GOD’S TENDER LOVING CARE

Galveston, Texas sunrise

Recently, while looking for a certain document in my files, I was drawn to a file entitled, PSALM—In Praise and Gratitude. As I opened the file and began reading the psalm, I had the vague memory that I had written it. Yet, I heard the nagging voice saying to me, “No, you didn’t write this Cherry.” I reached into my memory, searching for when I might have written it. I was led to look at some notes I took over a year ago while participating in a course on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.  There I found the psalm written in my own handwriting. So, I did write it. Or, God wrote it as a gift to me. This spiritual “find” happened as I was attending (virtually) a weekend directed retreat. It felt like another sweet love touch from God—a way God was romancing me. The scripture passage that I was living with for the weekend was Hosea 2:16-18— “Behold I (God) will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness; and I will speak to her heart.”  I was pondering how God’s sustaining love permeates my entire being and my entire life story. How God has transformed me from a survivor to one who is thriving. His shaping and re-shaping sometimes come in the form of suffering and sometimes in the form of pure joy.

As we are living in the season of Lent, let us spend some time alone with God in the wilderness, and let Him speak to our hearts.  I share my psalm with you for reflection. Allowing God to love me, and then to love others through me, has been a grace for which I have prayed for many years. In those moments when I feel overshadowed by God’s mysterious love, I know that I’m standing on holy ground. Awe and wonder abound. All I can do is to praise God in gratitude.

In Praise and Gratitude
Yahweh, God of Wonder,
May your gaze be upon me,
Your creation, the one
You call “very good”.

You are my constant companion,
My all-in-all, the Beyond beyond me.
It is you who animates me,
Shaping and re-shaping me.

You favor me, beckon me near you,
And invite me to surrender.
You remind me that I am a
Human expression of your goodness and majesty.

I can rest in serenity
And peace.
In harmony with my
Creator, my resting place.

I contemplate you in
the beauty of nature,
in my beauty, and in the
grandeur of the cosmos.

In your grace, Yahweh, I can
let myself be loved, be given to,
And be worked upon.
I stand in awe of you.

I pray that we will all allow God to draw us nearer to Him this Lenten season, perhaps in a new way. Maybe even write a psalm to Him. Or let Him write one to you. Let’s lay down some of those things that hinder this closeness to God.  So that on Easter Sunday, we all would look a little more like Christ, and desire to work to make this world look a bit more like He would want it to look. May we experience God’s tenderness to us, and may we mimic that tenderness in our relationships with others. May we see ourselves as God sees us, and see others and the world as God meant them to be.  I believe both will please God.

I’ll leave us with this thoughtful prayer written so may years ago by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin :

Enfold Me in Your Heart
Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;
and there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,
raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation.

Hot Springs, Arkansas landscape

AM I DOING IT WRONG?

Barren trees displaying their glory in the light of the sun.

I’m not sure when this phrase came into my life. Did someone say this to me, “You’re doing it wrong.”? Or, did I just assimilate it through experience? As I am allowing my word or theme for 2021—listen deeply—to live in me, I sense God’s desire to go deeper with me in healing those old wounds that hinder me from receiving this gift of deep listening.  God seems to be bringing to the surface themes in my life that have existed for a very long time. Themes that have hindered me from intimacy with God and others. I can see now that if we come to sense and know God through our heart, then if our heart is wounded, we are hindered from knowing God and others to the fullest. Heart wounds and trauma from the past cause the demons of fear and anger to cling to us in the present. Their critical voices come to live with us.

Growing up I don’t ever remember my father saying, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry.”   To the contrary, I feel that I was overly favored by my father, which has caused a different set of problems within myself and my relationships with my siblings. Nevertheless, I left home with the belief that there was a right and a wrong way of doing things. I dearly wanted to do it the right way. I felt love from my father when I performed well. Conversely, if I went against his views, I felt his displeasure and subsequent coldness and dismissiveness. So, I was highly motivated to gain his approval.

Unfortunately, these themes of striving to do it right and gaining the approval of another accompanied me into adulthood. I thrived on excelling in whatever I did, craving recognition and approval. Things went along this way for about the first decade of adulthood. I married and easily conceived, and received the precious gift of two healthy children who looked good and performed well. Sadly, my husband and I pursued cultivating our careers but not our marriage. I was far too focused on myself and my success to care for and love my husband well.  At 35, he asked for a divorce. Quiet during our ten-year marriage, he then began to voice all his unhappiness and criticism of me.  Coming from a place of deep hurt within him, his angry, harsh words shocked and stung me. I heard, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry.” All my fears and insecurities came rushing out. I immediately scurried to “do it right.” To make up for what I had done. Unfortunately, my husband was not open to my offer to change. For him, it was too little too late, so we did divorce. Out of that deep pain and by God’s abundant mercy and grace, a new phase opened up for me. A surrender on my part that resulted in a spiritual awakening if you will. It felt like a fresh start, a new beginning, for which I’m very grateful, but I see how the lie, “You’re doing it wrong, Cherry,” came with me into this new life.

I love the phrases: God is not finished yet and It’s not the end of the story. God often reminds me of these truths as He gifts me with the grace of patience and hope. God is able to open our eyes to the light that drives out the darkness within us. The words of a recovery friend frequently come to mind: “Figure it out is NOT one of the 12 steps!” I would so love a nice neat list of steps to follow that results in a healed heart and deep intimacy with God and others. I hope that God is pleased with this heart’s desire of mine, but I believe His plan is different. I don’t need to figure it out because God already has. God offers to take upon himself the care of our affairs.  God is giving me the gift of time and drawing me to stay awhile in each moment, each event, each thought, and each conversation. There is power in silence, in prayer, and in waiting. The soul comes to rest in God as God works in the soul and heals the heart. I can trust this, trust God, and ask for His help when I falter and doubt. I can simply BE right where I am today and who I am today praying to trust in God’s goodness and wisdom.

Amidst all the voices that speak to me daily, including that critical voice that says “You’re doing it wrong,” I am beginning to hear a higher voice above all the others. A voice that calls me to come (empty and trusting), to rest in God’s loving embrace, and to receive. Gradually, anger and fear no longer cling to me. I can go forward on the journey to my best self, clinging to my God who walks with me, and who never fails me. From this place of God’s fullness, His love and beauty ooze out of me onto others. This is the work of a lifetime. But God has given me a lifetime.

“What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared
for those who love…” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

P.S.  While reflecting and writing this blogpost, a long-time favorite read of mine keeps coming to mind. Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is a tenderly-written allegory of a young woman called Much Afraid and her journey with the Good Shepherd to the High Places.  In the end, her pain and suffering are transformed into grace and glory. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

Winter’s grace and glory.

LISTENING DEEPLY– PART II

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

Last month I invited us to take some time and ask ourselves what the phrase Listen deeply means to each one of us. Recently, a friend reached out to share their experience with the phrase, and asked me to share mine. First of all, I am profoundly grateful to have friends in my life who want to engage in these types of conversations. A true gift from God. Shortly after that conversation, another friend shared that after reading the blog, she was going to make Listen her word for 2021. These conversations caused me to reflect more on what this phrase means to me at this point in my life. I plan to make Listen deeply my word for 2021. This blogpost is a response to my friends prompting me to go deeper with this phrase.

My starting point is my strong belief that there is always more than meets the eye in any experience. I pray to expect and live from this belief. I know there is a difference between ordinary everyday seeing and listening and the searching, penetrating vision that comes when God opens our hearts. We can then listen deeply with our hearts. We can ask God to stir into flame our awareness of the Divine presence in and around us as we say, “Come Holy Spirit.” We then live aware, open, and expectant. 2020 has allowed many of us the time and space for this type of intentional living—listening and seeing. We are able to stay awhile in each moment.

“God and silence are great friends. We need to listen to God, because it’s not what we say, but what God says to us and through us that matters.”
Mother Theresa

In addition to this gift of time and space, I can allow God to make more room in my heart by cleaning out the things that keep me from closer union with the Divine. Personally, I incorporate a daily examen in my life. I sit before God and allow the Holy Spirit to show me those things that block me from God and from others. My experience is that when we go to God with an open mind and heart, God is faithful to gently heal our wounds and revive our hearts. Spending time with God truly does make us more like Jesus who is, above all, meek and humble of heart. I can shed some of my skin that does not serve me or help others.

“Live simply under the loving direction of the Spirit of God.”
John of the Cross

Over time, this practice is changing me. I now long for God’s loving embrace to be my dwelling place. I know that the Lord is always near. God’s light always dispels the darkness in me. No one knows me like God does.  I am drawn to a further letting go of the things of this world—to simply let life happen. This attitude helps me lay down my own agenda and listen deeply to the God who is in everyone and everything.  For me, the phrase less of me and more of God is becoming none of me and ALL of God.

Listening deeply requires that I maintain a posture of resting and receiving rather than engaging in frenzied activity or attempting to control—a person or situation. I can be patient with myself, with others, and with life. I loosen my sure hold on what I think I know. I listen to learn rather than to judge. Criticism can be a distraction that keeps me from getting to know God and myself. I recently read that we cannot criticize even interiorly without detriment to our own soul. A thought that sobers me. I believe that we all have toxins in our lives that need to be released—whether that’s drinking, drugs, or disordered attachments to others, or other unhealthy attachments. This type of letting go makes space for the Divine to enter in, to surprise us with God’s goodness. It enables deep listening.

Thinking of my word for 2020, I see that I have been able to savor more of life— to experience life’s awe and wonder, and not just at Christmas time. God is so attentive to me. I want to be attentive to God.  I recently felt God give me the phrase,

“Cherry, you have no idea!!”

I want to reflect more on what God is saying through these words. For now, they keep me humble, reminding me that I know only a little. Yet, I’m filled with excitement, expectant of what is to come from God—more than I can hope for or imagine. I have no idea!

“I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And You gave it to me.”
 Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel

Lately, I have experienced times where I feel that I am more fully present to the moment.  I just sink in and let the wave of life carry me along. This seems to be a fruit of listening deeply. Another new fruit of this type of listening is the awareness that the critical voice, that unfortunately still comes to visit me from time to time, IS NOT GOD’S VOICE. God’s ways are slow, gentle, tender, and loving. They draw me closer rather than cause me to retreat in fear.  When I hear the critical voice, I can simply run to God for help. God can sort it all out for me.

I pray that I can have more of these awarenesses as I continue on this path of deep listening. God promises to share Divine wisdom with us—God’s secrets. A wise person can step back, wait, listen deeply, and be patient.  Wait for God to move.  Look to God alone as a dear faithful friend.  Then relax and stay awhile in the moment.

“Call to me and I will answer you; I will tell you great secrets of which you know nothing.” Ezekiel 33:3

Here’s to more deep listening in 2021.

LISTENING DEEPLY

Sunset at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri —Thanksgiving 2020

Advent 2020 is upon us.  The end of a year like no other. The hope of things to come. The preparations for celebrating the Christmas holiday. We hear that Advent is a season of waiting. Recently, I heard the challenge to listen deeply. As I engage in this Advent waiting, I am drawn to this idea of listening deeply—to others, to myself, to life.

I encourage us to take some time and ask God what that phrase means for each of us. For me, I know listening involves paying close attention to life as it presents itself moment by moment. I’m called to not resist life but allow God to open my spiritual eyes and to heal my blind spots. This type of listening calls for less words and more silence.  In keeping with that spirit, this month my only words are to challenge each of us to sit with the phrase listen deeply, and ask God to lead and guide us along that path as we finish out 2020.

I leave you with two of my favorite Advent traditions—a poem and a prayer. The poem is God’s invitation to us, and the prayer is our response—our invitation to God.

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

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

As we encounter dazzling Christmas lights everywhere, may we be reminded to seek the natural light of God, the Divine, and listen deeply.

God bless you.

AUTUMN’S ABUNDANCE

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2020-farm-sunset-1.jpg
Autumn sunset on our family farm. Photo courtesy of my sister, Lori King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

O BEAUTY EVER ANCIENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Roc O’Connor—from Morning Light CD

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

 May your autumn reap an abundant harvest!

LOVING BEYOND MY PRESENT CAPACITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A HEART OF FLESH

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

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

A new heart I will give you,

And a new spirit I will put within you;

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

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

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

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

Listen and Care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PONDER ANEW…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PATIENT TRUST

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability—

And that it may take a very long time.

And so, I think it is with you:

Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow.

Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

                                                                             Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

 

 

 LET US NOT FORGET…

Lake Bloomington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remain in my love.

 Oh, please Lord, let me not forget.

 

 

 

 

Lake Bloomington-2

SIT. STILL. QUIETLY. ALONE.

Sitting still--high back chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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