Worth Revisiting: The Gift of Retreat

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For the last two years, I have been given the gift of an Ignatian silent directed retreat at Campion Retreat House in Weston, MA . Just the thought of an unhurried, unscheduled day and release of self-imposed expectations is enough to fill my heart with joy. Teeming with insights and brimming with grace, my soul longs to soak up every moment and respond in gratitude.

Reciprocity

The word gift used here is a very full word as it implies not only what is received by the retreatant but what each person brings to the retreat as well.It is a reciprocal relationship, for truly you are only able to receive when you are willing to offer and surrender all.

Sucipe      ~St. Ignatius of Loyola

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

When there is response and surrender, there is an openness and an emptying, brokenness and renewal, discernment and clarity.

Silence

“In nature we find silence – the trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence. The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence. Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere—in the closing of a door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals. ”
–Mother Teresa,  At Play in God’s Creation

A weekend in pure silence..my family playfully remarked might be difficult for someone, like myself, who loved a good conversation. Yet, as the days drew nearer to retreat I was almost giddy with anticipation of this alone time with my heavenly Father. Oh how we fill our days with “noise”, and clatter our prayer with the unnecessary that it’s a wonder we hear his voice at all sometimes! Silence is, for me, not nothingness, but an absence of the commotion and turbulence we are so accustomed to.

Thus, silence came to me like a wave of His hand, gently clearing away the seemingly immovable objects I had placed in my path. And with each difficulty surrendered to His care, I could once again discern the sound of His voice calling me home to where I belong. No longer a desire to fill the space, I breathed- taking in the fresh and all encompassing movement of the Holy Spirit. Complete and resting in the grace of His presence.

“Oh God, you are my God in and through it all. My heart is free to love you and I long for nothing more”

Encounter

This experience of God is one of encounter, of discovering anew who our Creator is but also who he intends each of us to be. And since we never travel alone in our journey of faith, it is an encounter of Christ in others. While exchanging  only prayerful glances, and smiles my soul did exactly this amidst complete silence. From the elderly Jesuit priests in respite, and those preparing and serving  our meals,  to those also with me on retreat- I encountered both Christ and community.

Even still, there was one whom God especially drew me to. One evening in prayer, I heard the prompting to not sleep yet, but to gather my rosary and the young woman next door and take a rosary walk. Without questioning and gently tapping on her door, I held up my rosary and moved my fingers on the other hand to signal a walk.  Met with the biggest smile, I heard her unspoken yes. Unknowingly, she had just been praying  for a prayer group. There we were joyfully moving the beads on our rosaries and lifting one another in prayer. Every step had purpose and together we embraced the grace of community. Having explored our surroundings previously, our steps quickened as we neared Our Lady in the small grotto. Looking at one another, we couldn’t hide the pure delight and recognition that this place was special to each of us.

– “Lord, I am so overcome by your generosity. You are the answer to our prayers.You call us beyond ourselves to witness your transforming love.You lead us to walk with one another, to share the journey and see your love magnified in the lives of others.”

Perhaps you find it difficult to go away on retreat right now. If so, try to carve instead some time in your day to consider and embrace these fruits of retreat found in reciprocity, silence and encounter.

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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Worth Revisiting: We Drink From Our Own Wells

Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People. 20th Anniversary Edition. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003.

In the foreword, Henri Nouwen beautifully articulates that the premises within Gutiérrez’s book grow out of the “lived experience” (xiii b) of God’s presence in history as understood by “men and women who have devoted themselves to pastoral ministry in Latin America.” As each one of us seeks to live out our faith, we too are part of a concrete experience of God at work in the world around us. In caring for and pastorally ministering to others in our communities, we are given a glimpse of a diverse and yet unique spiritual journey.

On Spirituality

“Spirituality, Gustavo writes, is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the experience of faith” (xvi)

It is a personal encounter with God breaking into the very essence of our lives, meeting us where we are spiritually,  creating ineffable moments of transformation and continual conversion.  An understanding of spirituality, therefore, which is sourced in God’s love produces not only comfort but is itself an abundant stream of joy and blessings. This is a very important to consider, I believe, as it is quite easy to focus on the struggle and neglect to understand that there are also the experiences from the Lord of  “joy and gratitude, friendship and generosity, humility and mutual care”.(xv)

This brings me to Gutiérrez’s discussion of St. Paul’s “walking according to the Spirit, who is life and enables us to live in freedom”.(3) That while we are engaged in the journey of life in the Spirit, we do not know the bends and twists in the path ahead, but is established in the very going” of our discipleship. It is a journey that we do not travel alone, for the Spirit guides, and we travel together as an “entire people” in search of freedom and the experience of the fullness of life .In doing so we also find joy and fellowship with one another. Pope Francis speaks very eloquently to this also in encouraging us to recognize that discipleship is a journey together, and we need to reach out to one another as we engage in our call to discipleship and mission. In time and ministry with the elderly, I recognize fully the call to bring Christ and the presence of community.  The freedom we seek-from loneliness, pain, and the unknowing as we journey from this life to life eternal with God, is there. As well as the joy of holding the hand of another along the way!

Accompanying the Poor

A point that Gutiérrez makes quite clear in his writings, however is that in accompanying the poor and oppressed we cannot just tend to the spiritual needs but must actively address their material needs as well. If others are to truly “see and know Christ in and through us” then I believe we must also be attentive to feeding, clothing and caring for those “least” among us. As Gutiérrez notes there must be “unity and connection between prayer and action” and a desire to live our Christian spiritual life within the historical reality of the world (17).  Of course it may very well challenge us to examine our own consumption habits and shake us from our comfort level in the underlying structures which support inequality and injustice. Yet, we cannot fall back on the assumption that the poor will always be with us, but instead tend to the poor in front of us.Remembering  that Christ did not choose to solely dine with those considered most like him, but radically reached across the table to those whom others wanted nothing to do with.

Prayer and Action

This movement of prayer and action can take several different directions, depending on God’s guidance and your own charisms. Perhaps you are able to provide resources, or to advocate and enlist the participation of others. A close friend of mine, for instance, gathers food and needed household items for the homeless when make the transition into temporary housing. In my community alone,there are a number of organizations which seek to serve the poor- St. Vincent’s de Paul, Matthew’s Kitchen, and an Interfaith Food pantry. Homeless and families, many of which arrive at least an hour ahead of distribution, often leave expressing a renewed hope for the day ahead. Conversely, those who serve are given a profound and humble appreciation of the gift of being present to this graced moment.

God is so amazing- he constantly trumps in gift giving! Take time today for both prayer and action, embracing the Christ before you!

Peace,

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Asceticism as Spiritual Dicipline

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Is there a case  to be made for the continuing relevance of the “monastic-generated” tradition of asceticism (“spiritual training or exercise”) in Christianity beyond monastery walls to all members of the churches, particularly when it is understood comprehensively as “spiritual discipline(s)” and not narrowly as “a life of exceeding self-denial” ?

When considered amidst the everyday realities of life, I happen to believe that the practices of asceticism or spiritual disciplines take on a particular relevance for our time. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us, “Elizabeth, child of God”. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!
It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. For me, I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out a visible sigh of thankfulness!
As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time, why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?
This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world. These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is for the kingdom of God. How can we say, “Put me in Coach!” if we haven’t shown up for practice?

 What do you think?  Is asceticism still relevant in our time?  Why?  Why not?

Peace,

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1st Things First.

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“To believe in Jesus’ divinity today is to make him and what he stands for your God” Albert Nolan

It is to understand Christ as the supreme power in your life, your source of meaning and strength. This approach moves away from a very metaphysical discussion of Jesus regarding the full divinity and humanity found in early church theology to a very practical understanding on the priority we place on Jesus in our own lives and an emphasis is on the lived reality of Christian discipleship. If Jesus is to truly be understood as divine, then there should be a corresponding commitment that places the message of Jesus and his mission toward fulfilling the kingdom of God first in their lives. Indeed it is the very definition of praxis which involves both critical reflection and also concrete steps or choices to the belief.

Therefore, in considering whether Jesus is God for us today..

perhaps that is exactly how we need to look at it, in each and every day. Some days the answer for us will be a yes, and it is then we realize the meaning and strength he provides for our lives and what is being asked of us as well. A couple of days ago a friend came to my door, quite unexpectedly I note because we were to meet later to have coffee. Yet, her family concern could not wait and I realized very quickly that God was asking me to make her concern, and therein God’s concern, my first priority. After we had spoken, we prayed together, and she left at peace. No matter what else I had planned that day, this was where I was meant to be. Putting Jesus in first place, doesn’t have to be accepting a mission in the Congo, although that is a very beautiful choice. It is saying yes Lord, to these opportunities to discover him through those we encounter.

We also begin to see very clearly the recognition of the grace that we receive when we do put God first in our lives. Especially, when the things of this world that we have placed on that high glass shelf for display comes crashing down upon us. It is so often in those moments that we truly realize that those things which we held dear or prioritized cannot give us the power, meaning, or strength when we need it most. Here, I believe, is when we tend to reevaluate that first place position, and recommit to God: recognizing that he is the only one deserving of that place.

This very compelling argument holds that our understanding of Jesus as divine encompasses the formulated creeds and theological concepts that have been worked out but goes even further.  What we witness in the life of Jesus, and through his choices we first come to know the Divine. Yet, Jesus’ divinity is not limited to a particular time but is actively present and experienced whenever we seek to place him first, and wherever there is an inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Therefore, others are given the opportunity to see the divinity of Jesus in the lives that we lead, and the choices that we make. However, if we make other things our “divine”, then our words are merely that..words and not faith in action or revealing of the divine. In this, I am reminded of one of the most memorable quotes of Karl Rahner that says,

“The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.”  So powerful.

Early on in my involvement in ministry, I was told that you could often tell within a few conversations where people placed their priorities. Although, I still find it difficult to use the word idols, it does appropriately describe placing anything above God. The call to discipleship to me speaks to a commitment that goes beyond a faith of convenience- it is a passion of compassion that seeks to actively work even in small ways to bring hope to those with none, and speak for those who have no voice. It means making family mass a priority, and service a part of our everyday lives. So, if we take this understanding to heart, we do have a need to redirect our hearts, minds, and lives to truly placing God first in our lives.

Reflect:

Can I truly say that I see and trust Christ to be the the supreme power in my life today? What things do I place above God in my daily walk of discipleship?

Peace,

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Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: 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.

Wit and Wisdom: On Being Content

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Phillipians 4:11

What is it to be content? When are we satisfied with the life we live and the things we have been given? How does this effect the way we view life and death?

A Modern Day Parable:

Two women both raised in the faith look back on their lives. Each has been blessed with love and children, an education, and though not a surplus each has had all that they need. The first woman having experienced lean times also felt want and sought to never know that feeling again. So, rather than buying to fulfill a need, she buys to fulfill her want. And like a hungry beast that want is never satisfied.

“In this life no one can fulfill his longing nor can any creature fulfill his desire. Only God satisfies, he infinitely exceeds all other pleasures. That is why man can rest in nothing but God.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Likewise, though she gives of herself generously to others, it is never sufficient, it is never enough. And judging herself by the standards of the world, she doesn’t see her life as accomplished, worthy or full. The time before her is slipping and she is not ready. There was so much she had wanted to do, to have had and to have given, and for her death would come too soon.

The second woman

“As sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.” 2 Cor 6:10

also had experienced difficult times, yet rather than want she experienced gratitude. God had provided enough for her and her family and met their need. And even in the meager times, she continued to give out of that need, tithing back to God of her time and money. Contentment was found in the small joys, of time spent with others and in love and service- for all was a gift from God.

“It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing.  It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”

Bl. Mother Teresa

No acknowledgment by the world was required, for she knew her worth came from her Creator. Rising early she spent time with her Father in heaven, attentive to his voice and word. She was priceless in his eyes, and her time on earth was to be spent simply learning to love as she had been loved. Her home, though, was not here. It was merely a waiting place for the home which awaited her in heaven. So when death came, she embraced it as an old friend, knowing that those who had gone before her would be there to greet her.

How will we live this life we have been given today?

Peace,

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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,

Signature

Through the Lens: Theology & Sprituality

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Sandra Schneiders, defines spirituality as the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”  “Religion and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals, or Partners?” Santa Clara Lectures v.6. no. 2, Feb 6, 2000.

In Schneiders discussion of spirituality, she begins with a very narrow understanding and use of the term in regards to the intensification of an interior prayer life, and communally within a guided retreat setting. As described, it seems limited in its effect where its participants seek to leave the everyday world to experience the Holy Spirit in a contained setting. This level is then expanded somewhat in a second approach to be a transformative experience intended to affect not just one’s prayer life but a lived increase of an everyday life of faith and service. The third approach encompasses both of these but redefines our prior catholic understanding of the body and emotions as something outside the realm of spirituality to include these in lived spirituality. Lastly, we have the broadest approach which also considers how one’s spirituality and life experience can and has impacted the world both politically and socially. Even to reflect that one’s own worldview, and life experience itself is a product of and affected by the historical social contexts of the world around us. In moving concentrically outward in depth of experience of spirituality, we also move from a narrow understanding given to a chosen pious group of believers to that which can be shared by all, and essential in a holistic life in the world.

For the majority of my life, I would say that I have understood spirituality primarily within the second approach. Growing up I had been given a wonderful role model of spirituality in my grandmother, whose prayer and faith life radiated not just within her own life but in all those who journeyed with her. Like her, I have desired and seek to live my faith both in prayer and within the entirety of my everyday experience. Therefore, when I attended the Cursillo retreat several years ago, it wasn’t novel- but first of all a re-commitment to give all aspects of my life to God and seek greater discernment in my path of discipleship.

It is in this discernment journey that I have begun to understand the tie of spirituality to that of the body and emotions. How can I better impart the gift of being a woman, wife, mother, and friend in the realities of life and share fruitfully the gift of love wholly? In my studies at Loyola, I recognize this approach to a lived spirituality calling me to broaden my horizons again from the microcosm of my immediate community to that of the world at large. As a hopeful “awakener” of the faith, I understand that the questions of those I encounter are ones that have the potential to allow each to find meaning and purpose in their lives and in the world.

Yet what is the dialogical relationship between spirituality and theology, and how do they impact one another? 

Very broadly, spirituality and theology appear as seekers in trying to understand the mystery of and our relationship with the Other, and in a perfect dialogical relationship can add support, understanding and indeed life to the journey. Visually, I see this as one’s left hand and right hand, which are both needed together in prayer, supporting the other in receiving communion (i.e. the Eucharist), and in reaching out and serving as communion to others. While one can perform these actions one-handed, or allowing one hand to dominate, it is in the partnership that one can embrace the fullness of the opportunity set before us. Thus, we look to the unique contributions that both spirituality and theology can provide to understand the breadth of the human experience and relationship with God.

According to Schneiders, Christian spirituality is both a lived awareness and experience of seeking God, which involves our whole self but goes beyond our finite selves, and which is enabled by the Holy Spirit. [1] This is compatible with how I also understand spirituality as a conscious commitment to seek God in all things that is dependent on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Likewise, I would agree that although Christian spirituality is a personal experience, it also involves a community of believers.[2] This is clearly visible in the experience of the disciples and early church but is also true in the contemporary experience of spirituality.

Yet, today we can benefit from centuries of faith understandings to fully appreciate our own experience of spirituality. This is where theology can inform, inspire, “criticize”, and “challenge”[3] this lifetime journey by providing a degree of structure, points of reflection, and others’ experiences for the believer to consider. Without a backdrop or context in which to place one’s experience, how could one interpret the similarity or uniqueness of it at all?  Conversely, theology without adequate spirituality provides theoretical truths and boundaries, but lacks the witness to the Spirit continually at work in the unique experience of the individual. The role of theology should therefore be to guide and not “control” the field or “subordinate” experience of spirituality.[4] Rather, in partnering with spirituality, theology is enlivened, dynamic and transformative reflecting also the contemporary lived experience of its believers.

Peace,

Signature


[1] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[2] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[3] Schneiders, pgs. 270-271. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[4] Schneiders, p. 273. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”