Friday, December 21, 2012

The Woman at the Well

"Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
But then I heard my Savior speaking:
"Draw from the well that never shall run dry".

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!"
Wanda Jackson

I am that woman, thirsty and seeking, but the irony is that the well -- the fount of every blessing -- is here within my reach  and always has been.  And yet, I'm too stubborn to dip my cup in and fill it.

Today's Old Testament reading was about the immense love and longing my Savior has for me.  For me!  He is there, waiting for me as the bridegroom waits for the bride.  Father Jonathan reminded us that God's love for us is evermore than our love for him -- so very much more.  He longs for us. 

And yet, so very often, I sit by the well dying of thirst and refusing to lift up my cup.  Lift it up!  Raise your arms! Here He waits.

Like the adulterous woman, I lie at his feet, bereft, broken, unworthy.  "Rise up," he says, "Has no one condemned thee?  Neither do I condemn thee.  Go and sin no more."

I can have my hunger satisfied and my thirst slaked.  Only a fool sits at the well and thirsts.  Drink up!  Live, love, serve!  I have but this one life.  What will I make of me?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why I Confess

I'm not a theologian.  I'm just a woman striving to live my life in such a way that I am more often than not a force for good.  Nonetheless, as a Catholic, I do have to think about these things at least a little.

It seems to me that in Matthew 9 when Jesus forgives the paralytic, the crowd recognizes that human beings (as Jesus was in a human form) have the power to forgive sins.  [Of course, in the Gospel of John (chapter 20), the risen Christ explicitly empowers the Disciples with the responsibility to forgive sins (or to not forgive them).] This recognition by the witnesses sets the foundation for the Rite of Reconciliation. The precedent was set.

I so value the rite.  I think there is great richness in sitting before another human and saying aloud the ways in which I have fallen short.  It re-humanizes me.  I need that opportunity to examine my own shortcomings; I am so quick to see them in others.

The added value then, is absolution.  Without it, it would still be a valuable exercise --has not many a person confessed her sins to her friend?--but the true value is the priest's role.

I confess. My confidant then carefully considers and weighs my transgressions as an  un-involved arbitrator.  He then counsels me to right recourse; this too is of immense value.  Someone -- a wise and compassionate someone -- has carefully considered my sin and has offered advice as to appropriate next steps. (It is a rare and precious friend who can do the same.) Then, standing in for Jesus, so as a to offer me a human face, my confessor absolves me of my sin and offers the opportunity to accept the full forgiveness of God. What a rare and amazing gift this is!  The whole process works together to invite me forward as a new creation.  And once I have done my penance and made my recompense, that is how I go emerge.

Is it possible to go forth as a new creation without confession and reconciliation?  Perhaps . . . but this process was so beautifully crafted as to make the transformation as streamlined and as simple as possible.  I love it.  I thought, prior to conversion, that it was an unnecessary act.  I did not believe I needed that "intermediary."  Now after years of experience, I can see that I get a big benefit form not only the process itself, but also from the "forced" necessity of the rite. As with so many things in life that I do not want to do, what began for me as a necessary (and somewhat dreaded) act --a requirement of my conversion--has become a gift.

Someday I will be able to go to confession more often, but for now I relish my quarterly act and look forward to my next opportunity. Advent is a season of preparation.  As I am in the act of creation, Reconciliation has a major role to play and I am very grateful for the privilege.

Happy Advent.

Photo credit

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Gospel of Servant-hood

Sunday's readings are still resonating with me:  If you want to be great in God's kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.  It sounds so straightforward and so simple.  Yet it's challenging to fully live out the gospel of servant-hood.

I heard a brief radio snippet of a Catholic speaker -- I believe it was Matthew Kelly -- and he was talking about our journeys.  We are all on a journey that begins in infancy and ends (at least the earthly part) when we die.  Each person we meet is somewhere on that journey; we don't know where when we encounter them; it's not for us to know.  So we need to have patience with them.  Isn't that just golden?

There isn't a lot of patience in the world today.  There's a lot of arrogance. We are swift to judge another as callus, ignorant, uncaring, selfish, stuck-up, petty . . . you name it! It is so hard to remember that we're on a journey; I'm on a journey, you're on a journey, our politicians are, our employers, our noisy neighbors, our homeless, our drug addicted, our children, our enemies, our "frienemies."

The choir did a communion anthem of a beautiful but not well-known hymn, "The Servant Song."  It begins thus,
Will you let me be your servant?
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on a road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I was convicted by how I unconsciously held that the "pilgrims" were people on the same journey as my own. That's not it, folks, not at all!  In fact, we are all "travelers on a road" and "we are here to help each other."  And that takes love.  It takes self sacrificing, non-judgmental, agape love.  Not the kind of mutual love where you are sweet to me and so then I am sweet to you, but the kind of love it takes to touch a leper; love that is born of sacrifice and respect.

In my daily life, I do not encounter lepers, but I have my own "untouchables."  Just yesterday, I called someone a "jackass," and worse, not to his face!  He's a pilgrim.  He's on a journey.  I might try a little patience and compassion.  I got sucked into the politics of it all.  I forgot I was a servant.  I was grabbing for some power.  There was a little "how dare he?" in my words.  Who's the jackass, by the way?

Home is where the Gospel of Servant-hood really comes into play, though.  Being a servant means loving each of my teens the best I can right where she is in their journey and not thinking she should be farther along. Serving my husband means listening to him and really caring what kind of day he had. It means seeing the cute in the 3-year-old's tears, the 4-year-old's sass and the 5-year-old's temper. It means supporting them, not ruling them. It means intimacy and that takes respect. It means taking time for each and every one of my people. Being a servant means remembering that relationships have seasons -- and being willing to stay on the boat when the sea is stormy.  As C. S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, "There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable."

Judging is easy. And by the way, I've noticed that when I judge someone, I'm usually wrong. If I get to know them better -- that intimacy again -- I see them differently. I can't see their journey when I'm judging them.  It takes compassionate eyes to see it. Only when I truly see them can I truly support them.

I'm not suggesting that we just say "she's perfect in God's eyes" and let it go; quite the opposite. Serving is active. If I see you have dog-doo on your shoe, I'm not letting you track it all over town. Agape love -- self sacrificing, non-judgmental, intimate love -- is active. Once we're in an intimate relationship, we can help each other. You can help me reach my goals and I can help you. I can ask you what would support you and then hold up my end of the deal. "I see you are fixing a ham sandwich and I remember you said you weren't eating meat today."  "I am committed to two hours of exercise each day. Will you ask me about my exercise if you see me sitting in front of the TV?" That sort of thing.

It's a lot to take in, but I know I can improve on my serving. I received an impetus from the prayers and petitions on Sunday when when we prayed for the strength to "acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel."  Lord, hear our prayer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

In the Doldrums

I've been in the spiritual doldrums lately.  Have you been there yourself at times?  There is nothing "wrong;" I have no complaints.  I'm just floating in a calm sea of tepid water.  Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Many years ago --when I was still a United Methodist -- I listened to a taped speech by the Dutch Priest, Henri Nouwen called "The Spirituality of Waiting."  I was in the doldrums then too.  Nouwen considers waiting a spiritual discipline akin to prayer.  He artfully makes the point that although in the modern world we are very accustomed to instant gratification, there is much to be gained in the waiting.  [Note:  I am paraphrasing as it has been many years since I've listened to this tape!]  Many people, Nouwen said,  -- good Christians at that -- dash about from one "spiritual experience" to another trying to "get somewhere" spiritually.  Instead, he suggests, there is great richness in the stillness. Waiting does not have to be a passive experience; it can be a deeply instructive.

This consideration of waiting and the doldrums got me pondering the experience of "being in the doldrums" in a nautical sense.  What must it have been like to be in a wind-powered vessel and stuck in the doldrums?  What did the crew do while they waited?  They couldn't get on a faster ship!  I tried researching the topic but was left eventually to my imagination.

I suspect that when the ship is stuck in the doldrums -- sitting motionless on a glassy sea under a hot, still, suffocating sun -- the crew quite easily falls into the doldrums themselves.  But are they permitted to sit and sulk?  Under a strong and experienced captain, the crew more likely does things they seldom have the time nor opportunity to do.  They may repair the sails, paint the mast, or clean the galley.  Perhaps they take advantage of the slack, lifeless sails to take a rare and refreshing swim in the calm sea. I feel pretty certain they do not spend too much time just staring at the sea or shouting at the sky, thinking the sea or the sky "should be" different.

So what I am I to do in the doldrums?  Maintenance, I guess.  I could fix my video on my computer so I can enjoy my video reflections again, review my training manuals, delve more deeply into the day's readings.  Or, better, enjoy more time in quiet reflection -- which is simply to be still and wait.  The doldrums allows a period of quiet to read God's Word and let it land on me just as the crepe myrtle blossom is lifted by the breeze, settling ever so gently on the pond.  To use Nouwen's phrase, "waiting is active;" I can read the scripture and allow the passage to sit until it soaks into me and is absorbed into my being, becoming part and parcel of who I am and what I have to offer; until It stagnates then ferments then ages and finally effervesces.

In the doldrums there is no where to go and nothing to be done except to listen to the silence.  And that is enough.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Good Must I Do?

Gospel Mt 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said,
"Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?"
He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."
He asked him, "Which ones?"
And Jesus replied, "You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The young man said to him,
"All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?"
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
This passage always astounds me.  I'm not so surprised by the part about giving away all our possessions.  I am attracted by a simple lifestyle.

The astounding - yea confounding part -- is earlier in the passage when  the young man says to Jesus, "All of these I have observed . . ."

Really? Some involve mortal sin so it seems quite plausible that one  is not guilty of them right this instant: 

  • You shall not kill.  (Check)
  • You shall not commit adultery. (Check)
  • You shall not steal. (Check) 
  • You shall not bear false witness. (Hmmm)
  • Honor your father and mother.  (Uhhm, is it open to interpretation?)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Clunk)
These are not easy imperatives here, friends. I tend to focus on the end of the passage -- the part about storing up treasure in heaven -- and not notice what is truly being asked of me. It's right here where I live and really, if I just pay attention to that last one -- love your neighbor as yourself -- the others are part and parcel of it, aren't they?

My post a few days ago on forgiveness generated a flurry of side email conversations about just how hard it is to forgive -- and how easy it is to slip back into resentment -- but it is truly all about the Greatest Commandment:  "Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your mind and and with all your soul and . . . love your neighbor as yourself."  I am, I admit, quick to forgive myself. Not for the big offenses, necessarily -- I like to carry those around a while -- but the "little" things like laziness, sloth, and envy; I forgive those in myself so quickly.  And yet, it really is asking a lot to forgive them in someone else.  

A couple of days ago I came face to face with my "neighbor."  This is a person with whom I have significant history.  On the face of it, the issues are all on "her" side -- she was the one "in the wrong," so to speak, and you'd have a hard time finding anyone to argue the reverse.  Yet, I am sure that at some point in our long history I sinned against her too; I have to dig for it a bit but it's there just under the surface.  After our falling out, I talked about it more than I should and I did so with bitterness.  I eventually confessed this to her but I needn't have; she had already suffered discrimination because of my words. I did forgive her (and I believe she has forgiven me) and I have to tell you, it sits easy with me. I do get quite nervous around her, but I think -- in all honesty -- that part is my mind-talk.  I am reminded each time too, that forgiveness is a process; it happens over time and requires (in my experience) many conscious acts of choice.

It's a lot to ask of one's self. Yet it is my path to perfection, isn't it?  If I "wish to enter into life," I have to "keep the commandments;" here is the path right here in the Gospel of Matthew. Guess I'd better put down the lap top enter into prayers for forgiveness, right here, right now!  Cheers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yelling at the Kids, the Big Oopsie

And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and revling must be removed from you, along with all malice.
[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Every day, this is my testing ground.  Why does it so often seem easier to be cynical, surly, or a sourpuss?  It isn't actually easier of course, but sin often looks easier, doesn't it?  

I am normally nice to strangers -- helpful, friendly, compassionate, even.  It is so much harder at home.  It's hard not to hold resentment, especially the unnoticed little niggling annoyances that simmer and grow just beneath the surface.  You know the ones: the kid who leaves her shoes in the middle of the entryway, again; the well-meaning aunt who calls every day at supper time; the little one who seems to argue every time I open my mouth.  

These little "annoyances", unnoticed and unchecked, grow quickly into animosity and resentment.  One day I wake up and a big, mean monster is on my shoulder, pecking away at my patience and growling at everyone.

Yet today's second reading really speaks to it, doesn't it?  "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice" (italics mine).  

Oops.  I have to be compassionate and forgiving, or I am grieving the Holy Spirit.   If I choose to hold resentment, I am choosing to sin. 

Yet we all know it is not as easy as deciding to be compassionate.  In order to forgive, I must first notice and clear the resentment:  
  • The first step is letting go of my need to be right and allowing myself to be vulnerable.  
  • In order to do that, I have to truly own up to what I am getting out of the resentment, the payoff, as it were.  
  • Then before I can finally be free, I also have to take a candid look at what the grudge is costing me in terms of my peace of mind, my integrity, my mental and physical health, even my finances.   
  • Then and only then can I fully forgive and finally be free.  
  • Lastly, I have to make choices about how I will make amends and how I can avoid falling into the same trap of resentment again.
What is truly amazing to me is that nowhere in this process nor in the directive from Ephesians does it say, "forgive if the other person is right" or "forgive if the kid is not actually annoying you" or "forgive if you are completely to blame."  It simply (and solely) says, "forgiving one another as Christ forgave you,"  which was wholly, completely, unconditionally and undeserved.  So  . . . it's all about me.  It's all on my side; it's my work to do.

If it sounds like a lot of work well, on the face of it, it is.  In the end -- and it is a little hard to admit this -- forgiveness is actually the easier path.  Resentment is like a rock carried on the shoulders; it weighs us down and hunches us over.  It gets us all scrunched up on the inside.  It's a cancer that slowly eats away at that within us that truly lives to love.  In other words, it steals our souls.

Forgiveness is the life-giving water.  It is the stream that courses through the desert and deeply refreshes.  It's the path that looks thorny, rocky and steep at first, but turns out to be the short-cut to paradise.   

But definitely don't take my word for it, taste it for yourself.  You'll be back to drink from the wellspring of forgiveness again!

Post Script (thanks, Aunt Kathy):
The thing I forgot to say is what comes after all of this.  When I notice my resentment, handle it and own it -- then and only then, I get to have gratitude for all that I have.  And you know, I have a lot.  A lot of love, a lot of kids, a beautiful home, a great hubby and family.  As long as I'm thinking my unhappiness is someone else's fault, then I am not getting to be grateful for my many blessings!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

From Conviction to Joy

These words from St. Francis de Sales caught my attention:

Be sure always to entertain a hearty sorrow for the sins you confess, however small they are, as also a steadfast resolution to correct them in future.  Some people go on confessing venial sins out of mere habit and conventionally, without making any effort to correct them, thereby losing a great deal of spiritual good.  Supposing that you confess having said something untrue, although without evil consequences, or some careless words, or excessive amusement, -- repent and make a firm resolution of amendment.  It is a mere abuse to confess any sin whatever, be it moral or venial, without intending to put it altogether away, that being the express object of confession.

I know I am guilty of this. I know that I have made a lackluster confession at times, without truly taking into account my own words as I say, "I firmly resolve to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads me to sin."  I am mortified by my ability to say the words without really comprehending them.  It is troubling that in saying "I firmly resolve," I fail at times to, in fact, put behind that phrase my actual resolve, my sacred word.

Of course I have a propensity to sin.  What strikes me, however, is the amazing and huge range of this propensity.  I wonder how much less lazy I would have to be to live a truly devout life?  How often, for instance, would I have to stop my tongue in mid-stroke?  While I know that what I take to the confessional, generally, are not "serious" sins, they must reach the level of seriousness when I make no lasting and committed effort to reform.

It's so easy to live a "good life" badly.  It's the default position, actually, isn't it?  It's easy to speak harshly to my family, to loosen my will power on my diet, to be poor steward, to look away from someone in need.  It's laziness of a sort and an easy garment to put on.

We are called to "put on Christ" and it is a tall order!  As St. Francis says,

The ordinary purification, whether of body or soul, is only accomplished by slow degrees, step by step, gradually and painfully. The angels on Jacob’s ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they did not fly, but went in due order up and down the steps of the ladder. The soul which rises from out of sin to a devout life has been compared to the dawn, which does not banish darkness suddenly, but by degrees.  

I find these words strangely hopeful.  Every step toward holiness is, after all, a step, and one in the right direction.  Conversion is a lifelong process, not a moment in time.  I am tasked with starting anew this and every day, making each moment one of choice, and each choice a conscious one.

Thus, what started for me as a humbling conviction is now a source of hope and joy.
Happy Sunday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Conversion Part 5 - Signs and Wonders

Did I mention my husband was a born and bred Catholic?  He wasn't a practicing Catholic though and hadn't been since he left home.  We actually got married in Las Vegas by a minister in a Christian ceremony.  Around the time of our wedding, we'd agreed that we would "raise our children in church."  Dear Hubby wasn't too picky about the type of church since he'd not attended any church  since he was a teen.

We started attending  the United Methodist church in downtown Austin.  We loved it, until the second baby came along.  Then it was just too darn hard to get there.  We had moved, too, just before her birth, which added 10 miles to the commute downtown.  Also, it was so big; I'd grown up in small churches and after my work at First Church, I longed for the intimacy of a smaller congregation.

Monday's gospel reading was the story of the crowd following Jesus to Capernaum after the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus said to them, . . ." you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. . . "

Signs and wonders still abound, though sometimes more subtle than those to which Jesus was referring, and yet we still focus on our basic human needs most of the time.  Occasionally, though, my eyes are open.

One such sign and wonder came early in our marriage.  When we first moved to Round Rock with our baby girls, we started looking for churches.  Most were uninspiring; a few were downright odd. After a few unsatisfactory visits to unfriendly, non-diverse local protestant churches I decided to hedge my bets by making phone calls before visiting.

I began calling churches and asking whomever answered about the ethnic mix of the congregation - as we are a inter-racial family -- and what the church's mission was.  Few knew these answers.  I was truthfully just trying to save time but these responses were very telling!  Most were all white churches but they tried to make it sound better by saying, "we welcome everyone."  To a person, no one I spoke to at any of these congregations knew what their mission statement was!  On a whim, I decided to phone the local Catholic church, St. John Vianney.

Fr. Sam answered.  He told me the parish's mission statement  (Our mission is to grow in, give witness to and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ)  and that while most members were white, they were intentionally reaching out to families of varying ethnic backgrounds.  This was the first sign.  He asked what we were looking for in a church.  He engaged me.  He never once asked if we were Catholic.  His openness and honesty caught me off guard and we visited the following Sunday.  I was a little lost for most of the mass because they didn't use missals, but Dear Hubby seemed right at home.  The second sign and wonder was the homily; it could have been written from my "play book."  It was a lot of what I deeply believe all in one sermon.  It was wonderful.  I was entranced. My husband looked at me and whispered, "So I think you found our church.

Third sign:  the congregation was tiny, but warm.  It was a brand new parish, 3 months old, that met in an elementary school.  Everyone spoke to us.  One of my hubby's public high-school classmates was there with her sister.  Though only 40 or so families were there, several were Hispanic and two were black. This was the best mix we'd found so far.

Over the weeks that followed, I became familiar with the mass, probably due in large part to Father Sam's refusal to use missals; the lack thereof forced me to pay attention and learn to keep up.  While I did not know all I was doing, I was becoming comfortable.  We began to get involved and before I knew it, we were registering as members. Our family was number 68.  

This was the beginning of the end of my life as a protestant.  More later!

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Four - Seeker
Part Six - Annulment
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grace in the Moment

At the hour of the annual blessing of the sacred oils in our diocese, mere moments before our priests would lie prostrate before the altar, I was given a gift.  I was given a gift of grace, of eyes once again opened wide.

It started out simply enough.  I went for a walk.  It was a little mommy-multitasking mission; I decided to walk while my son was in OT.  It was a tiny act of obedience to my Lenten discipline of diet and exercise, on of my last acts before the end of Lent.  And in this little act, though reluctantly and grudgingly offered, was a treasure.

This morning I read some words by Simsha Fisher, one of my heroes, and when I read her post, I couldn't get past the first few paragraphs.  I was astounded.  I wrote about seeing the beauty in the present moment but even in penning the piece, I knew something was missing.

I realize that in all of this, in all of this living, striving, looking back and looking forward, in all of this stuff of which my life is made, I have only now. I have this moment, this now.  I have these children, this husband, this home, this mess, this body, these thoughts.  I have right here, right now.  And yet even in seeing that, I was  missing the recognition of grace. 

I'm living in a beautiful, crazy, chaotic world of clashing bells and clanging cymbals.  It's busy here.  Children are calling, birds are singing in the yard and my oldest is clattering around in the kitchen.  And I live my life as if I had forever to savor these sounds.

In truth, not only do I want to celebrate the beauty of the present moment, I must recognize that all I truly have is the present moment.  I have this time to hear a single "caw" of the grackle on the grass; this second to hear the clock tick one more time (and I never realized it was so loud). It is so quiet in this slowed down experience of the present that you could hear pin drop. Really I have not even a second, but a nano-second in which to reach out and grab it and say, "This, this now is my life.  This is my moment."

I have this tiny particle of time in which to fall to my knees and be grateful. 

And this I do.

And therein is my joy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Forgiveness and Sacrifice

Sometimes the best thing you can do is point to someone who does that thing you do -- but better!  Here is one of the most amazing posts I've ever read - and I read a lot!!  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Motherly Love

 Who is a God like you, who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but instead delights in mercy . . .
Micah 7:18

St. Alpnonsus Liguiori likens God to a mother, pulling us onto our lap, stroking our hair, and showing mercy: 
Far from despising our confidence in Him, He rejoices that we have it - confidence and familiarity and affection like that which little children show toward their mothers.
(How to Converse with God)

Micah seems to be saying the same thing -- God "delights in mercy"  He delights in forgiving us.  The face of God is not only the face of the patriarch, the king, the ruler;  it is also the face of the mother.  
Why, then, should I hesitate?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Singing Bowl

I will be frank with you: I am not happy with my practice of Lent so far.   It's so easy to just blithely trip along through my days, driven by habitual responses in both thought and word.  I have a concise, tidy list of abnegations, but I am not quite hitting all the notes.

I am not speaking solely of "slipping" up on my Lenten commitments, though I am doing some of that, as well.  I am thinking more about the undertone.  There is a lack of quality, of clarity, and of  brightness.

I have a "singing bowl" that belonged to my sister-in-law, Sharon.  When you strike it, the note resounds long and clear; it has remarkable duration.  On the other hand, I was in a forum recently in which the presenter used a singing bowl to make a point.  The bowl was either cracked or she did not know how to properly strike it because it made a dull thunk.  It lacked the brilliance and purity I was expecting.   The presenter realized the flaw, simply put the bowl away and used another method to call the group's attention.

This analogy works with my experience of Lent so far.  I've got the right equipment but I am not striking that bright, transparent and enduring tone.  However, I'm not yet prepared to just set the bowl aside entirely.

Yesterday in Mass, these words from the second reading struck me:

31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Romans 8:31-32

It reminded me of Father Jonathan's homily just before Ash Wednesday; he told us to ask for a miracle.  I realized that my practice of Lent so far has been more about attending to my sacrifices; I have not been praying for total transformation.  The gospel yesterday was about the transfiguration.  As the words were read, "and his clothes became dazzling white," and "this is my beloved Son, listen to him," I could almost hear that singing bowl ring out.  

This Jesus, God's son,  my savior, is more than capable of creating conversion in me; my part is to invite it and allow the transformation to ring true and clear. 

I say, "Yes." 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Useful and Educationational Sacrifice

Today these words from the first reading struck me: 

You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake.
I am the LORD.

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."

Leviticus 19: 16-18
Have you ever noticed how just when you need it most, God sends you a little reminder, a little peck on the shoulder, a whisper in the ear? 

As a family, we gave up criticism for Lent.  It was a last minute, off-the-cuff addition to my own Lenten plans and it took a bit of enrolling to bring the big people aboard.

It is harder than you would think!  The four oldest of our clan have a tendency to be a bit mocking. Not of each other, necessarily, but of strangers, people in news stories, or  even ideas.  Oh, that makes us sound terrible, doesn't it?

It is terrible, in a way.  It sneaks in, that judgment, as a little bit of wit meant to amuse another, and it slowly corrodes, like a sprinkle of salt in the silver box, unnoticed and unchecked. It's like some of the critters who make their way into my garage in the night; they slip in under the door, make their mischief, then depart undetected but leave behind an abiding, unmistakable and intolerable stench. 

I suggested the sacrifice because I know my "inner judge" is all too ready and willing to render an unbidden verdict.  I am appalled by how many times I have to check my tongue and how often my mind flies to critique as if my own faults are negligible or non-existent. How untrue that last is and how alluring, the terrible temptation to use criticism as a foil for my own flaws.

I am not suggesting (as my girls originally feared) that we never poke fun at one another or that we become overly protective of ourselves, quite the opposite.  Instead we have committed to take responsibility for noticing that critical bent in ourselves, examining our motives and then seeing if clear feedback -- absent the judgement -- might be offered instead.  It's quite different, isn't it, from Thumper's mother's terse but pointed advice, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?"  Our goal is to be alongside each other on the way, shoulder to shoulder, without taking on the role of judge and jury.

I am so grateful for my daughters and my dear hubby who have agreed to travel this road with me for Lent.  It may prove to be my most educational and useful sacrifice yet!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Flow Chart

Funny but serious but funny.  I don't know.  Is it funny?  Is it serious?  Judge for yourself.

Lenten Resolution Flow Chart

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  I love this day.  It's like New Years, only a million times better.  I am a maker of resolutions, for sure, but Ash Wednesday signals a different kind of fresh start.  Instead of making resolutions, we make sacrifices.  Whereas New Years is all about "I," Lent is all about "Thou."  That speaks to me somehow.

There is something in we humans that longs to be tested and stretched. There is a longing inside of me to know the breadth of my willingness; power is borne in letting go of control.  In as much as I tend toward rebellion, I am attracted by submission, too.  There is an easing of my spirit in knowing  -- in deeply knowing --  that I do not have the burden of authority.  For the forty days of Lent I can surrender that grave office, that responsibility, that weight to God.  It always belongs to God, of course, but slowly over the 320-something days between Easter and the next Lent, I begin to pull it back.  The insidious and corrosive belief that it is somehow all up to me starts sneaking in, like wisps of smoke creeping in under the door.  The illusion of control is a silent and seemingly innocuous imposter that creeps ever nearer, unnoticed and unchecked.

Lent is the opportunity to surrender, but more, to abdicate.  The throne is not mine.  I am but an imposter here -- a poseur -- and the weight of the crown is far too great. 

And there is more.  Through this Lenten sacrifice, through the righting and restoration, there is a breach in our amour and an opening for the miraculous.  On Sunday, Father Jonathan beseeched us to remember that miracles are still possible and to ask and pray for such a miracle.  "Do not give up," he said, "God is not done with us."

I had briefly forgotten this.  Lent is, surely, about the way of the cross, and walking that way in willingness, barefooted and naked.  But Lent is also an opportunity for conversion in its deepest sense, for metamorphism and for miracles.

What are we waiting for?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Being a Seeker - Conversion, Part 4

Today's scripture readings are about how the faith  Solomon and an unnamed Greek woman affected their children.  Solomon's faith affected his son because he began showing an interest in the false idols of his foreign wives' religions.  The Lord did not take the kingdom from Solomon because He had made a promise to Solomon's holy father, King David.  Instead, these measures were applied to Solomon's offspring.  Conversely, the Greek woman had such faith in the ability of Jesus to heal her daughter that the very proclamation of that faith inspired her healing.  Jesus says, "For saying this, you may go.  The demon has gone out of your daughter (Mark 7:29).   It's an interesting "God-incidence" that today's reading should be about the faith of parents since I am in the middle of a 10-day focus on my family. 

I think my protestant parents would be surprised to learn how much a hand they had in my conversion to Catholicism.  When I look back on how I was raised, my choosing this particular path of faith had a certain inevitability. 

When I was very young, only my mother went to church but she went regularly and took us children with her.  By the time I was in 2nd grade, we'd moved to a new neighborhood and only 3 blocks from where they were building a new United Methodist church.  At that time, my Dad began attending church with us.  Though Methodists do not have a "Sunday obligation," they took us to church every week.  I do not remember either of them ever complaining that they did not want to go.  I remember my dad being a seeker.  He read a great many books on Christianity and faith; he had many conversations with the young and faithful pastor of that congregation. That pastor baptized my dad and brother (then probably about 5 years old).   Their joy in their faith was always apparent to us.  You see, neither of my parents grew up going to church; they were raising themselves in their faith as they were raising us.

My dad is a physicist and I think it's fair to say that being such means his bent is about 1/3 mathematician, 1/3 engineer and 1/3 scientist.  He is a lifelong student and he looks for evidence.  He and my mother are both avid readers and our house was always full of books.  The one way in which we were "spoiled" as children was that my parents always bought us all the books we wanted, and it worked.  All four of us love to read.

This seeking, this curiosity, this search for truth affected me profoundly.  In my long career as a United Methodist, I never stopped seeking.  My particular search was what I would call a seeking out of the "true church."  I was always looking for the method of living out my faith that would bring me closest to what Jesus intended.  I wanted that experience of being around the table with Jesus --an experience of true discipleship -- and that seeking was borne out in me growing up as I did.

As I read these passages about Solomon and the Greek woman, it reminded me how seriously we who are parents must take our responsibility to rear our children in the faith of our family.  We have a responsibility not only to teach them to seek the truth for themselves, but also to be faithful disciples ourselves. Our joy  (or lack thereof) in our faith sets the stage for our children will feel about the Church. The ways in which we live out or faith -- or don't -- has an impact far beyond the span of our years.

As start a cold and gloomy February day, I see my focus brightening.  Today we will make some more preparations for St. Valentine's day, but I will also be telling my kids about faithful St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans, an important saint in a household of 5 adopted children.  Today, I will strive to let the joy of my faith shine out as an example to my kids and be sure that I am more "Greek woman" than Solomon.  And there you have it!

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Six - Annulment
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thoughts on Prayer

Not too long ago, I read a book -- a work of fiction -- that was about life at the turn of the 20th century.  Near the end of the book, the protagonist's grandfather quite unexpectedly sounded forth about the passage in the gospels where Jesus said, "whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you." This grandfather's perception of this passage is a profound one;  he said, in essence, that Jesus did not mean physical things, like riches, or even a roof over our head, or healing of a sick friend but that he meant spiritual gifts, like forbearance, or wisdom.  I do not know the theological solidity of this point of view, but it is one that sits well with me.

I was reminded of this last week when I read about the young Solomon's petition. It strikes me that he does not ask for anything at all tangible -- not even healing of a sick friend or relative -- but he asks for a "listening heart" to help him guide God's people.  What a simple and humble request this is, and yet it could change everything.

What if the grandfather is correct?  What if instead of asking for the things I think will improve the world, like rain or even healing for a friend, what if I focus my prayer life on asking for the strengthening of spiritual gifts?   I was thinking of the spiritual gifts I taught the girls in second grade:  Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.  Every one of those gifts could use fertilizing in me.

I wonder what kind of difference I could make in the world if I concentrated my efforts on these things?   It's worth finding out!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Keeping my Word

Today's old testament reading is the infamous story of David and Bathsheba. As I read this particular story I could hear my two-year-old's words echoing in my head: "What it means, Mama?  What it means?"

This particular story seems to be about moral decadence, but there is more to the story than that.  It is more than the achetypal story of power going to one's head. It is a tale of what happens when one fails to keep his word.

King David was, by all accounts, a man of God.  As such, he had no doubt made certain commitments and promises to God, both explicit and implicit.  In this story of his encounter with Bathsheba, we see him turn his back on these commitments over and over. In choice after choice -- many of which were no doubt unconcious -- he departs from his religious identity.

It's a powerful story because it really is that simple in my life too.  It begins with what seems like an innocuous choice; in his case, staying home to take a nap instead of being in battle.  I am making an assumption here -- a big one, I realize -- but clearly he wasn't sick.  I am guessing that the King on that particular day decided to take the afternoon off, and I am guessing that in so doing, he broke his word to himself.  And once he did, breaking his word to God was a little easier.  That one, little, insignificant moral let-down opened the door to a series of moral compromises that ended in homicide.  It's pretty shocking.

All of this got me thinking about yesterday.  Yesterday, I broke my nap-time commitment to myself.  My commitment is that during naptime, I will either actually take a nap if I need it (rarely), or I will use my sitting down time to good purpose; study my anatomy book, pay bills, blog, etc.  Instead, I procrastinated by watching TV and browsing Pinterest.  God kept trying to wake me up; he sent me three little imps who refused to be quiet or stay on their beds, 4 phone calls, and two ringing doorbells.  But I stubbornly held on to my laziness and refused to keep my word to myself.  As a result, I had an unhappy evening.  I was "on my case," I was tired and depressed.  It was so not worth it. 

Fortunately my evening didn't degrade to the point that David's did.  We kind of love to look down our noses at the King, don't we?  However, I've known more than one person who had affairs and they all began with one simple, insignifcant, seemingly innocuous decison. 

I have countless opportunities every day to keep my word (both to myself and God), to put my best foot forward, to stand taller.  Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Sunday "Obligation"

I know a lot of people who consider themselves "Christian" but don't go to or "believe in" church or organized religion.  I find this troubling.

I was raised Protestant, but we went to church every week.  We did not have a holy obligation as I do now, but we were there every week, not just for major holidays.  My family of course goes to Mass each week.  There is always a bit of grumbling from one or both of the teens, but we go.

A French friend of mine recently pointed out (proudly) that the French people are now largely non-religious. They are very proud of their tradition of secularism.  It is sobering to think that a once Catholic country is now a country of non-believers.  While about half the country still considers itself Catholic, only 4% attend Mass regularly.  Compare that with the 5 to 10% who are Muslim and a trend seems clear. With half a million inhabitants of France now professing to be Muslim, I think they will eventually become a Muslim country.  A lack of religion or belief leaves a void that will eventually be filled by belief in someone or some practice.

Many years ago I worked at a Methodist church and we had a great preacher as pastor, Dr. William H. Hinson.  I worked in children's ministry so, although childless, I paid great attention to his sermons about families and child rearing.  On one Sunday I vividly recall him saying, "Folks tell me that they don't bring their kids to church because they want them to have a choice.  I am telling you that if you do not bring them to church, you are depriving  them of that choice.  They cannot choose between God and 'the world" because they don't know God!  They only have the world.  They have the world 7 days a week.  Perhaps you can give back 2 hours of that to God and give them a chance to know God.  Only then will they truly have a choice."

Dr. Hinson has been on the other side for many years now, but his words still ring in my ears.  The other day I was thinking of a particular friend with children and wondering if now that the kids have arrived, if they go to church.  I am going to ask them about it, because I know they consider themselves to be Christian.  They consider themselves such because, like me, they grew up going to church.  The next generation will not be Christians if their parents don't take them to church, just as they won't be Catholic if they don't go to Mass.  How can they be something that they know nothing about?

All of this converged for me today.  This week as we listened to the story of God calling Samuel, I thought about how God calls us each, but sometimes we need our "Eli" to point the way.  I remembered that video reflection from Epiphany Sunday to which I referred recently the one about how our guiding stars are "just for us."  Then yesterday, I read about Samuel pointing out to King Saul the error of his ways.  I wondered if I am to be that star to my friends; or perhaps I am to play the role of Eli or the unenviable role of Samuel.

I am praying for  direction and boldness of heart to talk to my "no church" friends about these realizations.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Conversion Part 3

Today in Mass we will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.  I started celebrating on the traditional day of Ephiphany, January 6.  We made a King's Cake, and before we enjoyed it, we moved our kings back to our nativity sets.  I couldn't wait for today!

I love Epiphany because I have had a few epiphanies of my own over the years.  One such epiphany came in the midst of volunteering (being on team) for a Walk to Emmaus.  Walk to Emmaus is an ecumenical form of Cursillo.  In our area, the "Walks" were held in a local Cursillo center, which had formerly been a small convent house.  It had a small, simple chapel with a very large crucifix.

Although I was close to two Catholic families growing up, I had not spent that much time in front of a crucifix.  I have noticed that Catholic children are not bothered by the image of the crucifix, but not having grown up with it, it was an uncomfortable image for me.  Prostetants place a lot of emphasis on the empty tomb and that tomb is symbolized by the empty cross.  Crucifix's were not a part of my world.

As team members, we were encouraged to spend time alone in the chapel in prayer.  One late night, something overcame me in that time of prayer.  I did not hear a loud voice or see a choir of angels.  It was nothing like what I'd read about in books.  Yet suddenly and quite discernibly, a sense of profound peace came over me as I sat gazing at that crucifix.  Suddenly, it became so deeply beautiful to me.  In fact, instead of seeing the crucifixion as something that had to be endured to get to the empty tomb, I saw the true sacrifice and importance of the cross.  I saw that figure, then, as the slain lamb, the atonement for every sin of my life, past and present. It was dazzling yet still utterly keenly sincere; it was all-embracing.  (I am finding it quite challenging to describe as I have never spoken of it before.)  I found myself prostrate at the bottom of the altar steps though I do not remember thinking to move there.  I stayed there through the night, alternately praying and dozing, unwilling to move.  I was vaguely aware of others moving in and out of the chapel during the night, but no one disturbed me.  When the light of dawn began to beam through the windows, I reluctantly removed myself from the chapel, forever changed.

It was one of many epiphanies I would have in my life and one of the most profound, as well.  I have not thought of that event in some time, but was reminded of it when listening to the video reflection for today, Janary 8.  As the speaker in that reflection suggests, many times in my life God has sent me my own personal messenger, even once in the form of star.  This time it was in the form of the crucified Lord and it was a definite turning point for me.

More to come . . . happy Epiphany Sunday!`

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Six - Annulment
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  (1 John 3:2)

I find such hope in this passage from today's readings; I'm grateful there is more and that I am still evolving into the follower I want to be.  I'm grateful this isn't "the best" I have to offer.  There is still hope for me!

People are often surprised when I tell them that hopefulness is part of what attracted me to Catholicism.  There is so much hope in the sacrifice of the mass;  each time I say the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” I become that Centurian from the New Testament;  I know I am not worthy and yet I have great hope.  Jesus entering "under my roof" is the very embodiment of hope. I want that hope every day. 

Some time ago, there was shirt for kids that read, "Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet!"  The same could certainly be said for me.  As I prepare for the feast of Epiphany, I am thinking about how God is being made manifest in my life.  What will my gift be to the newborn king in this new year? 

Happy 10th day of Christmas!