Posts Tagged With: God’s love

Lent 2017: Learning to Live Loved

443 phone - set one 095Tomorrow Lent begins.  And so, I’m beginning a daily – or near daily – effort to write a few (or more) words here.  Although there is no one overarching theme that will be pursued, some patterns may emerge.  Perhaps “Learn to Live Loved” – in the title above – will be a worthy mantra, if the reader needs one  to connect the musings of this journeyer through the season.

The Shack will be hitting theaters this Friday, and in one scene in the book Mack is given just this important injunction for his way: learn to live loved.  Note that he is not told to earn God’s love like a badge or high mark or grade: he is not commanded to seek God’s love like a lost penny or a treasure on an impossibly high shelf.  No, it is not something he is to chase, though it is a discipline.  It is something he is to live.  And, I believe, learning so to live is a central discipline for the disciple.  As such, it takes work.  It does for me!

Learn to live loved – knowing you are loved, believing you are loved, setting your heart by the fact that you are loved, consulting constantly the fact that you are loved, be secure in the truth that you are loved.  Live from there.  What won’t be necessary?  Tons!  What does it reorder?  Tons!  And what about all the others who are loved?  Oh yeah.  And the ethics there?  Uh-huh.  But start at the beginning.

You are loved.livelovedwords

As Lent begins, I’m reminded of the fact that the Anglo-Saxon root of the word Lent connects with lengthening.  May our awareness be lengthened, as daylight expands in this hemisphere.  May the light of this love draw forth new tendrils of growth in us, not to achieve some abstract holiness, but because we will love to grow in the directions God calls forth in us. And whatever our Lenten plans may be, let us recall that – at heart – we hope to receive ever more deeply that which God would offer us – this amazing love – and learn to better live loved.

Categories: Lent | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Trinity Love – in Jesus – Beckons, Waits


O soul, return, for Jesus Christ is calling you with hands outstretched on the cross; return, for the whole abyss of the Trinity stands ready for your coming.

See how patiently He waited – oh how long He waited for you!….He was mercifully expecting your return!…
Return, O soul: Christ is waiting for you on the cross. His head is inclined for a kiss, His arms are spread out for an embrace, and His hands open in a gesture of giving. His body is stretched in a position of total offering; His feet are attached so that He will remain with you; His side is open to let you in.

[Bonaventure, “Soliloquy on the Four Spiritual Exercises”  I:4-38, 39. Engl. trans. Jose de Vinck, Works of Bonaventure, Vol. III – Patterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1966, 69.]

Categories: Triduum | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Child’s First Cry Came Like a Bell: L’Engle’s Further Words on Mary

Happy New Year, readers and friends!  May 2014 bring you much joy.

It must be obvious by now that I value Madeleine L’Engle, as friend and wordsmith.

In my young adulthood, I knew she gave writers’ workshops in the summer at Wheaton College in Illinois.  I wanted “someday” to go.  I did not make the “someday”, sadly.  Still, I’ve felt – from childhood on – tutored by her characters, her art, her own journey in life and writing in many ways.  She was a purveyor of intuited truth to the child who munched happily on A Wrinkle in Time, and every subsequent novel.  (I’m thinking of rereading them all in 2014… anyone with me?   And then on to all her other books!)  A high school student gifted me with Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, which wound its way into both my masters and doctoral theses, and a theology of ministry too!  Though we never met in the flesh, I feel I’ve met L’Engle in other ways (perhaps in a kything communion, oh Wrinkle lovers?).  There are many dear writers like that for me – C.S. Lewis comes immediately to mind, with Tolkien and MacDonald, poets, and saints and mystics.  I hope that’s true for you as well.

So, on this day that celebrates Mary as God-Bearer, Mother, Theotokos, solemnly – it seemed fitting to offer you this three pronged reflection on Mary from L’Engle.  The last I shared with you was Young Mary, glimpsing her just past the Annunciation.  Here Madeleine again explores the inner experience of Mary, within the context of the Incarnation-Christmas Mystery.  Appropriately, the third poem below has much to do with Joseph, who sees too little ink, methinks.

I invite you to add a comment after your reading, simply sharing a line/a phrase/a word that speaks to you from all the ones below.  We have a right to hear the Spirit speaking in the context of community, so share a whispering or breeze or gust that blows past you, in a repeated word or three or four from her text, would you?

May Mary and Joseph accompany and guide you to the places you need to be this year to better encounter the Word in flesh.


Three Songs Of Mary

1. O Simplicitas

An angel came to me
and I was unprepared
to be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
according to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
the birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
it was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
my cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small
who still must learn to speak
lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
and moved in hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleeping cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men’s knowing.


2. O Oriens

O come, O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven’s power
give me thy strength: it is the hour.SAMSUNG

O come, thou Wisdom form on high;
like any babe at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
Was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
whose birth came hastily at night,
born in a stable, in blood and pain
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king –
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high:
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angels’ wings
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell.

3. O Sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, thou above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.

Categories: Christmas, Mary of Nazareth, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

New Year’s Eve: Hildegard, the Word, God’s Maternal Love, and Repentance

In less than four hours, our time zone will flip over to 2014.  January 1st symbolically holds hopes and fears, energy and trepidation, for many.  It is a natural beginning, just as today – the 31st of December – is a natural ending.  What have been the flavors of the year past for you, for me?  What do we seek in the year about to begin?  Is there a cultural message that, whatever it holds, we must pull ourselves along or up or over hurdles or around obstacles with new-year-will-power all on our own?  What gives me more will power tomorrow than I had today?

Julie Morgenstern, organizing guru and author, is wise as she writes of organizing our lives being more than re-packaging or re-ordering the contents.  In her work, she suggests viewing the present forward as the next chapter of our lives, for which we should determine the key theme.  And then we should ‘pack’ for that journey/chapter, letting go of stuff, time commitments and attitudes that don’t match with the theme we are entering.  It’s a great bit of wisdom (and may be helpful to some of us to truly re-order, as she puts it, from the inside out).

Though change takes more than a calendar flipping forward, markers llike New Year’s Eve and Day can provide motivation to access our truest desires and see if there can be movement in areas of our lives.  This is terrific, and we should all discern these steps – changes for health, for holiness, for wholeness, for virtue, for service, for compassion and solidarity with others.  Such discernment can bring us to an awareness of what has not been of sufficient priority in our lives.  It’s an end of the holidays-end of the year examen.  Can you and I repent?

SAMSUNGIn the spirit of these days of celebrating the Christmas season, note these words of wisdom:

Through the fountain-fullness of the Word
came the embrace of God’s maternal love,
which nourishes us into life,
is our help in perils,
and — as a most profound and gentle love –
opens us for repentance.

Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias II, 2, 4


* cover art of Hildegard: Prophet of the Classic Christ, Crossroads

On New Year’s Eve, I recommend looking at our lives through the arms of the embrace of God’s maternal love, as described by Hildegard.  Only from there can I (and maybe you?) safely contemplate the invitations to change and awareness and maturity and virtue that we need not attempt alone.  Spiritual formation and growth is not a western culture individual fix-yourself-up kit.  It is seeing from God’s loving view and letting it open us to repentance, and to unending mercy.

It heartens me that Pope Francis’ underlying orientation seems to be toward speaking to our age of mercy. His motto – “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen – tells us how he sees himself, and invites us to the same self-seeing.  We are lowly.  We are chosen.  We are seen.  We are given mercy over and over, flowing from love.

At the local YMCA, regulars speak about how crazy the locker room area is in January.  “But, no worries, it’s just the New Year’s crowd,” quickly follows.  “They’ll be gone soon.”  Cynical?  Maybe.  Often accurate to some degree.  And it makes me wonder.

Can our thinking about the New Year be rooted in what Hildegard offers us in looking at the Incarnation Mystery?  As we rest still by that manger and listen, perhaps we find our rootedness (stable-ity?) in recollecting the fountain-fullness of God’s love which is our help always, and is gentle and profound.  Any ‘resolution’ might best find root first in re-knowing (yes, re-collecting!) over and over, through practice, the truth of this vision.  We might then be open to a mercy that opens us up to repentance.

Check out these words from Wikipedia on the etymology of repentance/to repent (bold, mine) :

“In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.

Be with the Holy Family, be with the maternal love of God, be with the baby Jesus, know the love that is the help in all our peril — and THEN see what the ‘after thought’ might be.  For some of us, the being with may prove to be the best and most important first step.  And telling others of this love, a joyful evangelization.  And living it, service and justice.  And change may then be more than a January “till we run out of steam” event. It’s not our steam.  Our fuel, our food, is the manger, where we feed.  It continues in the Eucharist we share. Be fed, and move to after thought, repentance, metanoia only motivated by love.  By Love.

Happy New Year’s Eve!


Categories: Change, Christmas, Mystics, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being with the Mystery in the Manger: “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

SAMSUNGThese days call for ways to be with the Mystery in the manger, and you’ll find here some words and wisdom (through Epiphany, Jan. 5th, 2014).

This call to presence invites us to open our own eyes and heart to this Child and his family, to the visitors and travelers, to song and embrace, to all this season in holy night and early days, in incarnation flesh, and vulnerability holds.  It asks us to harken to this Word, this Proclamation, this Love, definitively present and spoken directly to our world, to creation, and to each of us each and all of us.

Still, these gifts offered here from others’ reflecting may help us travel the distance into our own silence to encounter.  So, shhhh… let us… See. Listen. Treasure. Ponder. Hold and be held. And then be still. And perhaps be moved to worship. To song. To poetry. To service. To sharing. I’ll meet you there.  Rejoicing!

For our initial reflection then, a poem from Madeleine L’Engle, found in A Cry Like a Bell.

First Coming 

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

While We Know Joy, God Discovers Tears: WITH-ness this Lent

In a stable Mary holds her infant son, and wonders at his crying.  The story tells of shepherds, of wise men/kings, of angels and Glorias, the Star, and of celebrating on the part of all the human witnesses.  And Jesus cries, as all babes do – and Mary must have listened – aware of her son, aware of this son – and pondered the mystery.  God takes on human flesh.   “Mary… is stunned at what the exchange is meaning: while [man] is getting to know joy, God is discovering tears.” *

What has this to do with Lent?  It’s the Christmas story.  But we know that incarnation and self-donation and presence and cross and resurrection are all of a piece.  As one Advent hymn lyrically captures 2 Corinthians 8:  “He became poor, that we might be rich: Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone”.  God’s great desire to be one with us creates the salvation we so long for, and the way home.  God’s desire for us and this salvation are quite literally way and truth and life to us in the here and now.  God, willing to enter tears and joy and all humanity, redefines love.  With Gospel eyes, we can’t miss this love in Jesus.  If only we take off our too-familiar-with-the-stories presuppositions and perspectives.  This is where seeing like children (as Jesus often encourages), with fresh wonder, is essential. 

What if we ask to have the scales fall from our older eyes so that we might truly see the following? 

Faith means literally to set one’s heart by (as has been explored in pre-Lent posts): and we are not the only or the first ones to set our hearts.  God is faithfulness, God doesn’t do faithfulness.  God’s heart is always being set.  In Trinity, we know the Father, Son and Spirit set their hearts on one another and pour out all unceasingly.  This Trinitarian God desires the same kind of communion with us.  It is God, therefore, who “faiths” first: God sets God’s heart on us!  God believes in us.  Why?  That question makes no sense to love, which needs no reason – it is in essence always free. 

God enters all of our reality to save us from the inside out.  WITH is then not only Emmanuel’s translation (God is with us), but our greatest peace.  We are never ever alone, whatever our circumstances and the feelings and thoughts that connect with them.  We can, in trust, cast all our cares on God who cares for us (1 Peter 5).  Why?  Again, because our very identity is found in being God’s Beloved Ones who have God WITH, always:  a loving, humble God who finds it delightful to accompany us at every moment of our journey. 

This Lent, perhaps what bears reflection is this WITH-ness of God, who always sets his heart first on us.  All we do is response and grace.  In response, you and I who know ourselves as desired disciples can follow the One – Jesus.  He showed us what love really is in his WITH-ness with us.  This Lent, we can practice and claim more as our own the disciple’s discipline of WITH-ness too.  God’s WITH-ness, born of love, is witness to us!  🙂 

When you and I practice WITH, we have come in church documents to call it solidarity  – a presence with another or others that is acting according to our connection one with each other.  It is a living in response to the fact that we are all one community, one body, one communion.  There is a special quality of God’s presence to us, as seen in the life of Jesus, that we might practice most deliberately in our own circumstances this Lent. 

Let me describe it with an image.  If my arm hurts, as it has the last few days, the rest of me is compensating.  I make adjustments, reach and twist and sleep and even walk differently.  Something has been pulled and needs perhaps rest, perhaps good stretching.  I am mindful of it. 

In the Gospels we see that Jesus walked among hills, near the sea, in villages and through crowds.  And his attention was often drawn to the “hurting limb”:  the paralytic lifted through the ceiling, the blind man on the side of the road, the woman with a long debilitating hemmorhage, the lepers who knew no home, the bent over woman living on the edges of the temple, the widow who had lost her son, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, the sinner, the poor.  As naturally as my attention goes to my arm due to its soreness, Jesus was drawn to be especially WITH individuals most in need.   

We learn from Jesus’ living that God delights in being WITH all of us, but particularly chooses to be WITH those of us, and those parts of us, most hurting – whether that hurt is seen by others or not.  Since such vulnerability merits God’s special presence and nurturing, healing attention; it merits ours.  Is this the preferential option for whoever is poor?  Perhaps.  And why wouldn’t we want to be WITH in love in the same way the One who saves us shows us?  The way the One who loves us has and is WITH us. 

Therese of Lisieux said at the end of her life that she would spend heaven doing good upon the earth.  She had great desire for other souls’ good during her life, and she wished to keep up this work after her death.  In this, she was very interested in the same things that interest her Love, the One who desired and saved her and was WITH her.  But this was a way she grew into.  She, more than many, told us through her autobiography of her struggles to look beyond herself to be servant and companion to those she found difficult.  Her ‘little sacrifices’ were nothing other than disciplines that helped her get out from her own thinking about her and into the ability to be WITH the other.  She did not assume she knew the heart of another, nor did she need to.  She simply served and chose the discipline to see the other and act in gentleness and compassion, with much prayer, and in small ways, as she could.  These small disciplines, her “little way”, changed her, shaping her desires.  We call her saint.  More importantly, they were expressions of love in the same pattern as Jesus’ love, and so they were life-giving to the other.     

The being present to the part of the body that hurts, to the person who annoys, to the challenge that discomforts us – these are not easy things.  In each of our lives these movements may be expressed differently (and different days offer different opportunities – even different hours or moments!).  But what if you and I attempted to do this to be united with a loving, desiring God who wants all to know joy?  What if we practiced choosing in moments a union with a God who chooses to discover tears in entering humanity — and will choose so much more of our limits and struggles too? 

This is not an invitation to beat ourselves up over our own struggles to love.  Practicing makes perfect.  It’s about bringing a willingness and a hope to be WITH, and trusting grace to help us see and act bit by bit.  It is an invitation to plant small seeds, to follow little ways (like Therese), to see with Gospel fresh eyes, and to count on God’s mercy to help us as we depend on others to support our growing too.

What of acting for the hurting this Lent in some way?  Political action on behalf of the vulnerable?  Looking out for children without sufficient adult support in your circle?  Serving the homeless, or the out of work neighbor, with kindness and respect as well as physical support?  Volunteering at a hotline?  Training with your pet to visit the elderly?  Planting flowers for an elderly relative or neighbor?  Being mindful of those in your circle with decreased mobility who may need driving to appointments or shopping?  Looking into the eyes with an intention of good of those we don’t know how to serve who ask for money?  Carrying granola or fruit bars in our car to give out instead of money at city street corners?  Contributing our unique skills for someone else’s good?  The HOW of this is limited only by our imaginations, let’s broaden them and brainstorm possibilities – perhaps with each other here, or with friends or family, or in small faith communities!

What we choose may not be large or take much time.  But it is a choosing to act in accord with the FACT that we are WITH others with needs in the communion of love that God establishes because we are family in him.  It may be a hospitality too to some hurting part of ourselves, and seeking the care and mercy and support and forgiveness and gentleness we need on our own journeys. 

Whatever you and I do, it is good to remember that it is not to earn or achieve some illusion of ‘now we’re being good people’.  It is as simple as my attention to my overworked arm.  It is appropriate care to a need in our family/in our communion, and we are inspired to it by the life of Jesus which expresses the love and desire of God for us. 

Let us again learn to set our hearts.  And perhaps we can pray and consider our call to be faithful as God is faithful.  In this is a living in our true identity, not a spiritual fix-it project to be a better person this Lent. 

Let our eyes see your willing entering of our tears, O Lord.   Comfort us.  And train us as we choose to practice loving as you love, in being WITH.  Care for those most in need, O God, and make us partners in this presence that is healing and saving and life.    

 * Iaian Matthew on John of the Cross, Ballad seven in The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love: An Embrace That Shelters and Expands

It’s Valentine’s Day, and everyone speaks of love!  It seems appropriate a week out from Lent to do a little musing in this area, and it can contribute to our ongoing conversations about setting our hearts begun in the last post.   [Please note that a number of the posts from now through Easter Week will harken to that heart-setting image begun on Feb. 11th]

However you may feel about the cultural celebration of this day, and emotions and actions it may prompt, I’d ask you to come on a different adventure with me.   Let’s go camping near the beach!

I love Ocracoke Island at the southern point of North Carolina’s Outer Banks dearly.  My father was from NC, and we always went there for vacation.  Once his mother died (a wonderful matriarch – Grandma Minnie!), we started camping on the way to seeing family.  Ocracoke Island is approximately 12-15 miles long and 1/2-1 mile wide.  The sun rises over the ocean and sets over the sound!  The National Seashore campground there is just over the dunes from the ocean, and you hear the waves all the time.  It’s a very important home place for me. 

As an adult I went back on my own for the first time in my twenties with a small pup tent that billowed into a great green and yellow balloon when I tried to put it up, and my mixed collie/golden retriever Beau sat on the picnic table and doggie-grinned/laughed at me.   I got so frustrated and then laughed at myself for taking myself and the task so seriously.  The trips to Ocracoke which I still make bring me back to myself and to what is most important.

Perhaps you too have places to which you go which remind you of who you most are and what’s most important.  They provide shelter and safety, the space to enter into the place where you already dwell, and only then gentle firm reminders of where you may need to adjust to live from here more in your everyday.  I value those places and spaces and relationships highly, and I wager you do too.  Still, they take a bit of courage to enter entirely and willingly.

Inevitably, a night or two when I am in Ocracoke, the sky is clear and black beyond any blackness seen near city or town.  I wrap up in sweats and socks and mosquito proof wear (I hope) and throw a large beach towel down on an empty picnic table at a nearby site and lay looking at the utter blackness as the amazing whiteness of stars arrive, with some occasional almost star cloud looking areas.  (Galaxies? I find less need to name them, and more just to honor them by seeing them).  The sheer number of white pinpoints bright and brighter amazes me and broadens me.  I am caught up, from my picnic table, in an amazement at the beauty and abundance, even while I live in the practical of batting away any mosquitoes!   I do not find it an uncomfortable experience of my relative smallness next to the immense – but a freeing participation in the dance as who and where I am.  I stay as long as I can.

I love the beach, and I am always broadened by the expanse of ocean and sand.  Still, I’m not as interested in lying tanning on the beach as I am lying being stretched on my night star watch.  On nights when there are less stars and even some clouds, I still watch some.  And in my tent, I look out through the windows at the night sky, and fall asleep as if I were a small child resting on the night’s sweet breast.  I come home.

Back at home, I cannot see the stars as well.  And I forget to look every night.  But I still have echoes of those nights, and recognize the taste of the same sheltering or being spoken to when I see the first robin of spring (soon, I hope!), when I watch the daffodils begin to peak up (now, already!), when I smell fresh cut grass, when I hear my mother laugh, when I read scripture, when I pray with beautiful images, when I encounter a friend-saint’s words and journey, when I gather around the table with other pilgrims in worship and oneness, when I find deep silence, when I encounter another’s gifts and vulnerabilities, when I play with words and create, when music speaks or soothes, when I stand in the sun or allow myself to get soaked in the rain. 

Being loved, in my experience, feels alot like finding home.  And at home there is an embrace that is shelter and the invitation to broaden or expand.  Teresa of Avila spoke in prayer the words of the psalm asking God to dilate her heart (some translations – to open my docile heart).  I believe God, who is Love, does indeeed shelter us and broaden and open us.  And we desperately need both.

As we are a week away from Lent’s beginning, it seems to me that before you and I dwell on how we can better set our hearts, it is appropriate to remember what is most important – and who we most are, in God.  We need to find the places, the spaces, the moments, the experiences that help us enter our own hearts so that we can be touched there.  Before we focus on setting our hearts, we do well to sink down into them to see where we are, in peace.  So, some questions for the next few days until we meet here again 😉 

  • Where can I go, what can I open my eyes to see, which will bring me back to my heart?
  • With what words or images or experiences in creation can I dwell with that always seem to center me?
  • Will I choose to be with some of those in order to come back to my own heart as a starting point before Lent? 
  • What fears do I have about coming back to here, to my heart, to my life?  And can I feel and recognize them for 5-minutes in all their fullness and then go to my heart anyway, asking grace and peace?  (Courage – couer-age – is not lack of fear, but acting and stepping regardless.  Shift often happens after a move, rather than before.)
  • Will I allow myself to simply BE at home, at heart (on the picnic table looking up at the night sky doing nothing but seeing)? 
  • What thoughts get in the way?  And can the sojourner-pilgrim you gently shush them, embrace the part of you that panics or is restless like a child on your lap, and continue to just be?
  • Can I breathe and take the metaphorical elevator down, floor by floor, until I reach a stillness and a quietness?

Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, God.  So St. Augustine told us in his Confessions.  Happily, our God seems to love to take part in calming us so that we eventually may rest – we don’t even have to do that all on our own!  If we find ourselves beside ourselves, so to speak, we are not there alone.  We say where we are, ask what we need, live the next moment, expect God will help, and look to see how and where.  We must be available and awake to experience the Love that is all around us.  And then, whether our emotions register it or not (emotions are fickle things!), we can wonder at what shows up as we ‘see’.  

So, imagine looking into a beautiful black night sky with me.  In silence, find yourself looked upon by the stars as you look at them.  Experience shelter, experience the invitations to be broader and wider and more expansive.  And know that these are two important elements of Love, and specifically intimate invitations to your own heart by the one who particularly LOVES you.   

A colleague-friend’s Facebook status today wished that each person who read it would experience God’s head over heels love for her, for him, particularly this day.  I wrote back, “Thanks!”  A lovely moment of confirmation, seeing – prompted by the seeing and journey of a friend.  May you too, this Valentine’s Day, find places and spaces to encounter at heart the LOVE who embraces you – who shelters you, who expands you.  And may you do nothing more than receive – for being a good gift-receiver is a great act of THANKS to the Lover-par-excellence!

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You Gotta Be Who You Is

“You gotta be who you is, and not who you ain’t!”  said an old gentleman living in the Deep South, with a deep rumbling laugh.  “Because if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.  And that ain’t good.” 

These words recently appeared in an article by William Barry, SJ in Presence (quoting a homilist, John Kerdiejus).  I love them!  And I can imagine this old gentleman, can’t you?  Go, Deep South! 

The human journey, the spiritual journey, and every form of companioning of others from spiritual direction to coaching to mentoring to counseling – these all seem to be about fostering a faithfulness to our unique and true identity as we uncover it more and more fully, created as “God’s work of art” (Eph. 2:10, NJB). 

Intended to be, we are.  And when we ain’t what we are, we’re not.  Whatever we is, is.  So much of life is about coming around to the place where we can live from and in truth, and relax in what is.  For some, what has impacted the artwork of our lives is difficult or painful.  For most, we don’t understand significant things.  For all, our view of the whole is limited.  We know so little, and aspire to know so much.  We are like one small leaf on a redwood trying to understand all the varieties of plant life here throughout history and perhaps anywhere throughout the yet uncharted universe.  The leaf does better finding out about plant life by being the part of the plant life it is…  humble, yet amazingly beautiful – reflecting the macro in the micro.  Whatever is our is, our truth is deeper than our experiences and our wounds and our joys.  We are, and we are mystery with a touch of magic!  Stardust!

And we are pilgrims on the way home.  And we do best inhabiting our own bodies, lives and pilgrimages.

The Celts speak of thin places – places between here and the reality beyond and within the reality.  They are mystic places where there is a sense of the deepness and vividness of all levels of life.  It reminds me of some of C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of Narnia, particularly in the last book, The Last Battle.  There is a traveling “further up and further in” that the Narnian characters and the English children experience, and a beautiful vividness to the world apparent.  These places and experiences help us get a whiff of the mystery of our truest created selves.  We do well to cultivate the practices that bring us to recognize places like these on our lives’ pilgrimages.

I wonder if in your and my human wanderings we don’t catch a periodic scent of something we recognize to be simultaneously where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  We feel a passing sense of HOME in a way deeper that we can well describe.  We experience moments when we know that we are “fearfully, wonderfully made” (Ps. 139), and that our being is stretching and kicking and expanding and growing (like the child in the womb of the same psalm!).  And though life brings so many many questions, living in response to these moments of truth about our deepest identity is the way we safely travel.

‘Cause it “ain’t good” if you ain’t who you is. 

In this, the advice in the Gospel of Matthew to look to the birds or the flowers informs me.  The scriptural segment is often headed ‘depending on God’s providence’ – God’s particular care for us.  Today I sat by a pond at a retreat center watching the water run over the rocks, enjoying beautiful small purple flowers (purple is my favorite color!), seeing white butterflies, and listening to insect song.  All of nature just wonderfully was what it was – and each part and the whole was beauty.  And we are invited to remember.  Aren’t we much more than the sparrows or the lilies?  Are we not created beauties, wonderful not because of what we do or don’t do, but because we are first loved and absolutely intended, and utterly cherished and clothed? 

If who we is is a remembering of this sense of who we are, then our remembering is a song of praise to the Creator who delighted in dancing us forth.  And in knowing who we is, we can help and invite others to remember who they are, so they can be who they are and not who they aren’t!   Conversely, how miserable we all are in the busy conniving to be what we are not – which leads us to be nothing!

So, what will help you, help me, help all of us on the human pilgrimage right now to be who we is?  And how do we get unstuck from what keeps us from such truth, such honesty?  What are we afraid of…   what do we resist…  and do we seek the help we need on the journey?  Are there actions that can increase our attentiveness to now?  And how do we assist others, while we continue to live more deeply and true-ly ourselves? 

For wouldn’t it be wonderful to relax in the truth of who you is as God’s work of art, and spend less on any complicated machinations?   And wouldn’t it be wonderful to relax with our community of worldwide companions as they too live not to prove or to get to or to claim or overpower, but to be.

I hope the human community as a whole can better be faithful to who we is…  and live that way, in love.

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BLESSED are You!

Today I read these words in scripture  – “Blessed are you” – and thought – STOP THERE! 

So often, it seems to me, we read this phrase and look for the rest of the sentence.  Blessed are you because….  you did something right.  Blessed are you when….  you are mourning, weak, meek, poor, hungry, thirsty.  Blessed are you because…  you are virtuous, obedient, thankful, successful, faithful, good-hearted, just, merciful, caring, praiseworthy, a person of integrity.  Of course many of these are straight out of scripture, and most of the others hold a little or a lot of truth.  The problem comes when you and I look to the second part of the sentences above as the way we can go about seeking to achieve the first part of the sentence, and make of life our compulsive construction kit in order to be truly named Blessed. 

Okay, roll my sleeves up!  Let me go be really thankful today and I will receive blessings.  Let me accept my weakness or poverty, and God will bless me.  Hey, even some of this is absolutely true.  But how arrogant to think that BLESSING depends on me.  My humanity doesn’t.  My body’s creation doesn’t.  My being here didn’t.  Like all of these, “BLESSED are YOU” is simply who you are and where you are.

I wonder how you and I would live differently if we truly heard this phrase.  BLESSED are YOU!

HARK:  Our Trinitarian God – the Creator of All, the Divine Presence, God who is Father and Mother, Jesus who walked and walks with us in our human experience – companioning and healing and rescuing and mentoring and teaching us, or the Spirit who dwells within and around and reminds us of all we have been taught and prays with and for and in us – this God says to you, BLESSED are YOU. 

BLESSED is our identity, not an occasional descriptor.  Why?  Simply because God chooses in the great love God is, to bless us.  We are the BLESSED ones, the Beloved ones.  What a difference if we sit with this, hear it, taste it, see it, look for evidence of it in our daily lives where God loves to show up with special gifts, if we will only notice.  This does not mean that we are the center of the universe… but that God delights in loving us, and comes in ways and through images and words and symbols and moments to each of us. 

For me, any yellow rose I see yells, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”.  I see robins, and I hear, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”   The connection and love in my mother’s eyes says, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”  The grace of being with another says, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”  The familiar creative tug as images and words play in my heart and head says, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”   Hearing the words of Celtic and Carmelite and Franciscan saints and how they feed me whispers, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”  The wind in the leaves and the way I am captured by the ocean say, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”  The ground my feet touches vibrates with, “Blessed are you, Joanne!”  I am supremely blessed – and I mean to enjoy it!  What better way to live, and to compliment and be thankful to the giver who keeps on giving, the lover who keeps on loving unendingly!  🙂

May you know the BLESSING you are, this day.  May you relax in being just you, just blessed.  May you see all around you God’s myriad messages that assure you that this is your identity.  And as you go about doing the good and resisting what moves away from good, may you know you do that too from the strength of an identity that is already yours.  Whatever joys and failures today may hold, your Blessedness is not at stake.  Lean on it, draw from it, and pass on the word.

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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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