“Can you drink this cup?” “Can you accept the chalice of your existence—the humanity entrusted to you?”
“You shall be obedient to your destiny. You shall not continually try to escape it! You shall be true to yourself. You shall embrace yourself. You shall allow yourself to be under the hand of Another.”
These questions and challenges cause me to pause and reflect. A posture we are called to assume in the upcoming Lenten season.
During a recent spiritual direction session with a directee, I found myself commenting: “This sounds like a deep and significant surrender.” Even as the words left my mouth, I had the sense that they did not come from me. It felt like the Divine had entered into our conversation. Of course, that is always the hope and prayer for spiritual direction. The director and directee, as co-discerners, prepare a space for God and open themselves to listening to God in and through their conversation. Those words have stayed with me and prompted me to ask God what they mean to me, what God is saying to me through that phrase.
My 2023 started with what our son described as “a time when life gives us an abundance of joy.” Our whole family and many friends joined together in Oaxaca, Mexico to celebrate the marriage of our son, Shane and Frida Robles Calderon. The two had married in a small ceremony with immediate family in 2019 with the plan for a larger traditional Oaxacan celebration in Frida’s hometown. Unfortunately, Covid and other life events had prevented that from happening. The long wait only made the celebration sweeter and more meaningful.
I have been experiencing what I call the “afterglow”. Sensing God calling me to savor and continue to enjoy this deep and significant blessing to our family. I am also mindful that God sometimes uses those times of abundant joy—when God’s love for me and mine feels so real—to prepare me for “what’s next.” This could and usually does involve a surrender. So, when I heard the words “deep and significant surrender”, I paid attention. I am continuing to ponder their meaning in my life now.
As we prepare to enter into Lent (Ash Wednesday is February 22), let’s use this ordinary time to ponder some of these thoughts/questions. To simply sit with God, pose the questions, and listen. Pray for an open and receptive heart. Pray to get to know God better so we can discern what pleases him. Maybe even ask God what He most loves about us! Or what He most loves about someone we have a hard time loving. Then listen, be patient, and behold (be sure to see) how God answers.
We are called –with all our particular deficiencies, struggles, and crosses—to unite ourselves with Christ and to seek to grow in virtue. May we drink the chalice that God holds out to us and allow God’s holy will to work on us. May we come to realize that we are quite under the hand of Another and that it is good.
“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Jeremiah 33:3
Like many of us, I start my new year by choosing a focus word or phrase. Something I feel God brings to my mind as I’m reflecting on the past year, and looking toward the year to come. A few months ago, I found myself drawn to the word BEHOLD. You’ll find it used over 1,000 times in Scripture. Let’s look first at its dictionary definition:
Behold:To see or observe a thing or person, especially a remarkable or impressive one. To look closely. To stop and pay attention.
And its Biblical translation: It is derived from the Greek word ‘eido,’ which has the literal translation of: Be sure to see.
And in Eugene Petersen’s The Message translation: Watch for this.
I envision God encouraging me to “watch for” and “be sure to see” what comes my way each day, each moment. This feels like truly living the fullness of each moment. Living aware of the Divine. During the Advent season, we were encouraged to “wake up and be aware.” So, if I am awake and aware now, I can better behold in the new year. I must behold—stop and be sure to see—in order to sense the wonder of it all. Scripture talks of those who spent time with Jesus as being amazed—full of awe and wonder. And don’t we want to live that way. To trust in God’s goodness and care and watch for it—open to being surprised by God! For the Christian, behold means to look to God, to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit in order to truly see—to observe and comprehend God’s will and ways through His word and life’s circumstances.
In the Message translation, young Mary’s response to the angel’s Annunciation news is: “Yes, I see it all now. I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” To “see it all now”—what a wonderful way to live! Something to pray for and to fight for.
Recently our bishop here in Arkansas challenged us with this statement: “Let’s go down the road together and leave no one behind.” What a worthy goal for 2023. In our Christmas card this year, I shared that my prayer was that we each embrace God’s will for us with His grace and grow in love. I believe that when we behold what’s happening to us and our hearts, and what we are becoming, and we behold what’s going on with our neighbor and the world, we can live out this challenge. With Divine wisdom and power, we can embrace God’s will, grow in love, walk down the road together, and leave no one behind. Just as “Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52), let us hunger to grow wiser, healthier, and better at relationships with God and others.
This month I’m doing something a bit different. I’m sharing a reflection that I read a few years ago. It touched me deeply then and continues to do so each time I re-read it. I’m hopeful that at least some of you will also be touched as we enter this Advent season—a time of preparation, penance, and patience. This is a story of hope. It’s a longer read than most of my blogs but an easy read, and one that could produce much fruit for you. So relax, take a few moments, and let yourself sink into this story.
A Dragon’s Tale* by Marjorie Thompson
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence, and his schoolmasters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none… Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card…. Deep down he liked bossing and bullying; and though he was a puny little person who couldn’t have stood… in a fight, he knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time…
So begins The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third Narnian Chronicle by C. S. Lewis. What follows is a story from that world – a story of lions and dragons, a story of transformation.
To begin with, Eustace Scrubb had no imagination and no patience with his cousins who did. He taunted and pestered them because they childishly believed in a land called Narnia, ruled by a lion named Aslan, whom no one in the world but the four of them had ever seen. Scrubb prided himself on being unsentimental, scientific, and cultured; others might have described him as rude, boring, and haughty. Having been raised on Plumptree’s Vitaminized Nerve Food, Scrubb’s tastes were, in fact, deplorably narrow. It took little to turn his delicate stomach and sheltered eyes. To be quite bald, Eustace was the world’s original “wimp.”
Imagine, then, the poor lad’s dismay when the “fictitious” land of Narnia suddenly became a living reality, and Scrubb found himself affected by the very Magic he had ridiculed with such disdain! I am sorry to report that when this took place, the boy’s already ungracious character became absolutely unbearable. He made out his cousins, and everyone else in Narnia, to be ogres; he refused to take responsibility for anything in the course of their adventures; he insisted on viewing himself as the only sane individual; and he expected exceptions to be made on his account alone – assuming that he always got the short end of the stick, no matter how civil, even generous, the others were to him. So there you have Eustace Clarence Scrubb, for better or worse – and mostly, I’m afraid, for worse.
As the story progresses, the adventurers’ ship survives a devastating storm and finds harbor on an unknown island. Eustace, unaccustomed to work, creeps off to take his ease while the others set to repairs. He manages to get thoroughly lost and ends up in the valley of a dragon! Now the dragon itself is scarcely a cause for alarm; Eustace comes upon the elderly creature just in time to watch it expire. Then the real adventure begins. A blinding rain drives Scrubb into the dragon’s cave; and there, as his eyes grow accustomed to the dark, Eustace realizes that the sharp objects he is sitting on are not rocks. They are crowns and rings and heavy necklaces – all gold and precious jewels!
Of course, you and I would know right away that a dragon’s cave is filled with treasure; but Eustace had never read the sort of books that tell you these things. Gazing at the sheer magnitude of riches, his eyes grew large and his hands grew itchy and his heart filled with desire. “They don’t have any taxes here,” he astutely observed. But he had no sooner slipped a heavy gold bracelet over his arm when fatigue overtook him. He fell asleep on the treasure heap, and when he awoke, he discovered to his utter horror that he himself had turned into a dragon! Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard, with greedy, dragonish thought in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”
Time out. Is sin a word you have trouble identifying with? I suppose most of us don’t really like to call ourselves “miserable sinners,” or sing and mean “a wretch like me.” I once knew a woman who told me, “I hate the prayer of confession in our worship service; I can never identify with all those awful things we say about ourselves. I’m not like that; I live a good life.”
Perhaps many of us feel this way. One thing seems clear to me: that sin results in a certain blindness to the truth of our condition – the condition of being alienated from God, from one another, and from our deeper self. Sin is not simply a matter of the wroungheadedness of particular thoughts or deeds. Sin is a deeper orientation of life from which all of us suffer. If we have trouble recognizing our basic brokenness, might it be that this difficulty itself is a sign of our disease?
Eustace saw himself as an intelligent and superior sort of person; others could see his tragic flaws more clearly. In effect, Eustace’s character was beastly all along, but he couldn’t recognize it until it got so inflated that it took visible form. Then he could see his beastliness reflected back to him.
What prevents us from seeing our tragic flaws? Certainly, we want to be perceived as good, as right, as intelligent, as attractive. We often feel as if we should be all these things at all times; so, whether we think we are or not, we expend a great deal of energy trying to prove to others and to ourselves that we are. These very human patterns have other names: pride, envy, anxiety, defensiveness, rationalization, and self-justification, to name just a few. Each has a way of blinding us to our real predicament. We all indulge in such protective illusions at one time or other, individually and as communities – even nations. Fortunately, there are mirrors around. Sometimes we catch our reflection and, for a moment, see ourselves as others see us.
When Eustace realizes that he has actually become a monster cut off from the human race, he begins to look back on his life with different eyes: “An appalling loneliness came over him. He began to see that the others had not really been fiends at all. He began to wonder if he himself had ever been such a nice person as he had always supposed. He longed for their voices.”
When we recognize our inner distortions and see how they have cut us off from real relationships, we too discover a deep longing for human community. We often want to refashion our behavior to fit our changed perception and attitude. But at this point, most of us will find that the desire to change and the capacity to change are not evenly matched.
Paul speaks with hard-hitting honesty in Romans 7: “though the will to do good is there, the deed is not. The good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will… it is no longer I who am agent, but sin that has its lodging in me…”
I know what the old apostle is talking about. One of my weaknesses is procrastination. Suppose I have a major task ahead, and I promise myself I will start working on it early, both for quality and sanity’s sake. As the time approaches, I invariably find myself placing far less urgent tasks before the critical one – checking the mail, watering the plants, clearing off the desk. Any little excuse will suffice. I am aware of indulging my avoidance but can hardly resist the urge to put off the real work until pressure reaches a critical peak of discomfort.
Your “Achilles’ heel” may be different: perhaps overindulgence in food or TV; perhaps a habit of being sarcastic or critical despite a hundred self-administered lectures on biting your tongue. Each of us has at least a few areas where “willpower” just doesn’t carry enough voltage, no matter how we try to convince our actions to fall in line.
“Miserable creature that I am, who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?” Paul’s anguished cry is born of just such human experience. But Paul has an answer for his own existential question. It is the same answer discovered by our young friend, Eustace – turned – dragon, who now wants nothing so desperately as to become himself again. Not only is he odious to himself; he is a burden to his Narnian friends who must take him with them on their continued voyage – and however will he fit into the ship?
At this critical point – when the desire to change is real, but the capacity is not – Eustace meets Aslan, the great lion, “Son of the Emperor over Sea,” who saved Narnia back in the days of the White Witch. Eustace does not know who Aslan is, but senses his authority, fears him dreadfully, and obeys without hesitation when the lion bids him follow.
Aslan leads Eustace a long way to a mountaintop garden, in whose center lies a wide well of pure, clear water. Eustace longs to bathe in it, but the lion first commands him to undress. Our dragon friend succeeds in tearing off his outer skin and scales, rather like a banana peel. But when he approaches the water, his reflection still reveals a dragon skin. Twice more he scratches off his rough and wrinkled suit, and twice again finds himself yet encased in the vestment of a beast.
Then Aslan speaks: “You will have to let me undress you.” Eustace later recalled the experience in these words:
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff come off.
… Well, he peeled it right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was, lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobby looking than the others had been. And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch. Then he caught hold of me – I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and he threw me into the water. It smarted like anything, but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and … I found that all the pain had gone. And then I saw why. I’d been turned into a boy again… After a bit, the lion took me out and dressed me.
Eustace Clarence Scrubb will tell you from experience that you cannot achieve your own inner transformation. We can neither take off the old skin of sin, nor re-dress ourselves in righteousness. That is why, in the words of one of our familiar hymns, we ask God to “re-clothe us in our rightful mind.” Our desire to change is a necessary preparation for the painful but wonderful process of being changed by God’s grace. When Christ strips us of our dragonish self, he goes much deeper than we do – right to the heart. Real change means giving up much of what we assume is natural to us. That’s why we cannot do it ourselves; we simply do not see how radical the surgery needs to be, and even if we did, we would be powerless to perform it. Yet the pain of this radical transformation quickly becomes joy as we see and feel genuine health emerging underneath.
Eustace found that he was a boy again, although a boy with a much-improved character. His old self was fast withering away; a new person, his true self, was now free to emerge. But if his encounter with Aslan marked a fundamental change of heart, it did not yet mean that Eustace was perfect. The end of his story is an apt reminder to each of us of the ongoing character of transformation:
It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time on Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be quite tiresome. But … the cure had begun.
It takes time for our new self in Christ to be fully realized. But if you have ever tried to change yourself and been disappointed; and if you have then given yourself over to the One whose love alone can transform us; and if you have seen even some part of your life turned around through the mystery of this encounter, then you, too, can be sure that the cure has begun. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory!
Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving us even when we are beastly; for your patience when we are tiresome and blind; for your stern yet tender love which longs to heal us from this painful disease called sin. Help us to see our need; to desire your touch; and to receive your transforming love, offered to us through Christ our Lord. We pray in his name. Amen.
* Article appeared in the March/April 1991 Weavings publication
Fall has come upon us. A carpet of leaves covers the ground in my backyard. The sun casts new shadows. There is a stillness, an anticipation of what is to come. This has always been my favorite season of the year. October is my birthday month. Fall holds the birthdays of many of my family and friends. As I welcome November, I sense the feeling I always get of settling in, deep calling unto deep. Slowing down. A time to contemplate. Awaiting the Advent and Christmas seasons.
The past few years fall has also meant entering into a prayer adventure with the ancient way of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises—Retreat in Daily Life. This year I am co-facilitating a group who will journey together for thirty weeks. It is part of my training for certification as a Spiritual Director which, God willing, I will receive this coming May. We each commit to a daily prayer time that includes reflecting on a piece of Scripture. Today I read a very familiar passage in Luke, The Annunciation. A young girl, Mary, is visited by an angel of God who reveals to her God’s plan for her life and for the world. I was introduced to this passage decades ago. It has always moved me profoundly, and continues to do so. Mary’s response stirs something deep in my heart. “May it be done unto me according to your word.” I think of medieval language, “As you wish, my Lord.” Or, in today’s language, “Let it happen to me.” I’m struck by Mary’s meekness, her trust in something unknown, her love of the Lord. I wonder what was behind this response, her total “Yes, Lord”?
I think of another familiar Scripture passage, the parable of the pearl of great price. Once the man found this pearl, he was willing to sell everything to buy the land that held the pearl. We too need a genuine encounter—a divine, other-world experience—with The Pearl of Great Price, the Divine Mystery we call God, in order to fully give ourselves to the spiritual life. Once we experience the “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, our natural response to such great love is to say “I’m all in”, to sell everything, so to speak. Only when the farmer finds the “treasure” is he willing to give up all he has to buy the field. We too must believe that a greater good, a more fulfilling treasure awaits us through deeper participation in the Mystery. An encounter with this treasure can come in many unique ways, just as we as God’s creation are many and unique. It may be a sudden strong, spiritual experience or little encounters over many years. When it happens, it is a gift, a grace to simply receive. We cannot make this happen anymore than we can make a rose bloom wide open. But we can draw near to God, pray for the grace to encounter God in a way most meaningful to us, and wait.
“Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Delight comes first.
We don’t live the simple life that the young Mary was living. So many things grab our attention and distract us from The Great Pearl. Our own little “beyonds” such as anxiety or FOMO— fear of missing out— can keep us from the Great Beyond. I recently heard anxiety described as too much desire and not enough trust.
In all of us there are closed circuits of pride, fear, and self-centeredness that block the current of God’s grace. As we journey through life, we may gather false ways of looking at self, at life, at the other, and at God. These prevent us from honestly appraising and judging what is truly going on in our day-to-day life.If we are fortunate, we come to a point of recognizing the futility of our lonely attempts at self-sufficient management, and control of our personal destinies. The Christian way has always begun with the experience of being loved— letting oneself be loved—by God and by God’s people.
In my personal faith journey and in walking with others, I’ve encountered two major areas that seem to block or hinder one from allowing God to come close: 1) one’s perception of God and 2) one’s own woundedness. There is much written about both of these topics. I would simply encourage us all that God is bigger than both of these areas, and deeply desires to heal us. If we, like Mary, will take a step of faith to trust in this Divine Mystery. To be open to the unknown. We may first need to lay down our old ideas about God, ideas we are still carrying from childhood. God will show us the way—slowly and gently. He longs to continue to create us in His image.
Regarding those old, lingering wounds we all carry; I would remind us that Jesus not only came to save but he came to heal. His life on earth was spent healing many. Our past needs to be healed. Our healing involves that which blocks us from being open to lavish love. From receiving that love from God and from others. We all carry wounds that need the Divine healer. God himself wants to heal us. That is a powerful truth to ponder and allow to penetrate deep into our being. His healing will open us up to see, receive, and delight in Divine treasures.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
The treasure is everywhere, it is offered to us at all times and wherever we may be. It continually flows like a fountain. If we open our mouths, they will be filled. It’s God’s way of alluring us. All we have to do is let the waves bear us on to the treasure gleaming “already there” in the midst of our everyday life. While we cannot make or force any of this to happen, we can pray for it, be open to it, and pay attention to God speaking to us through our lives. As a dear friend says, “We can put on our God-glasses.” And we can ask for help—from God and from those wise ones He puts in our paths. God does the rest of the work and we can count on that truth. God desires perseverance not perfection. We wait in hope wondering what God might have in store for us.
Mary later responds, “The Lord has done great things for me…” (Luke 1:49)
To embrace God’s will and to grow in love can be a life mission. When someone approaches religion in terms of delight rather than of duty, that someone becomes willing to pursue what provides the delight even if the pursuit becomes painful, as inevitably it does along the way.
I’ll close with this prayer by St. Joseph Pignatelli, SJ entitled Perfect Resignation. I pray to be the kind of “all in” expressed in the heart of this prayer:
My God, I do not know what must come to me today. But I am certain that nothing can happen to me that you have not foreseen, decreed, and ordained from all eternity. That is sufficient for me. I adore your impenetrable and eternal designs to which I submit with all my heart. I desire, I accept them all, and I unite my sacrifice to that of Jesus Christ, my divine Savior. I ask in his name and through his infinite merits, patience in my trials, and perfect and entire submission to all that comes to me by your good pleasure. Amen. Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits
This sweet little plate has resided on my desk for many years to remind me to say “Yes” to the Lord moment by moment.
This month I’m feeling prompted to re-visit a post that I wrote and published in February, 2020. This was before Covid came upon us. My husband and I were visiting our beloved island, the Dominican Republic, for the winter. We were staying at a small condo complex on the beach, Orilla del Mar, which we affectionately call a hidden gem. I had just begun a program to become certified as a Spiritual Director—a program that would draw us to another part of the country, another hidden gem, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas where we now happily live.
As I recently re-read this old blog, I could vividly recall the struggle that was going on at the time in my heart—a heartache with a troubled relationship. I believe that something we all have in common which unifies us as a people is our desire for relationship and our struggles with relationships. As I finished reading, my heart smiled with awe and gratitude because I was no longer in the same place. God has slowly and gently healed that heartache and has indeed exchanged my contempt for His compassion. May this encourage you as to what God can and wants to do for us all. Enjoy the read…
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 to 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 shows itself in sarcasm, disrespect, unkind humor, and 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.”
For this post, I’ll add a prayer that reflects a compassionate heart full of God’s love rather than one full of contempt:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate my being so that all my life may only be a radiance of you. Shine through me, and so be in me that every person I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look and see no longer me, but only Jesus. Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine. It will be you shining on others through me. Let me thus praise you in the way you love best, by shining on those around me.
As I turn the page to fall, I pause and reflect on my summer. Like many, summertime gave me the time and space to read some good books. Recently, an old friend returned a book to me that she had borrowed. Initially, I only vaguely remembered the book but its title intrigued me: Letters Never Sent. My initial skimming through the book turned into eagerly reading it cover to cover. It is based on the author’s experience growing up outside of the United States, and later, as an adult, living and working in another country. Many of you know that my husband and I lived out of the country for almost a decade, and our two youngest children spent their childhood outside of the States. It has been some time since I have written about that experience but this book triggered many memories.
Letters Never Sent is a story about loss, unexpressed grief, and the gift of healing. Though I related to the author’s story because of my mission field experience, I think it is a book for all. As the author observes, everyone alive has hidden griefs, some unrecognized even to themselves.
My experience in mentoring others and now serving as a spiritual director or companion to others has shown me that we all need God to heal past pain, restore relationships that are broken or weak, and set us free from the slavery of trying to please others instead of God. We each need to come to terms with who we are, in God’s eyes and God’s kingdom. Have you let God settle for you who you are? Have I? I suggest that is a worthy endeavor for us all, and a gift God wants to give each of us.
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God renew your minds from within. Then you will prove in practice what is His good and perfect and acceptable will.” Romans 12: 1, 2.
People can be held captive not just in a physical sense, but by their memories and by feelings they judge that they should not have. When God gently allows us to remember and cry in a safe space, even two or three decades later, light can come into the darkness. The work of God sometimes hurts. But I don’t know if we can ever really know God until we are forced to cling to Him so closely. As the author explains: In every one of our lives, God requires a precious thing. For each of us it’s different, but it’s always precious; it’s the one thing we think we can’t bear to be without.
God will take the very thing you think you can’t possibly give to Him and make it the same thing that brings great blessing.
I heard a woman say that she had to learn to forgive many people in her life just for being who and what they are. I would add that God wants us to accept his forgiveness for who and what we are or have been.
A Biblical definition of comfort is to sigh with someone. What a gift it is to have someone simply be with you and sigh with you. How divinely powerful it is to encounter God, who wants to sigh with us. God shows his face in the depths of despair as well as in the heights of joy. God’s inescapable presence is everywhere. May we grow in this awareness. May we accept that our own needs are as important as those of anyone else God sends us to minister to. And, it is okay to be ordinary, if that’s God’s will.
In the familiar Old Testament story of Job, we see that God gave Job time. He let him vent his feelings and ask his questions. He waited without jumping in. (How often do we try to explain God’s ways when we’re only guessing?) God never did explain the reason for Job’s suffering; He only reminded him of who He is. This is how God expects us to care for one another.
May we become a model of redemptive, comforting love.
Too often we punish or judge others or ourselves before discerning the root cause behind the behavior. Letters Never Sent vividly shows us that emotions cannot be ignored, denied, or repressed without consequences. Ruth’s story illustrates that coming to terms with our honest emotions is an important channel for spiritual growth.
My own life experience has shown me that my wandering away from the Divine ultimately blessed me with experiencing God finding me, pursuing me, and rescuing me. The penetrating gaze of God can be compared to the gaze of a physician, probing and discerning the evasive but death-dealing symptoms of disease. There is no power like the power of Divine healing. God’s gaze can also be likened to that of a mentor who sees hidden potential, and is sensitive to the inner drive of unrealized dreams. As we let go of our fears and allow God to draw us to Himself, we can experience this healing, and then we can offer God’s healing touch to others through us.
As we enter into autumn, a season of change and letting go, may we be open to the God Isaiah describes here—open and willing to receive these graces, and to act on God’s behalf to minister in this way to others. What a great assignment for life.
“I have come to bring you fresh news. I have seen your depression and affliction. I have taken notice of your broken and bursting heart. I have come to wrap it, to stop the flow of the old ways, and to dwell there in your new heart, to become the ruling influence of your life. No more does the pain of life and the lies of the Evil One have to control you. I have come to deliver you from those things and from him, to establish Myself within you as Truth. To open the eyes of your heart. To set you free from sin and to set you free from yourself—to become what I have always intended for you to be!” Isaiah 61:1-3a (Paraphrase, Brent Hanson, Moriah Foundation)
***This blog was inspired by Letters Never Sent: One woman’s journey from hurt to wholeness by Ruth E. Van Reken.
I’ve heard that one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines is waiting. Scripture frequently reminds us to wait on the Lord. A life theme of mine this year has been I wait and God moves. So, what are you waiting for in your life right now? You may want to pause for a few moments, and ask yourself and God that question.
It seems we all have things that are pending in our lives. What we hope will happen or fear might come to pass. A decision to be made that we are uncertain about. A heart’s desire that we have prayed for over a long period of time, or something we are wrestling with that we would prefer to be resolved. Old wounds that linger on. So often I want these things to just be done!!
Yet I have been told to never underestimate the power of simply waiting for God’s grace to move. I trust that while waiting, I have an opportunity to experience the intimacy of being drawn like a magnet into the Divine Presence. Something in me can be created anew, restored, and made holy. I offer to God the hospitality of a soul ready to grow. I rest in God’s presence like a seed in the darkness of the earth, or a child in its mother’s womb. I embrace the waiting and ask God to transform me. At least, these are what my heart desires.
“Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” Isaiah 55:3
Those in-between times in life are waiting times. They offer those of us who like to do the gift of simply lingering with the Lord, pondering what really matters in His eyes. What endures. And in the meantime, we can practice living well as St Benedict describes in his Rule for living:
Live life normally Live life thoughtfully Live life profoundly Live life well. The Rule of Benedict
In the waiting, we learn to listen with a simplicity of heart. To clear away the clutter and enter into the daily practice of deep listening. We are encouraged that simply longing for God is a good prayer.
“It is not what you are or what you have been that God sees with all merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.” Cloud of Unknowing
As we wait, we ask God to prune away the obstacles that weaken our communion with Him. To cut away the old dead wood.To anoint those places that need healing with a glance of Divine love. We may ask ourselves how we feel about God leading us into the deepening places of our lives? What might be asked of us? How do we feel about that? We can ask God to help us be open to Him. To surrender our need for certainty. To practice obedient listening while believing that God is also listening to us. How do you feel when you think about God listening to you?
You might ask Him questions like:
Where are you in this, Lord? What are you asking of me now, Lord?
God can teach us how to live attentively listening for His voice. We must also pay attention to what feelings are most potent in us, and what God has to say to us through them.
Often, we need to listen again and again as our first listening may not be the final truth at all. A most dangerous god can be clinging to our own wills. It takes much time to discern God’s will, and even longer to courageously follow it.
As we move toward that great death at the end of life, we pass through many little deaths along the way. Our hope is that a new person is born out of struggle. Beauty is lifted out of our wrestling with the Lord. There will be times when God asks us to sink down below the storm, below the anxiety, where the peace of Christ waits for us. Our inner pilgrimage to the promised land of God’s heart.
Here is a Scripture that gently speaks to me giving me peace and hope. If I’m bold enough, I might even say that is shows me that I am dear to God! Can you allow yourself to feel dear to God? Ponder His words to us:
“God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 John 4:12
We wait on the Lord with the assurance that He waits with us, and He is perfecting His love in us. Little by little, we can love like God loves allowing Jesus to rule the world from our hearts. That certainly is something worth waiting for!
Reflect on these words as if God were saying them to you as you wait:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Remain in me as I remain in you. Stay rooted in me as I stay rooted in you. Live on in me as I live on in you.
**This blog was inspired by the words of Sister Macrina Wiederkerhr in her reflections, Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God. I’ve enjoyed spending my summer with her writings. Sister Macrina passed away last year. May her words live on in and through all those souls whose lives she touched.
“…for I know him in whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1: 12
JULY. We are deep into summer. I am blessed to be in a season of life that allows time and space for more reflection. I’m able to savor the graces of those lazy, hazy, days of summer. How different from the days of much motion in my 30’s and 40’s. Each season has its blessings and challenges. God will always help us to taste and see that the Lord is good. No matter when or where, so many things can speak to us of God’s goodness. Today I want to share about my love of words. One word in particular has caught my attention of late. ANCHORED. Specifically, ANCHORED IN THE MOMENT. What might that mean to me in my season of life? What might it mean to you?
An anchor feels safe, solid, and secure. Not easily moved. In my younger years, I felt much more tossed to and fro by the changing winds. I was uncertain and insecure. I can still feel that way but now, more often than not, I feel grounded and peaceful. What has caused the change for me? Perhaps the answer lies in another word I love—TRUST. God continues to lead me on a faith journey where I feel more and more loved by Him and, thus, able to trust in His goodness and wisdom in both my life and the lives of others.
When I am trusting, I can BE HERE NOW IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. It’s easier to wait, remembering that God is always at work in the world. I hear God’s gentle voice saying: “Leave the big stuff to me, Cherry.” I surrender my need for certainty.
So where did this trust that anchors me in the present come from? I would describe it as the slow, gentle work of God in my life. He has continued to call me closer to himself and helps me move in that direction. He chips away at my pride and heals my heartaches, as we say in Spanish, poco a poco (little by little). Over the years, as my trust has grown, I see how very little God is asking of me. His desire is that I show up, be still, and let Him speak to me. As I surrender myself in love to God’s love, He empowers me to stay the course. Basking in the love of God, I am more able to love as God loves. In God’s loving design, we are meant to light one another’s path.
God is my anchor and God is my hope. I desire to live in the depths of reality with an open, soft, and free heart. Beloved words from Scripture beckon me to go to the depths with the One who “enables me to go upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
More words that have been speaking to me are the lyrics from an old Christian worship song by Ray Boltz entitled, THE ANCHOR HOLDS. I encourage you to take a listen (on YouTube). These words called to me when I was in my thirties, but now, in my sixties, their meaning, like my faith, has deepened:
I have journeyed through the long dark night out on the open sea by faith alone, sight unknown, and yet his eyes are watching me.
The anchor holds though the ship is battered. The anchor holds though the sails are torn. I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas. The anchor holds in spite of the storm.
Recently, I read that trust is crucial to spiritual growth. As a way to build your anchor of trust, I encourage you to simply spend regular time with your Creator, sitting quietly, waiting, and listening deeply. Slowly and reflectively read these words as if God were lovingly speaking them to you. Pay attention to what they may mean to you at this time in your life. Linger with them a bit. Bask in their deep truth. Let them peacefully anchor you in this moment.
BE still and know that I am God. BE still and know… I dwell among you. BE still and know… I call you by name. BE still and know… my mercy endures forever. BE still and know… by my wounds you are healed. BE still and know… I give you my peace. BE still and know… I make all things new.
BE still and know that I am God. BE still and know that I am. BE still and know. BE still. BE.
LINGERING—perhaps a lost art in today’s world of back-to-back activity. What’s comes to your mind and heart as you hear that word? I encourage you to pause with that question before reading on. For me, I sense an ancient beauty to that word. Relaxed and wide-open in all the senses. A depth. Perhaps a way to experience the depth of our reality. Each moment is full or pregnant with the essence of God—Divine Mystery. This holds true with moments of joy as well as those of pain and suffering. The art of lingering may hold a key to living in the depth of our reality—those sacred moments that seem to come and go so quickly.
Even as I am writing this with a sense that it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit, I feel myself revving up a bit and wanting to get it done. Rather than being critical of this part of me, I am comforted as God softly reminds me that this is another opportunity to look to the Divine for help in my humanness.
Many of you know that I am enrolled in a five-year program for certification in Spiritual Direction. I recently completed the fourth year and will have a pause this summer before entering into the last year. Though it is tempting to jump into my What’s next? for the summer and beyond, I have felt God’s gentle nudge and tender voice saying to me: “Why don’t you linger a bit with me, Cherry, and reflect on this past year of study?” Go slow is another message I frequently hear from God. I’ve spent a lot of my life going full-speed or, more accurately, going over the speed limit. One can miss a lot by living at that pace. Thus, the word lingering captures my attention, and begs a response.
Completing this program will be a dream come true for me—a heart’s desire of mine for many years. I believe that warrants some lingering and deep gratitude for God’s faithful love and mercy to me. As a part of the fourth year, Practicum One, I was able to shadow two spiritual directors who co-facilitated a Retreat in Daily Living, a thirty-week program following the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Since most of us are not able to step away from our lives for 30 days as in Ignatius’ time, this retreat is done at home with daily prayer times, weekly meetings with a small group of others going through the Exercises, and meeting with a spiritual director twice a month. I did the Retreat in 2019 so it was very meaningful to be able to repeat it, and see how God has been at work in me and my life since then.
As I have lingered with that experience, I wrote the following:
This was a unique opportunity to regularly pause and grow closer to God in prayer while still living my normal daily life. Doing this retreat under the guidance of a spiritual director and with others who also yearned to grow their connection with God and God’s love was of great value. It felt like I had a team of cheerleaders supporting me and encouraging me on. The Exercises are commonly called a school of prayer. One learns different ways of praying: praying with your desires, meditating on Scripture, using imagination in prayer, conversing with Jesus as a friend, journaling , and reflecting on God’s movements in your day and your responses to God. I left the retreat calmer, free from things that had bound me, less controlling, more trusting, and eager to reach out to others with the deep love of God that I have encountered. My prayer now is that I may live in awe and wonder with gratitude, confidence, and clarity of purpose.
For me, to feel more at peace, free from things that can bind me, less controlling, and more trusting and loving toward others are all huge gifts. I want to remain with God, let God take me deeper into these realities, so that they become a part of my core, my essence. I want to relate to others from that place.
As I linger in these moments with gratitude, aware of my weaknesses, my humanness, and my need for God moment by moment, I sense God giving me confidence in him and clarity of purpose.
Reviewing my journal from my first retreat, I ran across the phrase: “Wait and let God aim you.” A phrase that has been on my heart this year has been: “I waited and God moved.” This is my hope-filled prayer for my next season.
As we come upon Pentecost, let us linger and ponder the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Advocate that fights for us. Who anchors us in the moment. The One who consoles, encourages, animates, enlivens, emboldens, and gives us work to do. We can trust this Spirit with our What’s Next?There is purpose and power in lingering. God is preparing us, and at His appointed time will aim us and let us fly.
“… I know in whom I have put my trust, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to safeguard until that Day what I have entrusted to him.” 2 Timothy 1:12
*** Anyone interested in learning more about the Retreat in Daily Living and how you might participate in a group this fall, reach out to me privately.
Holy Week and Easter have come and gone reminding us of death and new life. I recently read something that seems appropriate for us as we go forth in the year:
“We experience various “dyings”, not just with the death of loved ones but also with the loss of friendships, changes in lifestyle or career, physical infirmity, children leaving home, and our own relocations from one city to another.
Our God, however, is a God of life. The Resurrection reveals how God is always bringing life from death, hope from despair, love from hate, and light from darkness. So, we celebrate the “risings” as well, such as reconciled or new friendships, unexpected opportunities, renewed vigor, and meaningful learning experiences that come from losses.
Notice how the risen Christ still bears the marks of the Crucifixion. This itself is a consoling image. Our hurts and limitations are part of who we are. In death, they are not wiped away but are redeemed. God takes us as we are and makes us whole again. A new creation at work. God wastes nothing and redeems all.” — The Ignatian Adventure, Kevin O’Brien, SJ
I invite you to take some time as we move forward in springtime to prayerfully ponder your own dyings and potential risings. Let God show you how he has fashioned your life through these graced moments of dying and rising. Ask Him to show you what new risings He may have in store for you.
And for those of you experiencing the grief of a dying, I offer you this prayer:
Leaning On The Heart Of God ~Authored by Joyce Rupp~
I am leaning on the heart of God. I am resting there in silence. All the turmoil that exhausts me is brought to bear on this great love. No resistance or complaint is heard as I lean upon God’s welcome. There is gladness for my coming. There is comfort for my pain. I lean, and lean, and lean upon this heart that hurts with me. Strength lifts the weight of my distress. Courage wraps around my troubles. No miracle of instant recovery. No taking away life’s burdens. Yet, there is solace for my soul, and refuge for my exiled tears. It is enough for me to know the heart of God is with me, full of mercy and compassion, tending to the wounds I bear.