deep knowing of my fragile human state, and God’s desire that I come to Him in that Poverty, and completely depend on Him to show me the way. Simply put, I constantly ask Him, “God, what would you have me do or be in this situation, and would you give me the grace to act or be as you desire?”

So, all this is a backdrop to the title of this blog. As I’ve been enjoying the stillness of this place and the stillness within me, God is revealing more truth to me about myself.  Things that get in the way of me loving God and others well.  Things that keep me bound in fear rather than free in God’s grace. Often, God uses relationships to teach me these truths about Him and about me.  I have found that when I feel either hurt, misunderstood, or not held in high esteem, this can easily turn into contempt for another or self-contempt. Contempt— I don’t really like that word. When I first encountered it, I wasn’t sure of its meaning, but I am learning.

Contempt is a pattern of attitudes and behavior, often toward an individual or group, but sometimes towards an ideology, which has the characteristics of disgust and anger.

Treat-with-contempt is to consider someone or something or myself to be unworthy of respect or attention.

Treating others with disrespect, disdain, mockery, name-calling, aggressive humor, and sarcasm are examples of contemptuous behavior.

Years ago, I was in a ministry situation where I was upset with the leader of the organization and how I perceived that he treated others. I realize now that my anger had turned into contempt towards him. It filled my heart and showed itself in ways that I was unaware of.  At the time, God had given me a dear, wise, older woman who took the time to listen to my heart in the matter. After hearing my narrative of the situation, she replied that I needed to get that “venom” out of my system.  Venom was an accurate description of what filled my spirit at the time. My heart was very dark.  She then asked me a simple question, “Cherry, do you have any compassion for this man?” That stopped me cold. I knew that I did not. I hadn’t even considered, up until that point, that I should have compassion for him. Her insight began a long healing process in me.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” To show kindness, caring, and a willingness to help the other. 

This past year, I seem to have revisited the ugly emotion of contempt toward another. Feeling hurt, misunderstood, and not held in high esteem, contempt slithered its way into my spirit.  It subtly showed itself in sarcasm, disrespect, unkind humor, or a dismissive attitude. While these revelations are painful, I am grateful to God’s gracious Spirit for pricking my own spirit and revealing more of myself to me. I have prayed that God show me my blind spots, and God always answers that prayer.  God opens my eyes and I can see. As we are studying Poverty of Spirit, God has gently shown me my heart, and invited me to allow Him to exchange my contempt for His compassion—for all involved in the situation. A friend describes God’s interior work saying, “God is melting me.” It has felt like God “melts” my contempt and brings forth His compassion in me—through a day by day process.

Poverty of Spirit means letting go of my feelings and depending on God’s wisdom. My spiritual director suggested I spend time BEING with God, watching the ocean waves come in and out.  I can talk to God about my contempt or any other negative or troubling feelings, and allow Him to take them. Let those negative feelings roll out with the waves. As a new wave comes in, I can view it as God giving me His grace, His compassion, allowing me to see myself and the other more clearly. And to see how God is working in all this for the good of us all. God offers me freedom from the things that bind me—freedom to genuinely love God and others.  I was reminded of John 8:31-32—

“To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

When I’m living free in God’s kingdom, I can truly live. When our oldest son started his freshman year in college, I remember him sharing with me, “Mom, I love life. I want to take a great big bite out of it.”  His words describe the essence of my word for this year—savor.  I, too, want to take a great big bite out of life, to savor it.

Over the years, I am coming to deeply believe that I must depend on God for all the things that really matter in life.  Those are usually things of the heart— relationships. At my age, I have come to know through experience God’s transforming power in my life and in the lives of others. I want to continue to be open to that power all the rest of my days. I believe that God wants to bring out the best in me and in all my relationships. This belief gives me hope and is something for which I’m willing to fight.  I am open to do the hard work of cooperating with God in this transformation. This usually means doing things that make me uncomfortable or may cause me fear and anxiety. Time and time again, I find that freedom awaits me on the other side. Poverty of Spirit, a complete dependence on God, can indeed melt contempt and bring forth compassion.

I recently read Psalm 92 and wrote in my journal: “I want to flourish like the palm trees. To flourish in your courts, O God. To still bring forth fruit in my old age, and be ever full of sap and green.”

I’ll end will a simple prayer that always moves me deeply.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

sunrise

OPENING THE DOOR TO A NEW YEAR—2020…

During the Advent season, our family has a longtime tradition of reading something called the Advent Book. It is a lovely, large black book that resides on our living room coffee table during the month of December. Each day we open a new door to a beautiful picture and Scripture passage which tell a part of the Christmas story. This year I sensed that I was opening a door to a new day. As this new year begins, I also feel like I’m opening a door to a new year and a new decade.  I ponder what this newness will have in store for me, for others, and for our world.

My husband and I started the new year at mass with good friends. The entrance song was an old familiar hymn.  I was struck by the line, Ponder anew what the Almighty can do as with His love He befriends us.” I thanked God for giving me this thought as we begin the new year.

On New Year’s Day, our family normally spends a relaxing day at home. We take time together to review highlights of the past year and share some of our hopes and dreams for the new year.  This year even though we had no children with us, my husband and I spent time in front of the fireplace reflecting on God’s goodness to us this past year and pondering what the coming year may hold.

“If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts.” Psalm 95:8

A personal tradition of mine is to pray that God give me a word for the new year—something to give me focus. God has been faithful to do that for many years now. This year I sense His word for me is savorto appreciate fully; to enjoy or relish. In order to savor, I need to “BE” in the moment and “PAY ATTENTION” —lessons God has been teaching me in 2019. I am learning that God is constantly forming me, others, and the world—we are all an ongoing creation. That thought gives me so much peace and hope.  To cooperate in this ongoing formation, I need to believe that God is always with me, always at work in the world, and that God has something to say to me in every situation. My part is to be aware, pay attention, listen. The Rule of Benedict describes it as being “disposed to the will of God, attuned to the presence of God, committed to the search for God, and just beginning to understand the power of God in our lives.”

“Your love is round about me; in you I find my life. You are the center of all that is; teach us to listen to our life within us.” Divine Office

Just like the church’s liturgical year, most of our life is ordinary time.  As we learn to fully BE in our daily life and pay attention, the humdrum can become holy. “We must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane, and always uncertain lives.” (Rule of Benedict) There can be much wonder in the ordinary.

“Prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.” —Benedict

As I live this way, I find that I am gentler of heart and better able to truly be with others, especially those who are wearied by suffering. To walk alongside, to comfort, and to be a faithful presence in our unpredictable world. I want to do more of that this year. At this season of life, I want a “simpler life, a deeper life, and a more authentic life in which the inner experience of God is primary and energizing and centering.” (Divine Office) When I bring this “me” into the world, I believe that God can use me to make a difference.

Never forget that Christ is in you.  You can make a difference.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and I encourage you to ask God to give you a word this year, in whatever season you find yourself. You also may want to ask yourself, “Who is God for me now as I enter this new year?”  I’ll close by sharing a few of my thoughts on this question. As I continue to ask myself the question, I feel God answering me through His word in Holy Scripture and through my own words when I ponder or write in my journal. Peace be with you.

Who is God for me now?

Mystery with a capital M, Nourishment with a capital N, Beauty with a capital B, and

Goodness with a capital G.

God is the Beyond beyond myself.

In one of my prayer groups, a member always begins her prayer with “Beloved”, another apt description.

The One who is always with me and never changes.

The One who quiets my mind and kindles my heart.

The One who makes me secure and constantly sustains me and mine.

The One who makes me brave and sets me free.

Source of all Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit.

Divine Mystery

My greatest Treasure.

 

Gentle God, you remind us that you are our faithful friend, and that you will deliver us from bondage. Look upon us, your people, and deliver us from the chains that keep us from the fullness of life. We pray this in love and confidence in Jesus’ name.  (Divine Office)

 

*Divine Office quotes are from People’s Companion to the Breviary.