Worth Revisiting: The Sound of Silence

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Couldn’t help but revisit this post this week as Friday, I go on a 5 day silent Ignation retreat at Campion Jesuit House. Truly looking forward to the sound of silence and and some much needed father-daughter time.

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

(1 KGS 19:9A; 11-12)

This reading is certainly one of my favorites from the Old Testament, not because of the thundering noise, or the overwhelming displays of nature but because of a whisper. A small nondescript sound, undetectable on one’s own, but always there over, under and amidst a world of noise and chaos. It’s presence reminds us of small everyday ways that God moves and speaks in our lives. So too is the reminder that if we do not stop to listen, get distracted by the things that vie for our attention , or fail to seek the Lord we very well miss the Almighty altogether.

Image may contain: 1 person, tree, grass, plant, outdoor and natureYesterday, I opted to bring my lunch outside to simply sit and share a few uninterrupted moments with the Lord. Like Elijah, I felt the cool breeze, and the sun on my face. I heard the birds and the children at play in the schoolyard. And, while all of this was quite beautiful and pleasing, it wasn’t where I had discovered God.Responding to an inner prompting, I closed my eyes..I quieted the sounds around me till all I could hear was silence.

Yet, this wasn’t the first time I had done so. Many years ago I had been given my 1st penance as a new convert, to go and spend some quiet time alone with God for one week. An unusual penance you say? True, I had been all ready to say a Hail Mary or an Our Father and move on along with my walk as a disciple. However, my very spiritually astute confessor recognized that surrounded by midterms, the law school exam and wedding planning what I was missing. That behind my words and sins of impatience and pride..was a need for silence.

Seemingly nothing, silence is not an absence of anything but a overwhelming abundance of a peaceful state of being. A stillness of body and soul, at rest with one’s self and the world. Unable to be at peace with one’s self or others, then an appreciation of silence will forever evade. For, silence demands a responsiveness and reciprocity to shed restlessness and concerns to simply receive what is there. This is why so many contemplative saints speak of an intimacy with God,because they had been ready to hear and respond to the whisper in their hearts.

If I may encourage,albeit challenge you- take time today to spend alone with God. It need not be a lengthy unbearable stay but a time set aside just to be open and present. What you may receive in doing so is beyond measure.

Peace,

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In Our Weakness

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

In seeking to be present and attentive to friends, family, and all those placed in our care we can at times mistakenly think that we are in control. That is, until we realize that we never were. For, under our own steam, even our own daily needs would seem insurmountable not to mention the needs of others. The reality truly is that we dislike admitting our weakness. We think, we plan, and we organize. Meanwhile, all of our striving though recognized by our heavenly Father was never meant to be ours alone.

The challenge faced in prayer might be how to pray for a specific intention or perhaps, when completely overwhelmed, how to pray at all. Yet, in these times, merely the desire to pray is enough. For while our relationship with God might in truth be a bit strained on our part, we have been given an amazing advocate! The Holy Spirit not only was with the apostles, and the helper of saints past but is there to guide and intercede for each one of us today.

In these moments of weakness, we are finally open to experience the grace that only our loving Father can give. Here we glimpse both how loving and mighty God is. And even in our perceivable strengths, we come to realize that  it is God who gifted them all. The peace that we long for can only come from our living Hope. Nothing that we do can ever create this peace in ourselves or within our community. But with God, all of our striving and yearning, in his will, may be fruitful. And better still, God uses our faults and failings too. Why? To show how great He is , and how unfathomable His love is for each of us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace to see your work in me! In my weakness, you have enabled me to do things that I never imagined possible. You have magnificently created the world and still meet the smallest concerns of those I love as if they were your only care. When I come next, Holy Spirit, feeling at a loss for words- I ask only for you meet me in my weakness.

Reflect:

Where do I feel the weakest in my life? How do I face crisis, despair, and loss? What strength and consolation have we found in the past? What hope do we have of God’s faithfulness and love in tomorrow?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Living Privilege

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privilege
noun priv·i·lege \ˈpriv-lij, ˈpri-və-\

  • : a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others

  • : a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud      (Merriam-Webster)

I grew up in a single parent home, the daughter and granddaughter of educators, not affluent but replete with love and the basic necessities of life. While I didn’t always like the food or the clothes I had, I never spent a day hungry or lacking shelter. Instilled in me was the understanding that despite the meager and lean times, there were always others who had so much less. I was indeed privileged.

One day when I was about 6, a young woman with three young children in tow approached the door of my house. I had recognized the two little toddlers clinging on her dress from the neighborhood, and had curiously wondered where they actually lived. Entering, they were unusually quiet and withdrawn not even wanting to make eye contact. Immediately  inviting them to take a seat, my mom got quickly to work. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, she had produced a fine meal from our dinner the night before. And using our best tableware she welcomed these new visitors as honored guests. The once shy faces lit up as they saw all of the food before them and boisterously became themselves once again.

Asking  me then to go and play with them for a bit, my mom sat down with their mother as she fed the infant in her arms. In hushed tones they spoke, their conversation forever remaining just between them. Packing up more food and clothing for them to carry with them, my mom reminded them that they could always return. This they did, though not staying for any great length of time. I asked my mom once why she gave, when that merely meant that we had less that week, or had given up that shirt she had just purchased with the tags still on it.

“This is what it means to love unconditionally”, she told me, “to care for others more than yourself. You may not understand this today but you and I have been blessed with the opportunity to share”.

This is the very definition of privilege and with it comes a tremendous responsibility to do all this with great love. Perhaps you do not feel that you have much to give or that others more able will step up to help. Yet, you have what only you can give…yourself. God knows your struggles, your needs and desires but he also knows your gifts. After all, he gave them to you. You see the world and ask why it all seems so troubling and unchanging- it begins with each of us to be the change in the world around us. One life at a time, every day anew. I promise that one life that will most certainly be changed is our own.

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them” – St. Teresa of Lisieux

Peace,

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In Plain Sight

 : Every Spring my mom, though teaching full time, would find an extra reserve of energy to become attentive to the details of housekeeping that winter and life had placed on the back burner. Make no mistake, however, it wasn’t just her responsibility but mine as well. Cobwebs and dust bunnies had no  recourse but to succumb to her broom, keen eye and swift hand.  What always surprised me in the course of these weeks was not the visible dirt but that which lay hidden in plain sight.

With pails of soapy water, a sponge for each of us, and a strong determination of mission we washed each wall from top to bottom. Not just once, but several times over, removing the unsightly grime that somehow had made its home on ours. And while I longed to stop at the first attempt,  to do so would simply make the dirt remaining all the more obvious. Yet, when the proper time and care was taken the work taken would reveal a well cared for home and the splendid true color of the original paint chosen.

I thought of this today in contemplating the housekeeping, as it were, of our souls. While we might easily recognize the walls that are broken or seemingly damaged beyond repair, do we see the layers of dirt and daily sin that fade the color of love that we are to reflect? Are we attentive only in confessing the obvious cracks or plaster in need of repair, or do we return time and time again to unearth the less visible sin we have accumulated?

For, much like the first pass of the soap on the wall, our awareness of the multitude of sin in our lives becomes apparent only when we begin to scratch the surface of the grime of time and habit. Too much work we say for such a small reward. Yet, this is the convincing deception of the venial sins in our lives. These small innocuous ways that we even unknowingly hide the beauty of God within, and become content to be less than what we were meant to be. If it has been some time since you have attended to this deeper spiritual housekeeping, God is ready and eager to provide the soap and water!

Reflect:

In what ways and areas do I need to attend to most in my spiritual life? What areas do I neglect? What might be revealed in tidying here that will let God’s love shine brighter in my life?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: What Truly Matters

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Can you recall a landmark moment in your life? A  time when it became suddenly visible what truly mattered, and where God was in it all? The following is one of my very own- all but a blink of God’s eyes yet a graced moment when I will forever felt held.

It was a late Spring morning in the South, ominous skies grey and overcast coupled with warm and humid conditions were the makings for the perfect storm. Locals knew the weather system well, and it wasn’t long before the tornado warnings ensued. I had never worried about these storms, not because there was nothing to worry about or because of my youth, but quite simply my mother worried enough for the both of us. Yet, that day would be different.

As students were sitting at the long adjoining tables in the school cafeteria, the alarms resounded through the halls, school, and town. Beckoned to get down beneath the little protection that we had, warnings were issued to tuck in and resist looking out the windows. That is when I saw it, just outside the huge glass window that encompassed the side wall.. An unbelievable enormous swirling combination of wind, dirt, branches, and other objects it had accumulated in its wake hovering just above the ground. There it was right before my eyes, not more than 8 feet from me, and I could not help but be both in amazement and fear.Unable to close my eyes I prayed for protection, “Lord please protect us and keep us safe from harm. Lift this tornado and carry it up and far away”.

After what seemed like an eternity, the greenish grey funnel lifted taking with it its new found treasures but leaving the middle school cafeteria building untouched. Though we breathed a quick sigh of relief, we were not out of the woods yet as there were a total of 9 funnel clouds that had formed and remained over this small town that day. Quickly, the school staff  ushered us all into the main building and into the hallway by the lockers. Deemed the safest place, we all huddled there and waited till we could leave to join our families. Beside me was a boy that I knew well, for we shared a strong Christian faith- a fact that did not go unnoticed to me that day.

Marvin, was a bright, joyful thirteen year old boy who just lit up a room whenever he entered. This was because he always carried the love of Christ with him. As we sat there, there was a brief pause and then I asked, “Marvin, I am concerned about my mother, and our families and friends..can we pray together?” “Yes..me too. Let’s pray.” And there we were- two kids praying in the hallway of a public school, oblivious that others would take notice. I still remember our prayer so clearly.

“Father, please protect us all in your loving care. Watch over our families and loved ones, and let these tornadoes pass us by. Though we would miss the things we have become attached to, it is the safety of the people we pray for today. Please take away our fear and concern and leave us with your peace. In this we pray-Amen.”

As I parted from him that day to be picked up by a neighbor of mine, I knew that God had been present in our midst. Arriving at my apartment building, I saw the devastation. No longer was there a roof but open sky in its place. Part of the roof had been hurled into the apartment of another neighbor and the rest wrapped around a lamp post. Yet where was my mother? Finally my eyes spied her,  standing solemnly inside the doorway of our apartment. To everyone’s amazement none had been injured.

Virtually everything I owned was damaged or destroyed by the winds, rain and debris. Yet, as I stood there hand in hand alongside my mother, in a pool of dirty water surrounded by the stuff in life, I realized that everything else was meaningless. I had my mother and nothing else-not the toys, the pictures, the clothes or the furniture truly mattered. Here was a recognition that God had not only answered my prayer, but of the small list of essential things in life.

With an internal prayer of gratitude I then watched as men from my community approached with tarps, tools, and provisions to cover the apartment and remove the debris. Here God was once again caring for us, this time in the shape of benevolent strangers who had stepped forward to volunteer their time and gifts for others. And while I would never see these men again, they will be forever etched in my heart.

It would be some time before I could move back into my house, but I had gained a better sense of where home truly was. It was for the moment beside my mother but always in the presence of my God. It needed no accouterments, but could be found in prayer. This was the meaning of joy in simplicity, grace through destruction and peace in crisis.  It remains for me a spiritual guidepost when I get preoccupied with the accumulation of comfort and the material things in life.

Peace,

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A Prayerful Thirst

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“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

From the outside the prayer life of a Christian, particularly those in ministry, may incorrectly be assumed perfect, and yet how could it ever be? For, if it depends wholly on us, broken and fallible as we are, alas our words and petition will always be lacking. And yet, God yearns to meet us where we are, making up for the host of imperfections and sinful ways we have become accustomed to. So then, prayer cannot begin from a self assured position of deservedness but with a humble desire to seek. There need not be a multitude of words (Matthew 6:7) or the right selection

 

Dryness in prayer

There are, however, times we cannot seem to hear God’s answer amidst the din around us, the circumstance itself or even over our own continuous cries for help. We may very well ask ourselves, just where has our heavenly Father gone? Or better still, what has been done or not done to cause Him to withdraw his favor and presence?

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray…The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.” CCC 2725

Digging Deep and Reaching Out

Remaining centered on Christ when our prayer is arid can be difficult at best.  Yet, if we do not then everything else that we do, while perhaps humanitarian, is insufficient and even fruitless for we are lacking our source for wisdom, strength and guidance. It is like a tree with a great expansive reach but very shallow roots. This tree cannot weather the storms that blow us this way and that, or seasons of dryness where showers of blessings seem scarce. Conversely, deep roots sourced in Christ guide us to where we can find new strength and grace when the world around us has changed.

When prayer is difficult..Pray More.

St. Ignatius does not provide easy words for us here and yet it is the very thing we are being asked to do. The sadness, and longing we feel is what St. Ignatius calls spiritual desolation. It can appear at times as boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration or as complete abandonment. While it is often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, for the prayer seeker it is not only an undesired course but therein can lie a fear that it may never be found again. For, intimacy in prayer is such an priceless treasure, that once experienced and lost even in the smallest way or for the shortest time is deeply missed. These are the moments we long to return to when we suddenly become aware of our distance from God or sense that we are seemingly grappling about in the dark. We cannot, however, begin to pridefully think that we were deserving through our own efforts.  And still, it is not solely the journey of the forlorn disciple as the saints too walked this arid desert path of prayer on occasion. What most assuredly is the defining factor is our resolve to trust in God’s will and perseverance in the struggle .

St. Teresa of Calcutta expressed in her private letters (Come Be My Light)  her own spiritual desert that lasted over half a century. 50 years of coming to prayer waiting to hear God’s voice yet instead experiencing silence and solitude. Many a would be follower of Christ might have considered giving up by this time. But this, as she grew to realize, would be her cross one that would help her begin to glimpse the suffering that Christ endured himself. And while his voice was quieted, God met St Teresa in the faces of the poor and marginalized in the streets of Calcutta. Her work would, as she noted, allow the graced opportunity with the daily interaction with the Christ before her.

In Ordinary Time

We can learn much from the remedy that St. Teresa exemplifies through her time of spiritual emptiness and darkness. The “light” that she would find would not be found in lofty highs of prayer but in the everyday moments of ordinary time. Time spent with a priority of making space for God through devotion with the Blessed Sacrament and the prayers of the rosary became the guide for their work and the source of strength and encouragement to continue on.

“Where will you get the joy of loving?-in the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day, He is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that adoration.”

In this meditative stillness, we may also more readily discover the invitation to better discern our own spiritual inclinations and motives. Ask yourself:

  • What is it that is occupying my head and heart space these days? Have I invited God into these instances or sought to limit his presence in my life to where I would like him to be?
  • How do I receive this time of testing? Am I seeking only that the pain be taken away or am I trusting that though I cannot see the purpose or way forward that God does?
  • Even in this time of dryness, what do I have to offer through my daily interactions with others that I perhaps have not considered before?

“Teach my heart Lord to pray as you would have me pray. Let me not seek merely the consolation and intimacy of your love. Yet knowing that you work all things for good, and according to your purpose let me rest assured in your will and presence in my life. And when I cannot feel you near and am tempted to despair, let me trust in the unseen.”

Peace,

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“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24