BEHOLD…A NEW YEAR DAWNS FOR US ALL

Behold = To perceive through deliberate observation.

BEHOLDI’ve heard that word many times during this Christmas season, and I appreciate the thought that it means to observe or perceive in a deliberate manner. My normal custom for ending a year is to review my journals and write a reflection of the year. I’m always amazed at the ways I see God at work in our lives when I take this time to behold the year. I give myself the gift of lingering over the time a bit. Afterwards, I ask God to give me a word for the new year. I wait and pray. Last year’s word/phrase was Listen Deeply which ties in with this idea of beholding. I am grateful for the many awarenesses I received in 2021 as I’ve listened deeply to life in and around me. I pray that this exercise helps me enter the new year with gratitude and openness.

I’m including a prayer that I read on Christmas morning. I believe it could also be a prayer for this new year. It speaks of the baby Jesus and God’s tenderness. When I truly behold life through God’s eyes, my trust in God’s goodness is renewed. I receive the Divine’s tenderness. That will be my word for this new year. May I treat all humanity, including myself, with the tenderness that God gives to me.

BLESSING BEFORE A CHRISTMAS STABLE
Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.

“No one, whether shepherd or wise man, can approach God here below except by kneeling before the manger at Bethlehem and adoring him hidden in the weakness of a new-born child.” (CCC 563)

Lord, Jesus, as I kneel before your manger in adoration, let my first Christmas word be: Thank you. Thank you, Gift of the Father, for coming to save me from my sins.

Without you I do not know even how to be human. The characteristics of your human body express the divine person of God’s Son. And in that wondrous expression, Lord, you reveal me to myself. Thank you for that saving revelation in your sacred humanity. As the Christmas liturgy proclaims, in Christ we experience “the holy exchange that restores our life.” Thank you for coming as one like myself to save me from myself.

You come as a baby because babies are irresistible and adorable. You come as a baby because you want our first impression of God incarnate to be that of one who does not judge. How I long to be united with you in every way. May I never be attracted to the allurements and charms of the world. May I love you always, at every moment, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. May the tenderness, the dependency, and the mercy that you reveal in your infancy become the hallmarks of my life.

Newborn Savior, the very silence of your incarnation proclaims that the answer to the misery the strife, and the meaninglessness we often experience in life cannot be found within us. You alone are the Answer. As I kneel before you, eternal King, I surrender to you all my selfishness, self-absorption, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, self-assertion, and self-exaltation. Even as I adore you on this night of your birth, rid me of the nagging desire to be adored.

Word become flesh, you make your dwelling among us. Yet you do not live your life for yourself, but for us. And you enable us to live in you all that you yourself lived. Help me to embrace this truth with all my mind and heart. Come and live your life in me. Empty me of my willfulness, my petulance, may hardness, my cynicism, my contemptuousness. Fill me with your truth, your strength, your fortitude, your purity, your gentleness, your generosity, your wisdom, your heart, and your grace.

O Emmanuel, may the assurance of your unfailing Presence be for me the source of unending peace. May I never fear my weakness, my inadequacy, or my imperfection. Rather, as I gaze with faith, hope, and love upon your incarnate littleness, may I love my own littleness, for God is with us. Endow my life with the holy wonder that leads me ever more deeply into the Mystery of Redemption and the meaning of my vocation and destiny.

Longed-for Messiah, your servant Saint Leo the Great well wrote that in the very act of reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. From this night on may my life be a dedicated life of faith marked by holy reliance, receptivity, and resoluteness. May I make my life a total gift of self. May my humble worship of your Nativity manifest how much I seek the Father’s kingship and his way of holiness. The beauty of your holy face bears the promise that your Father will provide for us in all things. This Christmas I renew my trust in God’s goodness, compassion, and providence. I long for the day when you will teach us to pray “Our Father.”

May your Presence, Prince of Peace, bless the world with peace, the poor with care and prosperity, the despairing with hope and confidence, the grieving with comfort and gladness, the oppressed with freedom and deliverance, the suffering with solace and relief. Loving Jesus, you are the only real joy of every human heart. I place my trust in you.

Oh, divine Fruit of Mary’s womb, may I love you in union with the holy Mother of God. May my life be filled with the obedience of Saint Joseph and the missionary fervor of the shepherds so that the witness of my life may shine like the star that leads the Magi to your manger. I ask all this with great confidence in your holy name. Amen.

THE ADVENT MYSTERY

Our Advent tradition

I love the change of seasons.  I also appreciate the Church’s liturgical year with each season carrying deep meaning. Full of sameness, yet each year offering us something new. The Scripture readings do not change but our lives do! For me, Advent is a season of waiting, of hope, and a time to reflect and look deeper at life—my own and that of the world in which I am living. I can slow down and allow God to speak to me—to teach me and to transform me. Here is a favorite poem of mine that speaks of my desire for us all:

OPEN THE DOOR
Greg Asimakoupoulos

When you step over
The threshold of Christmas
There’s a mystery
For you to explore.
A story.
A message.
Rich beauty.
The music of color and love.
There’s a sense
Of the Creator’s presence
The wonder of childlike joy.
The texture of worship.
The power of peace.
Turn the handle
And open the door.

Our church is now dressed in purple which signifies penance and preparation. I find it interesting that the lavender plant with its delicate scent is known for its calming properties. When we take time to be in silence whether early in the morning with candles lit, enjoying a stunning sunrise or sunset, or sitting alone in a chapel, we sense the wonder, mystery, and power of God’s peace.

It takes time and attention to encounter mystery. In our busy world, that can be a struggle.  I pray my favorite Advent prayer for all of us as we seek to experience the mystery Advent offers us this year. Maybe we can light a lavender candle as we pray.

Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness,
Send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.
By Henri Nouwen

Lavender– historically known for its calming properties

FORGIVENESS—IT’S DIVINE…

As I’ve pondered and prayed about what to share this month, I have felt stuck. Since beginning this blog experience in 2018, I’ve committed to only write when I’ve felt lednot to force anything. So…I have been praying and waiting. Last night a friend shared with me her reflections on a book both of us are readingSpiritual Direction…Wisdom for the long walk of faith by Henri Nouwen. As I listened to her share, I felt deeply moved, and I knew I had the material for this blog. So, I am simply going to share a section of this book that moved my friend and me. I pray that as you read, God may speak in a way that is personal and meaningful to you and your life today. I will preface this by saying that forgiveness from the heart is a true grace and gift from God. It is not something we can do on our own. Thus, the blog title—IT’S DIVINE.  We can pray for it and keep ourselves open to God’s ongoing healing in our hearts.

Within the discipline of life in community are the twin gifts of forgiveness and celebration that need to be opened and used regularly. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not fulfilling all my needs and desires. Forgiveness says, ‘I know you love me, but you don’t have to love me unconditionally, because only God can do that.’ I too must ask forgiveness for not being able to fulfill other people’s total needs, for no human being can do that.

We all have wounds. We all live in pain and disappointment. We all have feelings of loneliness that lurk beneath all our successes, feelings of uselessness that hide under all the praise, feelings of meaninglessness even when people say we are fantasticand that is what makes us sometimes grab onto people and expect from them affection, affirmation, and love that they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we are guilty of idolatry. We say, ‘Love me!’ and before long we become demanding and manipulative. It’s so important that we keep forgiving one anothernot once in a while but every moment of life. This is what makes community possible, when we come together in a forgiving and undemanding way.

Our heart longs for satisfaction, for total communion. But human beings, whether it’s your husband, your wife, your father, mother, brother, sister, or child, are all limited in giving the level of love and acceptance we all crave. But since we want so much and we get only part of what we want, we have to keep on forgiving people for not giving us all we want. So, I forgive you since you can only love me in a limited way. I forgive my mother that she is not everything I would like her to be. I forgive my father because he did the best he could. This is of enormous importance right now because constantly people look to blame their parents, their friends, and the church for not giving them what they need. Many people are so angry. They cannot forgive people for offering only limited expressions of an unlimited love. God’s love is unlimited; our love is not. Any relationship you enter intoin communion, friendship, marriage, community, or churchwill always be riddled with frustration and disappointment. So, forgiveness becomes the word for divine love in the human context.

Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another ‘seventy-seven times’ (Matthew 18:22) Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us all together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.

As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken and unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God.”

During these cooler days, may we draw closer to the Divine and let God warm our hearts with love and forgiveness.

A PRAYER FOR AUTUMN DAYS

The past few falls my blog has included a prayer or poem about Autumn. I’ve decided to continue that tradition this year with a new prayer. Autumn can seem to bring a sense of nature slowing down and letting go, preparing for the coming winter. Perhaps we can read this prayer in a slow, meditative way, letting its words sink into our souls, and allowing God to have God’s way with us once again as we enter a new season fresh with possibilities. May we pay attention and listen deeply.

A PRAYER FOR AUTUMN DAYS

     God of the seasons, there is a time for everything; there is a time for dying and a time for rising. We need courage to enter into the transformation process.

     God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.

     God of fallen leaves lying in colored patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.

     God of misty days and harvest moon night, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this.

     God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender. We must wait for harvest in faith and hope. Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.

     God of geese going south for another season, your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future. We yearn for insight and vision.

     God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs, may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the empty seasons.

     God of life, you believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life. For all this, we are grateful.

                                                                                                                   Sr. Joyce Rupp

THE WAY OF LOVE

Often as a new month approaches and I am considering what I will share in my blogpost, I reflect back on the past month and the lessons it has brought me. Early last month, I listened to a podcast with Bishop Robert Barron titled How to Discern God’s Will for Your Life. I was drawn to its message and shared it with many of my friends. You can find it on You Tube.

Bishop Barron suggests that when making decisions, we keep in mind first and foremost:

What is the path of greatest love?

Or, what is the demand of love in this present situation? How would Jesus walk through this? What path opens up my capacity to love? While these are excellent questions, they are not answered easily or quickly. But I believe they are a very wise place to start. Surrendering to God with a willingness to pray, to wait, and to watch for God’s movement.

In situations involving others, my mind naturally wants to go to what I think the other person or persons may be thinking or wanting. Next, I add what I think or want, and soon my mind gets very messy or cluttered. Fortunately, God’s grace breaks in and tenderly reminds me to go to Him and ask Him to sort this all out—What does God want? How does God see this all? Ultimately, I want what God wants. If I let God calm my spirit and give Him time with the situation, clarity will come. God will grant me His wisdom.  I want to keep in mind that we all are continually changing. There is always more to know about another person, about myself, and about any given situation.

I’m reminded of the well-known Scripture passage, 1 Corinthians 13, that starts with:

Love is patient, love is kind…

And ends with the promise:

Love prevails. God prevails.

That is what I truly desire. God and Love.

God is so patient and tender with all of my shortcomings. I want to be that way with others. In a recent conversation with my youngest daughter, I shared that as I age, I’m drawn to friends who want the best for me and allow me to walk through the process of discerning what that “best” is. And I want to do the same for others. I believe the way of love gives us all that freedom.

“Trying to change other people is futile, foolish, and
certainly not loving.”    Courage to Change

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.”
Thomas Merton

So this month, let there be love and let it begin with me.

JUDGE NOT…

“Wisdom comes to rest in a good heart.” Proverbs 14:33

This summer I have been reflecting back on how my life has been shaped and continues to be formed or transformed by the communities to which I belong. For over three decades, I have been blessed to be a part of twelve step recovery groups. Here is a recent reflection in a recovery devotional called Courage to Change.

“Our Suggested Closing says that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way—the same way we already love you. In other words, every meeting can be an opportunity to practice placing principles above personalities. Most of us are highly aware of the personalities of people around us. Instead of getting lost in petty likes and dislikes, it is important to remember why we come to meetings. We all need each other in order to recover.

I don’t have to like everybody, but I want to look deeper to find the spirit that we share in common. Perhaps I can find peace with each person by reminding myself of those things that draw us together—a common interest, a common belief, a common goal. I will then have a resource for strength rather than a target for negative thinking. I will have placed principles above personalities.

Today’s Reminder: I will keep an open mind toward each person I encounter today. If I am ready to learn, anyone can be my teacher.

The open door to helpful answers is communication based on love. Such communication depends on awareness of and respect for each other’s well-being and a willingness to accept in another what may not measure up to our own standards and expectations.”

This type of non-judgmental, open, and accepting attitude is one of the reasons I continue to attend meetings. I need to be reminded of how I truly want to live day by day.  I am offered a design for living that works. I’ve heard it said that God’s Kingdom is most powerful where and when we least expect it. This was true when I walked through the doors of my first meeting. It still proves true in life today. God surprises me by showing up in unexpected places, IF I’m paying attention.

I came into the rooms of recovery with a very wounded heart. I had spent time in adulthood attempting to hide those wounds or to mend them myself. I had failed. Deep down I didn’t think I was capable of really loving well. I had lost my way and let go of the spiritual beliefs and values that had been my foundation from youth. I judged myself and everyone else very harshly.

“Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter. Hush until you heal.”

I needed healingphysical, emotional, mental, and, most of all, spiritual healing. My heart was broken enough to be open and slightly hopeful that I could be healed. Many years later, I learned that our souls can be endangered by discord, and that we cannot let the hurting, hard heart drive our bus. I had lived many years in discord, and my heart was hard. I needed to step back, pay attention as best I could, and trust in the wisdom of others who had gone before me.  I slowly began to put my trust in God.

“We can let down the barriers of our hearts and souls so that the God of the unexpected can come in. God can roll away the stone to your heart.”Pope Francis

The twelve steps were the beginning of a return to the spiritual path—the faith of my youth but now through the mind and heart of an adult. God began to slowly and gently chip away at what I had allowed to stick to me. Together, God and I began to clear away the clutter so that I could learn to listen deeply. Today, I can pay attention to and appreciate the gentle wisdom of this world of wonders. I can look for sacred implications in the everyday. I can feel the warmth of God’s healing love as I am made new, again and again.

“Bless the work of our hands and hearts. God is glorified by the holiness of His people’s hearts.”

As my focus has slowly shifted off of myself and on to God and others, I am learning to view life and others thoughtfully. My heart is ready to receive God’s graces and share that love with others. I’ve heard our relationship with God described as two trapeze artiststhe flyer and the catcher. I just need to fly, trusting that I will be caught.

This gentler approach extends to the other relationships in my life. As I watch someone make decisions or navigate their life in a way different from me, I want to keep in mind that they are a mature adult who has most likely thoughtfully considered their options. They are doing their best to make decisions wisely. I want to respect and honor them in that process just as I want to respect and honor my decisions, aware that if new information comes along, we each can change our minds.  There are many times that it is best to simply allow others to work their way through the hard points in life. To pray and trust God in the process. Above all, to judge not. I trust that God can bridge our differences with the fire of Divine Love. God never withholds His love from me. I don’t want to withhold my love from others who may see things differently from me. I want to keep a good, soft heart so that God’s wisdom can enter in.

“Jesus, you know the strengths and weaknesses of the human heart. Share with us your patience and compassion; remind us that another may carry a cross beyond our imagining.”

Quotes taken from People’s Companion to the Breviary, The Liturgy of the Hours with Inclusive Language

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE STORY

Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

I have always loved summertime—its warmth and relaxed, slower pace. For me, this summer is a break from my coursework and a chance to explore our new environment here in Arkansas. Since I don’t have reading and writing homework assignments for the next two months, I’m enjoying reviewing some of my reflection assignments. Last year in my Spiritual Classics class, we studied some of the great spiritual writers in Christian history. Our first assignment was The Confessions of Saint Augustine. For this month’s blog, I’d like to share my reflection on a portion of this work. This is Augustine’s life story, and we have much to learn from our stories.  I found myself in Augustine’s story, and I pray that you may find yourself in this reflection.

“You (God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

I heard this quote of Augustine’s many years ago, and have always been drawn to it as deep truth. I have even quoted it to others, but after spending time with this saint reading this section of Confessions, I sense God’s Spirit deepening this truth in me. I purchased Confessions as a used book and upon opening it, I saw this inscription: “St Teresa once wrote of Augustine’s Confessions – ‘I found myself in them.’ May you have a similar experience.”  After reading this section, I feel blessed that I can say that I have found myself in these pages as well. I relate both as a sinner and as a mother.

I was left encouraged by his storya story of freedom, of God’s presence and faithfulness in the seemingly slow transformation process, and God’s prevailing grace. I related to taking wrong paths that seemed right at the time. My ego definitely reigned! I too had the false idols of money, power, education, prestige, and relationships. I especially resonated with Augustine’s over-desire to hear the words, “Well done! Well done!” While many of the other idols have fallen away, God is showing me that my desire for human approval is still too strong. I join Augustine in praying,

“Grant this, so that you (God) may grow sweet to me above all the allurements that I followed after. May I love you most ardently, may I cling to your hand with all my heart…You are my king and my God.”

 God has often used the imagery of being held by His strong right hand to draw me to Himself and give me His peace.

Like Augustine, I now see how from infancy God was my Keeper. I also was given a mother who “trusted greatly” in God. Unfortunately, I join Augustine in reflecting: “I was thus carried away into vain practices and went far from you, my God.” Later, I too found myself rejoicing in all the “goods” of God rather than in THE GOOD—God. I was also left a desert, uncultivated for God. I see now how God warned me as He did Augustine, and He fashioned sorrow into a lesson for me. Reading his prayer, “Who can untie this most twisted and intricate mass of knots?”, reminded me of a time in adulthood when I uttered almost the exact words in a cry for help.

I was especially moved by Augustine’s words in chapter five, The Inner Conflict, in Book Eight: “The enemy had control of my will, and out of it he fashioned a chain and fettered me with it. For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity. By such links, joined one to another, as it were—for this reason I have called it a chain—a harsh bondage held me fast.” To me, this is a perfect description of what we now call addiction. I have personally experienced what these words express, and have listened as many others in twelve-step recovery programs spoke these words to me. What he describes here is very relevant to today’s times and struggles and definitely a topic for spiritual direction. I take hope and encouragement in Augustine’s statement: “Our King bound up the strong man,” reassuring me that with God’s help, we may overcome our addictions. Similarly, the Scripture, “Rise, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you,” (Ephesians 5:8) speaks to this image of God breaking strongholds.

In my journey of recovery, I see a lot of parallels to Augustine in adulthood. His words, “You (God) stood me face to face with myself,” describe what God did (and continues to do) for me through the twelve steps. In recovery, I experienced what Augustine describes as, “More beautiful than all those things I desired to know is the modest mind that admits its own limitations.” I was also drawn to humility as a virtue. I join Augustine in praying, “You (God) worked within me. Little by little I was drawing closer to you.” Spiritual growth includes increasing knowledge of self and of God.

God also brought Holy Scriptures into my life along with men and women who were living out a strong Christian faith. In time, I came to believe as Augustine did that “anything lacking the name of Jesus cannot wholly capture me.”

These chapters also contain information about his mother, Monica, that touched my heart. I was drawn to her as a woman of great faith and prayer. I was deeply impacted by Bishop Ambrose’s response to her as she fought for her son— “Let him be, only pray. As you live it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” As a mother, I too have shed many tears for my children, and felt God’s assurance that His hand was upon them.

As I finished these chapters and reflected on God’s hand in my own life, I was particularly drawn to these words of Augustine: “For I knew what a thing of evil I was, but I did not know the good I would be after but a little while.” I marvel at how God has fashioned me ever since I “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I see how my great suffering has turned to even greater joy. In God’s hands, sorrow can be a healing salve. I feel that this knowing can be a great encouragement to those seeking spiritual direction.

As Augustine prayed, I desire that “a complete will to remain still and see that you (God) are the Lord” arise and be made firm in me. I long to hear God’s words: “Run forward! I will bear you up, and I will bring you to the end, and there also will I bear you up.” This is hope. I ask for the grace to believe this and to share it with those I companion on their spiritual journey. God longs to make saints out of us all!

TENDING MY GARDEN

After our move to Arkansas a month ago, I find myself in a new place with new people. A new season. A fresh adventure. I do love adventures though they can be risky.  Fortunately, when I find myself beyond myself, I do reach out for God.  That has been a constant saving grace in my life, and I am so grateful for that gift.  I like to think that God places me in my garden and asks me to tend it. I trust that God is with me. A pervasive, pursuing presence. I love God’s tenderness–how it makes me long to be tender to all in my life.

While many here do not know me, I have come to believe that no one knows and understands me like God does. I believe that God is constantly at work in creation and that includes me. Like Mary, I am to simply “let it be done unto me.” Allow myself to be loved, to be given to, and to be worked upon. To take a posture of receiving rather than controlling. To allow the power of the Most High to overshadow me. That phrase draws me in and causes me to pause and ponder its meaning. I’m left with, “It’s you God, not me! Thank goodness!”

Almost two years ago, I participated in something called, Retreat in Daily Living*, experiencing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in a small group. I was asked to put the program’s principle and foundation statement into my own words. At that time, I wrote:

“Life is God’s ongoing gift of love to me.  All of creation is meant to be a gift. How I receive this gift, my response in love, is to allow God’s love and life to flow through me in praise, honor, and service to God and others.

I am to partner with God to lovingly build a more just and gentler world. I may use God’s created gifts to help in my mission, holding them with reverence and gratitude. I either embrace or release them depending on whether they help or hinder me in God’s plan but they must not become the center of my life, replacing God. With God’s grace, I face life as it is, indifferent to the outcomes, trusting God’s mystery and sovereignty. My holy preference is to choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life and love in me.

I honor my own uniqueness in this particular time and space in which I live as well as the uniqueness of others. I can be me and honor you being you.

I’m struck by how meaningful these words are to me right now in this new season. How they comfort and guide me on the path before me. I pray they may be an encouragement to you as you go about tending your garden in your unique place and time.

I also ran across a scripture passage that spoke to me back in 2005 when our family was preparing to go on a family mission trip.

Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5

It is speaking to me afresh today as we enter this new adventure. Oh, that I would live every day allowing the Lord to consecrate me in order to participate in the amazing things God will do among us tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with a prayer that my youngest daughter made into a bookmark as a Mother’s Day gift to me this year. I have found it a fruitful way to start my days. I like to linger with it, allowing God to speak to me anew each morning.

A Liturgy for First Waking

I am not the captain of my own destiny,
nor even this day, and so
I renounce anew all claim
to my own life and desires.
I am only yours, O Lord.

Lead me by your mercies
 through these hours,
that I might spend them well,
not in hurried pursuit of my
own agendas, but rather
in good service to you.

Teach me to shepherd the small
duties of this day with great
love, tending faithfully those
tasks you place within my
care and tending with
patience and kindness the
needs and hearts of those
people you place within my
reach. Nothing is too hard
for you, Lord Christ. I deposit
now all confidence in you
that whatever these waking
hours bring, my foundations
will not be shaken.

At day’s end I will lay me down
again to sleep knowing that
my best hope is well kept in you

In all things your grace
will sustain me.

Bid me follow,
and I will follow. **

*Retreat in Daily Living; Kevin O’Brien, SJ
**Every Moment Holy, Volume 1; Douglas Kaine McKelvey

BEGINNING AGAIN…

Our new backyard–our little corner of nature for this season.

I’ve spent the last two months immersed in a major life change—a move. My husband and I have moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.  I’ll share more about this later. As I finish unpacking the last box, I’m reminded of a piece I wrote almost exactly two years ago. In it I reflect on another major move—our return to the States after living almost ten years out of the country. For this month, I want to revisit that piece—for y’all and for myself.

TO BEGIN AGAIN…

“ALL LIFE IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD.” — The Rule of Benedict1

“Life is made up of a series of opportunities to begin again.” 1 I find hope, and a bit of excitement, in that thought. Looking back, I see that life has given me many opportunities to start anew.  One of the most recent was leaving our ministry and life in the Dominican Republic and moving back to the United States. Our time abroad had been an all-out, all-in, out-of-the-box experience that lasted almost ten years. Returning is called reverse culture shock and that it was.

While there are no pat answers or specific steps one takes to begin again (and I so wish there were), I do see some life rhythms that have developed in those times of change and transition. They are not necessarily in this order, rather, they seem to be intermingled in my life pattern. Here are some stages I have passed through, not always gracefully, but always covered by God’s grace.

1. LETTING GO (People, Places, and Circumstances)

“It is hard to let go of the past, and yet, until we do, there is no hope whatsoever that we can ever gain from the future.” 1

It seems that all new beginnings bring with them an opportunity to let go (of someone or something) and to let God.  The late poet Mary Oliver wrote: “This is a beautiful world so long as you don’t mind a little dying.” Life contains many deaths.  As we recently walked through Holy Week and experienced the Easter Sunday resurrection, we saw that when one gives oneself to death/dying, beautiful things can come about.

I have been encouraged in this letting go process as I read…

“Everyone has to put down some part of their past sometime.  Everyone makes a major life change at some time or other. Everyone has to be open to being formed again. The only thing that can possibly deter the new formation is if we ourselves refuse to let go of what was. If we cling to the past, the future is closed to us.” These statements certainly give me reason to pause. I desire to see change in my life as a possibility of God creating something new.

2. WALKING WITH JESUS. PAYING ATTENTION. STAYING ALERT.

“I have a deep awareness of myself as a soul who is being led somewhere.” 2

I agree with this sentiment and am learning to trust that God is in control of my “what’s next?”.  This stage involves paying attention to where God is and where He wants to take me. Listening to my spiritual longings, enjoying that which is God in the present moment, and attending to what God is opening up for me next. I can gently ask myself questions like, What animates me? and What do I want to devote myself to in this season of life?

“Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive.  Then go and do that, because the world needs people who have come alive.”– Howard Thurman

Questions that help me discern God’s leading are, “Is this person, this group, this place, calling out the best in me? Is this where I fit? Is this the place where I can most become what God created me to be? Is this the path on which I see the footsteps of God most clearly in front of me?” 1

 All this takes some time and patience. I can look at what God says through nature. How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun. It gets ready to “bear fruit”. I like to think that I am always getting ready so God can move in my life. I want to be continually growing toward being deeply satisfied spiritually and bearing fruit that will last (John 15:16).

3. LIVING ON MISSION

“For this purpose, have I come.” — Jesus Christ

For what purpose have I come? What is my mission in life or, better said, what part of God’s mission am I to play now?

“To be fully active, fully awake, fully alive.” — Thomas Merton

This stage could also be described as “moving on with purpose.” My focus is to become the best version of myself3—to make moment by moment choices that lead me to celebrate and defend my best self. To do what I can, where I can, how I can, right now to make the world a better place. My greatest strength as a human being is my ability to make a difference in the lives of other people.  To speak into the lives of others. Or as my spiritual director, Sr. Betty Jean, encourages me, “You be you, Cherry.”

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” — St Catherine of Siena

My husband and I spent the first three months of 2019 visiting the Dominican Republic, an island bursting with God’s goodness—its awe-inspiring ocean, sandy beaches, majestic mountains, tropical flowers, and lush vegetation. Walking one day amidst all His glory, I felt God say to me, “Tend well what I have given you.”  I love the words tend to and cultivate.  Maybe it’s my farm background, but these words carry a lot of weight with me.  They have value.  Tending and cultivating that which God has gifted me includes caring for myself, my health-physical, emotional and spiritual– my marriage and family, and my unique gifts, such as writing, recovery, and bicultural living.

I believe that we do best when we know ourselves, our strengths, and our limits in the moment, and take good care of ourselves. When our lives are too full or we are living too fast–what my husband’s mentor calls “going over the speed limit in life” — we don’t take the time to reflect, ponder, or really put ourselves in another’s shoes. We can’t truly love well.  And, “the role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can give richly to others.” 1

“My work is loving the world.” — Mary Oliver

As spring comes to visit us again and we see evidence of new beginnings all around us, may we drink it all in, open to the new in our own lives, and simply pray…

“God, grant that I may love you always; then, do with me as you will.”—Stations of the Cross prayer

1 THE RULE OF BENEDICT: A Spirituality for the 21st century by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. 

2 GIFT OF THE RED BIRD by Paula D’Arcy

3 PERFECTLY YOURSELF by Matthew Kelly

PATIENT TRUST…

I write this on Holy Saturday—a time when we pause and wait. My plan for this month’s blog entry had been to share a prayer that touches me and fits well with the Lenten season. As I write this morning, I also see how the prayer speaks to the pause and waiting of Holy Saturday.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, we are again reminded that the crucifixion is not the end of the story or the final word.  Fall and winter always give way to spring and summer. In the Christian experience, suffering is never the end. God always has more.

Today I offer this quote to ponder—

“So, what is the message of this strange spring, this long-awaited Easter? It’s a message that is both old and new: Love is stronger than hate. Hope is stronger than despair. And nothing is impossible with God.”      Fr James Martin, S.J.

And, this prayer—

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, S.J.