Inspiration from the week

Gathering Up the Crumbs by Gunilla Norris

Be careful with the crumbs.

Do not overlook them.

Be careful with the crumbs:

the little chances to love,

the tiny gestures, the morsels

that feed, the minims.

Take care of the crumbs:

a look, a laugh, a smile,

a teardrop, an open hand. Take care

of the crumbs. They are food also.

Do not let them fall.

Gather them. Cherish them.

The little chances to love…these crumbs seem like nothing but they are really everything.  Everything in a world that is so hungry…a look, a laugh, a smile, a teardrop, an open hand.  If you set your intention to get out of the way, to self-forget,  so that God can use you, you can become that portal of pure love.  The world is so hungry for it.

 

What I am practicing

“In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die.  The reason for this is that I am born in selfishness and therefore my natural efforts to make myself more real and more myself, make me less real and less myself, because they revolve around a lie.”  (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 47)

Ever since I can remember some adult was asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Doctor, lawyer, candle stick maker…ballerina, librarian, teacher…always “what”…never “who” or better yet, “whose.”  It is only now, decades later that I begin to understand how wrong that question is, how misleading.  The lie that Merton refers to in his writing is that in order to become “myself” I have to distance myself from those around me.  I have to become better, faster, smarter to grab what is mine.  I have to become independent.  Having done this, I spend a lot of time, as Merton writes, “admiring the distance between you and me.”

And the truth…the truth is that we are “members of one another.”   Merton goes on to warn us that, “The man who lives in division is living in death.  He cannot find himself because he is lost; he has ceased to be a reality.  The person he believes himself to be is a bad dream.  And when he dies he will discover that he long ago ceased to exist because God, Who is infinite reality and in Whose sight is the being of everything that is, will say to him: ‘I know you not.” (p. 48)

Over the last couple of months I begin to understand this truth more and more.  I think its message is constantly trying to penetrate my consciousness but the layers I have built up are sometimes impenetrable.  In my reading, as I search for spiritual tools,  I find this suggestion:  as you go through your day encountering people, those you know and those who are strangers, repeat this mantra to yourself…I belong to you.

I do this for days.  I belong to you…I belong to you…I belong to you.  On my walks as someone approaches…I belong to you.  On the phone with a customer representative…I belong to you.  Having tea with a dear friend…I belong to you.  In the car driving my daughter home from school…I belong to you.  Being jostled by a fellow shopper at the mall…I belong to you.  Being cut off in traffic…I belong to you.  Stopping to talk to a homeless man…I belong to you.

Some interesting things happen.  My orientation to those around me changes.  It opens me up to them in a new way.  It softens my heart and loosens my mind.  When I don’t use the mantra I notice the difference.  I am much more likely to judge and distance myself.  I begin to understand that the boundaries are meant to be broken down.

And then I read some of St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography.  She too struggles with who she is and the nature of her purpose.  She writes, “I was still being tormented by this question of unfulfilled longings and it was a distraction to my prayer.  I decided to consult St. Paul’s epistles in the hopes of getting an answer.”  She turned to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapters 12 and 13.  It was clear enough on the idea that there were many gifts and ways to manifest them in the community but what particularly struck Therese was this line:  “Prize the best gifts of heaven. But I can show you a way better than any other.”  Love, love is the straightest way to God.  “Now was I at peace; charity–that was the key to my vocation…Beside myself with joy, I cried out: ‘Jesus, my Love!  I’ve found my vocation, and my vocation is love.” (p.234-235)

I have read this before but this time, with the mantra in my heart, I get it anew and in a deeper way…my vocation is love…I belong to you.  I belong to the “you” whoever it may be whom I encounter.  I belong to the “you” right in front of me, literally.  My vocation is to love you.

Inspiration from the week

This:

 

In prayer, then, God’s concerns become our concerns. Everything on the globe becomes our business. There is nothing and no one that does not concern us. We simply cannot pray and, at the same time, “mind our own business.”Instead, we find ourselves driven to do more and more to make the world what God wants the world to be. “Prayer,” as the mystic Julian of Norwich says, “ones the soul to God.”

–from
The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister

 

And this:

George Vaillant’s historic longitudinal study of Harvard men and Lewis Terman’s similar study of men and
women trace the slow unfolding of a person, of their lives, and most of all, of the understanding of
their lives. Asked again and again over the years what they would most have wished could have been
changed for them, the men and women in the study were more likely as they got older to say
“nothing.” They would, they declared, change nothing of it. Not the deaths, not the embarrassments,
not the struggles, not the losses. To change anything in their personal histories, they had come to
realize, would have diminished the gem that was their lives, that had been cut and shined slowly in the
studios of life, that had made them what, at the end, they had finally become.

–from Happiness by Joan Chittister

 

And this:

 

“. . . There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action.

“It is really and truly there present, but invisibly present, so that we are always surprised and do not recognize His operation until it has ceased. If we could lift the veil, and if we were attentive and watchful, God would continually reveal Himself to us, and we should see His divine action in everything that happened to us, and rejoice in it.

“. . . If only we had faith we should show goodwill to all creatures; we should cherish them and be interiorly grateful to them as serving, by God’s will, for our perfection.”
— Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

 

And finally, the view from my kitchen desk in Seattle…I hope you can see the ribbons of clouds at the bottom of the picture.  I am going to learn to appreciate the divinity in clouds as much as sunshine!


To be fearlessy invisible

“God calls us all to holiness. If we are called to the Little Way, we should practice it without desiring ecstasies or consolations. The Little Way is an apophatic way, a way of faith. A great desire, for instance, to imitate Joan of Arc in order to obtain sanctity, is not necessary. We should desire not to do outstanding works but to be invisible. This is a practice of virtue so hidden that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. It requires us to renounce ourselves, honor others, and be of service. We must be detached from results.”
— Mary Margaret Funk, Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life

 

Wow!  That’s all that I think when I first read this passage.  Invisible?  Invisible?  Really?  Invisible as a spiritual practice…as a way of life?!!!  I have been virtually invisible for the last three years after I moved to a new town…twice.  I know what its like to walk through your whole day and have no one know your name, much less your story.  I wish I could say that your ego dies…that my ego died.  It certainly suffered and had near-death experiences.  But alas, it did survive.  In its perverse way, it turned loneliness and sadness into its road to recovery.  I wish that it had not.

 

I wish that I had been able to be fearlessly invisible for Love.  Therese of Lisieux writes in her autobiography, Story of a Soul“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”  I have had many, many opportunities to pick up a pin for love and keep going.  Mostly, I picked up the pin and then did something like call an old friend and tell her, save it all up and dump on my husband at the end of the day or, even, blog about it.  Desperate acts of an ailing ego.

 

In my defense, I didn’t know.  I didn’t see.  I should have known and had the faith described above.   Of course God can take little ole invisible me and use her to divine purpose.  If we believe Therese, all it takes from me is to set my intention…for the Love of God.  What if I lived this way?  What would it be to be fearlessly invisible?

 

Inspiration from these weeks

It has been some time since I shared my inspirations so I hope you will indulge me a little bit longer post.

One of the most impressive sights of our visit to Spain has to be the Cathedral of Mary in Toledo, an hour from Madrid.  It stands on the site of the Great Mosque of Toledo, which itself had replaced a Visigothic church and was built from 1226 to 1493.  Its truly an amazing structure.  The collaboration between God and humans in creating this fabulous cathedral is moving and standing under its stain glass and marble is marvelous.

At the same time, I feel some ambivalence about the Cathedral and its historical and political ramifications.  I feel certain God would rather we just gather outside under the shade of some glorious trees to worship.  Nevertheless, I am attracted to the chapels set off to the sides of the Cathedral.  In one such chapel I find this:

We find an inner courtyard that provides some fresh air and another kind of beauty:

In an adjacent room we find this space, reminiscent of Moorish influence and a reminder to me that we are all one.  God’s love shines on all of us equally.

And back in my real world…A friend shares this poem with me, written by the ancient St. Symeon who lived from 949 to 1022.

We Awaken in Christ’s Body

We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies,

and my poor hand is Christ,

He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ,

becomes all of Him

(for God is indivisibly whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once He appears

like a flash of lightening.

Do my words seem blasphemous?

-Then open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt,

everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,

maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged,

is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole,

as lovely, and radiant in His light

he awakens as the Beloved

in every last part of our body

Reading the poem brings tears to my eyes because I often tell people I am never more myself than when I am practicing yoga.  Now I know why!

And this:

“And it is not necessary . . . to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, Who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God.”  (Brother Lawrence, a mystic from the 17th c)
and this:

There seems to be a divine way of doing everything: a divine way to be a lawyer, doctor, grandmother, teacher, convict, homeless person, or just to be sick. Since the Kingdom of God is present in ordinary circumstances, sensitivity to the movements of the Spirit within us tends to increase. On such occasions, everyday life can become a kind of dance . . . Everything one does — walking, sitting, breathing, speaking, working, playing, eating, sleeping — is manifesting the dance. Together with God, we co- create the dance.”  (Thomas Keating, the Cistercian comtemplative, in Manifesting God)

A calm and quiet soul

I never cease to be amazed at how life teaches us, if we let it.  Or, as Paula D’Arcy writes, “God comes disguised to us as our lives.”  Over the last couple of months a recurring subplot in my life has been humility…sometimes forced upon me, sometimes chosen, but always, ultimately, a place of privilege.  It has happened like this:

This year, in fact this month, I reach the twenty-fifth anniversary of graduation from college.  I went to a prestigious college and during those four years and beyond, I carry the mantle of achieving great success.  There was an expectation that I would be a great something.  No, not just anything.  A great something that the world/US society valued.  As the year progressed, I feel more and more dread.  My day of reckoning, meeting up with fellow classmates and receiving the class report in the mail did arrive as expected.  And as I expected, I did not show up as someone that was interesting or valued.  Only one person in the room even asked me what I did.  Somehow they sniffed it.  I had not become something great.  I was nobody.

Enter my ego, my false self, the one who tries with all her might to take center stage and be the boss of me.  First, there is the feel-sorry-for-me play.  This takes the form of the story, where I, the protagonist, suffer greatly because no one really understands me and the sacrifices I have made for my family.  When that gets played out, next comes the pride and arrogance:  I happen to have aged better than anyone in the room!  Who else can say they have 3 grown children and fit quite nicely into a pair of size 0 jeans?!!  Finally, there is my connection to a successful man who has achieved.  Am I not the woman behind that man?!  Do I not have considerable spending power?!  Blah, blah, blah….

Fortunately, the Spirit does not let me get away with this crap for too long.  I am reminded to breathe.  To look into the eyes of the people right in front of me.  To pay attention to their stories. I am reminded not to seek out the best seat at the banquet.

A few months later, I find myself literally at a banquet table, banished to a far end, seated next to children.  As I gaze over toward the center of the table, at powerful, beautiful people, she rises up again, my false self.  She plays out the stories again.  She feels sorry for poor misunderstood me.  She wallows in my nothingness.  But now I have had plenty of practice.  This time I focus right away on those seated with me.  I laser in on their eyes and their words.

The next morning, there is still a residue of hurt and an unsettled feeling on my soul.  I read my email and I find a comforting message.  It is from Psalm 131.  “I am quieted like a child at her mother’s breast.”  It becomes a mantra for my day and the day after.

Later when I could look it up, I find the complete psalm.  Its a rather short one and probably often overlooked.  It reads:

Most gracious Presence, let me not be arrogant, nor boast of my virtuous deeds; Let me not seek fame or set my heart on the riches of the world.  Help me to calm and quiet my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted, be so my soul.  I shall be at peace in You, O Breath of my breath, from this time forth and forevermore.

I marvel at Jesus’ wisdom.  At how he knew that the real place of privilege was at the end of the banquet table.  I know that I still have so much to learn but I am grateful that I am nobody.  I am grateful that my greatness comes in my union with the Greatest One.  I am grateful to know that this union is a place of calm, quiet peace.

A Time for Partridge

I heard a quote some time ago that was attributed to St. Teresa of Avila and although I can’t seem to verify that, it is nevertheless something I could hear her say.  And it is this:

If God gives me partridge, I eat partridge; if God gives me porridge, I eat porridge.

Over the last ten days on my trip to Spain with my husband, this quote comes back to me often as it is a time of partridge (even literally).  At the end of each day, as we sit on a different plaza sipping a refreshing glass of sangria and enjoying the show before us, I feel almost engorged by the day’s sights, sounds and tastes.

We spend many hours experiencing the art of Madrid and nearby Toledo.  We luxuriously take in masterpiece after masterpiece until our senses are overloaded.  There are many religiously themed paintings and while it is hard to choose a favorite, I remain deeply touched by the painting Agnus Dei by Francisco Zurbaran who painted this in 1635.  I have never heard of Zurbaran but I am able to learn about him and see many of his works on display at the Prado museum.

At first I am simply struck by the stark beauty of the work.  I can almost feel the lamb’s soft wool as my eyes run down its back.  And then I am touched by its vulnerability and meekness.  Listening to the audio, I learn that this painting marked a change in the treatment of artistic subject matter.  Basically, before this the subject of most of art was contained to biblical stories and representations of Church doctrine.  Here in Zurbaran’s work, we see the reflection and impact of the Christian mystics of the time…God present in all creation.

Of course, it calls to mind the words of John the Baptist:  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)  But here there is something else.  Once again God surprises me.  There is intimacy…there is another message...I belong to you.  As I stand there, in this moment and in many more throughout my trip, I wonder about St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross who both lived in that region of Spain.  I wonder about all the lives they must have touched.  And although, they preceded Francisco Zurbaran, I wonder if he read their writings and was inspired by them as I am.

Who knows, but I do know I am divinely inspired by this art.  I am filled with its truth and beauty.  I let it all wash over me as the words become like a mantra…I belong to you…I belong to you…I belong to you.

I am so grateful God finds me in the Prado that day  and so very grateful for the generous  feast of partridge.