I am humbled

If you are not Catholic you may not have heard of the latest antics out of the Vatican, this time in the form of a reprimand of the LCRW (Leadership Conference of Religious Women).  The LCRW is an organization originally set-up by the Vatican to help American sisters to live out their mission in the Church.  Last week the Vatican issued a statement saying that they had completed a review of the organization and decided that the group was out of alignment with some key teachings of the Church.  They want the American sisters (read American laity too) to tow the line more when it comes to areas such as contraception, human sexuality, and abortion, to name a few.

What have the sisters been doing instead?  They have been working…working with the poor and marginalized in our society.  To my mind, and that of very many American Catholics with first-hand experience of these religious women, they have been the face of a compassionate Christ who meets us each where we are, rather than beat us over the head with our weaknesses, lay burdens on us that are too much to bear,  or constantly shame and rebuke us.    So very many of them are the very embodiment of love in a world that is desperate for it.

I can take myself to a place of anger and despair and wish with all my might, as I have for most of my adult life, that we had a different hierarchy.  Today, however, once again I see the example of the women religious, this time in the form of the LCRW’s formal statement quoted here below, and I am humbled.  Its as if the Holy Spirit herself is flowing all through those words and they bring me to tears.  In the midst of what is probably grief, sorrow, and even, anger they open themselves and allow the Holy Spirit to flow in and through them.  For the first time in a long time, I am proud to be Catholic as I stand in solidarity with these women. Please join me in prayer and in the shared trust in a benevolent, loving God that these leaders exhibit.  Let us pray for Love to win and for a good outcome to their meeting at the end of May.

“The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will meet May 29 – June 1, 2012 to begin its discussion of the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal assessment and the implementation plan put forth by that Vatican office. The board will conduct its meeting in an atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue and will develop a plan to involve LCWR membership in similar processes. The conference plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment. We will engage in dialogue where possible and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We ask your prayer for us and for the Church in this critical time.”

Pat Farrell, OSF – LCWR President
Florence Deacon, OSF  — LCWR President-Elect
Mary Hughes, OP – LCWR Past-President

Inspiration from the week

I have heard this song a few times.  Apparently it is a song about addiction and the difficulties it causes in a relationship.  When I heard it, however, what came to mind was how each of us, no matter what our particular weakness, wants to be seen in the best light.  We want to be seen the way that God sees us, as beloved.  Its a theme that comes up in Scripture as well, this stepping into the light.  God asks Adam to come out from behind the foliage  and Jesus asks Nicodemus to step out of the shadows.  The Divine One calls us into our best light as a friend reminded me this week.  What we want more than anything is to be our truest self,  a blessing to those around us as Brandie Carlisle so beautifully sings.  Or, as Macrina Wiederkehr prays, “May I be the answer to someone’s prayer today.”

And this poem that reminds me that true joy comes from living in the now:

View #45

after Hokusai and Hiroshige

I dreamt half my life was spent
in wonder, and never suspected.

So immersed in the moment
I forgot I was ever there.

Red-tailed hawk turning
resistance into ecstasy.

The patrolmen joking with the drunk
whose butt seemed glued to the sidewalk.

A coral quince blossom in winter,
pink as a lover’s present.

And tilting my bamboo umbrella
against the warm slant

of rain, was I not a happy peasant
crossing the great bay on a bridge that began

who knows when, and will end
who knows when?

  — Thomas Centolella

What I am trying to learn

How does one become fully alive?  How does this connect with becoming my true self?  How does one come to have utter faith in what the love of God has done and is doing in one’s life?

These are my questions.  I am hoping to learn the answers.  I have some clues.  I find them in Scripture for sure.  St. Paul says in Romans that we cannot say that we do not know God because we certainly know God’s creation…that it has always been possible from the creation of the world to “understand the invisible things by the created things.”

I find more clues in poetry.  Today this poem made its way to my inbox confirming what Paul says.

A Blessing

By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
A blossom I caught sight of on my walk today.
To commune with nature sounds a little hippie and dated but my most real moments have been in nature.  Pretense gets stripped away.  Its so easy to be present if you allow yourself to melt into the scenery and sharpen your senses and awaken to the sights, sounds, smells.   Richard Rohr asks us how we ever think we are going to be present to our loved ones, much less recognize the real presence of Christ if we first don’t practice on a tree or a squirrel.
I have resolved to make sitting or walking in nature a part of my spiritual practice.  I need more stillness in my life, more observing and listening, more learning.  I think God’s creation can be Teacher as well as Divine Song and Manifestation of Love.
These words too from someone long past on:
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.~ Anne Frank
And finally, the words of a young girl beautifully in touch with her true essence:

I was looking at the sky, just watching. I don’t know how to say it, but I felt everything was perfect and connected–it’s like there was no room even to think. It felt like my chest could explode and be the sun and the clouds.

Debbie, age 11 (as found on the Quote of the Day feature at http://www.friendsofsilence.net)

Eve’s Appearance in Holy Week

For now we see through a veil dimly but one day we shall see face to face.  1 Cor 13

Right around Holy Week, a friend sent me a reflection that she found on a central event in Genesis when Eve places her trust on the snake rather than God.  The author of the reflection wrote in part that what was really happening in that event was that Eve chose to believe that God was “holding something back from her.”  Here she was in the midst of what is described as the most luscious, ecstatically beautiful garden and yet she began to doubt.

Wow!  Did I ever relate to that!

How truly sad that in the midst of our Garden of Eden, our God-given life, we give in to the temptation to believe that God is holding something back from us!  I began to wonder how this could have happened to her.  Did the day in day out beauty become ho-hum?  Did she wake up every morning and feel she should really be doing something with her life?  Did she get caught up in her past and bogged down by the uncertainty of her future?  Did she let illusion grow up around her moment by moment until it had encased her in doubt and fear, blocking out truth?  I wonder…

Fast forward to my life.  This is how it happens for me:  I wake up to such a small life…I make breakfast, drive my daughter to school, husband to work, walk the dog, clean-up,  visit nieces, do crafts, volunteer a little, make dinner, more driving, help with homework, school projects, sew a little, clean-up some more, sleep, wake; wash…rinse…repeat.  No one ever told me that this dying to yourself day in and day out…that following God’s will might look like this.  No one ever told me that my part could be so small…the work of the hand or the foot (to borrow from St. Paul).

So I let illusions grow up around me.  That I am not enough…that I do not do enough…that to simply be is not enough.

At first I thought this was an odd reflection for Lent, but the following week it began to make much more sense.  Paul calls Jesus the “new Adam” and scholars reiterate that the cross and resurrection right the happenings of Genesis, when the first man and woman fell out of grace.  On Good Friday the reflection on Eve came back to me and I began to wonder if this too was a reason that God allowed Jesus to die on that cross.  Was it because we all somewhere wonder if God is holding something back from us?  And finally, once and for all, God wanted to settle that question…so He gave up his Son.  Here it is…all my cards on the table, nothing held back.

Resurrection.  In my best moments, the veil parts and truth pierces the illusion of my life.   I get a glimpse, a flash of eternity.  I see how dazzling this life is.  Its starts with something small:  folding my children’s laundry, gazing into the creek behind the apartment, encountering a stranger on my walk with Tobi or coming upon a clump of asters ablaze with color.  Its then I feel connected to every last little bug and leaf and soul.  How could I ever believe God would hold anything back?  All I have to do is look around.  God’s creation gives itself with abandon…how much more…our Creator!  Oh, that sooner, rather than later, the veil falls away for good.

Have you had an experience where truth pierced the illusion of your life?  Share it, pleeeese.  I am lonely out here 🙂

On my way to an appointment last week, I came across these asters and they took my breath away.

Inspiration from the past couple of weeks

More Resurrection…Its amazing how God speaks…or in this case, sings God’s message to me!  “Now there is no sin in anything, its amazing”…this has to be about the Resurrection, don’t you think?  Check out Romans 7:4-6.

4In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Last week we went to an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum called, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.  I have long been an admirer of Frida Kahlo.  While I don’t have very much in common with her at all, other than the dark hair and eyes we inherited from the native people of Mexico,  I admire the honesty in her art.  She held nothing back.  In her life she risked her reputation, her self-respect and her heart for the love of her husband, Diego Rivera, only to be repaid with horrible betrayals.  But I think the greatest losses of her life were her miscarriages.  All of this comes through in her painting.  It saddens me that, as an atheist, she could not turn to God as her Beloved and find the comfort and  generosity she obviously sought.  Here are some of her paintings that have haunted me for years, now on display in LA.

Lastly, this is another painting that moved me.  I so wish I was an artist.  If I were I would paint a self-portrait like this one.  Here the artist captures something again, so honest in her view of her true self.  Actually, if I painted myself, I would have to turn the lips up a little.  She looks way too sad!

Self-Portrait by Rosa Rolanda

A Resurrection Story

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive and do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

(Howard Thurman)

I have been out of town since just after Easter.  I took my sixteen year old on college visits to the Los Angeles area in my desperate attempt to get her to at least share the same coast with me.  We had a lovely time despite an “unseasonably” cold and rainy snap.

Along with our list of colleges, we resolved to visit Homeboy Industries, which is located in Los Angeles.  As I mentioned in my last blog, my daughter and I have been very moved by the stories of the Homeboys and girls of East Los Angeles as told through the eyes of their pastor, Fr. Greg Boyle.  We even inspired my husband to read the book.  After a little research online, I found that they needed gently used clothing in all sizes.  Anyone who knows us also knows we have some clothes to spare so we packaged them up, loaded in the trunk of our car and began the road trip.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was a little apprehensive about going to Homeboys.  I wasn’t sure where it was and imagined wandering about East LA, the GPS guiding me through the back roads of danger.  As much as I have lived, I still remain blissfully sheltered, the benefactor of such privilege.  Despite this we kept the errand on our list of trip to-dos.

The morning arrived.  By then my husband had joined us and had added to our clothing donation.  We roused our daughter out of bed and set off.  About an hour later we arrived at Homeboys.  It turns out to be located just outside of Chinatown in downtown LA, around the corner from Union Station.  Hardly a dangerous part of town!  We quickly found a place to park and walked in…a little sheepishly…all we were offering, after all, were some clothes we had already worn.  Our gesture paled in comparison to the courage with which those inside were living.

We were greeted very warmly, almost like long-lost friends by one of the Homeboys.  The place was electric.  In the waiting area young men waited to be seen by job counselors and other staff members.  All the office spaces and other rooms were walled in glass making them open to view.  Young people were everywhere…milling about outside, crammed in the adjacent Homegirls’ Bakery and Cafe, hovering around the counter in the gift shop.  “Is “G” here,” asked one of the boys, referring to Father Greg.  “Nah,” answered the other.  “Ahh, too bad,” came the reply.

After we completed our business, spent a little time in the cafe and gift shop we left.  I got in the car and felt a little tinge of sadness.  I can’t say exactly why other than that while we were in the building, I was filled with joy.  It was infectious.  The joy and freedom were so palpable that they spilled over, everywhere.  I felt like I was walking among the resurrected, the fully alive.  And I wanted what they had.

I have two comfortable places to live, considerably more buying power, an Ivy League education, a closet still full of clothes; but in that moment, as I sat in my car, I knew that they were the truly wealthy ones.  They had found the pearl of great price.  They were living the full, resurrected life I long for.

Check out this incredibly inspiring organization at http://www.homeboy-industries.org

Holy Week: Two Weeping Women

A dear friend suggested that I might like to meditate on the Scriptural Way of the Cross in the last days of Lent.  Because I do not believe in coincidences, I agreed.  Although I have a book of Pope John Paul II’s Scriptural Stations, it has sat on my shelf and been packed and unpacked a time or two.  I never actually prayed them.

Over the last week, however, I have been meditating on Jesus’ last days and moments as found in Scripture.  His words are few and so I have tried to listen very carefully.  Reading a reflection by Megan McKenna I was particularly struck by a new perspective on Jesus’ encounter with the Weeping Woman.

Although portrayals of the Stations or reenactments keep the woman at 3 or 4, scholars tell us there may have been many, many people who witnessed Jesus’ walk to Calvary.  Certainly, many of them were good people with good hearts who felt empathetic toward another human being who was being made to suffer terribly.  Some of these likely, as the evangelists tell us, wept for Jesus.

I have felt over the years an affinity toward these women.  I couldn’t imagine myself in a crowd jeering at another human being or to my great shame, even someone who would step out of the great crowd and give comfort (although I pray for that kind of courage).  But the women who wept, here I could relate.  And I listened.  I listened to Jesus’ puzzling words:  Weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children.

Was this another example of Jesus’ selfless love being poured out at women who cried for him?  Was it just something Luke had thrown in to reference the fall of Jerusalem?  According to McKenna this, in fact, could better be explained as Jesus’ fulfilling his call to speak truth even to the end of his life.  She writes:

There is a weeping that is cathartic for the person who cries but is useless and allows the destruction on the cross to continue.  In this case, no one moves to help Jesus or even to stand with him…When we walk the Way of the Cross with Jesus we want to weep over what was done to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t want this kind of emotionalism and self-absorbed devotion.  He is concerned that we do something for ourselves and our children.  When children learn their parents were there, in places where they witnessed suffering and did not do anything, what will they think?…And Jesus tries to warn them prophetically that it will be worse, and continue to worsen until we turn our tears into the hard work of justice, telling the truth and turning the world back to being human. (The New Stations of the Cross, p. 68)

Last summer I read a book, Tattoos on the Heart, that tells the stories of Homeboys and girls in East LA and the priest who walks with them on their difficult journey to wholeness.  I could not complete a chapter without weeping for the hardship suffered by these children of God and the Divine love and compassion bestowed on them by Fr. Greg.

A few days ago my 16 year-old picked it up and began reading.  She has a huge heart that is particularly moved by those trapped by their circumstances and incarcerated by the world’s view of them.  As she reads she retells stories to me  and we cry together.

But this time I hear Jesus on the way.  I, too, am so aware of this beautiful 16 year old soul, my child.  I cannot let her see me just stand by and watch the suffering.   I know that somehow we must find a way to let our tears make clear our eyes and move us to step out of the crowd and act with justice.