Inspiration for Holy Week

I have come across these words recently and I think that they might be good for reflection and meditation during  the next week.

O, Jesus, gentlest love!  Unarmed, and nailed fast to the cross, You defeated our enemies!  Jesus, its really true that You are our peace, our tranquility, our serenity of conscience.  No bitterness or sadness or poverty can touch the soul in whom You live by grace.  It stands to reason that such a soul will have perfect happiness and a wealth of joy, for God is happiness itself without a trace of sadness or bitterness.  Yes, God is wealth itself.  God is the only wealth that never loses its value and that’s safe from all thievery.  –Catherine of Sienna, Letters

Perhaps we don’t know what love is.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that this is true, sad but true.  Love doesn’t exist—as we like to think—in the degree to which we are happy.  No, love exists in the strength of our determination to try to please God in everything we do, each and every day.  The important thing is not to think too much but to love much.  So start doing whatever most stirs you to love.  Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle.

Then Jesus cries out.

It is a cry of freedom. A cry of hope.  A cry of handing over.

It is a cry of giving back.  Giving back all his work, his dreams, his love, life, breath, spirit.

It is a cry of pain and agony.  It is a cry of resistance to evil.

It is a cry against violence and death.

It is a cry that rends the curtain of the temple in two, and tears the light out of day and throws him clear of hate.

It is a cry that throws him into the arms of Mercy.

It is his death cry and it is the beginning of resurrection.

That cry tears loose anything that holds back God or the kingdom of God from coming among us.

It is a cry for the poor, for those who struggle for justice and for those who hang on for dearer life, for those who hunger and thirst for God’s reign, now, in history.

It is a cry for an alternative to injustice, to despair and inhumanity.

A cry that creates a new world like the original one was intended.

It is a cry of judgment and nothing will ever be the same again.

It is the cry of all human beings caught in death, caught in a world turning on itself and eating each other alive.

It is a cry layered and fraught with meaning.

It is a cry of prayer to God for justice, for security, for defense and for faithfulness that will not be undone by others’ hate and persecution.

It is a cry for all that was lost, for all that life that was torn to shreds, all that life denied to others, all that hope cast away.

All that life that was buried under greed.

All that life that was never allowed to blossom, to grow, to thrive and generate new life.

It is the Cry of Mercy being poured out and Mercy being caught up into the arms of the Father.

It is the Cry of God when we don’t see Him.

(As quoted by Megan McKenna in The New Stations of the Cross: The way of the cross according to scripture)

And finally, Easter Hope…this poem still resonating in my heart:

Blessed are the hoodied

This is kind of a departure from my other entries but I think valuable because if I can’t make connections to the life I live the other 23 hours of the day, my prayer and reflection is useless.

 

Probably you, like me, were saddened by the death of the 17 year old black boy in Florida who was mistaken for a criminal and shot by a neighborhood watchman.  It makes me so sad that we live in a world where mothers have to be afraid for the safety of their sons walking through our city streets and neighborhoods; just as much as it makes me sad that there are truly violent people out there who will do harm to others.  This is a part of the kingdom that has not yet come to earth.  The part of the kingdom that the Sanhedrin certainly didn’t get when they had Jesus on trial.  The part I (and I am sure, you) pray for with each Our Father.

“Marian Wright Edelmen, in her piece ‘Walking While Black,’ points out the major crime that Martin committed—happening to fit a stereotype of someone up to no good, determined not just by clothing, but very much by race. She explains the burden that black parents have on teaching their children—specifically, their sons—how to act so that they don’t seem dangerous to others. She also points out that sadly, the Trayvon Martin case is not unique, and that black males age 15 to 19 were eight times as likely as white males to be victims of homicide in 2008 and 2009.

‘We won’t get it,’ Edelman says, ‘Until we have a culture that sees every child as a child of God and sacred, instead of seeing some as expendable statistics, and others as threats and ‘no good’ because of the color of their skin or because they chose to walk home wearing a hood in the rain.”  (Hoodie arguments:Race, clothing, and Trayvon Martin by Liz Lefebvre)

Its easy to take on the desperation of a bystander when we hear stories like this.  Once again, something I can do nothing about…or can’t I?  I remember a reflection from the Jesuits’ Sacred Space website from last week that I emailed to myself, sensing it had importance to me but not knowing quite how: Because our work helps others, it fits in with the work of God.  Our small daily agenda is part of God’s agenda. If it is not, then we need to make a change.

And as I read the words of Edelmen, allowing the weight of what those hoodied boys and there loved ones deal with daily to sink in on me…a whisper…the next time I see a hoodied young person, I can meet his eyes.  I can smile and say hello.  I can reflect back to him his God-given dignity.  This small act has to be a part of God’s agenda.

Emmanuel…in the middle of Lent?

Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

I woke up at 5am today in a panic.  My thought:  Only two weeks left (in Lent).  Its not enough time.  Tears actually formed in my eyes.  Immediately my mind started darting here and there like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.  Transformation…is it a race?  Am I under a deadline?

In a way, I am.  St. John’s words haunt me:  “Oh souls created for this greatness and summoned to it–what are you doing?! ” (The Spiritual Canticle)  The urgency feels like that of a lover who has waited for a year for her beloved to return from a journey.  Finally the day has arrived and the last hour is the most unbearable.

Its hard to make myself intelligible.  Only images come to my mind.  Lines from literature…scenes from movies.  Remember the last scene in “When Harry Met Sally?”  Harry has finally come to his senses and realizes that he is in love with Sally.  He runs through the streets of New York to get to the New Year’s Eve party to find Sally.  When he finally reaches her, he rambles for a bit and then says:  I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

That is exactly it.  I am tired of what doesn’t work.  I want to be made well.  I want wholeness and freedom.  I want to be unbound.  I want the rest of my life to start as soon as possible.  And even though my soul is quaking with fear at the thought that that may not be possible, God comforts me with the words of scripture from today’s readings.  Once again an angel reminds me: nothing will be impossible for God.

Complete transformation in two weeks???  Maybe…maybe not…may be not necessary because no matter, what I trust…no, I cling to the promise that Emmanuel…God is with me.

And this…a poem by Anne Carson

Town of finding out about the love of God

I had made a mistake.

before this day.

Now my suitcase is ready.

Two hard-boiled eggs.

For the journey are stored.

In places where.

My eyes were.

How could it be otherwise?

Like a current.

Carrying a twig.

The sobbing made me.

Audible to you.

Rise up and live

Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live…

the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out  Jn 5:25,28

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know and love me, I am fundamentally okay, just doing a little dark sea exploration.  It is a necessary part of my journey.  Here goes…

I am in a tomb.

I am in tomb created over a life time of self-doubt, nagging degradation, and pesky insecurities.  I have tried to make the best of my tomb.  I decorated its walls with accomplishments, to-do lists, roles, titles, pretty clothes, pretty curtains and cushions.  When that didn’t work I even tried carving on its walls.  I carved words like shame, fear, loser, sadness.  They weren’t nice words but at least they were mine.  No matter…at the end of the day, its still a tomb.  There is no real life there…just isolation, alienation and darkness.

A couple of years ago a woman new to my faith group described her journey back to the church this way.  She said, “I spent a number of years away from the church.  It was not that I didn’t believe in God.  It was that I didn’t believe in myself.”  Those words resonated with me and for a long time I didn’t know why or even really understand them.  I just knew that they rang true for me too, even though I have always been physically present at church.

Recently, however, they have begun to make more sense.  What I have learned is that not believing in yourself is really just another way of saying, “I don’t really believe God is who God says God is.”  Let me put it another way.  I heard an author/mystic talking about spirituality not too long ago.  He challenged listeners to use their relationship to themselves as a litmus test for their spiritual health.  I have been a little haunted by that idea.  How do I speak to and about myself?  How do I judge myself?  Am I merciful and kind to myself?  Do I believe in myself?  Trust my instincts?  Honor my soul, mind and body?

As you know I have been studying the writings of some Christian mystics.  One of the main things I have learned from them is that those who are closest to God feel nothing but God’s radical, generous love.  God delights in them.  God even tells them that God could not be God without them!  The difference between the 12th century mystic and me is that they believe God when they hear.  They believe the Indwelling Divinity when they hear their own name.  When they hear their name being called, they rise out of their tomb and live.

Thee is a second thing I have learned and this one gives me hope.  A deep desire to live, to be loved, to be One goes a really long way with God.  Pure desire is emptiness waiting to be filled.  They say God rushes into a space like that.  Oh, to believe it were true!

Inspiration from the week

A sense of Mystery can take us beyond disappointment and judgment to a place of expectancy. It opens in us an attitude of listening and respect. If everyone has in them the dimension of the unknown, possibility is present at all times. . . . Knowing this enables us to listen to life from the place in us that is Mystery also. Mystery requires that we relinquish an endless search for answers and become willing to not understand. . . . Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years, I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.

from MY GRANDFATHER’S BLESSINGS by Rachel Naomi Remen

So our needs–for answers or love or solutions to our problems–are symptoms of that greater need, for God.  It aches, and its ache is the price of our dignity.  If we are meant for this much, we shall suffer that hunger…That–our incompleteness–is our dignity, and when we feel it, we are being mature, being what we were truly meant to be.  That appeal is prayer.  For the human person, then, prayer is the supreme value…If prayer lets us become ourselves, it is a supreme value too, for the world.  It restores the right rhythm to the universe.
from IMPACT OF GOD by Father Iain Matthews
No, your eyes are not deceiving you…this week I got some inspiration from a pile of laundry.  This was not just any laundry.  It contained clothing items belonging to my son home from college for Spring Break.  I was folding his clean clothes when I was suddenly struck by this thought:  how much I loved smelling his freshly laundered t-shirts and folding them carefully.  The blessing of him rushed over me and filled my heart.  What a privilege to do his laundry…what a privilege to be his mother!

Being lifted

The birds that winter oppressed are singing today,

joyful now.

That’s us!

We thank the Lord that before too long we–

proud hearts who’ve felt great pain–

will be joyful, too.

Our confidence in Love assures us this is true.

Love’s power is so great

she’ll reward us in ways

we can’t begin to imagine.

—Hadewijch, Poems in Stanzas

As we get closer to Good Friday, the pace of the readings starts to pick up and I get more and more anxious for Jesus.  Of course, he must see the writing on the wall, that religious leaders are growing angrier and angrier with him.  Simply likening himself to Elisha in today’s reading, he nearly gets run off a cliff.  I am like Peter, constantly asking if there is another way.

And then I think about Mary, his mother.  Surely she received reports from the field and knew that things were not going well.  I imagine she had long conversations in prayer asking God if it was really necessary for her son to put himself on the line like that.  Surely there were days when she just wanted to guard his life and her heart and retreat.  But as we know they kept on ascending toward Jerusalem.

I cannot hide from the truth, or the pain, any more than Mary and Peter could.  As much as I want to guard our hearts (mine and my children’s), I know that that is contrary to our call.  I know shutting down and reinforcing our walls will send us on a detour when what we really need to do is grow, expand, ascend.

After my teenager goes to school today, I wander into her room.  I do this every once in awhile.  I assure you I am not snooping.  I don’t open drawers or peer into hiding places.  I just look around because I want to know more about her.  I want to learn what her surroundings can teach me.  Today I see a bible on her unmade bed next to her pillow and a little book of meditations by Therese of Lisieux upside down on her dresser and turned open to a page in which Therese writes:

“It is impossible for me to become great so I must bear with myself and my many imperfections.  I will seek out a means of reaching heaven by a little way–very short, very straight and entirely new.  We live in an age of inventions; there are now lifts which save us the trouble of climbing stairs.  I will try to find a lift by which I may be raised unto God.  For I am too small to climb the steep stairway of perfection.  In scripture I came across these words uttered by eternal Wisdom itself:  ‘Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me’ (Prv 9:4) ” (as found in Simply Surrender: Therese of Lisieux, ed. John Kirvan)

My teenager’s desire makes me cry and I beg God to console her in a way that she will know is consolation because she is so young and fragile and might not be able to bear it if God chose any other way other than lavish love.  I trust that God is the most tender with the tender-hearted.  I put down the book in hope and love and trust.  There are birds outside my window and I listen to their song.  They have been through winter.  They sing the song to prove it.  I close my eyes, imagine us all, birds, teenagers, moms, being lifted… and for a moment, I feel joy.

Inspiration from this week

Its been a tough one around here.  No words.  Just this:

 

 

The oldest icon of Christ Pantocrator,encaustic on panel, c. 6th century (Saint Catherine’s MonasteryMount Sinai)

A Job-kind-of week

Have you ever had one of those Job-kind-of weeks?  It starts off with your dog “biting” the wrong guy.  Proceeds with financial woes, a nasty virus, a really sad/distraught teenager, and a loved one unleashing a harsh, hurtful series of judgements.  You get what I mean…a truly crappy week.

But in the midst of the turmoil and negative emotions, I miraculously find so many graces.  A phone conversation with a loving friend.  The support of women of faith who have walked this walk.  A beautiful young girl who is growing into the most amazing young woman with a heart so huge I am surprised that her clothes still fit!  And above all the awareness that I need so much.

I need love, support, strength, peace…all that and more I borrow from a God who does not keep tabs much less tack on fees and interest.  There is such relief in taking the lead from Job and surrendering.  Well, finally surrendering after he had exhausted all his own resources.  Ego tempts me too and challenges me as it tries to get a foothold and stand in its self-righteousness.  But where does that get me?

So after day 5 of crap I just give up…in a good way.  Today I rejoice in not knowing, not having answers, not being perfect, not being in control.  I am no longer exhausted by trying to keep it all together.  I am free and it makes me cry.

This is a far better strategy and I highly recommend it:

Let Your God Love You

Be Silent.

Be Still.

Alone.

Empty

Before your God

Say nothing.

Ask nothing.

Be silent.

Be still.

Let your God

Look upon you.

That is all.

God knows.

God understands.

God loves you

With an enormous love,

And only wants

To look upon you

With that love.

Quiet.

Still.

Be.

Let you God—

Love you.

Edwina Gately

Psalms of a Laywoman

 

Study of a young woman seated on the ground; for the illustration ‘Under the Plane Tree’ for George Eliot’s Romola by Frederic, Lord Leighton, PRA RWS 1830-1896.

Making myself an altar

On offer is freedom from ourselves, for a God who fills.  To trust–that God present in this–can turn the pain, where there has to be pain, from death-throes into the pangs of birth.  (Ian Matthew, The Impact of God, p.87)

I sat in church yesterday, once again befuddled by God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only and beloved son on an altar.  I scanned my memory for anything I may have learned in graduate school that might help me make sense of this event and listened carefully to the sermon in hopes of some revelation but none came.  It was and remains a mystery.  It makes no sense to me that God would “test” Abraham whom he dearly loved or that he desired Isaac to live with him in heaven as an angel and so would ask Abraham and Sarah to endure what could be the greatest pain of their lives.

And then this morning I read the words of St. John the Cross in Matthew’s book.  St. John describing the spiritual journey out of darkness into light tells us that the only way through is to “make an altar of oneself…for a sacrifice of love.”  Immediately I thought of Abraham in the middle of nowhere being asked to sacrifice his son.

Perhaps the story’s beauty and purpose lies in it not making any sense as so much in our own lives does not make sense.  Catastrophes, twisters that come out of nowhere and take everything and everyone; calamities, experiencing the death of loved ones; heartbreak, standing by as we watch our beloved ones in the grip of addiction; deaths, having to let go of dreams, of friendship, of success, of a marriage…just to name a very few ways in which we face the bewildering sufferings of life.

There is some solace, St. John says, in knowing we are not alone and yet, we feel very, very alone.  The remedy?  For John, the remedy lies within the pain and bewilderment.  Make an altar of yourself.  Lay it all out there.  Acknowledge.  Acknowledge the pain, the suffering, the bewilderment, your utter helplessness.

He adds, “don’t run away.”  Remain, hang in there so that you can “enter into the living reality” within.  It’s so easy to try to distract oneself using the old self-soothing patterns that you have developed over time.  Try doing nothing for a few minutes at a time until you get better and better at not responding to your pain and at not giving your pain more power than it deserves.

“Trust, in loving attentiveness.”  Here is the crux of his advice: “let (your)self be carried by God.”  As in learning to skate, let go of the guard rail, the seeming safety of self,  into the unknown God.  Expect to be caught and enfolded by Love.

In the end, we know that God didn’t ask Abraham to kill his own son.  That is an important part of the story and shows God’s love and mercy to the ancient listeners to whom child sacrifice was not unheard.  For me, though, the important part of the story is that it does not make sense, just as my own suffering and the suffering of my friends and loved ones makes no sense.  And yet, in the midst of suffering and bewilderment, as St. John illuminates, God is present…filling me up, encircling me in Love and creating within and with me, new life.

Inspiration from this week

A friend reminded me of this quote and I had to go fishing so that I could share it with you.  It reminds me also of the Transfiguration reading from earlier this week.  Could it have been like this?

On March 18, 1958, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, now Fourth and Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton had a vision of oneness with all people.  He called this vision an “epiphany.”

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race … there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Paradoxically, Merton experienced this transformation when he was out of his everyday monastic life and was immersed in the hustle and bustle of our shopping district – now Fourth Street Live.  Merton said of his experience:

I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.  If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all of the time.  There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…

(Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996)

A plaque has since been installed to commemorate Merton’s epiphanies.

Where would the plaques to your epiphanies be installed?

Don’t mind my irreverence but I always think of this too when I hear about heart expansion:

Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

And back to the sublime.  I just love this poem by Teresa of Avila

WHEN THE HOLY THAWS

A woman’s body, like the earth, has seasons;
when the mountain stream flows,
when the holy
thaws,

when I am most fragile and in need,
it was then, it seemed,
God came
closest.

God, like a medic on a field, is tending our souls.
Our horns get locked with desires, but don’t hold yourself
too accountable; for all desires are
really innocent. That is what
the compassion in His
eyes tell me.

Why this great war between the countries — the countries —
inside of us?

What are all these insane borders we protect?
What are all these different names for the same church of love
we kneel in together? For it is true, together we live; and only
at that shrine where all are welcome will God sing
loud enough to be heard.

Our horns got locked with the earth and sky in some odd
marriage ritual; so what, don’t worry. We should be proud of
ourselves for everything we helped create in this
magic world.

And God is always there, if you feel wounded. He kneels
over this earth like
a divine medic,

and His love thaws
the holy in us.

~ St. Teresa of Avila ~