Sr Kimberly, prioress of St. Scholastica monastery anointing my hands at the certification ceremony.
“Spiritual direction is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” — Robert Mulholland
The month of May is usually filled with graduations. As a mother of four, I’ve loved the opportunity to attend many of these special milestone events. This year I had the privilege of participating as a graduate. Something rather uncommon for a woman who will turn 70 this October! I completed a five-year program to be certified as a spiritual director with Ignatian training. A big “It is finished.”
As we enter June, I’m allowing myself the gift of savoring this time of finishing. I have stayed the course. God has been faithful to me and has given me the grace to be faithful—to Him, to myself, and to the program. I want to linger a bit in this ending. Savor the moment. Guard this rich trust that I have been given. Live deep. And do it all for the glory of God.
I want to pay attention and let God aim me toward what He has next for me. I know that time, space, and quiet are necessary ingredients to grow in the spiritual life. They are definitely something a spiritual director needs to cultivate.
So, what is a spiritual director and what do they do? There are no shortage of definitions to answer these questions. I’m especially fond of the idea that directors are holy listeners and that we bestow attention on others by listening. That may seem simple, but my sense is that there are many in today’s world who long to be seen and heard. A director can give that gift and, more significantly, can help one to sense that God is paying attention and listening to them. We really can learn to watch for God. To behold–be sure to see. And to be expectant of the more.
For someone who is desiring a more lively prayer experience and an intimate connection with God, a spiritual director can provide a safe space and a listening, non-judgmental ear. This allows one to explore their image of God, self, and the world. We are ever-mindful that God is the true Spiritual Director. We simply allow God to love people into being themselves—the creation He has designed them to be. In that sense, we are called to midwife the spiritual life.
Spiritual directors are not the miracle workers. Jesus is. We are not messiahs. We are simply called to serve others, and often in small ways. We leave room for God’s grace to work in and through us, ever aware that God is merciful and faithful and remains with us. We trust that God is continually forming us and others. I have witnessed much healing of deep-seated wounds in myself and others through the spiritual direction experience.
The function of spiritual leadership is to show in our own lives the beauty that oozes out of those who live the spiritual life to its fullness. To enshrine what a good life can be. We are to leave people more spiritually stirred, more alive in Christ and more aflame with the Gospel. The Rule of Benedict Insights for the Ages —Joan Chittister
Some have asked if direction sessions can be done virtually. The answer is yes. I have been doing some sessions virtually and plan to continue that. However, I dearly love sitting face to face with another soul in my home office with its serene view of our forest and lake.
Although we live in a goal-oriented society, this does not often apply to the spiritual life in the same way. But I pray that time in spiritual direction will aid one in fulfilling the call of Christ, which is to build a more just and gentler world where God’s love reaches every nook and cranny.
I would very much appreciate your prayers as I go forward in this:
May I always keep in mind my own weak soul, dark mind, and fragile heart when I touch the souls, minds, and hearts of others. May my weakness be my anchor—a gift leading to insight and humility.
May we all trust God who watches with patience our puny efforts and our foolish failures”. (The Rule of Benedict Insights for the Ages—Joan Chittister)
I’ll end with the prayer that I prayed with the other candidates at our certification: Loving God, on this 6th day of May 2023, I accept the call of the Spirit to walk faithfully and lovingly with all those women and men who ask me to journey with them. I recognize that to do this, I am in need of your faithful love. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your son and our brother. Amen.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com
My spiritual direction office overlooks our wilderness backyard.
“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you…” Zephaniah 3:17
This seems a fitting scripture passage for this post-resurrection Easter time when we sense the world of nature coming alive and being renewed. God in our midst. It can be a time of hope when the answer to the question, “Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do?”, seems to be a firm, “No! Nothing is impossible for the Lord to do!” Just look at those once barren trees and vegetation now overflowing with new growth, new life. I’m reminded of my focus word for 2023- Behold. Be sure to see. It seems easier in this season budding with new life to notice all as gift—to notice the little things. To hear God saying: “Watch for me today.”
The Lord, the King of the Universe, is in our midst. Expect a visitation like the disciples after the resurrection.
In the liturgical tradition, the Easter season extends for 50 days until Pentecost. In Scripture, we read stories of Jesus manifesting Himself as a consoler to his distraught disciples. His friends who feel that they have lost him and, thus, their sense of mission. This year I have been struck by how the resurrected Jesus did not criticize his disciples for abandoning him in his hour of need. He did not point out their faults or shortcomings. Instead, he came to them—he showed up, met them where they were at, and he consoled them, telling them not to be afraid. Jesus brought them peace, joy, hope, and confidence. Just so, he comes to console each of us, to remind us not to be afraid, to show up in our own life and in the lives of others, and to receive and share his joy. He offers us the gift of being our constant companion. He gently reminds us that we are to follow him, to do as he did, and to not point out another’s mistakes. We are to join him in his labors to bring healing, beauty, and peace to our world. Acting with justice, goodness, and mercy.
The cultivation of peace and joy can be our mission for the next 50 days of Easter Time.
God reminds us that we each have a light to shine. God wants it to shine. We are to go forth!! First of all, to guard this rich trust God has given us. Then, to let Him fan it into flame. We are cradled close in His hands and lavishly flung forth. Unbound, free, loved, empowered. Resurrection power. God wants to clothe us with power from on high. God is the source of that power. There is much confidence in remembering that we are in the hands of God. Ripening God’s way. We are called to live for Him. Love like Him. We are loved to love. Basking in the love of God we are empowered to love as God loves. Basking leads to empowerment. Take time to breath and to bask.
May we walk in the newness of life. Renewed hearts can renew the world.
The post-Resurrection scriptures also tell us of how the disciples often did not recognize Jesus when he was in their midst. That’s another lesson for us to ponder. How do we recognize the risen Christ—God among us? Or, how often don’t we recognize God among us? This takes living with a sharpened vision aware of the depths of reality offered to us in each moment. God in all things. A phrase I’m drawn to from an old television series is: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” Last Easter season I wrote this prayer in my journal: “I want to live in awe and wonder with gratitude, confidence, and clarity of purpose.” Perhaps we can all relate to the desire to live in the depths of reality with an open, soft, and free heart. God’s healing touch can heal our hearts and renew our minds.
“Wisdom comes to rest in a good heart.” Proverbs 14:33
I’m also struck by how the disciples walking to Emmaus responded to Jesus: “We were hoping…” What am I hoping for now? What are you hoping for? What desires are stirring in our hearts now post-resurrection? Let’s take the time to ask God what He is saying to us through those desires.
Another observation from Scripture is that the resurrected Jesus still carried his wounds. He showed them to the disciples. Have we looked for another’s wounds? How can we help with their wounds? Again, let’s take time to sit with God and ponder these questions together.
Jesus promised the disciples—and us—to send them a helper—His Holy Spirit. His Spirit consoles, encourages, animates, enlivens, emboldens, and gives us work to do. As I look back on my own story, I see that God certainly has protected, pursued, and corrected me. The disciples were ordinary, imperfect men who received power from on high to do extraordinary things. Imperfect people doing significant things give me hope.
Let us live out the Easter season brave, wise, and free.
**Photo credit–my dear friend Cathy Raney who clearly sees God’s glory.
As we turn the calendar to April, we enter into that holy of holy seasons—Holy Week– anticipating Easter Sunday. Over the years, I am more deeply drawn into the significance of this time. What a gift from God it is. I try to clear my calendar of other events to make room to do what Jesus asked his disciples to do all those years ago—
Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray.
These words make up the chorus to a Taizé chant: Remain with me. The link is at the end of this post. I would describe this song as hauntingly beautiful. As I listen each year, I feel Jesus drawing me to himself—to his sacred heart. Continuing his invitation to me to stay with him.
In preparation for Holy Week, the Catholic tradition presents us with two gospels that have deeply touched me this year: Luke 7:11-17 where Jesus brings a widow’s only son back to life, and John 11:1-45 where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. In both stories, Jesus gives something precious back to loved ones who were grieving. Thoughts of Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection come to mind. I also find myself pondering the things that God has given back to me over the years since I have been following him. Precious things to me. I would encourage us all to take some time to reflect on our own lives. What things of great value has God given back to us—resurrected for us? As these remembrances fill us with gratitude and love, may we stay with Christ as He enters into his Passion Week. May we watch and pray as the drama unfolds.
I’m also struck by how Jesus told Lazarus’ friends to unbind him: “Take off those burial clothes!” God was giving Lazarus new life—a resurrection. Here, I would encourage each of us to ask: “What needs to be brought back to life in me?” “Where do I need Jesus’ touch to bring life and healing to me?” Spend some time looking at the landscape of your heart. Perhaps draw your heart and all it contains—the love, joy, pain, lingering wounds, the unfinished business. This type of healing takes much time because it needs to touch the roots not just the branches. God knows that deep woundedness needs deep healing. In God’s hands, our wounds can be our treasures—our resurrection this year. Jesus was bound so that we don’t have to be.
God himself can set us free from the hunter’s snare.
Let’s peel away all the other and fully gaze upon God for the next few days as we prepare to engage in the Resurrection. Jesus gave his life as a gift to us. May we make the whole of our lives a gift— may we stop grasping and start giving.
God paid a high price to give us life. Let’s live life fully.
When Easter arrives, let’s be about the Father’s business–bringing about the Kingdom. Let God’s kingdom come through us. Don’t hold back or live life with the brakes on. Live all in!! Respond “yes” to Jesus when He says: “Get up. Let’s go.”
The Holy One dwells in us and does the work. We forget this.
We each bring to the universe our unique gift for the world. We can do what God wills us to do. Becoming fully awake and aware, we see God’s glory. Let’s pray to continue to answer “yes” to the Lord’s call to: “Stay with me. Follow me. Dance with me. And let me lead.”
Let’s stay with Jesus and live a life of prayer and care.
“Come, let us bind ourselves to Yahweh by an everlasting covenant never to be forgotten.” (Jeremiah 50:5)
“I (Yahweh) led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” (Hosea 11:4)
The season of Lent is upon us. We are asked to pause from the routine, ordinary time, to take a good, honest look at ourselves, and to ask for Gods’ grace to transform the parts of us that separate us from Him. It’s a time of self-reflection and repentance. I recently read this definition of sin: the failure to bother to love. I would add: God, self, and others.
I’m sure many of us have an abundance of Lenten devotionals and good reading material. I’m not going to add many of my own words to that. But I would like to encourage us all to make a serious effort to harvest all the good fruit that this season has to offer us. I’m very drawn to the Scripture passages above. They remind me of God’s tender love. They draw me to desire to experience and cling to that love more deeply.
I attended Ash Wednesday services and plan to participate in many of the events that my church offers. Doing something physical to show my desire to grow closer to God seems to have a deeper impact.
I encourage us to take a fresh look at the ancient path of Jesus. I offer these thoughts:
Consider spending quiet time with Jesus in front of a crucifix. Just be there with him in his suffering and see what happens. You could ask him: “What are you wanting to form in me during this season?” Or gaze at the cross and reflect on these truths: He did this for me. God heals incurable wounds. Ask him to increase your faith. To help you learn from the hard in life. The best comes from going deeper.
Practice radical attentiveness to life. We can be addicted to distractions and lose sensitivity to the subtleties. Earth is crammed with heaven if we take the time to notice. We need to practice depth. Like the difference between scuba diving and jet-skiing. We don’t want to just skim the surface of life. Let’s take the risk to dive in deep.
Lastly, but so important, pray often and honestly. A dear Benedictine sister I had the pleasure of knowing would say: “We dot the day with prayer.” I’ve also heard: “Pepper your day with prayer.” That’s how we can bind ourselves to the Lord and let him lead us with kindness and love.
Every Lent should change our lives.
For those of you who remember the musical Godspell, these song lyrics offer us a meaningful prayer for the season of Advent:
Day by day Day by day Oh, Dear Lord Three things I pray To see thee more clearly Love thee more dearly Follow thee more nearly Day by day
“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.