Posts Tagged With: fear

Teach Me Where I Keep Company with Fear: Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is a staple of Lent, of Fridays, of pleading for mercy and forgiveness. As Friday has just passed, I share with you this translation/poetic rendering of the psalm from Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness.  I particularly have been moved over the years praying with these words, and offer it for your Lenten lingering.

The bold in the text below is mine, with some comments which follow for your rumination.

But first, here’s a suggestion for your presence with the psalm. Simply read through it once and notice the echoes in your own heart/being.  Then take some moments of silence and read through/pray through it once more, lingering wherever feels right.  Do not analyze it to death or think up a storm of words and concepts to tame or control your time with it; just let it say some of your heart to God and listen too for what God may be speaking to you.  Enjoy some conversation of your own with Our Compassionate Friend then, and close your time with the psalm with a last reading.  If you wish, then see my last notes below the text.  But pray with it first! And last!  And perhaps, only!

Have mercy on me, O Gracious One,
according to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant kindness
forgive me where my thoughts and deeds have hurt others.
Lead me in the paths of justice,
guide my steps on paths of peace!

Teach me, that I may know my weaknesses,
the shortcomings that bind me,
The unloving ways that separate me,
that keep me from recognizing your life in me;
For I keep company with fear, and dwell in the house of ignorance.
Yet, I was brought forth in love,
and love is my birthright.

You have placed your truth in the inner being;
therefore, teach me the wisdom of the heart.
Forgive all that binds me in fear,
that I might radiate love;
cleanse me that your light might shine in me.
Fill me with gladness; help me to transform weakness intro strength.
Look not on my past mistakes
but on the aspirations of my heart.

Create in me a clean heart, O Gracious One
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Enfold me in the arms of love, and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
Restore in me the joy of your saving grace,
and encourage me with a new spirit.

Then I will teach others your ways,
and prisoners of fear will return to You.
Deliver me from the addictions of society, most Gracious One,
O keep me from temptation
that I may tell of your justice and mercy.

O Gracious One, open my lips and my mouth shall sing forth your praise.
For you do not want sacrifice;
You delight in our friendship with You.
A sacrifice most appropriate is a humble spirit;
a repentant and contrite heart, O Merciful One, is the gift You most desire.

Let the nations turn from war, and encourage one another as good neighbours.
O Most Gracious and Compassionate Friend,
melt our hearts of stone,
break through the fears that lead us into darkness, and
Guide our steps into the ways of peace.

We are not to be those who keep company with fear.  Love is our birthright.  Still, we each have our own endlessly creative ways of getting lost, becoming separated, not consenting to living as one who is loved so very much.  We need teaching from the one who delights in our friendship.  We need rescue (isn’t Lent about being with the one who rescues us?) from our distinct patterns of fear and isolation, of consenting to being bound to an identity that is not our true one.

We are loved!  We are beloved ones!  We are cared for by One who sees much farther than we do into our hearts and who – with all the heavens, the stars, the planets, the sparrows, the lilies of the field, the wondrous creations which flow from Trinity Love – intended us to be and to know joy.

Most of us keep company with fear to some degree and in some seasons.  We have our reasons to.  That we become afraid, that we are limited, that we do not understand – this is no problem.  Inviting fear to be our close companion and the traveling partner that we attend to and allow most to shape us – this is.

Once more, we must learn to live loved – learn to live in the light of One who scatters darknesses we are not even entirely conscious of.  Our humility is simply fact – we don’t know and don’t see.   We are creatures, not Creator.  But we are oh so precious.

So, have mercy on our weakness and blindness, Lord.  Guide us truly.  Show us where we keep company with fear, and give us heart to choose more consciousness of you than of what freezes us.  Teach us to lean on your grace.  We will trust that you know what we each need to be restored.  Help us choose reconciling and freedom; and help us be gentle with ourselves as you unfold for our vision our attachments to lesser ways, our holding tight the ropes which bind us.  We will find joy as we watch you unravel our complicated patterns, our clutched protections and pretenses.  We will learn to relax in your love, and so more deeply live in it.  And perhaps we may yell with pain and joy at our releasement, like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when his dragon skin is removed by Aslan (Christ figure in Narnia) so he may once again become a boy – an oh so much wiser, humbler, easier to be around boy.

I love Nan’s proclamation of promise to God:

Then I will teach others your ways,
and prisoners of fear will return to You.

Joy!  To be with each other, to aid, to support, as we recognize how we are imprisoned by our own choices, and learn to choose trust and living loved.  And we all return to you!  And the Saints will come marching in!  I’ll meet you praying this psalm.

Categories: Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seek Out All Our Fears: Psalm 10


Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying have long been a gift I find treasures in for reflection. Her phrasings have given me words to whisper, and pleas to cry out. They have soothed and challenged me, and taught me of the Beloved who loves us so. I have decided to include here the text of one of Nan’s psalms periodically for your slow reading and praying.   If you need an endorsement to consider these for prayer, note this recommendation from Madeleine L’Engle, another word artist, woman of faith, and sister of the journey:

“The very liveliness of the Psalms causes us to want to say them in our own language… Nan Merrill has done this marvelously, and I’m grateful for this labor of integration and love.”  

Both women have moved from this life to the next, where they see more clearly than we the truth we say and seek as we pray. I hope you too are moved as you read, and that Nan and Madeleine join our fumbling hearts and words with strength.


Psalm 10

Why do You seem so far from me,  O Silent One?
Where do You hide when fears beset me?
I boast and strike out
against those weaker than myself,
even knowing I shall be caught in
a snare of my own making.

When I feel insecure,
I look for pleasure,
greed grips my heart and I
banish You from my life.
In my pride, I seek You not,
I come to believe, “I am the Creator
of the world.”

I even prosper at times:
Your love seems too great for me,
out of my reach;
as for my fears, I pretend they
do not exist.
I think in my heart, “I do not need
adversity will come only to others.”

My eyes watch carefully for another’s weakness,
I wait in secret like a spider
in its web;
I wait that I might seize those who
are weaker than myself,
draw others into my web,
then I might use them to
feel powerful.

Like me, the fearful are crushed,
we fall by our own doubts.
Then we think in our hearts,
“I do not deserve Love:
my Beloved has forgotten me,
I am alone with my fears forever.”

Awaken, O Love! Oh You who created me,
return to my side;
forget me not in my weakness.
Why do I turn my back to You,
and say in my heart, “You will
not take notice of me?”
You do see me. Yes, You know of
my anguish and fears,
that You may take me once again
unto Yourself;
When I commit myself into your hands, you are ever my strength and comforter.

Break then the webs I have woven,
Seek out all my fears
until You find not one.
You are my Beloved for ever and ever; all that is broken within me
will be made whole.

O my Beloved, you hear my deepest
You will strengthen my heart,
You will answer my prayer;
that I might live with integrity
And become a loving presence in the world!

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God Wishes to Charge You with a Mission: July 31st – Ignatius of Loyola, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Catherine Laboure

Yes, it’s the feast of St. Ignatius, Loyola.  There are many who will today reflect on this man who was a listener and chronicler of his own journey of discipleship, and whose rooted guidance still shape the growth in faith of many today.  His feast is a celebration of discernment, of education, of commitment, of companionship with Jesus and with others – and it is close to the heart of those who have so benefitted from the gifts of Ignatian Spirituality and the Society of Jesus (SJs), and the many religious communities which draw their charisms from these roots.

Ah… but let’s remember two other women saints for whom July 31st is an important day.  They too have words for our journeys, and invitations for our ways.

  On July 31, 1809, Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in the valley in Emmitsburg, MD.  This woman who found in the Catholic faith an amazing anchor and in the Eucharist a way to keep her heart “like a needle to the pole” was a mother and wife, educator and foundress, prolific writer of letters, friend and guide.  In Emmitsburg, Catholic education continued that had been birthed on Paca Street in Baltimore… and her fledgling community found roots and spirituality as they lived simply, served much, taught more, and prayed throughout.

  On July 31, 1830, young novice Catherine Laboure, on the eve of what was then the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, had an apparition of Mary in the middle of the night in Rue de Bac chapel in the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.  Eventually this would lead to a November encounter with the Virgin that birthed the miraculous medal (“O Mary, conceived with sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”)

What Catherine heard from Mary that night I find quite fitting for my reflection, and I offer it to you this day.

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.  You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.  Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.”   If we’ve read anything that has been quoted from Pope Francis’ statements since his election as pontiff, we have definitely noted this focus on going out – on mission.  It’s part of “the mess” he told young people at World Youth Day in Rio last week that he wanted them to stir up back in their home countries and dioceses… to go out to share the good news.  The other clear theme that shows up in Pope Francis over and over again is mercy.  Receiving God’s mercy and tenderness, we in turn proclaim it and go to serve each other and have it make a difference in the world.SAMSUNG

“You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.”  For those who care to serve and proclaim the Gospel, internal arguments waste time.  (See my earlier blogs on polarization in ecclesial conversations.)  While we argue around the bonfire of faith, so many are without light.  We must takea torch and go!  Pope Francis again can be seen to weigh in here as he speaks about Catholics and Christians and leaders in faith needing to be joyful, to not be arguing, to not be gloomy, to be simple and pastoral and close to people.  If you and I encounter contradition and conflict on our mission, well — that’s to be expected on our journey.  A pilgrimage entails learning and growing and dialogue and encounter and sometimes nay-sayers — whether or not they are accurate.  Our focus is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), and to trust and lean on the grace that will consistently appear for the mission we are on, as God’s beloved ones to God’s beloved people and God’s beloved world in God’s beloved creation.

“Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”  Catherine Laboure is reminded that she needs a companion.  Don’t we all?  I KNOW I do!  We need what the celts call an anamchara – soul friends – guides – companions – listeners – confessors – siblings in faith – intercessors.  (These are not all the same person, in our lives, usually!)  We need assistance in receiving tenderness and mercy, and in following Jesus whom we encounter.  We need places to be unerringly honest, as we are often so clueless about our own journeys.

SO… these three injunctions to Catherine Laboure (Zoe), I recommend to your reflection and mine.  Elizabeth Ann Seton too was on a mission, set for her and uniquely suited to her story.   Ignatius, whom we celebrate today, would happily share his feast with attention to these other two stories of Gospel life — especially in light of his own focus on mission.

Saint Catherine… pray for us

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton… pray for us

Saint Ignatius…  pray for us

Mary, sister and mother and disciple…  guide us too as we reflect on your words, lean on your Son, and go out on mission to “make a mess” for the Gospel!

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Jean Vanier: Do Not Run Away – Be Transformed

The following is excerpted entirely from the introduction of Jean Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger.  The book packages six reflections (for a six day retreat) Jean presented to members of the community of L’Arche in the Dominican Republic.  I provide it for our reflection here because it has much to do with the invitation not to run away.  It speaks of pain and fear and hope and the Gospel.  The reflections seem appropriate for the holy week we are in…  and so I offer them to you.

[I also had the great good fortune to hear Jean Vanier speak to the assembled academic community – faculty, staff, students – at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago when I was a student there.  His is a holy presence,  informed and formed by the Gospel, especially shaped by the way he has shared his life and journeyed with women and men with disabilities.  His words bear repeating because of what they say, but also because of who he is and how his own response to God’s invitation has impacted so many.] 

Vanier introduces the retreat quoting for each individual present the prophet Hosea’s promise that God “will allure” and “bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her heart” (2:14).  “I will give her back her vineyards…” which Jean says means that God will show her how fruitful her life is, “and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  See if you find your heart spoken to while reading his words below.

Yes, our lives are called to bear much fruit because Jesus wants to give life to others.  We find it difficult to give life, to hold and carry people in their weakness.  We are often frightened of reality because reality can be painful and a source of disappointment.  We tend to escape into a world of illusions and to seek refuge in dreams.  We bury ourselves in ideas and theories or fill our days with distractions.

We run away from our “Valley of Achor”, which is the place of our greatest and most intimate pain.  Yet that is the very place that God calls us to enter so that it may be transformed into a door of hope.

The Valley of Achor was situated near Jericho.  It was a dangerous place, filled with snakes, scorpions and all kinds of wild beasts; it was a place of fear that people tried to avoid.  Yet God declares that this valley of misfortunie will become a coor of hope.  What a mystery; a mystery filled with hope!

There is a “Valley of Achor” in each one of us: for each of us there are events or hurts we do not want to remember, look at or come close to; there are people and experiences that we try to avoid because they bring up too much pain in us and we are frightened of pain.  Certain people disturb us; they are “strange”, “different”; we cannot bear their pain or the pain they evoke in us.  Yet God tells us that if we enter into these places of pain and welcome these people they will become for us a “door of hope”.

If we become close to the people our societies reject, exclude and crush, people who are hidden away in asylums, we will discover that they can become a “door of hope”.  So too if we accept the things inside our own selves that we reject: the blockages, the bitterness, the fears, all that we may be ashamed of; if we dare to penetrate into our inner “Valley of Achor” it will indeed become a door of hope for us.

But we cannot do it alone.  We need to walk hand in hand with Jesus, to let him guide us and reveal to us the heart of the Gospel.

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Got An Arrow in Your Foot?

Heard the one about looking at the arrow or the finger instead of what it’s pointing to?  You know – it highlights the need to look beyond the pointer to the reality it indicates.  Well, I recently heard a twist on this.  Sometimes we not only fixate on the arrow instead of the target.  Sometimes we grab the arrow and stick it in our foot!  YOOOWWWOOUCH! 

PAIN!  When we do that, we not only have missed what the arrow pointed to, but we are now all tied up in the pain we have caused ourselves and jumping around and in need of medical assistance!  What a lovely distraction from whatever our goal or direction was!

For whatever reason, we humans get entirely mussed up at times.  We grow afraid of our own goals, hesitant to set off in the direction that every arrow points to, restless and so unable to focus or quiet, and generally uncooperative. 

For those canine lovers among us, it is the equivalent of the dog chasing its tail.  Or, better yet, a couple days back on America’s Funniest Videos there was a clip of a dog trying to chew a bone.  But her back left foot would raise up and tense into a claw that slowly approached her face, as if to attack!  And the dog would growl at the clawed foot as if it were an external and very real threat.  Every time it settled to chew the bone, this errant paw would raise, approach, threaten.  Comical?  Absolutely!  An interesting commentary on things human?  Definitely.   

I wonder what errant self sabotage you or I might identify in ourselves today.  What is the internal enemy?  A thought pattern?  A fear or pattern of fearing?  A habitual self-slap?  An excuse so old we don’t know its origins?  A voice from an authority figure from the past?  A child’s voice convinced no change is possible? 

Whatever stops us from taking peace-filled steps forward and paying attention to the arrows should be noticed.  Perhaps it deserves some support and attention.  Consider finding a companion or friend to chat this through with.   Being willing to be visible to another in these areas, and to be accountable to steps taken differently – this can be invaluable.

Today, even if you and I can’t seem to follow the path ahead in a straight line for whatever reason, let’s try not to grab the arrow and hurt ourselves with it.  The pain we experience may create more drama, but the journey doesn’t have to get complicated by our own self-inflicted distractions.  Breathe.  And start again.  And bring curiosity about the arrows and the directions ahead.

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Afraid of Freedom? Or Truth?

We are funny creatures.  We long for so much.  We are afraid of so much.  And sometimes they are the same things.

“We’re afraid of that truth which Jesus promised would make us free.”  These words echo from the pen of a favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle.  As I muse over this, I wonder if we fear freedom or truth…?  Perhaps both.

Is the truth we are afraid of the real truth?  Ephesians invites us to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth”  (Eph. 4).   

What is this moment’s truth for me?  That I am tired?  Joyful?  Frail?  Celebrating?  Ashamed?  Safe?  Successful?  Failing?  Well?  Ill?  Grace-filled?  In sync?  Out of whack?  In panic?  At peace?  What is yesterday’s truth?  My failures and limitations and sins?  My gifts given, burdens carried, service offered in joy?  My achievements?  My prayer?  My creativity?  My doldrums?  Truth so explored may be just a matter of emphasis.  Which memory or moment’s reality do I claim or focus on as that which is true?  To dwell on one or the other only is not the whole, and we are all and each such complex mixes.  

L’Engle says,  “The basic truth for me, the freeing truth, is God’s love, God’s total unequivocal love.”   

We find truth speakers in scripture in the prophets.  The salary they received for sharing truth was being stoned or discredited, ignored or deemed crazy, classified as beyond the pale or as demanding too much, or a long stay in the nearest cistern. 

Jesus comes and is not only a truth speaker, but we say he is the truth.  As his coming among us is the expression of how deeply the Divine/the Creator/God/The Holy Presence wants to be with us and wants us to see how we are loved…. he is indeed truth.  With this amazing Truth, why would we hold to what confines us in smaller prisons?

Perhaps it is the freedom that this truth offers us that scares us.  How would we measure, understand, control or deal with a life that is not bounded by scarcity or small framings?  It doesn’t matter that the world of comparison making is not the world of the Spirit (as John Shea so well points out in his writings), we get and keep a hold on things by keeping them in our constructs/boxes/perceptions. 

It is God’s joy to blow up our small grasp of certainties, so that we can encounter the real and wild God of creation and grace.  Without our familiar slaveries to what we grasp and hold on to, we find ourselves humbled.  But it is this very humility – this nakedness, if you will – that saints like Francis of Assisi found to be the source of true joy.  To be stripped of what we know or thought we knew makes us absolutely dependant, which we were anyway, truth be told!  And then, and only then, can we grow into the freedom that is the amazing wonder of who we are really in this holiness of truth, and what difference we are and can make in the world!

Perhaps you’ve seen the quote below often attributed to Nelson Mandela.  He actually used the words of Marianne Williamson in an address, and many have thought they were his:

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It’s the being liberated that we seem to object to.  We each have strong blocks, found in our patterns of making sense of and managing life.  When we would encounter the unequivocal love of God, we may find ourselves without the reins any longer, or the hold on the bars to our own prisons.  Our prisons served a purpose in our past perhaps, but God’s love invites something new.  And freedom is the way of being of the one about whom it is written:  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”  (2 Cor. 3: 17)

I know the shapes and forms of some of my own fears and resistances to the truth of love.  Today I wish you knowledge enough of yours.  But, for us all, this knowledge is not to be dwelt on.  There is somewhere much more exciting to go!  And it is an adventure, a drawing, a creating, a life!

The place to find a way to freedom and truth – past fear – is in the encounter with Jesus.  Sit with him – sit before him.  Look into his eyes through whatever means is your path of contemplation and action.  With him as our friend, our brother, our spiritual director, our physician, our therapist, our intimate partner – in that encounter is the possibility to no longer worry about the ramifications of truth or our agoraphobia before freedom.  We can learn what Barbara Fiand has termed “releasement”.  All we need is to be with.  God will bring us into light and truth and freedom that we may better shine and share glory.  We need not worry about our responsibility to recreate our own lives singlehandedly, as the new creation is God’s new creation.  We are “God’s work of art” after all, not our own. 

Strive only to be, and to be with.  And watch as much more unravels and unfolds that we might ask for or imagine.   And pray for all of us who are also so engaged in this process of growing and believing, being freed and coming to truth, encounter and fear, hesitancy and hope.

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