Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sin Tears Us Apart But I Keep Praying

Each week during Lent, I have been leading a mid-day contemplative prayer service on Wednesdays in our chapel. Tomorrow we will have a Wednesday of Holy Week service which I thought I would share.

As you listen to our reading from Psalm 69, contemplate Jesus in prayer as he looks to what is to come. As he sees the path he must take.

Contemplate your own actions- is there anywhere in these words, where you see yourself?
As we contemplate what Jesus will ask of His disciples, we also contemplate verse 13 of our Psalm-“But I keep praying to you, Lord.”
Each portion will begin with singing “Stay with Me” twice.

Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray…
1 Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
2 Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
But I Keep Praying To You, LORD.
Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray…

7 For I endure insults for your sake;
humiliation is written all over my face.
8 Even my own brothers pretend they don’t know me;
they treat me like a stranger.
But I Keep Praying To You, Lord.
Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray…

9 Passion for your house has consumed me,
and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
they scoff at me.
11 When I dress in burlap to show sorrow,
they make fun of me.
12 I am the favorite topic of town gossip,
and all the drunks sing about me.

14 Rescue me from the mud;
don’t let me sink any deeper!
Save me from those who hate me,
and pull me from these deep waters.
15 Don’t let the floods overwhelm me,
or the deep waters swallow me,
or the pit of death devour me.
Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray.
18 Come and redeem me;
free me from my enemies.
19 You know of my shame, scorn, and disgrace.
You see all that my enemies are doing.
20 Their insults have broken my heart,
and I am in despair.
But I keep praying to you, Lord.
Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray.

If only one person would show some pity;
if only one would turn and comfort me.
21 But instead, they give me poison[a] for food;
they offer me sour wine for my thirst.
22 Let the bountiful table set before them become a snare
and their prosperity become a trap.[b]

29 I am suffering and in pain.
Rescue me, O God, by your saving power.

Silent contemplation

As we conclude, let us contemplate repentance for those things which came to mind as we listened to the Psalm and prayed.

Sin tears at the very fabric of God’s arrangement for creation.
(The worshippers will listen as a large muslin sheet is torn into strips)

Perhaps sometimes we do not hear or feel it, but other times we ourselves feel the tearing effects of sin.
(More tearing)

You are invited to come forward and take strips of the torn fabric and tie them to the cross.

Ponder each strip as representing what you lay before the Christ’s cross in repentance.

After a period of reflective silence, we will pray the Lord's Prayer and depart in silence.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Palm Sundays

Luke 19:29-40

In my internship parish, Palm Sunday is observed in its own right, rather than Palm/Passion Sunday. So, yesterday in traditional worship there was a glorious procession into a packed sanctuary full of people eager to break out those bright spring outfits, with palms and choirs and bagpipes and "Hosanna." Songs of "Lead On, O King Eternal" and "All Glory Laud and Honor to you Redeemer King." Abundant praise.
And yesterday at our free breakfast, it was an overflow crowd of people who can't always shower, often carrying various bundles, whose outfits are often layers of whatever. An overflow beyond the regulars and the semi-regulars. I watched as one man brought five children and hoisting bulging plates overhead he called to them- “Come and sit- we have a feast today!” They paraded over to a table needed some extra chairs which I brought over. And then before they ate, he said to them-“First we need to give thanks- we need to pray to Jesus Christ” and he placed their hands together and they prayed. Their exuberance filled their part of the room. Joyful praise.We need to give God the glory, and our praise and our devotion for what God has done.

The room was filled with people who wanted to share joyful praise and also those who were ready to just make a mad dash for food and coffee, but here is what praise sounded like:
“I have been looking for a job. I waited for help but none came. God gave me the strength to push on for six months and now I start next week! I feel like a real person again!”
“I know you will be sad, but I am leaving- I found a group home that will take me and I can leave the Mission!”
“This is my stepson- he just got out of prison this week-in time for Easter!”
“My girlfriend is finally out of the hospital”
“A man tried to start a fight with me and you know I get angry, but I know if you pray with me now, I can let it go.”
“This week I decided I want to join this church and have my girls baptized- I see I don’t have to try to go it alone.”
“I was asked to pray and I could not- I told God you need to do it for me-and the words that came were beautiful- I knew it was not me-It changed everything and I need to tell people my story.”
“I have started reading at the library about sitting and listening for God- it really works!”
“It has been three years and four months since I drank- I could never have done it without God”
One man shared that he sings hymns all day as he walks around the city- If you saw this man, what would YOUR response be?
There at the breakfast, the gospel for the day was coming to life. Coming down the mountain, all gritty and sweaty momentum- Praising God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen. People who journey often and whose life is as seemingly random as “go and untie that colt because I said so.” I feel pretty certain that the crowds of Jesus' followers were not all fresh and pulled together and likeable, that they may have been a bit unruly. That it may have seemed overwhelming as they shouted at the tops of their voices. When we have about 150 for breakfast and people want to make sure they are heard, it really does take the top of one’s voice. Their energy level could be a little overwhelming.

Beyond our breakfast room, there were some voices who wondered-“Why are there so many?” Voices who wondered whether it could be that the weather was a little colder and it was good to be inside. It could be that it is the end of the month and resources are tight. Or that addictions force people to live this life. And in part these reasons are right. These were certainly the speculations of others who were feeling a little overwhelmed with “where have they all come from?” Feeling a little like those Pharisees who urged Jesus to admonish or rein in the followers.
It was a little overwhelming. And not all in the crowd were there to praise, a good number were just there to eat. That’s the thing about crowds, they can be a mixed bag.
But when the Master is in our midst, things do get stirred up in abundance. An unpredictable abundance. People do want to praise, and we are confronted with whether our need for control will get the best of us- When our need for control turns us into cold, rigid, non-living ones who are silent and weighty, like stones. Who allow decorum to trump enthusiasm, who allow the weight of judgment to squash what seems too much. Who want to schedule things rather than take a ride on unbridled praise.
And yet as the psalmist writes, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord, your blessing be upon your people!” Ps. 3:8. “Let my mouth be full of praise and your glory all the day long. ” Ps. 71:8.
While there were those voices that were unsure about where this ride was going, I give thanks that they stayed with it, and with where the Master was leading as before our eyes, the Word was made manifest. As we head into this week of recalling our Lord's Passion, let us not forget that moment of the triumphal ride. When we gather for Easter may we not be constrained, but lift our voices in praise of the power and triumph of our King, Master and Lord.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Consequences of Reversing Directions, Part II

More from Dennis Hamm's reflections on the consequences of "praying backwards"- of reviewing the day and also looking toward tomorrow.
1. There is always something to pray about- there will always be 24 hours to look back upon and 24 hours ahead of you.
2. The gratitude moment is worthwhile in and of itself- this is in fact what Paul tells the Colossians.
There are times I find myself falling asleep while doing review- what better way than to fall asleep while praising God for the day?
3. We learn to face God where are, as we are.
So much of our days can be comsumed by looking like we have it all together- do we fool ourselves into thinking God expects that? God already knows who we really are, why not let God meet us there and walk us through?
4. We respect our feelings.
By this I mean we recognize them, hand them to God. This is not easy, but far easier than internalizing and letting them build and dominate.
5. Which leads to the notion that then we are able to be liberated from our feelings rather than enslaved to them.
Is not our God a God of liberation? A God ready to walk with us and shoulder the load, a God who wants to help us restore our relationships with God and each other?
6. We find things to confess-but our sins are not the only or primary focus when paired with well-rounded prayer time.
7. We begin to experience healing.
8. We get over our Deism-
God is more present than we usually think, and desires a deeper relationship than we sometimes assume or allow.
9. We find the antidote to Pelagianism-the belief that life with God is a "do-it-yourself project."
If at first you don't succeed...is not a theology of grace and freedom.
Our lives are a response to God's love. Not a prerequisite.

So often in our days, people ask, "How are you?" We say "fine" and move on. Often this is just a pleasantry. The examen asks us to pay attention to that question, not as navel gazing, but for perspective- seeing ourselves in relationship to God's children, to creation, and to God. To keep us connected by asking where those connections are strong, where they need help. There, God is saying, "have a seat, how is it going? I've got all the time in the world to listen."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reversing Directions

Take a moment and ponder the things that populate your prayers. Praying for people who are sick, or in distress. Praying for care of creation, for justice, for the poor. Praying for favorable weather. Praying for answers to questions. Praying for safe travels. Praying for things that feel finite.
On my recent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director my practices of morning prayer and of daily Examen (review at the end of the day). Practices which when engaged in faithfully, have shaped and continue to shape my way of being. Practices which some days I yearn for, and other days not so much, when I am tired and empty, though these are the days I most need to attend to these practices.
Because the point of it all is not that I can engage in an action of praying, but that it is intentional time in conversation with God. In particular I have come to value the Examen as a way of looking back and saying, "that's where I saw you, God." Often times those are moments that make me smile. Sometimes those are moments when God's word I needed to hear came in the form of challenge.
As I look ahead to the ending of internship, the graduation of LC#1 and her transitions, and the uncertainty of many things, my director provided me with an article as old as LC#2, written by Dennis Hamm, S.J., entitled "Rummaging for God:Praying Backward Through Your Day."
Hamm lifts up that we hear and perceive God in creation, in the Scriptures ("the Word of God), in the authoritative teaching of the Church, and by attending to our experience and interpreting it in light of all those other ways of hearing the divine voice.

Hamm's suggestion about the use of the Examen begins as one might expect:
1. Pray for light, a sense of how the Spirit might be leading us, of "graced understanding...help me understand this blooming, buzzing confusion."

2. Review the day in thanksgiving, thankful for the Lord in every gift you encounter.

3. Review the feelings of the day and pay attention to them: "delight, boredom, fear, anticipation, resentment, anger, peace, contentment, impatience, desire, hope, regret, shame, uncertainty, compassion, disgust, gratitude, pride, rage, doubt, confidence, admiration, shyness."

4. Choose one of these feelings and pray from it. This feeling is a sign that something important is going on. He urges "express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces-praise, petition, contrition, cry for help, whatever."

All beneficial, yet it is the last step that is in essence the Examen in reverse.
Look toward tomorrow

As you look at what you know you will face- tasks, meetings, appointments, people-what are your feelings?
Whatever it is, turn it into prayer.

Praying God's presence and activity into the time.
I sense this as a wonderful way of addressing that sense of losing perspective that emotions can bring.
A prayer we pray not because God won't show up if we don't- but a gift to us of centering in advance. Of remaining open to God's activity and presence.

For myself, I have begun to live in this approach and have found that by nature then my morning prayer is simply a continuation of the conversation started the night before. Where I again remind myself of those things my day will hold, giving thanks for the gift of the day and all its possibilities, and again praying God's presence into the day.

When I came back from the retreat, I participated in a conversation with Martha Grace, the author of Unbinding the Gospel. A book addressing evangelism and lifting up the central role that prayer relationships have in shaping and inspiring ministry. That when we purposefully share a prayer life together and share what follows, we become much more comfortable talking about where we have seen God and what it means for us. Then we come alive and can share this experience with others because we need to share. We move away from "private faith" and into living faith in new ways.

While historically I have been a person who likes to have things "in control," in many ways I have realized over the last several years, how silly that notion is. Yet using this type of reverse Examen allows me to live one step farther.

As I contemplate each day, I am not only praying for my own feelings into the day, but also for all of the people who need to hear a word from God, that they might be drawn to our parish. That those in need might find God here. And I don't need to know who they will be. Only that they come and that we will be open.

Praying God into situations not only as "give me _____" though this is not wrong. Praying and trusting God to be at work and inviting God's surprise.
Since then, truly amazing encounters have happened, and events have taken turns I could not have seen, and my conversation with God is coming full circle.
All because God showed me how to reverse the process.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Just Who Exactly is This About?

Today's lesson in our lectionary is most commonly known as the parable of the "Prodigal Son"- the one who squandered. And yet, as I heard yesterday, perhaps this is a product of our mindset. We here in the land of plenty hear this as a story predominantly focused upon the son who demanded the inheritance and squandered it and then came back. How often do we see this as a story about being open to "others" not us- who screw up and should be forgiven? How often do we engage this form from the standpoint of the son who has followed all the rules?
Today after worship, one of the ushers came to share that there was a homeless woman in the back of the church and she parked her cart in the narthex. As the relating of information continued, I recognized who the woman was. I see her at our free breakfast and sometimes she stays and reads in our library during the Sunday school hour.
I came out and greeted her and was correct in my assumption. I asked how she was and we talked about how the wind and rain had made things hard for her. Her umbrella had been taken the last time she was with us.
Her umbrella was taken in church.
So she had put on her layers and now most were wet. But even more than this she shared that she loved to sit in empty churches and pray. This was a time she could encounter God.
Empty churches.
It could be that she enjoyed the silence and the space.
It could be that it was easier to pray.
But empty churches.
Beautiful and sacred, but alone.
How I longed to ask why empty churches.
Instead, I encouraged her to take her time in the space and to stay as long as she liked.
She already had her hands folded.
That was the end of first service,
and at the beginning of second, as I came in, one of the ushers told me that a homeless woman was looking for me.
They took me to her.
She had stayed.
I asked if she was OK and she shared that she wanted to know that I was here.
She stayed and worshipped.
At this point, she had been in some form of worship or teaching or prayer since 7 am till Noon.
I know she struggles and that this is not her "home."
I know she cries and that she cannot share why,
but I pray that she felt this day that we were not a pack of brothers or sisters sitting in judgment deciding whether she was worthy.
I pray that she got some glimpse otherwise.
That she saw that we too are the ones who hope and believe in a God who has met us, we the unworthy.
We the "not quite cleaned up." We the ones who have no reason to expect grace,
but who have experienced it.
That we who were redeemed by a God who ran out and met us with extravagant grace could do the same- run out and meet another who needs more than our recrimination.
Who needs someone to point the way to extravagant love and grace.
Who doesn't care where she has been or why she is here or the baggage she has in tow, but simply says,
"Child, you are loved. Let's celebrate that you are here."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

We profess our belief in a God who "holds our souls in life and will not allow our feet to slip." Ps 66:7-8.
We call God our helper and deliverer and urge God not to delay in coming to our aid.
Ps. 70:5-6
We proclaim God has sustained us since birth and has been the source of our strength. Ps. 71:5-6.
Yet, when Jesus was incarnate in our midst, speaking words of help, deliverance, and sustenance, the response was " I will follow, but...first let me go and do what I think is important, what I think I need to do, what I want to do." Luke 9:61-62.

During Lent I have been attempting to be faithful to praying using the Divine Hours as my resource for prayer four times a day. This has required me to think a lot about the function of time. It seems like it should be simple- four times a day: once between 6 am and 9 am; between 11 am and 2 pm; between 5 pm and 8 pm and before bed. With broad parameters, how hard could it be?

What I have learned is that these are the busiest times of my day. In the morning when everyone is trying to get out of the door, and I am hoping the coffee kicks in, and there are always things people need, or things that I need to know for later, like who needs to be somewhere, and what they need to bring, or what deadline is approaching, what will we eat, when will we shop for the prom dress, when will LC#1 get another driving lesson, the list can seem like a giant snowball headed down the hill getting bigger and faster. And I am supposed to find a quiet place and pray?
Between 11 and 2 is the part of the day when people are coming and going, or meetings are starting or ending, or the hospital beckons, and I should do so many things before later in the day.
Between 5 and 8 is the dinner, music lessons, exercise class, feed the dog, homework, I need this for tomorrow, guess who is coming over tonite, how was your day time.
By the time we get to bedtime, I can be so ready to just crawl under the comforter and sleep.
Time can be a master.
By trying to be faithful to the prayer times, I remember that passage from Luke about, "first let me do ______." And what Jesus says after about looking back. Times when I settle in to prayer but so many distractions try to pull me back, pull me away.

Today in the morning office, the morning psalm comes from Psalm 90:1-8; 12.
God as our refuge from one generation to another.
God in time before creation.
God's view of time is broad,
yet we are quickly swept away, and fade like withered grass. Our time is brief.
We begin green and flourishing, but time speeds on.
And while we exist, we consume away, to God's displeasure.
We consume away- today this phrase in verse 7 struck me.
God who desires relationship with us, is placed in abeyance by us, by me, in all of the ways, I say "I'll get to you, God, but first... let me tend my house, my kids, my dog, my money, my job, my ___________."
All of these things are so tempting, continually calling us away.
Later in the psalm we hear, "teach us to number our days" -
see that we do not have God's infinity- we will run out of earthly time- so how long will we make God wait?
We also do not have God's vision of time and creation, which leads to greater wisdom,
So often we use our shorter sight, always searching for possibilities without remembering that God is here and waiting and ready to hold, help, deliver, strengthen and sustain.
I am still working at being more faithful to the prayer times, not because if I slavishly "do them" it will mean credit, but because when I embrace these times with God and live more fully into being still and being with God, little inklings of wisdom, patience, grace and mercy are revealed that indeed sustain my days.

I leave you with a clip from the Bangles (Simon and Garfunkel re-do)that speaks of the "time" factor and encourage you to ponder your own song about the times you leave that behind with God.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lessons from the Birds on a Snowy Walk

With the warmer weather the birds are really beginning to chirp and warble. Toward the end of my time at the Jesuit Center, the winter storms had past and the sun had begun to come out. With the end of the bluster the birds began coming out from all of their hiding places. So did I and I took a snowy walk around the grounds which was much more leisurely in the absence of the tempest.
I am a birder of sorts. I set out hopeful for some good pictures. Especially because my friend Scott always gets some really nice ones and I wanted to share.
As I have said, a part of Ignatian spirituality is seeing God in all things. Here is how God and I had a conversation through the birds on my sun dappled snowy walk.
I set out eagerly and am looking up in the trees and in the fields for my "conquest"- birds ready for me to encounter them.
I hear them but the sun is bright and with the reflection off of the snow, I can not see what I hear, so I have to keep on.
Maybe there will be a better spot.
Then the wind blows and birds scatter.
Finally, I happen upon a lovely group of bluebirds- they are cheerfully engaged in their activity and are just beyond my range.
Determined to get closer, I scare them off.
Time and again until I give up and just watch. Watch as they call to each other and as they rejoice in the day.
Then I hear a tap-tap-tapping and look up to see a resplendent flicker, but he is always angled so that I cannot do the "glamour shot." The flicker is oblivious to my being there- so engrossed in his own search. There are no other birds with him but he cares not at all. Another bird finally joins but he moves on- and in his own flurry to "do" startles away the chickadee.
Are there times we become so committed to "our work" that we fail to see we are not community? Do we chase off others in our enthusiasm?

Further on there are more chickadees- but in flight are the crows.
Loud, dominant, and overwhelming. They dash the hopes of the little birds as they descend. Too much.

I sit in the esplanade and decide I cannot will the birds to stay put or pose "just right" and that fortunately I chose to enjoy what they were doing rather than just focus on what I wanted.

I know this is simplistic, but often it bears repeating.
Then I hear two birds engaged in a "call and response."
Bird one: I do this
Bird two: I do it back. And I add something.
Bird one: I try my pattern again- I do what I did
Bird two: I repeat what you did.
Bird one: I do this, but Bird Two comes in and cuts me off.
Both stop.
After a pause this pattern repeats
Bird one decides that "I can't get you to follow me and you can't get me to follow you"
Both fly off.

This pattern happens to people too.
Whenever our community is more about "me" than "us."
When it is not about discerning God's will together.

When we forget what the core really is.
We all do this.
And I ponder how I do this.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Falling in Love

One of my favorite spots was a contemplative space near my spiritual director's office. A beautiful blue space with bowed windows, plants and comfy chairs and my favorite part- ladybugs!
My whole life I have loved ladybugs- they always bring a smile.
When I was little my Mom would use a hole punch and a piece of construction paper to make red dots. Then I would glue them onto note paper and make their dots and legs and antennae.
To this day one of my favorite "make me smile" things.
When LC#2 was little we had a "Ladybug Farm"- we got the little house with the plastic window and the chilled ladybugs arrived by UPS- we did not realize that there was a hole in the farm and generations of escapees can be seen in our house and at her school.
In my call to ministry it has been about joy and laughter and imagination.
Sometimes I have to slow down my energy, but deep down- I want to laugh and to dream and get carried away by it all.
No wonder this poem captured my attention:

"Falling in Love"

Nothing is more practical
than finding God
that is- falling in love,
in a quite absolute, final way,
with what you are in love with.
What seizes your imagination
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart
and what amazes you with
joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love
and it will decide everything.
- Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who is Christ for Us?

One of my favorite places at the Jesuit Center is the main chapel. Above the altar is a radiantly beautiful mosaic of the scene of the crucifixion. I suppose that sounds a little inconsistent- radiant beauty/crucifixion.
This depiction of Christ has a duality to it- brilliance and praise, exuberant colors, but in the midst of these vivid hues, there is Christ on the cross, pale, dying and suffering.
I know that this mosaic like many depictions, in some way is an effort for us to beautify the horror of the factual act, to cover up the horror of what we, humanity have done. And yet, in the midst of this pale suffering one, there is a glow to Christ. Depicted as the Jesus we know and yet not just Jesus we know.

At different times of the day the chapel may be bathed in light streaming through the stained glass windows, or deep still darkness, almost like a tomb. For most of the time, the chapel mosaic is lit. In the midst of those deep darkness times, it almost leaps off of the wall. When it is dark and the mosaic is not lit, the space is somber yet compelling.
One of the other retreatants had shared with me that there is a tiny balcony on the third floor of the building. When you are there it seems as if you are floating above the chapel space. At the same level as the mosaic, but at opposite ends of the nave.
I looked at the mosaic the first time- there are the three crosses. On the left, the thief to whom Jesus has said, "Today you will be with me." Beneath him are onlookers who are walking away- though one has his head turned back toward Jesus. They have decided Jesus' death means nothing to them.
Beneath Jesus in the center are the Marys and John, and on the right, the other thief and the soldiers who have cast lots.

That first time I focused on the onlookers for whom this meant nothing worth sticking around for. Then I focused upon Christ.
What does it mean that Jesus died for you?
Who is Christ for us?

The second time, I returned when the chapel is in utter darkness- all I can see are layers of shadow. Places where nothing is clear and I am seemingly alone-places we have all felt in our lives. That proverbial shadow of the cross. Can I still sense Christ in that space?
Not by seeing, or by touching, or hearing. Not by anything overtly physical.
Yet still in this space, and maybe especially here, where I have stepped out of all that surrounds me- there is only God.

Henri Nouwen lifts up this experience -
Solitude "shows us the way to let our behavior be shaped not by the compulsions of the world, but by our new mind, the mind of Christ."
Silence "prevents us from being suffocated by our wordy world and teaches us to speak the Word of God that emerges from the silence."
Here in this space, where we can engage in unceasing prayer, such prayer gives solitude and silence "their real meaning... we descend with the mind into the heart-through our heart into the heart of God who embraces all of history with His eternally creative and re-creative love."

The third time I returned, after praying for awhile, focused upon Christ, I was drawn to the kneeling Mary Magdalene as I became aware that someone was in the chapel below who was crying. Mary is on her knees at the foot of Christ's cross, with her head in her hands, sobbing.
"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
"Who was the guilty? ... I crucified Thee."
I looked back at Christ who though pale and dying has a rainbow of waves and gold rays emanating from behind him in the mosaic. Pale but powerful. Each wave or ray touching one of the others at the foot of the cross.


Now I look at the onlookers again- walking away- walking away from forgiveness.
Are there things I hold onto that exhibit walking away from, or refusing to accept forgiveness?

In Christ there is that radiant light. The sky around him of vivid blue and gold may seem lovely, like all that calls us away, but in the end, it is a dark sky. Christ is the light in that deceptive darkness. Calling us to live in the knowledge that we are given the ability to not be stuck on our knees, sobbing, but to be re-created in newness by that pale yet powerful, suffering yet triumphant One who touches us across time and space forever.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Patient Trust

I decided to make this retreat as a way of stopping and taking stock of my internship year at the mid point. As it turns out, I have completed seven months as of the weekend of my time apart. A time to reflect and pray about all that has gone on my life these last seven months in a large parish that has been around since 1730 with a staff in the double digits. There is a very different perception of time and of timing.
A vicar's time in the parish is short- a year.
The ongoing work of the collective body spans a much larger and longer spectrum. Vicars spend time in class preparing to integrate learning.
Time in the parish shows that the flow of integration in real life in the parish is vastly out of sync with the world of the semester. None of this is earth-shattering news, and yet reality "on the ground" must be processed.
Where are the joys and moments of God's grace?
Where are the challenges and how might God be speaking in them?

"Patient Trust"
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made
by passing through some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually-let them grow, let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who's at the Door?

Yesterday I ended with words from Joyce Rupp's Open the Door. "Ask, seek, knock." When I arrrived at my room in the House, there was a note for me from my spiritual director, introducing herself and telling me she would not be able to meet me until the next day. While I was slightly disappointed, certainly with the weather I understood. I began to get settled in and had read the "Open the Door" sheet as well. I had come on this weekend alone and having never been here before, knew no one. I pondered what I might do until the evening meal.
Then I heard a tiny knock on the door- when I opened it, there was my spiritual director, who had found the time in her busy day to stop and introduce herself and ask if I had any questions. She gave some useful "lay of the land" tips. Boy, that sure was welcome!
It reminded me that in addition to the "ask, seek, knock" reference, we also hear of Jesus saying "Behold, I stand at the door..." I began to contemplate what this says about prayer- the door to our relationship with God.
Ignatian spirituality teaches looking for God in all things- yes, there was a literal knock at my door- thanks for checking in, God!
Over my first full day on retreat I wondered about keeping silence. I dreamt that I broke the silence and talked to others. But in reality I had not. But when I was out walking, in the snow, trying to take pictures, and trying to look at the stations of the cross and trying to remember what time my appointment with my director was, I slipped on the ice.
And to no one else around me I found myself saying, "you're right, God I DO need to slow down. I am here all weekend." It was like God knocking on the door and reminding me I had promised that this was a weekend when we would talk.
I walked by a snow covered statue of the pilgrim- "you're right, God that is me!"
If anyone had heard me it would have sounded like somewhere in space was the other end of a conversation.
And throughout the weekend there were times I was the one knocking- just wondering, just thinking, can you help me with this?
And then there were those other times where God knocked back.
And instead of prayers of formality, or a litany of carefully constructed petitions and responses,
it was like God and I taking turns walking through the door.
Like good friends sharing time and advice.
My director shared with me a prayer nook that is located just off of the chapel- a space where women could observe worship that they could not be a part of in days past. A special space with iron-grated windows that looked onto the altar and the beautiful mosaic and windows.
It was hard to see through the grate- I began thinking that it was not really a special space for me.
Then I heard- open the door.
I looked and noticed that the center window was made of two swinging panels. They could be opened. And when they were it was as though I could almost reach out and touch the altar- it became sacred space.
As I kneeled there it became a totally "God and me" time- nothing more needed to be said.
So often we think of doors as locking or clicking shut, or needing a key.
Sometimes maybe we see prayer that way- not always available, needing certain keys to work.
But prayer is meant to be not so much a fixed door, but perhaps a swinging door, like moving in and out of conversation - with questions, with news, with all of the things we think of in our closest relationships. Comfortable and easy- where we walk in and hear, "How was your day" or "I've been waiting for you."
Maybe eventually the door would swing back and forth so often we would decide just to take it down and come and go at will.
Sometimes for long sit downs and other times just to drop in.
Never really gone for long.
In many ways God seeks us and God sends people into our path- for those same conversations. How might God be speaking, looking to have a chat?
Who's at your door and what would it mean if you answered?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Entering the Silence

This past weekend I was priviledged to be able to take time away on retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania.My weekend was one of directed silent retreat. Over the next several days I plan to share about my experience. For those who know me, some were dubious when I pronounced I was going to engage in a weekend long silent retreat. Frankly so was I, and yet I was drawn to the opportunity.
In the weeks leading up to my time away, I began to wonder if I was over-reaching. Even joking about how when I cracked up and couldn't take it anymore that conveniently there is a state mental hospital nearby. The day came and the weather was not cooperating- which in these parts lately means- snow. Early in the day the call came that the roads were slick and if I wanted to come they would welcome me and if I wanted to not travel they understood. And in that message I had a profound sense of sadness for the potential that I was not going to go. I recognized that I truly desired this. I decided to wait and see how the weather played out in the hours before I would need to leave. After all of the tempestuous winds, squalls, drifting and ominous forecasting, I was able to follow the fine work of plows and salting. My journey was uneventful. And within an hour of my arrival the snow began again.
Before entering the house, I spent a few minutes listening to "O Lord Hear My Prayer" and prayed that I would be able to set aside all of the busy-ness, to call upon God to meet me and embrace me in this time apart, to enter into God's presence and listen. I heard a lone bird chirping and the wind begin to rustle.
Listen. Enter into a place where you cannot give words but only receive them. Enter this space where there is humility of purpose.

When I entered my room there was a paper on the desk with words from author Joyce Rupp in her book, Open the Door, a Journey to the True Self. Contemplating Luke 11:9, she offers this:
"What is it we are to ask for when we come to the divine door and knock?
Jesus encourages his followers to be deliberate about searching and requesting. He promises they will find what they are seeking. The assumption has been made by many that Jesus is talking about intercessory prayer, the container of those big and little things we petition God for each day...perhaps this is so.
But could it also be that Jesus was speaking not so much about our external world as our internal one? Could he have meant knocking and searching for what will enhance the relationship of love that flows between God and ourselves?
Are we to knock on the door and ask for what enriches this bond?
What will transform us into our truest selves, our firmest faithfulness, our deepest joy?
Perhaps our petitions at God's door might become not so much "What can you do for me?" as
"Who can you be for me?"
There is so much the Holy One can be for us:
the mentor of our loving
the source of our courage
the keeper of our troubles
the teacher of our prayer
the guide of our pathway
the nurturer of our virtue
the companion of our soul."

A walk in the snow, a meal (the last one with talking) and evening prayer. Then enter the silence- enter again conversation that God and I have been having lately.