Saints

Blessed is She Who Trusted

visitationvisitation st. elizabeth rockville

“Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” (Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation in Luke).

As we celebrate our sister in life and faith, Mary, on the feast of the Assumption, a rambling reflection:

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

Be with us, young woman who said yes to Mystery;
Pregnant mother who served and celebrated with another,
who knew the movement of life that was Life within you;
Spouse who loved your angel-dreaming Joseph,
who accepted his guarding of your vulnerability and his wonder at your faith;
Donkey-rider and God-bearer, birthmother and safe enclosure for the Son –
first in your womb, then in your arms;

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

Treasurer and holder of moments with shepherds and kings,
with prophetesses and seers, with rabbis who listened to an adolescent Jesus;
Preparer of food, maker of home, holder of moments;
Lover of living, and walker in wonder;
Jesus’ first teacher of prayer, handmaid of the Lord;

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled. 

Woman, caregiver, daughter, parent, wife, Jew,
Spirit filled and taught and led;
Sufferer of losses; adult orphan, widow, grief-bearer;
Releaser of the young adult Son to seek his path, his way,
as God’s beloved and Kingdom proclaimer;
Empty nester;
New listener to what God says in the new time;
Curious follower of your Son;
Listener and discerner of words spoken by the Word you taught to speak;
First disciple,
Truly our sister.

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

Your son – the Rabbi
Your son – the healer
Your son – who speaks with authority
Your son – Abba’s Son
Your son – storyteller
Your son – Truth, Life, Way – that must be shared and spoken
Your son – passion and compassion
Your son – former of others
Your son – dangerous to the authorities
The mother – In the dark, yet trusting;
The mother – YES lived;
The mother – Heart moved by God’s work in her Son;
The mother – Seer of the threat his goodness is to power
The disciple – Known to the followers;
The disciple – Hearer and keeper of the word of God

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

Swords will pierce your heart, Anna foretold
Jesus will give all to share the message of Abba
Mary, you will give all standing, waiting, watching
How could this have gone so wrong?

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’w words to her would be fulfilled.

Cradler of his lifeless body
Mother given to the disciple – to us all
Stunned by grief, uncomprehending
Letting go again
– Be it done, I am Mary, handmaid, magnify-er –
You are God.

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

Waiting, hidden, with his ‘crew’;
Hearing womens’ news that makes no sense,
You know it true
You’ve traveled those roads
Believed her God
Held his Son,
Given your all
Nothing is impossible with God
He will be called Jesus – one who saves – words you heard
Emmanuel – God with us

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

As you companioned the disciples, Mary, companion us;
Teach us your way of being with God, with life, sister-mother-friend-companion;
Root for us and guide us;

We too are blessed. The Lord’s words to us will be fulfilled.
It matters not if we understand them.
He leads, we lean.
We just say yes, and watch in wonder and delight the unfolding.
God is so good, and does good things in us, with us, for us

Today, Mary (one whose name I bear!)
We celebrate you
Your sensitivity and presence to life
Your being as listening
Your agreeing to angel invitations
Your celebrating with community
Your journey through life in all its simplicities and complexities,
celebrations and mournings,
clarities and confusions.
Your joining with your Son, with Abba, the Spirit
at Assumption moment
in ways we cannot understand and yet believe

Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.

 

 

Categories: General, Mary of Nazareth, Saints | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Not Live Our Whole Life as a Dance?

SAMSUNGJOY!  SMILES!  DANCING!  Advent (and LIFE!) practices!

This year I have been reading a number of ancillary works on Therese of Lisieux, my ‘confirmation saint’ and one of my (thank God, many!) familiar companions within the communion of saints.  As I finished one of these texts today, I came across an excerpt of a song that I wanted to share with you all, as Advent’s O Antiphons draw us daily closer to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Joy, rooted in utter confidence in God’s mercy and love, was for Therese a way of expressing her love of God.  She invited the novices she mentored to PRACTICE SMILING.  This joy of which Therese spoke was not for her – or for her novices, or us – the absence of suffering or the presence of comfort and consolation. It is a way of making concrete our gratitude for God’s tenderness with us and for us, and God’s entering into everyday companionship with us.  It is a way of making concrete – literally – with our faces – our trust (or desire to trust) the Abba that the Babe of Bethlehem will tell us about and connect us with in wondrous ways.  It is a “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” sung in the very everydayness of each of our lives – from laundry and dishes to errands and bill paying, from creative work to doldrum must-dos, from loving and caring to weeping and mourning.

In a time when we hear of Laughter Yoga meetings and the great value of humor and lightheartedness for our health, it strikes me that this young Carmelite friend tutors us to live this in a very grounded way.

thereseLife brings moments of happiness and of suffering — seasons sometimes of both.  Our weaknesses and sufferings Therese sees as opportunities to both let God lift and carry us (Jesus’ arms as the elevator, as she puts it), and as ways to give our lacks of courage or downright failures or very difficult pains to God who can meet and transform and use these.  Her confidence in God’s love – felt or not – is a reciprocity to this extravagant love she has received.  And she insists that that confidence should appear in our manner of speaking, walking, talking – and appear on our faces!  Smiling and communicating a positive presence are possible for us to choose — and they make a difference in others’ days as well as enhancing our own.  Truth is more that whatever this moment’s emotion, pain, joy, work, delight, grief bring.  Truth is that we are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians).  Will we choose to inform our way of being with this truth, and so communicate Good News?  Evangelize, if you will.

What better way to prepare a way, these last days of Advent, for our hearts to welcome the Child of Christmas with true eyes that see hope and wonder?  God enters our vulnerable flesh, our everydayness, our seasons and moments.  Can we live in the reflection of that joy, that gift?  Can we inform our faces?  Our lives?  Our tones of voice?  Our interactions and chores?  Our work?

Can we just smile?  How about practicing that this week — all of us?  Perhaps we might find we can do more than smile…. we can make of life a dance!  Or better, we can wake up and say yes to dancing, as our Dance Partner stands by with hands and arms outstretched, inviting our entering in.

Check out this prayer/song, from the text on Therese of Lisieux.  May we celebrate being here and now – alive as we are in this moment, with whatever music is playing!

“Teach us, Lord, to put on anew every day
Our human condition
Like a ball gown, that makes us love about you
All its small details like indispensable jewelry.

Make us live our lives –

Not like a game of checkers, where everything is calculated,

Not like a sports match, where everything is difficult,

Not like a theory that breaks our head –

But like a feast without end
Where the encounter with you is being renewed
Like a ball,
Like a dance,
In the arms of your grace,
To the universal music of love.” *

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us!  May we open our hearts to learn this lesson, this way.  

* [1] Song sung by Madeleine Delbre (1904-1964):  Nous autres, gens des rues.  Quoted in Therese of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity: The Transformative Relationship of St. Therese of Lisieux and her novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity,  by Pierre Descouvement, trans. By Alexandra Plettenberg-Serban

Categories: Advent, Carmelite, Saints | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Joseph of Nazareth – Friend, Witness, Patron – Be With Us, Tend Our Journeys Too

Happy Feast of St. Joseph, one of my patrons! In Mary’s vulnerability, he encircled her. His sheltering created a boundary where Mary’s availability to God and the life within her could flourish. Mary is theotokos, God-bearer; but it is Joseph who surrounded his beloved with strength and tenderness, bearing the one who bore the one larger than the universe itself.*

Joseph, your faithfulness to God held you firmholy-family
as you guided and protected Mary
and the child within her womb,
as you assisted at a stable birth,
as you greeted star followers and sheep tenders.

You held an infant son to your chest
and, with his mother, taught him –
as he toddled and explored
the human confines of home and hearth –
to speak and to pray.

You shaped wood, family, and Jesus –holy-family-statue
with love and attention.

You bore the one who bore God,
sheltering and encompassing her
from the beginning,
treasuring her as she treasured in her heart –
and you in yours –
what crazy wondrous things
your God (and ours)
was amazingly moving forward
through your growing son.

SAMSUNGTeach us your trust
your daily fidelity,
your openness to witness wonder
in the everyday.
And be companion-friend to us, to all.

Provide your circling tending presence,
place your hand upon our shoulders,
as we make our vulnerable way along too,
seeking to be available to God
and give Christ birth today,
at Spirit’s prompting.

Put in a word for us
to the boy and man you shaped,
and teach us your love for him
and your willingness to have him be all he is,
whether or not you or we understand.

We greet you and thank you on our way!
And we thank God for you!
St. Joseph, pray for us.


*This description of Mary owed to another friend, Clare of Assisi, in one of her letters to Agnes of Prague.

Categories: Poetry, Saints | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staying Power: Fascinating!

Most of us make decisions over a lifetime about when to stay or go – in a job, a relationship, a vocational path, a degree program.  We’ve heard info about healthy/unhealthy relationships, boundaries, the color of our parachutes, the bliss we are to follow, the love we deserve to find.  Valuing all of what we’ve learned in these areas, I wonder if we give sufficient attention to perseverance, endurance and staying power.

I have been intrigued (again!) over the last months with the life experiences of St. John of the Cross.  This Spanish 17th century saint and doctor of the church is a fascinating man, a poet and pray-er, a leader and guidance-giver.  But one of the most interesting things about him for me is his staying.

Simplifying greatly, he was an agent of reform in the Carmelite religious order of which he was a part.  As such, he gained great enemies within his own brothers.  This enmity found quite concrete expression when his brothers imprisoned him for months – clearly intending his demise.  He was in the dark, in small space, with insufficient light, poor and too-little food, isolated, and threatened by deliberately staged periodic conversations outside his door.  His hope, his physical well-being, his mental and spiritual faculties – all suffered drastically.  And out of this experience he eventually crafted and shared some of the most amazing poetry and prose on the relationship of love with God that has ever been written.  But this ‘rest of the story’ was certainly not evident in the dark, dark days John spent imprisoned, though it prompted an inward and outward journey that was seeded then. 

What intrigues me is that, upon his eventual and daring escape, he did not leave his brothers.  He did not leave the order.  What gave him the power to stay?  

There’s an oft-recounted story of a thief who had a dream one night of a monk outside town by a small lake.  In the dream, the monk took out of his deep habit pocket a gem of great price wrapped in cloth.  The thief woke and, inspired, went out of town in the darkness to the lake.  There he found the monk from his dream and told him he wanted what was in his pocket.  The monk reached deep within the brown folds, surprised to find a lump of cloth.  The monk pulled it out and unwrapped the cloth.  Both men gazed on the gem – the thief with avarice, the monk in surprise.  The monk caught the thief’s eyes and, reaching his out full hand to him, asked, “Do you want this?”  The thief grabbed it and went home, staying up all night staring at the gem.  In the morning, the thief wrapped the gem back in the cloth and returned to the lake.  The monk was still there, and the thief approached him. “Here,” the thief said to the monk, as he reached forward with the clothed gem.  The monk looked up, taking the bundle, asking, “You no longer want it?”  The thief paused, looking at the monk carefully, and said, “No, I don’t want that.  Instead, I want the power that gave you the ability to give it to me.”

There is something in the character of John’s staying that prompts the same kind of wonder the thief experienced.  What gave John the power to stay, when he was clearly not only valued poorly by some, but wished the worst?  This staying was not at all passive, or blind.  There is a power in his choice, and the ripples it makes in his life.  Putting the intervening biographical timeline aside, toward the end of his rather short life he was again in a situation where a superior treated him in illness without respect, and in such a way that clearly impacted his health negatively.  In all of these circumstances, John exhibited a power to be with that was not a victim-codependent-unable-to-stand-up-for-himself-too-facile-21st-century-diagnosis of him.  He was utterly strong in this staying.  What is his secret?  What gave him the ability to do so?  Is this about courage?  The action of someone we somehow suspect behaves in a way beyond us?  What does it say to us? 

An important theme in John’s writing is the need to create space for the Beloved (God, in Christ) as an action appropriate for the seeker.  It is a seeking of the nada, the nothing, that was not for the sake of nothing, but for the sake of everything.  But the everything was not John’s (and is not ours) to create.  The everything is a person – the Beloved.  John seems to have had staying power simply because it was not his power – it was God’s.  In that power John learned over time not to place his focus only on his brothers’ poor (and much worse than poor!) actions.  It was on the Beloved one, on the love story he lived with; the love story he encouraged those he directed to engage; and he believed that the circumstances of his daily life were the wallpaper on the wall in the room, so to speak.  They were important, but not the essential.  If anything, they offered more opportunity and context to see.  He was imprisoned.  But he was loved.  He was treated horribly.  But he was held safely.  He had every reason to hate or run or scream, but he turned and trusted and leaned on the love that was beyond him to provide what he needed to act as seemed right in a moment, knowing too that he failed at times. 

There is something fascinating about the storied monk’s response to the thief.  And there is something fascinating about people of faith.  John Shea told us this powerfully in his now-old book The Spirit Master.  John of the Cross did not choose abuse or imprisonment.  He escaped from them.  He also accepted the gifts he had because of them – in his writings and ways of being with others.  He recognized that he learned things in those circumstances he might otherwise not have learned, or held onto with the same tenacity as truth that would impact his own and others’ lives – effecting some of his time and since, through his writings and witness. 

Perhaps you and I can see a similar pattern as we look over seasons and events in our own lives. 

John’s staying power was not his power.  It was a power he found when he called out to God, “Where have you hidden?” (not too different from Jesus’ call, rooted in the psalms, “O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  John’s question during his imprisonment was raw and real, wrapped in hurting flesh and anguished spirit and abandonment by the very community he had given all to as they lived out a particular way of the Christian life together.  Still, in his powerlessness, he found a power that was not his.  He spoke of love provided by God to love with – gained when the nada (nothingness) was filled with God.  He taught of this as he lived it again in his last long suffering illnesses. 

I do not discount the need to leave untenable and unhealthy places and situations.  In fact, I strongly affirm the need to choose.  Discernment in these situations is essential, especially as our vision is so impacted by the experiences’ intensity.  God does not wish our destruction on any level.  Still, I recognize the challenge that John’s witness represents.  In a life commitment he had made he lived out, in trust, a power to stay and be faithful that is a mystery.  His way of staying attracts my attention.  I find it fascinating.  He was healthy and whole in his spirituality and theology, and real in his human journey.  And somehow this staying was utterly right and absolutely the context for his creativity and sharing.  It is in this crucible that he learned to be attentive to how much he was loved by the Beloved, and to turn his attention there.  I wonder at his gratitude for what he suffered, and his peace with it, over time. And I celebrate the way he lived fidelity.

May you and I be granted an ability to look to the God who loves us first, the Beloved who calls us Beloved in turn, and find the staying power we need in our experiences of certain circumstances and crucibles in life.  Some we cannot leave – they just are, and ‘happen’ to us.  Some we leave after a time due to choice or situation.  Others we choose to persevere within.  John left imprisonment (for his life!), yet carried and stayed with its tutoring long after.  He also needed to heal, integrate and write too while he continued his ministries.  We too need to be attentive to the needs we have around deeply disturbing or unsettling seismic shifts: stay or go.  This does not negate our ability to stay, but may change our means of doing so. 

The power to stay with or in an experience, as we are invited to learn and grow wherever we are, is not one we can seek to manufacture in ourselves.  We can let the unsettledness remind us how utterly empty and poor we are.  And remember God’s humility in becoming poor and empty with us – in a stable and on a cross – in love.  From where we stand as creatures before the Creator, we can seek an encounter that is real – whether or not it is felt – with the Beloved, and ask discernment and the companionship of Christ and his staying power.  And we can, with John, choose not to live in what was, but in what now is with new eyes and tutored hearts.

For your reflection, I offer four short scriptural excerpts on endurance, with question/s to ponder about staying’s power and staying power!  St. John of the Cross, pray for us!

Exodus 18:8:  Describes the Israelites, and “all the hardships they had had to endure on their journey, and how the Lord had come to their rescue” 

  • What are the present hardships?  Can we see them in the context of a whole journey, not just in terms of today’s reality?  Can we utilize today to look for the ways the Lord wishes to – and does – come to our rescue?

Romans 12:12-18, 21:  Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.   Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.   If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.  Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

  • What practices suggested above might we put into concrete action that would help us? 

Romans 5:3-5:  We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.  

  • Can we look back at other moments of affliction or disturbance in our lives and see what positives it has given birth to?  What can we do to hold on to hope in the present, given it is very difficult to see when one is in the dark?  Choose simple things: we need to learn gentleness and patience in our approach, the same gentleness and patience we would offer another

Revelation 13:10:  Such is the faithful endurance of the holy ones..

  • We are not the only ones who learn to stay.  We are in the company of a communion of friends of God, the holy ones, who have lived this already.  And others will come after us and claim our presence with them when they journey.  Staying/endurance is made possible by God’s power.  Let us lean on those in the communion too for support and friendship on our way.

What is staying power, then, but faithfulness?  In small or large, it is a choice, recommitted to daily (hourly? by the minute?), to be with what is and learn in and from it.  It is a remembering the One who is faithful to us, specifically from where we are.  It is a seeing according to the One’s perspective on whom we set our hearts.  And it is a disciple’s discipline of ongoing stumbles towards a consistency and integrity in our faith lives only made possible through God’s good grace.  No wonder staying power is fascinating.

Categories: General, Saints | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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