What could be more beautiful

I have recently discovered St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, who together with St. Teresa of Avila, led the reform of the Carmelite order of nuns and monks.  He was a soft-spoken, slight man of only 4 feet 11 inches…empathetic and caring and one who gently lead others to God.  Up until I began to read his words myself, however, I found him to be one of those inaccessible ascetics who had very little to do with me.  Then I read these words he wrote from the floor of his prison cell where, because of his role as a radical reformer, he was mercilessly beaten and abused by his fellow monks:

I am dying of love darling, what should I do?

And the Beloved responded,

Then die my sweetheart–just die.  Die to all that is not us;

what could be more beautiful.

I am not sure that I can do justice to how these words stirred so deeply within me…the longing that arose for that kind of intimacy with the Divine One.  At the same time, however, these words frighten me.  John of the Cross was after all lying in his own feces and vomit clinging by a thread to life when he had this vision.  I can say with all honesty that I do not want to be anywhere near that kind of suffering.  And so I sheepishly ask for a short-cut.  Is there any other way to have this kind of union with the Beloved?

My gut says the answer is, no.  And at the same time, I sense the urgency for John also writes:

“It was to reach this (union) that he created her in his image and likeness.  (It is for this union) that we are always hungering, by our very nature, and by the gift of God; nothing less will satisfy the heart.  In short, it was for this goal of love that we were created…Oh souls created for this greatness and summoned to it–what are you doing?! ” (The Spiritual Canticle)

In my heart I know that this is true.  It bears itself out over and over in my life.  I become aware of inner emptiness and I seek to fill it with things and experiences and people.  I spend money like a drunken sailor, pour over fashion magazines, line up lunch dates…all to distract myself from the truth: my soul, like yours, was created for greatness.  What in God’s name am I doing?

Once again, I am left with a mixture of desire and fear.  I fall into silence, into the place of unknowing and rest in God for a while because there is absolutely nothing else that I can do.  I ask God to continue to be a gentle lover…to coax me out of my fear and into his gracious arms.  What could be more beautiful!

The Lovers by Atkinson Grimshaw

What is mine to do?

I have become haunted by a little poem by the Sufi mystic and poet, Hafiz.  He writes simply:

You promised you would help.

These words remind me also of the words of St. Teresa of Avila to her fellow sisters.  Describing the Divine union that takes place for her in prayer, she says it is like watching  rain falling into a river.  The rain falls and falls.  At some point there becomes a moment when you can no longer tell where the rain ends and the  river begins…and your one question is:  How can I be helpful?

I have learned too that St. Francis’ question (and the inspiration for the title of my blog) was:  What is mine to do?

For much of my life I have been dogged with questions of calling, vocation, my place in the world, making my mark, fulfilling my destiny…doing more…being more.  Sometimes this was an earnest quest; sometimes it was driven by ego and most of the time it was a mixture of both.

I have recently come to understand that my life’s real purpose is to become who I was truly meant to be in God.  When I was created God named me, defined me in Love.  My life’s work is to become that person.  Unfortunately, there are layers to get through before I find her.  She is elusive and prefers to hide behind safe walls and wears costumes and masks.  She needs to be coaxed out, reassured, and most of all loved.

In this blog I hope to share with you my journey to my true self.  I do so because in part, I think it will be my salvation, and in part, because to do so is to fulfill one piece of what is mine to do.  I do not know much but I am a seeker.  I imagine myself a part of the contingent that followed the Star to Bethlehem.

My star has led me to a college on the east coast from a small border town in Texas, to a marriage at a youngish age and the rapid formation of a family with three children.  My star has taken me to pursue a graduate degree in theology and pastoral ministry and to a vocation in religious education.  It has taken me to a yoga studio in Austin, Texas to infuse yoga into my spiritual practice and then to become certified as a yoga teacher so that I could share the message of God’s love.  It has taken me to city after city, following my husband as he works to provide for our family.

And I believe that now, my star brings me to this moment to share this part of my journey with you.  I don’t know much but what I learn along the way I will share with you in the hopes of discovering our authentic selves.  I don’t know much but I know desire.  I know the desire of wanting to live freely.  The desire of giving up that which chains me to the world.  I know that more than anything in the world I do not wish to remain hidden from, or worse, unknown by the Beloved.

So if you come here you will find as much honesty as I can muster.  You will find a seeker.  You will find someone diligently and faithfully in process of becoming who she was created to be.  It may sometimes look messy, be messy, make no sense but it may also provide a glimpse into truth every now and then…and every now and then be a portal to Love.

The Many Faces of Me

Running Toward the Shore

The crowds gather and grow.  Person after person tell neighbors and they rush through the small town toward the shore where he was last seen.  They are pulled.  They are drawn like a sinking stone into the depths.  They are tired of skimming the surface.  They are tired of waking up each morning only half-alive.  Healing?  Healing?  They are not sure what it means but they know they cannot live without it.

I too am pulled and drawn to go deeper.  I do not know very much, but I do know that kind of desire…the kind that leads you to the shore…to the unknown.  On some mornings I awaken to this half-life, to the realization that my life is not working, to my withered hand…my withered life and to my monstrous desire.  Those are actually the good days.  Those are the days that I hear my name and I choose not to hide.  Those are the days that an inner awareness pierces the illusion of my false self.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, wrote the following:

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.  This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God doesn’t know anything about him.  And to be unknown by God is altogether too much privacy.  My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love–outside of reality and outside of life.  And such a self cannot but be an illusion (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 34).

With abandon and boundless hope the crowds run toward Jesus.  Perhaps as he moves through their small community, healing and loving purely, he casts a light on the shadows within their heart and in that moment they know the truth.  Running toward the shore they choose a whole life.

I do not know much but I know I do not wish to remain hidden from, or worse, unknown by the Beloved.  I am learning that, like Paul, in my weakness is stregnth.  I begin to bless my withered hand, my withered life, because without it, perhaps I would not see the illusion.   I leave behind the one within me that God does not know to run to the shore.  I stand at the shore with hopeful expectation and borrow the words (slightly adapted) of the poet, Mary Oliver:

The Swan

Across the wide waters

something comes

floating—a slim

and delicate

ship, filled

with white flowers—

and it moves

on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,

as though bringing such gifts

to the dry shore

was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.

And now it turns its dark eyes,

it rearranges

the clouds of its wings

it trails

an elaborate webbed foot,

the color of charcoal.

soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do

when that poppy-colored beak

rests in my hand?

Oh, what will I do, what will I say

when those

white wings

touch the shore?

To Walk With God

Today these words blessed me, ignited a warmth within me and opened up an ocean of wonder:

Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. 

(Genesis 5:24)

Enoch was the father of the long lived Methuselah and the great grandfather of Noah. The Bible says that he walked with God after the birth of Methuselah for three hundred years.  These words come to me on the 100th birthday of my Grandpa as I contemplate his rich, long life.  You might have never even heard of Enoch or, like me, his name might be a dim recollection from childhood bible stories.  His son and great grandson are much more familiar and famous to us.  These words become a blessing to me because these days I am more and more drawn to the supporting cast, the ones whose names you are likely to forget and whose stories are of little note.

In this line from scripture, however, there is an ocean of story and meaning.  Enoch walked with God for three hundred years.  To me this speaks of day in and day out faithfulness.  Habits of the heart that Enoch practiced day after day for years and years and years.  Habits he practiced not because he hoped to gain something from God but simply for the sake of God.  Habits he practiced because he didn’t know how to live any other way.

Some days surely were happy, maybe even exciting, but most of these days were likely ordinary and mundane…and Enoch kept walking.  Some days he definitely felt God’s companionship but many days he must have felt the air around him like a blind man, wondering where God was.  Everyday he rose.  Most certainly there were prayers and rituals but just as certainly his spiritual life grew beyond this.  He set his intention…his awareness on God…the Divine within him reaching out to the Divine.

If it only takes 21 days to form a habit, what becomes of three hundred times three and sixty-five days? The answer to that question can also be found in that line in Genesis…”and  he was not, for God took him.”  After years and years of practice, of making of himself an altar for the Divine, it happened.  The two became One.  As the 12th century mystic, Mechtild of Magdeburg relays to us, God says:

I who am Divine am truly in you.  I can never be sundered from you; however far we be parted, never can we be separated.  I am in you and you are in Me.  We could not be any closer.  We two are fused into a single mould; thus unwearied, we shall remain forever.

And that’s how it was for Enoch.  He ceased to be when he became one with God.  The good news for me and you is that Enoch was taken.  No great effort on Enoch’s part made this happen.  He just showed up everyday for the walk.

She walked everyday with God, until the day she was not, for God had taken her.

What Are You Looking For?

Andrew and another disciple were hanging out with John the Baptist when John saw Jesus and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”  They immediately began to follow Jesus.  After a bit, Jesus turned around and asked them, “What are you looking for?”  Jesus wastes no time.  He gets right to the heart of the matter and asks one of the most fundamental of life’s questions.

When it seems like the rest of the world is making resolutions, it’s completely appropriate to take some time to answer this question.  Let’s be led by intention rather than wander around aimlessly through our days or crowd ourselves out with mindless busyness.

What are you looking for?  What is your heart’s true desire?  Close your eyes.  Take some deep breaths.  Allow yourself to sink deep and deeper into your being to the place that the Divine Christ dwells.  Knocking on that door, ask your heart what it knows.  What is important?  What is essential?  What is your Spirit’s longing?

I am longing to be saved from myself…from my senseless ego, the constant noise in my mind, the fears and insecurities that weigh me down.  I long for freedom from the things of this world…the expectations, pressures, cravings for the material.  I desire the freedom to become who I am in Christ, who I was truly meant to be from the moment God conceived of me.  I am looking for Inspiration and the One who I can trust completely and give myself to with abandon.  I am looking for the Love of my life.

What are you looking for?

It’s Still Christmas


I was in Texas for the last week and did not have access to the Internet.  For most of the week I was in a remote part of the Hill Country hanging out with my extended family.  We treated each other to great food, warm campfires, amazing night skies, raucous games of volleyball, kickball and a rigorous hike. Many times throughout our time together these particular words of the Scripture flowed through my mind:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

It was so easy for me to recognize the truth of that message, as I floated through those days surrounded by nearly everyone I love.  But even as I reflect on how easy it is to love those who love you and see Christ embodied in them, at the same time I feel the nudging to expand my love beyond this circle of safety.

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, reminds us that, “We must learn to participate in a larger love—divine love.”  I get a glimpse every now and then, a flash of truth, that I am somehow a part of the others I encounter during my day.  I might be walking my dog and see a homeless man sitting on a bench or a woman walking on her lunch break.  In a moment, I get it.  I am somehow drawn to him or her and there is no separation between us.  It always takes me by surprise and causes me to pause a little.  I try to make eye contact.  I guess I want to know if they are also in on the secret.  If they meet my eyes, I smile.  So far that is all I do.

Do you have moments like this too…where the barrier between you and the other disappear?

It’s Christmas

I was just standing in line waiting for my turn to purchase some last minute Christmas gifts.  There was a young couple behind me.  I could hear their conversation.  It was mostly logistics, how the next few days would unfold.  In my own world I was already three errands ahead of myself.   Then for  no particular reason I was drawn to turn around and that’s when I saw that the young woman had a brand new baby cocooned into a baby carrier on her chest.
All I could see was the top of the baby’s head but that little glimpse took my breath away.  With that glimpse came a moment of grace…Here a divine messenger in the form of a two week old.  Within this brand new life lay promise and possibility..a new passage way for Love to enter the world.
And then there came a knowing.   And a quiet reverence came over me.  I felt like I was in that stable thousands of years ago–Emmanuel–God with us.   Because I couldn’t bow down in front of that infant and her mother in the middle of a bookstore in downtown San Francisco, I held my hand over her tiny head and smiled and told her mom how beautiful she was and wished them the very best.

 

 

With tears in my eyes I turned back to take my place in line.  I thanked God for that revelation, for reminding me of the secret hidden in plain sight.  For teaching me over and over again that even the smallest, most powerless among us can be a passage way for Love.  That was after all the option God had chosen.

How has God revealed Godself to you over the Christmas season

through something seemingly small?