Martha & Mary: Portraits of Discipleship

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Personally, I have always been able to identify strongly with the personality and perspective of Martha. Ingrained with a strong work ethic and desire to serve, I have been often called and always quick to step forward. Discernment and ample grace have even helped me to see how best to use my gifts to help others.  Yet, with a “Martha” disposition there can also be a temptation to frustration and jump to judgement of those not working.  Likewise while true that “many hands make light work”,  not all are being called to serve at that time.

Two different but essential illustrations of what it is to follow Christ in our daily lives are given here. An inner awareness and desire to seek to simply be with Christ as well as an outer response of that encounter with Christ provides a balanced portrait of what a full life in Christ entails. For how can we serve fully without time and prayer spent at the feet of Jesus? Without our labor being sourced and steeped in love from the One who is love itself? This is the better part that Jesus speaks of- that continual respite and turning of our hearts to God and the journey he has intended. Pulled by the pace of the day and the weight and concerns of life we may have found that we have wandered far away.

Becoming Mary

With a quick cup of coffee, light breakfast and short reflection I pause as I head out the door. Having tended to the most immediate needs of my family, I recognize all of the others things that were left undone. Laundry that needs to be folded, homework that needs supervision, and errands to be run. Very easily I could (as before) allow these loose ends to consume my thoughts and keep me from becoming Mary. What then is the difference in today? Simply, I have chosen in this moment to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen in silence. An appreciation that though the world is moving swiftly my soul is not. As the sunlight streams through my window and the trees sway in the breeze I am in utter awe for the beauty of the day. As the rain beats upon the windshield in the grey of the day I feel refreshed again. Whatever the day might bring, it is here in the place of Mary that I find rest and am able to see God in every detail. Though broken and imperfect, I am loved and this time with my beloved is beyond measure. No longer far away , though the Eucharist I find myself ever closer- intimately sharing in the very real presence of Christ. Breaking into my day, God has confirmed that I am where I am meant to be.

Active like Martha

If our journey were to remain here, I am sure that you might agree it is a graced place to be. And still, like the disciples our path of discipleship carries us out into the world to share this love that we have received. Within our families and communities there is a hunger for love and a tendency to be fed by everything that leaves us unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The need and work ahead can seem overwhelming if we go it alone. That is just it- having spent time with our Father we know we are not alone in the work that we do. Our prayer lifted, our petitions spoken, now with Martha we step ahead. With faith in the one who is always faithful, we seek guidance and strength to be attentive to the needs of others. Following Christ is not passive, but calls forth from us a response and a challenge. Though we know through scripture that Jesus spent much time in prayer he also encountered. The lost, broken, and marginalized sought, taught and healed were not to be his alone.

 “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8

Wherever you are in your walk of Christian discipleship take time today to rediscover Mary and Martha. We have much to learn from these two close friends of Jesus, and all of the saints in discerning the path ahead.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting:Joy Stealer or Faith Grower?

Perspective they say is everything, and when we choose to look at situations with new eyes, better yet God’s eyes, we are given a real invitation to grow in faith..

Currently, in our society where individualism and our own happiness has been regarded as utmost priority there is great emphasis placed on that which makes us momentarily feel good.  We are quick  to avoid the situations that disturb our inner peace, upset out schedule and call us out of our comfort zone. Even in our relationships we grumble, resist and distance ourselves from those that are most difficult to deal with.

I pause here for an honest confession… I have chosen the path of feeling annoyed and complaining lately. Faced with a seemingly unchanging resistance from others to my own desire to be joyful,  I had decided it best to create some distance. A mini retreat of sorts, I recognized that I needed a break in order to get a bit of perspective. In taking this opportunity to go out into the “wilderness”  to spend some alone time in prayer, to reflect on what  is being asked of me I now have a better understanding of what Christ desires.

First, I realize that I cannot remain on permanent retreat from all that I feel attempts to steal my joy. Obvious exemptions would be situations that are physically or mentally abusive. Yet, what I am talking about are difficult people, or particularly trying situations that continually test my patience and call for regular forgiveness.

Case in point:

1.The “one way or no way” attitude: The phone rings and I notice the caller id. As the conversation ensues I am struck by the familiarity of the questions and topics of discussion.  Can we ever go deeper? No, not if it remains a one sided barrage of questions where there is only one answer desired. No, not if there isn’t active listening, appreciation of the other person, and a desire to have true dialogue. So, I listen and leave the discussion wondering why I spent my time in this way.

2. The “blinking red light”: Here is the person that is constantly in hot water. If the issue doesn’t involve them directly they feel it necessary to stir the waters that potentially create a tempest situation. Oh, did you have plans today? Well, this is far more important and if you weren’t concerned before..you should be by now.  So, I listen, offer advice, help where I can, and spend the day praying that they find peace.

Selfishly at times I have asked God, “Why have you placed these rocks in my path, why am I being asked to deal with stubbornness and anxiety?”

His answer, “Elizabeth because you have yet to learn the incredible lessons of love and forgiveness that I have been so desperately seeking to instill in you! Do you honestly think that you are without fault, malleable, secure in my loving plan and accepting of all that I am calling you to be?”

“No, Father… I have much to learn. Yet, I am desperately trying to understand though. Isn’t that good?”

Yes, but you cannot get comfortable with where you are- because I am asking so much more of you. Each of my children has a purpose and a journey. Sometimes this journey leads others to learn from you and other times their purpose is to challenge you to grow.

I have choices in how I encounter others. If my life isn’t rooted in love, patience, and forgiveness, how are others to truly  know Christ through me?  Moreover, our lives are meant to be proof of God’s deep call to a new life, faith that though times get difficult there is hope that our loving Father is working all for good.  This inbreaking of the Kingdom of God isn’t merely an inner journey or a futuristic promise of heaven…but it begins with me today.

Peace,

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A Doorway Into Our Souls: Praying with Teresa of Avila Part IV

What is it to experience a mystical union with God and is this only reserved for a select few?

No, as Teresa would be the first to point out, this unity and grace is available to each of us as fruits of our baptism. Yet, do we have the temperament and conditioning to sit and be still with God? Are there also external expressions to our spiritual union with God’s love to meet the challenges we see in the world today?

Led onward to the centermost dwelling place of the soul, Teresa describes a space filled with a “cloud of majestic splendor” and a beholding vision of the Trinity.[1] No longer are our senses suspended, and we come to understand “a most profound truth…that what we hold by faith, it understands, we can say, through sight”.[2] It is a perception of the presence of God always wedded within our soul, and a passion to serve our spouse faithfully.[3] Likewise, the little butterfly of our soul no longer is separate and restless, but has found its eternal rest in Christ.[4] There is awareness that whatever we do, even in daily routine, that a part of our soul, like Mary, remains at Christ’s feet. [5] Yet, there is also great humility in recognizing, the magnitude of the call to service and how minute our efforts seem to be. We come to understand, however, that in drawing our strength and joy from Christ all “fruits” of our labors are ‘pleasing and loved’ by God. [6] In this final dwelling place is where we finally discover Teresa, who began The Interior Castle at age 62, and had experienced for five years such a blessed spiritual union with Christ.[7]

While the intended audience for this text was the Carmelite sisterhood, I wonder if she ever conceived how well her experiences would later be received by those outside the walls of the convent…

That is not to say, that everyone will describe or understand this journey in quite the same way.  For, The Interior Castle is Teresa’s own “lived experience of faith” [8], a journey towards the mystery of the Trinity, revealed in Jesus and communicated within her very soul.[9] Yet, there is promise that through prayer and openness to God within that one can be transformed in Christ and that union is possible for those that are attentive to hearing God’s call. Teresa entreats us not to stand outside ourselves, but to be open and seek God deep within our “spiritual core”[10] Further, we are summoned to be attentive to the path of prayer and humility that leads to that “ultimate reality” of spiritual union with our Triune God.[11] For, it is through our trials that we are humbled, come to understand the suffering of Christ, and in times of dryness to desire to be near God all the more.

There is much consolation here in knowing that while Jesus suffered so greatly, that our own need for healing, and reconciliation is completely understood.

One of my most profound experiences of this came through the witness of our youth and their encounter with the Blessed Sacrament at conference one summer. As the Blessed Sacrament processed slowly, up and down the walkways of the convocation center, thousands of hands reached towards Him, as tears of contrition and joy flowed. Afterwards, our own group of girls resolutely committed themselves to reconciliation, despite the long lines, and the certainty of missing dinner. So, we sat in quiet fellowship together, thoroughly enjoying our bagged dinners, and preparing for that closeness with Christ again.  Likewise, it is in these moments of intimacy, peace, and joy that we also come to understand the desire to greatly live lives of service, “cry out and spread the news abroad about who this great God of hosts is”. [12]

Thus, Teresa’s journey reemphasizes that while there is an essential inner component to spiritual development that we cannot dwell only in the mystical. For, our lives were intended to give honor and praise to God by “striving to be the least and the slaves of all, looking at how and where you can please and serve” others.[13] This highlights Teresa’s dynamic discourse on humility and passion in understanding ourselves in ministry and in the midst of everyday realities. God’s magnificence and love shown through our suffering Lord leads us to humility, not just contrition, but in serving with passion the “great God who created our soul in His own image and likeness”.[14] So often I feel that spiritually we find difficulty reconciling humility and passion in our own lives, yet that is exactly what we witness in the life, ministry and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, we have come to know God, and of the great desire He has to draw all souls near to Him. Therefore, as Teresa beseeches let “this fire of love in you enkindle their souls, and with every other virtue you will be always awakening them”.[15]

Praise be to God, Amen.

Peace,

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[1] Avila, Teresa. The Interior Castle. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Introduction by Kieran Kavanaugh. Preface by Raimundo Panikkar. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. p.175.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 179.
[5] Ibid., p. 176.
[6] Ibid., pp. 181,195.
[7] Kavanaugh, p. 16.
[8] Principe, Walter H., “Spirituality, Christian”. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Edited by Michael Downey. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993, p.932.
[9] Schneiders, Sandra M. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Edited by Michael Downey. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993, p.395.
[10] Cousins, Ewart. “Preface to the Series”, in Christian Spirituality I: Origins to the Twelfth Century. Edited by Bernard McGinn and John Meyendorf. New York: Crossroad, 1985. p. xiii).
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., p.139.
[13] Avila, p.191.
[14] Ibid., p. 196.
[15]Ibid., p. 193.

A Doorway Into Our Souls: Praying with Teresa of Avila Part III

Persevering in our journey through the Interior Castle with Teresa of Avila we reflect on the 4th dwelling place..

Finally willing to submit and surrender to God’s working within, we have recognized that the life giving water which suddenly floods our soul is a gratuitous gift. Far greater than we could have imagined, this wellspring of grace inspires, renews and strengthens us to endure with greater patience any trial to come. It is such a gift that we desire to experience this over those things which formerly brought us joy and satisfaction. With the heart we now are drawn toward the shepherd’s voice, a soft gentle whistle that invites us further inward promising peace and love.

The Fifth Dwelling Place

As we progress in our spiritual journey, Teresa observes that we are drawn further inward to a “prayer of union”[1] with God, a ‘cocoon in which we experience a brief dying of self to reemerge reborn in Christ’[2]. In doing so, our transformed soul, like a little butterfly, is “restless” in the things of this world and unable to “recognize itself”. [3] This we see clearly in Teresa’s life experience as she sought to reconcile her contemplative life with the necessary affairs of the world. She describes this experience within the fifth dwelling place as an initial trial or a cross that is carried, when all we desire is to be in union with God again[4] Still, we are humbled when we imagine the smallness of our trials in comparison with the Passion of Christ and His suffering at seeing our offenses. [5] It is here that she also begins to speak of this time in union as courting, or brief glimpses where God grants mercy so that they might get to know the other more, and ultimately desire sole union.[6]

What is it to recognize my soul’s inner transformation in the world? Does my love for God find its intrinsic connection and outer expression with the love of neighbor?

Yet, our desire for union alone is not enough, as we discover a time of still greater trials in preparation for a spiritual engagement in the sixth dwelling place. In this time, Teresa vividly describes pages from her own journey in which she faced disbelief, jealousy, fear, illness, praise and persecution, towards the intimate spiritual favors that she received.  Praise, she notes, is perhaps a greater trial since we know that all good things come from God and our soul, aware of its faults, feels completely undeserving of such favor.[7] Even so, we are given moments of merciful “sunlight” that dispel the trials and awaken us with a resounding “thunderclap” to hear His call again.[8] Thus, when God so desires he pursues further in choosing to silence our outer senses and move our soul into eruptions of ecstasy and intense awakening.[9] Our soul is swept away in the grandeur of God, privy to the mysteries of heaven, and chosen in betrothal as God’s own.[10] This experience is so profound that it leaves a certainty in our soul, deep humility in our hearts, and abundant praise on our lips for the One who has called us into such intimacy.[11] Still, Teresa realized from her own error, that we cannot remain absorbed in anticipation of rapture that we neglect contemplation of Christ and the practice of virtues.[12]

Take a moment: Have there been intense moments of sunlight, rays of mercy in my life when the trials or challenges seemed to be the greatest?   Have I experienced an awakening to God’s intimate presence within- so profoundly that I embrace the encounter, am drawn into wonder and compelled to praise?

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[1] Ibid., p. 92.
[2] Ibid., p. 93.
[3] Ibid., p. 94.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., p. 96.
[6] Ibid., p. 103.
[7] Ibid., p. 110.
[8] Ibid., pp. 113, 115.
[9] Ibid., p. 127.
[10] Ibid., pp.127-130.
[11] Ibid., p. 132.
[12] Ibid., p. 150.

A Doorway Into Our Souls: Praying with Teresa of Avila Part II

In continuation of our journey through the Interior Castle with Teresa of Avila we may find ourselves approaching the third dwelling place.

Through an initial curiosity and muddling in prayer we have heard God calling us. Rather than waiting at the door we have entered to discover the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. And in coming to know God, we begin to see ourselves both as we are as well as who we are intended to be. Desiring to know how we can ever repay the love and mercy shown to us in the course of our lives, and while failing or falling short immeasurably at times we feel beckoned to trust.

Upon entering the third dwelling, we are reminded that while we are perhaps living lives free of mortal sin and practicing acts of prayer and penance, that humility and praise remain essential. In this state, we are in need of humility to guard against both satisfaction and self-criticism, and to free ourselves from attachments to material gains of this earth.[1] While the focus still seems to be on us rather than on God, this time of reflection is needed to shed that which does not bring us true happiness.

What is it that holds me back from true freedom…from following God’s will in my life?

Can I recognize the spiritual gifts that God has given to aid me in persevering?

Souls here will find it helpful to consult a mentor or spiritual director that has passed through this room previously. Teresa had several advisors and confessors, like Diego de Cetina and Francis Borgia, that provided reassurance and guidance to keep focused on the humanity of Christ and his passion.[2] This provides a greater awareness of God’s consolations, and leads us to praise that still more is being asked of us in working towards His loving desires of peace and justice.[3]

In seeking God’s will, we are then guided to the fourth dwelling place where we discover how to rely less on the intellect in prayer, to achieve the spiritual delights that Christ has for us. Up to this point, we have perhaps enjoyed consolations which begin with our determined prayerful meditation and end in God’s love.[4] Yet, in spiritual delights we begin with a desire “not to think much but to love much…. to please God in everything, and in striving, insofar as possible, not to offend him”.[5] Thus, the source of spiritual delights begins and ends in God’s love, as an abundant stream “deep within us” that “swells and expands our whole interior being producing ineffable blessings”.[6] While aware and attentive now to this experience of being in the wake of God’s love, we cannot choose when or how it occurs.[7] We therefore, should not seek these delights but rather humbly surrender our intellect to God’s voice within, to accept these gifts as God sees fit to bestow them.[8]

Am I open today to being surprised by God’s love and consolations?

Peace,

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[1] Avila, p. 60-61
[2] New Catholic Encyclopedia, pp. 827-828
[3] Avila, pp. 64-65.
[4] Ibid., p. 69.
[5] Ibid., p. 70.
[6] Ibid., p. 75.
[7] Ibid. p. 79.
[8] Ibid., pp. 78, 81.

A Doorway into Our Souls: Praying with St. Teresa of Avila

Who is this saint, you ask? What does a young 16th Carmelite nun still have to teach us..or better yet, what have we left to learn?
Yearn to take an inner pilgrimage, or encounter God in a life changing way? Then, I invite you to join my friend and companion, saint and mystic Teresa of Avila for a time of intimate discovery.

In a time when Spain was experiencing a profound theological and spiritual dialogue of cultures, religions and ideas,Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born.[1] The granddaughter of Jewish merchants, and daughter of new Christian Spanish nobility, Teresa is said to have taken to the piety of Christianity with both passion and humility.  A passion witnessed early, in her readiness at age seven, to leave home to decisively embrace a beheading for Christ by the Moors.[2] Likewise, Teresa possessed a humility illustrated in an awareness of humbler Jewish origins, as a women in a patriarchal society, and ultimately in her place before God.[3] Therefore, at age 12 when her mother died, we see a turning point as she was placed in the care of Augustinian nuns and drawn to an educated life of pious contemplation. Inspired by the writings of St. Jerome, and disillusioned at the prospect of married life for women in her time, Teresa decided to enter the religious vocation with the Carmelites at age 21.[4]

However, it wasn’t until Teresa faced a sudden illness that she became aware of the practice of contemplative prayer and recollection as a source of strength. Still, Teresa faced a time of 18 years of spiritual dryness in which she found herself “unable to integrate her relationships with the world and with God”. [5] Teresa struggled both to incorporate a practice of mental prayer, and to explain her mystic visions to an often unbelieving world.[6] This as she encountered a conversion of heart and mind toward that of “the sorely wounded Christ” and began to embrace the “vivid experience of God’s presence within her”.[7]

An Interior Castle: 1st and 2nd dwelling places…

Awakened by the divine mercy of Christ to a call to an intensely loving friendship, Teresa began to understand all prayer must begin and end in Christ. Prayer then is seen as a “door that opens up to the mystery of God and at the same time a means of communing with Him”.[8] This door is entry to one’s soul, of a beautiful crystal design with many rooms, much like heaven, where God also resides in its center.[9] Passage through the rooms of this castle is illustrative of one’s spiritual life and openness to God’s grace and action. In the first of seven dwelling places, Teresa describes it as a room of self knowledge and awareness to grace and the effects of sin. Through prayer, recollection, and in humility we begin to recognize both God’s majesty and the fruitlessness of our own efforts.

In the second of these dwelling places, are rooms filled with people, books, sermons, and even memories of our trials that allow us to reflect on God and His will for our lives.[10] Despite the assiduousness of evil at work here to turn us backward, the cross becomes our weapon and determination our path.[11] Teresa advises that should we “at times fall, don’t be discouraged and stop trying to advance….For even from this fall, God will draw out good”.[12] This is something that Teresa knew well, having mistakenly given up prayer for a time, only to find a greater renewed strength and resolute trust in Christ .[13]

In The Interior Castle, I too am drawn through the open door of prayer to greater self awareness, and in intimately encountering God at work within our very soul.  In beginning prayer, Teresa observes how we often advise God as to what we need when, “He can rightly tell us that we don’t know what we are asking for” [14]. I have discovered this release of control of my life and inner soul to God so essential in my own faith journey. Here trust, release, and recollection have provided a means to inner peace when my mind is engaged with the certainty of an uncertain world.

Interested in the sequel? Tune in during the next few weeks as we travel through each of the remaining 5 dwelling places culminating in St. Teresa’s blessed union in Christ.

You can also find additional posts on Teresa of Avila and Carmelite Spirituality at Contemplative Homeschool by Connie Rossini.

Peace,

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[1] Avila, Teresa. The Interior Castle. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Introduction by Kieran Kavanaugh. Preface by Raimundo Panikkar. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. (p. xiv.)
[2] New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., s.v. “Teresa of Avila, St.” by O. Steggink, and S. V. Ramge. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2003. 826-830.http://go.galegroup.com (accessed Oct. 9 2013). p.827
[3] Howe, Elizabeth Theresa. Education and Women in the Early Modern Hispanic World. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2008.p. 60.
[4] Ibid., pp. 62-63.
[5] Kieran Kavanaugh, Introduction, The Interior Castle, p. 2.
[6] Ibid., p. 3.
[7] New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 827.
[8] Kavanaugh, p. 21.
[9] Avila, p. 35.
[10] Ibid, p.49.
[11] Ibid, p. 51.
[12] Ibid., p. 52.
[13] Kavanaugh, pp. 2-3.
[14]Avila, p.52

My Grandmother’s Garden: Roots of Faith

Summer is that time that so often brings me back to my childhood. With bare feet in the grass, the sun on my face, and the small quiet hum of the bees I am instantly transported to those quiet reflective moments with God. Many of my earliest memories are replete with these instances where I am drawn into conversation and contemplation, simply by being open to listen and ready to praise. Though I would beg to visit my grandma whenever I could, our time in the summer was especially unhurried and particularly memorable. Perhaps this was in part because my mother was usually either teaching summer school or taking professional development herself and it was just the two of us. Yet, more so because there were no real demands upon either of us but the invitation to simply enjoy one another’s time together.

Effortlessly, my grandma witnessed her own love and commitment to making space for prayer and devotion to God in everything she did.  This began early in the morning while the dew was still on the roses, and the birds could be heard softly chiming, “Get up, and greet this new day that God has given!” There were no other alarm clocks in her house, and I remember thinking that this must be what heaven was like. While she began breakfast, I was given a long sleeved shirt, gloves and a few small baskets to carry outside to hold the treasure of blackberries for the day. As my sometimes sandaled feet brushed against the dewy blades of grass, and the sparrows called out to one another, I realized that I could go no further. With eyes closed, and a content peaceful smile on my face, I felt privileged to be among these first harbingers of the day.

“God thank you for inviting me today to share in this unbelievably beautiful beginning, and to know that your newness is always available. What you have provided for creation, you have allotted for me too!”

Berry after berry, small, large, dark and plump, my basket soon filled and I would joyfully find myself in gratitude for this great harvest. Alone these were delicious enough, but if I was truly lucky my grandma would take a few to bake in a pie. Here I glimpsed the joy of work, singing hymns and chatting as we rolled the cold buttery dough out upon the marble.  Prayer for my Grandma was not regulated to any particular time or activity, but permeated every motion and second of each day.

 
Then, while waiting for the pie to cool, my eyes would soon spy the rope swing under the giant Mimosa tree in garden. This rugged notched plank of wood was my cherished seat under an umbrella of pink airy flowers and sprawling fern like branches. The higher I swung the more exhilarating I felt till I thought my toes would indeed touch the clouds.  Then just like that, I would stop to feel the air rushing past me and the stillness of my heart, breathing in the peace that suddenly seemed to envelope me.

“God you are there in the busy excitement of life, and as we are called to slow down to feel your undeniable presence”.

 

Nighttime, beckoned and I gleefully climbed under the covers in the bedroom adjoining the garden, surrounded on three sides by windows. Atop this goose down mattress, with moonlight streaming in all around, I would fall asleep to the sound of the crickets and my evening prayers.

“Father, how thankful I am that you created this incredibly infinite universe for us to enjoy. Start to finish you have reminded me throughout my day that you are with me. From the first morning rays to the stars that look down on me, I am part of your divine creation. Help me to shine your light and love in all that I do. Help me to be a good steward of your gifts that you have so graciously entrusted to me. Thank you, dear heavenly father for my Grandma who has shown me all of this in her love of you.”

Peace,

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Praying: Kataphatic or Apophatic?

How do you pray? Do you find your prayer overflowing with images, thoughts and conversations or instead find yourself wrapped in silence surrounded by God’s awe inspiring presence? While at various times we may find ourselves practicing both of these, understanding the shape your prayer takes helps us to simply understand how we personally connect with God.

The first form of prayer, kataphatic, is my own prevailing mode of prayer. At times our prayer begins in seeking God, in a desire to feel the immanence and closeness of God when our mind seems busied with the affairs of this world. In these moments, as I reflect on the presence, ministry and Passion of Jesus, as Word revealed, I recognize that I am being beckoned closer. In an instant, behind closed eyes, I am enveloped by the sights, sounds and scripture intended to speak to my heart. Aware of my own transgressions and surrendering, I find myself humbled by the love and grace so undeservedly but gratuitously given. A beautiful intimate conversation ensues, an exchange of wills- that of mine for His and a resolve to change.

While other times our prayer can be an exercise of self emptying and centering (apophatic), as Christ in the desert, in a desire to rest solely in God’s presence. Using a simple centering prayer, perhaps one word only, we can become immediately aware that there is no need to seek God for he is already here beside, within, and all around. Here, in this moment, we feel that images are incomplete for the magnificence of God simply transcends everything that we have ever known! Not an end but a beginning, in our seeking to understand God further, we realize that whatever our perceptions of God are that the Divine Other is so much more! Here we find a quiet contemplative aspect of our prayer whereby we are drawn into indescribable amazement at the mystery of God. When words are few, “How great Thou art!” sums it up pretty well.

On a very personal note, growing up without an earthly father figure in my life, I have often visualized Jesus welcoming me as a child to come and just “be” near to him. Amidst fields of tall grass, on a warm summer day and a light stirring breeze there is peace and joy. More than anything I could have ever asked for, this relationship has taken away the painful loss that I believe otherwise would’ve felt incapacitating. As an adult, I still experience this joyful purely childlike prayer, most often in those moments when God understands that I am most in need of a Father. And yet I find that as I have grown older so too have my conversations with Christ. In the desire for greater understanding, and the fullness of the gift that God has given through Christ, our responsibilities as a disciple continue to grow.

In a beautiful affective way, our experience of God’s love from both modes of prayer can be felt so strongly, that it seemingly overflows out from our prayer to praise for God and others. For through our daily activities, we are continuously invited to recognize God’s creative handiwork in the world around us, and celebrate its discovery in those we encounter. It’s a visible joy that sparks others to notice and ask, “So, what made you so smiley today?” It’s a deep sense of compassion that calls us to extend that love and mercy to those most in need. Be careful though, you’ll find its authenticity contagious and truly the best witness of faith that you can ever hope to give!

 Peace,

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