Thursday, November 2, 2017

On being vulnerable

Months have passed since I've written here. Been writing and working full time in youth ministry, but at least I've thought about blogging. I'll hit on a particularly moving topic in my car or shower and  think "gotta blog about it" but it's forgotten in fifteen minutes. But I actually thought of something this morning before starting the day. 

The terrorist attacker in NYC, killing eight people riding their bikes, has left us with a renewed feeling of vulnerability. We've amped up security in airports, government buildings, concerts, and in virtual spaces. Yet something as innocuous as a rental truck can wipe out human lives in five minutes or less. I've seen commentaries and declarations about how "unsafe" we are and how "vulnerable" people feel. Well... yes. Nothing has changed in one sense; we've always been vulnerable. The evil one is ramping up his game and instilling fear. That's a powerful tool. Fear causes people to close their minds in a variety of ways.

Yet we can stand in this vulnerable space knowing that no matter what happens to us, God is with us. God is for us. God honors free will, but we can trust that as Jesus has promised us, he will be with us to the end of the age. Nothing is unseen or unknown by God, and we can rely on God's mercy and justice to prevail, even if we can't see it with human eyes, in human terms. And uniting our sufferings to the suffering of Christ for the salvation of souls is a powerful antidote to what ails us. In fact it is the only way to accept what is and to stand in the vulnerability of being human without growing hardened and closed off. Praying for those whose lives were taken so suddenly and violently is what we are called to, as well as for their loved ones experiencing such a shocking loss.

Today is All Souls Day, when we pray in a special way for the deceased, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We can offer our sufferings and the sufferings of others for them, and for ourselves.
Purgatory, BTW, isn't a limbo or a half-way point between Heaven and Hell. It is a place of purification on the way to Heaven. Hence we say "holy souls" or "friends of God" in Purgatory. Since nothing imperfect can enter One who is perfect, we are then made perfect by the stripping away of our attachments to anything other than God. Then we can enter into that perfect union with the Holy Perfection that is the Trinity of Love.
Many writers and saints have done a much better job of addressing vulnerability as the beloved of Christ. For me, the vulnerability is something to accept in a spirit of humility. I cannot change the world this instant to fix the problems or heal everyone. Nor can I snap my fingers and make my life what I think it ought to be. Funny that! But I can trust that in this place of vulnerability, I am (we all are) treasured, sustained and cared for lovingly by the One who loved me enough to die for me. 

Those whose lives were cut short in NYC, and those who die daily from violence, hunger and disease (most of which is preventable, BTW, with more and better human effort aided by God's grace) need our prayers and our love as we stand in this vulnerable place with Christ at our side, remembering his own humble vulnerability before the forces of evil in the world. Through his ultimate sacrifice, death is destroyed, and we need not fear our vulnerability in the world.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer of Love

I just finished a marvelous week with my family in Massachusetts and would be feeling refreshed if I weren't so tired. Actually, I do feel refreshed. My mind is clear and my spirit is refreshed, even if I need to go to bed earlier than my grand nephews' and grand niece's bedtime. However, I feel the need to blog since a couple things hit me during the past week that deserve airing.

A close family member of mine is asking the tough questions about God, including, "If he's all-loving, why does God allow suffering of innocents?"

The question was asked not as a philosophical exercise, but with righteous anger. Appropriately so. We should be angry at injustice and suffering. If we're not, we need to take Human lessons.

Tonight as I was washing dishes in a daze, the answer rose up in my mind in a phrase:
God allows suffering so that we can love.
Allow me to 'splain. God has given humanity free will to either love each other or hurt each other. Throughout human history, we've continuously chosen to hurt each other. In big ways and small. In personal slams and international affairs of state.

Yet in every situation, we have a choice. Do we do like God and love (e.g. not judging but listening, not lashing out but taking time to pray, not digging in one's heels but working with others for solutions, not complaining but accepting with trust, not seeking vengeance but forgiving) or do we do like the evil one and fear, hate, cheat, complain bitterly, and waste time, talent and treasure (a.k.a. sin). We have that choice. Every one of us, every moment, no matter what. There is always a choice.

When we choose evil, others are hurt. Personally, internationally, and generationally. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Evil is perpetuated (original sin) and continues on down the line. Now, God could step in and eradicate our free will, forcing us to do good, to do right, to be like God. To love God.

Since when is forcing anyone to love you considered real love? Cause that's what it would be if God took away our free will and made us love him and each other. It would't be love. God doesn't want slaves or robots or mindless adorers. God wants us as he made us to be - capable of choosing him, of choosing love, of accepting grace to evolve and grow.

Okay, but what about the Holocaust? The Rwandan and Armenian Genocides? The Syrian refugees? The starving multitudes in third world countries? God lets them suffer so that everyone gets a choice?

It has never been God's design for anyone to suffer. Period. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. We inflict this suffering on each other through our individual, collective, current and historical choices. But God has not abandoned us to this fallen world of suffering and death.

God's grace floods into every place and every situation and every person. If we cooperate with grace, we will find a solution to those problems. We will at least try. Those who have tried are the saints and heroes of history. In the midst of horror and evil, people have chosen to do the right thing and be loving. That is God's presence in the world, through us. Incarnational spirituality. He's waiting for us to accept the grace that is constantly offered through Jesus Christ for us to make those choices for life, for love.

If God eradicated all evil and placed us in a stasis of mindless obedience and adoration, we would not have that choice. We could not love.

Love isn't a feeling, love isn't having our needs met, love isn't using your or another's body to escape pain, and love is definitely not all wrapped up in clover. Love empties itself. If it doesn't, it's not love. Love empties itself completely and totally, in complete self-gift to the other. As Jesus did for us. He was innocent, and he allowed himself to suffer immensely, to be tortured and to die, so that we could live in Eternity with the Triune God, the Community of Love. The gates of death have been destroyed. But only through the suffering of Jesus. And through Christian Baptism, we are called to die with Christ and then to rise to new life with him.

God brings goodness out of the pain and suffering that we experience - he doesn't leave us alone, even if it feels like he does sometimes. Jesus is with us in suffering, because he suffered like us and he promised to be with us to the end of the age. One of my favorite lines right now is this: "God writes straight with crooked lines." 

The human story isn't over. The end result of human suffering is not fully known. But we can be assured that we are being empowered to love, should we choose to, and that God never abandons us.

Next time: Wasted suffering. Or, "why me, why now?" Or, "why does Luke Skywalker whine so much?"

Friday, June 16, 2017

True Serenity

In the last three weeks, my life has been turned a bit upside down. Life is change, as a former film prof of mine recently reminded me. I've never been particularly good with change. In the past, I've either resisted it and suffered immensely, or I've run away to start over -- only I'd bring all the old bag and baggage with me that was never dealt with. 

In the midst of this current round of uncertainty and movement, I've been reminded that the appropriate response to any kind of big change is to offer up thanks and gratitude. But I know from my own experience that empty words of gratitude don't amend my heart, and they only end up tasting bitter rather than being sincere and true thanksgiving to God. I'd wager most people have experienced this at some point. I know of a few tender souls who struggle with it daily, in fact.

The other morning as I sat on my porch with my morning coffee, watching the finches duke it out at the feeder, I felt the very near Presence, and a word resounded in my mind:  acceptance.


Whoa! Okay, wait, what? You want me to accept all this crappy stuff that's happened and is happening? You want me to acknowledge that it exists and that I can't change it and to accept it? What are you, nuts?

Now, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." And of course there are other, more modern, less pious versions, such as "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the stupid." But that's not so helpful. And even in its pure form, I don't think this prayer fully expresses what I'm getting at here.

Acceptance. It doesn't mean roll over and die. It doesn't mean not to feel your feelings. It does mean to feel them and give them to God, to let them go, rather than wrap yourself up in them like a shroud of victimhood from which to accuse the world's injustice. It doesn't mean you don't speak truth about justice, righteousness, or mercy. It does mean you live your best life and allow others their God-given free will. It means we understand that God's will is always present, always moving, even when humans choose otherwise. God's will cannot be overwritten. It involves trust. And as that acceptance takes hold, true gratitude can begin to germinate.

Once the gratitude takes hold, all things become blessings. You will see the people, situations, and things around you that you have taken for granted, and you'll give thanks. You will see the problem or change or situation you are facing as a blessing, and you'll desire God's will to be done (and trust He has plans for you). And only then will you have serenity. But it all starts with acceptance.
You cannot give Me thanks until you have fully accepted that things are the way they are, through no action of yours, and that your job is to stay with Me and let Me lead the dance. Trust that I am in control, here. There's no other way. You've tried it the other way, and you know that doesn't work. That leads to anxiety, anger, and depression. Those things make it harder for you to see Me and know My infinite love for you. Remember, I died on the Cross so that you could live. Accepting your cross is part of union with Me.
Lord, grant me the grace to accept all things as my share in the cross and to stay with You, my eyes on You, alone, and my heart open to receive the gifts that are present, which are also from You, in loving trust.                   
      Amen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Liturgy of the Hours: Sanctifying time and work for the Kingdom

As I've continued to understand myself in this process of discernment, I've realized that it is essential for me to live a life where the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office) are prayed. The reasons are several, and I understand them to be universal, not tied to my own personal preference.

  • We are called to pray unceasingly by Jesus Christ.
  • Sanctifying the hours of the day permeates what we do, who we are, and how we love one another.
  • Stopping our work to pray is a reorientation toward God against the temptation to make our work about us, rather than about the Kingdom.
  • The Benedictine Ora et Labora isn't just a simple "prayer and work" translation; rather, prayer is work/work is prayer and it all points to God's will. The classic Catholic both/and, in other words. Prayer informs our ministry, ministry informs our prayer. There is an ebb and flow here, not a "now we do this" and "now we do that" binary concept.
In the short term, The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to unclench our minds, to sit waiting in the presence of God. Chanting the psalms has the effect of switching our brains to a different "mode" if you'll forgive the non-scientific term. We no longer seek to figure everything out, remember everything, worry about things. It is like taking a hot soothing bath for our minds, and the water is the Holy Spirit. When the mind is unclenched, the Holy Spirit has room to move and breathe in us. 

Eventually, this mindfulness and practicing the presence of God permeates the day and our entire lives, so that the flow of prayer and work is seamless. At first, stopping work and turning to prayer may feel forced or somehow chopping up the day, but when done with an open mind and heart over time, and if we in fact have the grace to live that life, it will produce fruit of constant mindfulness - prayerful living and living prayer.

If you work full time and still want to consecrate your day, The Church has also created the book of Shorter Christian Prayer just for you, and in fact encourages the laity to join in the prayer of the Church. It contains Morning Prayer (Lauds), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). It is what I am using now on my own while doing active ministry as I discern. In addition, I pray the Angelus at the traditional times of noon and 6:00, and at 3:00 p.m. I either pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet or if I can't take that much time, I pray an Act of Contrition. 

I encourage you to try to pray as much of the Liturgy of the Hours as you can. If you can't quite get that together, try just slowly and thoughtfully reading a psalm and then praying the Our Father in the morning and evening, and at night, review your day and offer it in all its complexities and successes and failures to God. 

At the very least, consider making a daily "Morning Offering" to set the intention for your day:

O Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works,
joys and sufferings
of this day for all the intentions
of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and in particular
for the intentions of the Holy Father. 
Amen.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Heart Spirituality

Friends, 

I will be going to visit two more communities at the end of this month and beginning of June. They are the Religious of the Assumption and the Visitation Nuns. Both communities are beautiful. They are also quite different, although the founder of the Religious of the Assumption, St. Marie Eugenie, had her early formation in a Visitation monastery, so there is a connection as far as spirituality and charism. Neither community is Benedictine. They are both spiritualities of the heart (Religious of the Assumption being Augustinian, and the Visitation nuns being Salesian and the historical setting of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus).

In the Benedictine charism I have found balance and a call to simplicity, openness and the desert spirituality. But... I may be seeking for more than that. A "feminine genius" as Pope Francis has named it, perhaps not found with the Benedictines as I have experienced them. I may find this elsewhere or I may discover it comes from within and manifests uniquely. Or perhaps both. Anyway, this is the journey of surrender and humility.

I thank you for your prayers. Alleluia! He is Risen!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bring on the green tea and cucumber stix

Hang on to your antique espresso cups... I'm weaning off coffee. Sort of. I'm down to two small cups of half-cafe in the morning and maybe a cup of green tea or fake-teabag-Folgers coffee in the afternoon if I'm desperate. (Today, I was desperate. I also had a hospital decaf latte as a reward for getting my neck x-rayed at 8:30 in the a.m.).

The thinking is that drinking less coffee/caffeine, more water, and eating no sugar will make me lose some excess fat globules. Sounds logical. I'm eating celery, carrot and cucumber sticks intstead of homing into the Business Office every afternoon where there are always snacks and left over holiday candy (you name the holiday, they've got the candy).

But going off coffee, mang. Wow. I'm like...

"Bones, what's the matter with Spock?"
"Jim, him and his pointy Vulcan ears have gone and quit coffee."
"You guys are not making this any easier."

Friday, March 24, 2017

I'm Pretty Sure Jesus Doesn't Like Boxes (unless they are filled with Jaffa Cakes)

Fact:
Fact: I prefer raspberry to orange Jaffa Cakes.
  • I feel personally called to cover my head with a chapel veil when I am before the Blessed Sacrament.
  • I am absolutely transported by singing and hearing Gregorian Chant. 
  • If I do become a nun, I would like to wear a Habit of some kind.
  • I would prefer that people offered Thanksgiving after Communion, if only the priest gave us time for that.
  • I believe we need to Evangelize our "lukewarm" Catholics about the power and love of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
  • I am committed to one hour a week of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
  • I belive in Marian apparitions such as Fatima and Lourdes, and I believe in the power of prayer, especially the Rosary.
  • I believe in St. Faustina's visions of Christ and the efficaciousness of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
  • I am Pro-Life. That includes educating against abortion and reducing the perceived "need" for abortion, and advocating for compassionate end of life care that does not include assisted suicide.
Apparently, in the eyes of many, that makes me a "Traditionalist." I have been stuffed into that box more than once by someone who sees me wearing a mantilla chapel veil, and I have had to clarify where I fall on the spectrum of Catholic.
  • I am happily a Post-conciliar Catholic.
  • I believe in the need for Evangelizing our laity to EMBODY the Church because we ARE the Church, because we are in fact the Body of Christ, called to be light in the world, called to be salt of the earth, called to be leaven.
  • Down with clericalism.
  • I am 100% with Pope Francis across the board because he is the real deal, and he gets what it means to be a disciple of Jesus the Messiah in a world burdened with sin and pain.
  • I believe it is the call of humanity to care for each other and love each other. This means:  feeding the poor, giving shelter to the homeless, educating girls and boys, etc. and not just giving handouts, but helping people to support themselves, discover their gifts and talents, and use those gifts for society for a just wage and in a loving environment.
  • I believe in being responsible for the care of Creation, our planet, and each other.
  • I support beautiful liturgy that reflects the spirit of the people in the local community.
  • I enjoy some JM Talbot, Joncas, and Haugen. 
  • I am Pro-Life. That includes providing mother, baby and family support services,  education  for everyone that includes arts and sciences, reducing poverty by just and fair economics, and abolishing the death penalty. I am a pacifist.
If you're at all familiar with Catholic "politics" you readily see how I am not easily pegged as a Trad or a Prog (or a Yang or a Com). I am sick to death of people needing to pigeon hole others because they don't respond to the same type of liturgy, or they feel called to cover their heads, or they love singing "On Eagles Wings" at the top of their lungs. I fail to see how trampling on people who don't value the aesthetics and modes of prayer that you do is Christian. That goes for both sides. 

I don't know what to make of any of it, the wild polarities in our Catholic Church (I may as well be talking about Republicans and Democrats), except that the Holy Spirit doesn't play favorites and seems to be helping people find Christ in a myriad of ways. 

All I know is that I'm saddened at being asked not to wear my chapel veil by communities I have discerned with (this has happened to me twice, now) because it sends a "message" that I or the community is Traditionalist. I'm also tired of being sent emails about the prophecy of Fatima and how Donald Trump signifies the End Times because I am assumed to be "one of them" by the Traditionalists.

Really, people? And how does this all square with Jesus' teaching about loving each other as ourselves? Didn't he tell us the outside of the cup isn't so important as the inside of the cup? Didn't he say that we aren't to worry about the future, only trust in God's providence? Did he not make it clear that we are not to judge each other? Then why are we arguing, calling the other antichrist? And for crying out Pete's sake loud, how can we expect to be the light of the world when we are busy punching each other in the face? 

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is gathered with his disciples and tells them that he has desired to eat this Passover with them. He knows full well what he's about to endure, and he is ready to do it out of love. Do you know what his disciples do? They argue about who among them shall be called the greatest (Lk 22:24). To quote Peter van Breemen, S.J.:
How much Jesus must have suffered at that last meal that he had desired so eagerly, when he discovered that his disciples had understood nothing of his spirit and his mentality (The God Who Won't Let Go, p. 86). 
What a sad statement that this can easily apply to his Church in the present day, arguing who has the "right" way to be Catholic and who is doing the work of Satan. We are human, we are sinners, and we can't for a moment think that we're better than anyone else because we've "earned" our place in the Kingdom by being on the right side of the chasm that we ourselves have created.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Flavor of Lent

Another Purple Liturgical Season is upon us. I look out my window at Stella - Nor'easter Stella, that is, not my Aunt Stella, may she Rest in Peace *makes Sign of the Cross* and I think how fortunate I am that I got to:  a) work from home during the two days of this storm, and b) watch St. Francis measuring the powdery snow (not the heavy wet stuff that was predicted, thank you, Jesus).
3/14/17 at 9:18 a.m.                 3/15/17 6:32 p.m.  
After getting my work done and filing my taxes today (yay, me!) I hopped onto Twitter and discovered an article that encapsulates many of my past ramblings.

First, I'll hit you with a quote:
If you can’t see God’s will in the present moment, right where you’re standing, and embrace it then and there, you’ll never discover it for the future.
On Friday, I will take one more turn around the block of discerning a religious vocation. Only I realize that it's certainly not the same block from a year ago or five years ago when I began this journey.  I'm not the same woman I was a year ago - especially since coming back to Elmira. The at-times painful but wondrous healing that is happening here is nothing short of God's own love poured out. He calls me to be poured out, as well, as he does each of this beloved children.
"Hey girl, I got your back. Just
rest in Me, okay?"

This Lent has really brought this home. Just a couple weeks ago I was ranting at God because of poor me wah, wah, wah... and then in one sudden moment realized that Jesus suffered unimaginably. How can I claim he is my Beloved if I won't willingly share in even a teensy taste of the bitter cup, trusting in his Love?

Every time I start to flip out (like, um, doing taxes, or paying bills, or figuring out how to reach a bunch of 14-year-old kids), I am reminded that anxiety is not trusting in the Lord, who has promised that the Father knows what we need. All we need do is seek the Kingdom. All else is provided for. 

And so I'm returning to the Transfiguration Monastery, the Benedictine community I visited almost two years ago on the trip to New York that convinced me to move back to Elmira. My prayer for this trip is simple:  I TRUST IN YOU JESUS. That's it. Not "show me your will" or "please let this be the place" or anything else that puts demands on God.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the Sisters again. The wise advice that Sr. Donald gave me as I was leaving after my first visit was that I needed to discern my own charism - Carmelite, Franciscan, Benedictine, Dominican, etc. I didn't really set out to do that, actually, but as it so happens God has brought me home to the Benedictine way. So with that, and now with a way to deal with my debt, I am returning there for a weekend. I have questions, of course, but mostly I'm just going to listen - with my physical ears and the ear of my soul.

On a more mundane note, I look forward to meeting their new cat, Miss Kitty Boots. The former monastery cat, Miguel, was already old and blind when I met him, and went home to Kitty Heaven last year. It is good that I know about Miss Kitty Boots, so that I will remember to pack my Zyrtec. (And no doubt the Google bots will now ply me with antihistamine ads for having posted that.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mary of Bethany had the right idea...

From a great article on what it means to be a mystic (all emphasis mine) :
What makes a mystic, well, “mystical”? Mystic and related words come from the Greek language — from the same word which gives us mystery and even sacraments. But the Greek root word, mueo, also gives us the English word mute. So a mystic is someone who enters the mystery of God. And a mystic also, and therefore, is someone whose spirituality is muted (in other words, profoundly silent) — which is to say it cannot even be put into words. It’s the silence of a monastery, understood not merely as the absence of sound (or thoughts, or words), but as an opening that allows us to discern the quiet presence of God. 
A mystic, in the broadest and m[o]st humble sense of the word, is simply someone whose relationship with God is primarily contemplative. Someone who prays, and who prays silently, opening the heart to the presence of God, which cannot ever be fully put into words.
 The author wisely comments:
Our job, in our time, is not merely to try to replicate the spirituality of the great mystics of the past, but to immerse ourselves in their wisdom to find inspiration for God to lead us into our unique expression of intimate union with Him.  
Let it be done unto me!

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Henryk Siemiradzki (1886)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Chronos vs Kairos

So earlier this week, I deactivated my Facebook account and I canceled Netflix. I am purposefully simplifying my life, scaling down the distraction-on-demand outlets that only drag me down and ruin my peace. Although I am currently on the couch with a stomach bug, when I am at last better and able to stand up without falling over, I will get a library card and find myself some decent (not indecent or lewd or violent or overly political) fiction to read. I have plenty of books on theology, saints, Benedictine life, etc. here, but sometimes you know, you just want something lighter and fluffier.*

Thus far I am enjoying a life less plugged in. How can we simplify our lives? Take stock of how you spend your time and energy, and realize where your time and energy "leaks" out. I'm not talking about normal and healthy R&R, I mean the obsessive quality that certain distraction-on-demand venues elicit in us. 

To live by chronos is to die an agonizing death where every second is fraught with coulda-shoulda-woulda. We become obsessed with the past or the future and neglect the space of the now moment. It is the invention of the clock; time that controls our actions and limits our sense of what is and what could be. Kairos** allows the Godliness of the present moment to ring out in every direction, yet being grounded in the moment of being. It's the closest thing we have to experiencing eternity on this side of the grave.

So how do you want to live? Wasting hours with things like Facebook, Netflix binging, hanging out at the 7-11 buying scratch tickets,*** getting lost on the Holodeck? Cause seriously if I lived in the Star Trek Next Gen and beyond universe, I'd be addicted to the Holodeck. I'd be worse than Geordi and Barclay combined. So I just wouldn't be able to ever go in there or I'd never come out. It's good to know one's limits.

How easy it is to let the poetry of our lives, both the joyful and the painful poetry, be muted and smoothed into non-essential background noise when we have music playing 24-7 with the TV on and the computer game going all at the same time. 

Is that how you want to live your life? No one can say "There is no God" while dosing him or herself up with chronos noise. Cause how could you know there is no God if you never try to listen or give God a chance to sit down at the kitchen table with you?




* When I did an image search on Google for "light and fluffy," I ended up with 90% photos of pancakes, 10% baked carby goodness like muffins.
** I don't speak or read or write in Greek, but I know these two words. Also Kyrie Eleison.
*** Two weeks ago I purchased the 6th scratch ticket of my life and won $40.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

“No one has a greater desire than I for that secure and tranquil life dedicated wholly to contemplation. There is nothing better, nothing more enjoyable to be separated from all turmoil, in order to immerse oneself profoundly in the Divine Treasure.”
(St. Augustine)

Monday, January 30, 2017

I Will Listen

A couple weekends ago, I went on a vocation discernment retreat with the Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth, NJ. It was a beautiful weekend away, and I came home with a renewed intimacy with Jesus. I accept that as long as I am in the world serving in ministry, I need a monthly renewal retreat. That had been a long time coming after months of ministry with no time set aside for God alone outside the normal every day routines. I won't make that mistake again!

I am still discerning my life path and listening. What is Jesus whispering to my heart? For now, I am in Elmira, praying and striving to be present as I help prepare young people for the Sacrament of Confirmation, hold a bi-weekly women's prayer group, and bring Holy Communion to the homebound. I am drawn to the woods, to quiet nature. I am drawn to water in any form - stream, brook, river, lake, ocean. I am drawn to silence and certainly to contemplative prayer. I am drawn to rhythms, seasons, pulses, not the unrelenting march of seconds, hours, and days. I am drawn to moments of life - watching a Chickadee at the feeder in the bitter cold, catching a glimpse of snow dropping from branches in the morning sun, seeing people I love be themselves with each other, unaware that I am observing them and loving them from across the room. 

I am irresistibly drawn to the Eucharist as the Source of my being - that hasn't let up one bit since I began the journey of union with God almost five years ago. My devotion to the Sacred Heart is deeper than it ever was, as my reliance on Him is more acute. I am weak, and gladly so, to rely on Him, alone.

I'm living close to a Benedictine monastery, and my life is certainly benefitting from that association as a novice Oblate. I'm meeting other Oblates (one of whom has become my spiritual director), and forming a community of prayer, slowly but surely. I am following the Rule of Benedict as closely as I can in my state of life, and I pray the psalms with music.

Am I called to some other form of life? Eremitical life? Living alone, consecrated, doing ministry, in the world but not of it. That's a tall order for me - in the world but not of it. The world hounds me with hatred and anger and frustration and dehumanizing voices. Facebook is a parade of hostility. The town I live in, while surrounded by beauty, is rife with poverty, crime, drugs and violence. The same as most places, in other words. On Jan. 1 of this year, I lost a good friend to drugs. Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe the maelstrom of feelings this event has evoked in me. Being face to face with this day in and day out makes me cry in agony to God. And perhaps that's the point of living "in the world but not of it." At the same time, if my prayers are more effective than anything I can do or try to do, shouldn't I live the life that best suits and supports that prayer life? I don't feel like that's the life I'm living. Most of the time, I feel ragged and unkempt, spiritually speaking.

My brother recently asked me if my desire to live a monastic life was an attempt at escaping. While I appreciated his concern, I was surprised and slightly irked that after almost five years of me being on this path, he thought this was something to worry about. But it's all good - he's my big brother, and he is looking out for me. But the issue of escapism is a real one -- ironically, his (and my) concern would be better placed on how much Netflix I binge as a form of escape rather than longing for a community to pray with.

The Carmelites live "hermit in community," which sounds like a good fit, yet my journey with the Carmelites of various monasteries did not result in my entrance to any of them. Franciscans - love their joy and deep sense of God in Creation. My time with two Poor Clare communities last year was moving and filled me with great joy, yet in one community I found too much restriction (not enough space), and in the other for some reason, not the feeling of belonging.

So what am I longing for, exactly? Is it the longing for heaven, for the true home of complete union with God in paradise? Or am I still feeling the "more" tugging at my soul here in this life, drawing me toward something else?

My inward journey has brought me as far if not farther than my outward journey has across the U.S.  Understanding and loving myself, releasing people and situations instead of holding them to my expectations, being gentle with myself and with others, knowing how weak I am (and yet how strong), allowing and seeing the integration of the various parts of my own past... all of these things are happening, and I bring them to the Altar of Christ at every Mass.

Yet...  something still tugs, a melody I keep hearing bits of, wafting in and then disappearing.  My only recourse is to stay still with Christ, as He invites me eagerly and tenderly to do. To be patient, and to trust in His Love for me. 

At the retreat with the lovely Benedictine Sisters in NJ, Sr. Mariette, the Vocation Director, gave us the lyrics to a song and then played it for us. It perfectly describes where I am:



Friday, December 30, 2016

Fakey McClickBait

2016 has rocked our GenX world as one pop icon after another has died and left a huge vacancy. For me, the moment of ENOUGH ALREADY didn't come until the death of Debbie Reynolds, a day after Carrie Fisher's passing. I truly thought it was some kind of bad joke when I woke up and read the headline, and my brain struggled with the seeming unlikelihood of it all - especially in light of the "fake news" that's been outed after the election. A small corner of my brain hoped it was another tabloid-esque false report even as I knew that if it's splashed all over BBC, CNN, Washington Post and FoxNews, it must be true.

This morning I caught an article on the fake news of 2016, and it got me thinking about how vulnerable we all are. The internet keeps us connected 24/7 with each other and the world, which has its light and dark side, as most things do. The light side:  knowing of injustice that we can then act upon, sharing pictures of family far away, sending email letters and the ease of forwarding interesting articles, recipes, and ideas, and collaborating in all kinds of pursuits. The dark side:  addiction to information, online gaming, and porn. And we have to add to that list the ease of being manipulated by biased news reporting and fake news sites. It's all a bit much, isn't it?

If only all fake news were as easy to spot.
How can we tell what is real, what is true? CNN has just as much bias as FoxNews. Facebook is a veritable breeding ground for manipulation and misdirection, where slanted "news" and misreporting in the guise of memes spreads and stokes the fires of the already-pissed-off who then turn around and share the meme of incorrect data, misinterpreted data, or blatantly falsified data (whether that data be statistics, quotes, or images).

Almost makes you want to unplug and start living in the real world, doesn't it?

But the "real world" isn't a safe harbor, either. The adversary likes to peddle half-truths that are very attractive. I suppose you could call it "spiritual click-bait." No one would sin if we could see it for what it is and for what it does to our relationship with God and each other. Advertising only works if we are sold something we think we need, that will be good for us, even if it kills us.

When we are lured into a half-truth, our own vision of the good starts to become tainted, and before long we do what we shouldn't do, or we don't do what we should. In the moment it may seem harmless enough, but if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can look back and see the path that has led deeper into the darkness through sin. 

But the Good News is that we have a God who doesn't leave us to our own devices once we've gotten tangled up in the lies and behaviors that turn us away from God's love. The Word became Flesh, taking on our humanity in all its complexity and fake newsish-ness. Maybe Jesus didn't have to contend with fake news sites and Russian hacking, but war, injustice and tyranny were already old hat for the human race by the time he was born. 

In many ways, absolutely nothing has changed as far as the human race is concerned. We are still lying, cheating, killing, maiming, torturing, starving and emotionally brutalizing each other. We have fancier technology with which to do all of this, but really, the adversary is up to his old tricks, just a little more updated to human ingenuity. 

But like that article says of weeding out fake news, there are ways to combat the spiritual click-bait. We have been given clear moral principles through the Judeo-Christian scriptures, which are the Word of God, not some random collection of human writings. Have you read the scriptures? There's a lot of bad-assery and also horrific sinning going on there. It's not a pretty picture. Jesus's genealogy is enough to make a soap opera producer blush. But the story is the same throughout the Hebrew scriptures and Christian New Testament:  God saves. He doesn't leave us to wallow in the spiritual click-bait and the aftermath of making the wrong choices again and again. 

We've been given the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments. We've been given the law of Love from Love:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and strength, and love each other as you love yourself. Within these are to be found the truth of how we are to live with God and each other. Jesus didn't come just as a rebel or a prophet or a nice guy. He came to die for us, to remit the sins of humanity throughout time, so that we could enter into a relationship with our Father and become divinized. The more we enter into these truths through Jesus's love, the more we will understand who we are meant to be, free of addictions and false hopes. Free to recognize spiritual click-bait when we see it, and to repent of it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lighting a candle for 2016

Normally around this time, I do a wrap up of the year in my own life and estimation. Although I don't remember if I did one last year. Anyway, I'm resuming the tradition. 

After spending the Christmas holiday with my family, I arrived home last night to find a pile of Christmas cards awaiting me in the mail box. I had anticipated this and was delighted to open cards from friends and family in other states as well as right here in Elmira. What I wasn't prepared for was a letter tucked into a card from my friend Fr. David, a Trappist in Utah. His letter held some sad news, including the death of their Guestmaster, lay brother Michael. Michael was my first contact at Holy Trinity Abbey, where I spent many a retreat weekend during my year in Salt Lake City, and we had quickly become friends. I will always remember his New Jersey baritone, "We all love you, honey. We're praying for you." 

So last night after doing laundry and watering my plants, I made my way to bed through tears. I don't know exactly when Michael died, but I'm sure he was surrounded by his brothers and that he had a good death. I'm sure he offered all his suffering to join with the Lord's Passion for the salvation of souls. And I'm sure he's praying for me now, as I'm praying for him.

2016 seemed to barrel on through nightmare scenarios and celebrity deaths. In my own life, I experienced a death to a transient way of life - living in other people's homes, trying to figure out what I should be about, discerning religious life. I moved to Elmira and have been enjoying my time here. But the call to religious life has bubbled back up to the surface, so next month I am attending a weekend vocation retreat with a group of Benedictine sisters. I think this will be it for me - if I don't fall in love with the life of these sisters and feel the pull to enter, I will be settling down where I am and sinking roots. Either way, my life as a vagabond is over. Thank God.

2016 brought death and destruction, but it also brought life and renewal, and it was the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. I'll not do a list of "here's what happened in 2016" because you can easily graze Google for that. To those who mourn 2016 as a plague-ridden blotch on the soul of the 21st century, I offer a few thoughts:
  • We're only 16 years into the new century. There is still a LOT of history to be made. 
  • The loss of pop icons - while sad because they are human beings and certainly have left behind loved ones who grieve their loss - is not cause for despair. 
  • Governments and administrations come and go. Yes, they leave a mark, and yes, they are powerful in a limited, worldly kind of way. But it is we the people who have the power to make the world what we want it to be - through kindness, charity, hope, and joy. 
  • When tragedy and the threat of despair press in, our response to our sisters and brothers needs to be immediate and unreserved. Whether it's prayer, financial contribution, human labor, or a combination, we must continually turn to each other in times of trouble. And we must turn to God in gratitude for each other and for comfort when life seems impossible.
  • When people treat you poorly, no matter if you called them friends, don't sweat it. Walk away, grieve as you need to, forgive, and pray for them.
  • Never forget the value of human life, womb to tomb. When we start to hedge the value of life, it erodes our quality of life and our moral compass.
  • Unplug yourself and get out there and live. Read a book. Ride a bike. Volunteer to build a house for the homeless. Read to kids at the library. Pray to God in whatever way you understand God. Live.
2017 will be, for me, a year of choices: making decisions and moving forward in a direction that will lay the groundwork for the 2nd half of my life (oh man, did I really say that? yes, I'll be turning 49). 

It will also be, grounded in the realizations and experiences of the last few months, a year of relating differently to people and situations. I'm not so concerned with trying to please others or play into pre-conceived notions of how I'm supposed to be. I trust that God has created me to be who I am, and that He provides me with all I need. In other words, I am truly free to live my life. Thank God.

As always, I thank you for reading, and I assure you of my prayers. Please pray for me, and pray that we will all find new beginnings in 2017 that will bear fruit in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Not Trump's America

I don't do a lot with politics on this blog, but there are a few things I feel moved to say in this post-election, pre-Advent, almost-Thanksgiving season.

Protesters are out in the streets with signs that declare "Not my president," while headlines blare "Trump's America." Here's a thought:  he is the president whether you like it or not. Be the light, be the love, don't leave it up to the president or anyone else. Will he do some damage to the country? Sure will. Just like every other president has done, some more overtly, some covertly. Will he do some good? Probably, just like even our worst presidents have done. 

Do you have to like him? Of course not. But you do have to use your conscience and live your life according to the Law of Love -- well you don't HAVE to, but it really is the only way to a) keep your sanity, b) not alienate others, and instead c) educate with your life, love, and willingness to dialogue with others.

Another thought:  it's only "Trump's America" according to the media. Have you already given up all hope and given over to rage and anti-personism? (I just made that word up but I think it fits.) Will you point the finger at everyone and scream blame and injustice and with a smug air declare yourself better than anyone who voted for him for any reason? Hm. How is that helping, exactly? 

(I also happen to think that the media and the now-outed false news sites have stoked the fires that Trump was more than happy to capitalize on in order to become some kind of folk hero and get elected. But that leans outside the scope of this post.)

I've begun a prayer practice of opening to the psalms every morning and reading which ever one(s) presents itself. Even if it is one of the not-so-uplifting psalms, I read it and pray with it. St. Benedict designed the original Psalter so that within one week, his monks (and later, nuns) would have read all 150 psalms. That includes the not-so-joyful ones, the ones calling for vengeance, the lamentations, as well as the ones glorifying God, giving thanks, and praising God with all of Creation. I've adapted this idea to my lay woman's prayer life. 

I read whatever the Holy Spirit puts in front of me, even if it's not "comforting" in the sense of mac and cheese or hot cocoa. It always ends up speaking to something and allowing me to confront an idea of mine that needs to be surrendered, or reminding me to trust in the only One who is constant.

This morning, it was Psalm 36*, which my psalter intros as "reflections on good and evil." Check it:
5 Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in him and he will act,
6 so that your justice breaks forth like the light,
your cause like the noon-day sun.
The entire psalm urges us not to worry about what the wicked are doing, because God's got this. Our job is to trust in God, live righteous lives in surrender to God's love, and wait expectantly for God's mercy. It doesn't urge us to kill in the name of God, or fight back against those who respect neither God nor human life. 

God knows that we get angry when we see what we perceive to be evil and injustice, and Jesus teaches us to be with the oppressed and downtrodden, to provide for their needs. He never once indicated through his actions or words that our job is to make the bad guy pay. That's something we invented. It's every movie you've seen in which the bad guy or girl gets their comeuppance. It's the law of karma, right? The evil should have to suffer for what they've done.

Except. It's not our job to inflict suffering on anyone, nor to judge anyone. There is only one Judge, and that's God.

The psalm goes on:
30 The just man's mouth utters wisdom
and his lips speak what is right;
31 the law of his God is in his heart,
his steps shall be saved from stumbling.
This paints a picture of someone who speaks truth and abides by the law of God written in the heart. This saint walks with God and by focusing on this relationship with God, he avoids sin and the near occasion of sin. There is a security in this, that even in the midst of suffering, God will guide the soul of such a one to remain in God's love, rather than stumbling into the bailiwick of the wicked - hate, violence, brutality, lying, stealing, cheating, and all the rest of it.

We are reassured that although the wicked will flourish on the earth, theirs is not an everlasting reign. The Adversary and his followers are extremely powerful, but they will not have the final say. Stay true, let God hold your hand, surrender to God's ever-more powerful grace, and Be the light (Mt. 5:14) 
23 The Lord guides the steps of a man
and makes safe the path of one he loves.
24 Though he stumble he shall never fall
for the Lord holds him by the hand.

*A quick note about language:  Coming from the original Hebrew and with an older translation, the text uses masculine pronouns, but don't let it bog you down.