Worth Revisiting: Sing With Me

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I have always loved to sing. Whether acapella or accompanied , in the shower, car or kitchen..music carries me through even the smallest of duties. Though my voice is nothing extraordinary, it has purpose and passion in every note and tune carried. It takes heart that when it is lifted in praise to its Creator that truly our prayerful petitions are amply doubled. In fact, it was in children’s choir at my church that I first discovered the diversity of gifts and the power of song to stir the soul and strengthen a community. Through tornado ravaged springs, to drought impacted fields, layoffs and closings, my small church community came together praying and singing of the hope in what was to come.

Yet, so often it seems to me that this sentiment is not shared universally by the average parishioner in the pew. For a variety of reasons given, we come to Mass but hold back in singing.

“No one wants to hear me sing” “I am here to pray, not sing”  “Too modern..too traditional” “There are others who can sing!”

Oh, how we miss the meaning when we do this! It isn’t about the quality or ability of the singer, nor is it about our personal preference of song. Rather, it is our participation and desire to pray, albeit in a different way, to our heavenly Father. It is adding our voice to the community in thanks, and petition for all that we have been given and are in need of. And in Advent, it is honoring the sacredness of God’s very gift of himself to enter into mankind out of his ultimate love for each one of us.

As a child I loved these weeks leading up to Christmas especially. My mom would pull out the Christmas songbook and together we would sing after school or church just the two of us. A few songs I steadily practiced and even clumsily learned to play on the piano, excited to offer some accompaniment. Were we looking for perfection in singing? No, but what we offered was always perfected in Him. We found community in one another, in waiting for what was to come. And to this day, it  remains one of my most cherished memories of Christmas and of her. Eleven years have passed since her death and I now sing with my own family, as well as with those in my new parish home. I can almost hear her ask me again, “Elizabeth Ann, it’s almost Christmas..would you sing with me?”

This Advent, when you gather with your own family, whether in your home parish or another, please take a moment to consider this prayerful invitation of song.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Doorway Into Our Souls III

Other posts on Teresa of Avila’s, An Interior Castle can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2

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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Worth Revisiting: Work Harder, Pray More

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In light of upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting:When Words Fail

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” Thomas Merton

In sitting down this morning to write about this, I hesitated. Such a difficult topic, and yet so needed. On more occasions than I could have thought possible, I have encountered grief. Not only through my own experience but through those expressing abandonment in their grief, and confusion on the part of those who love them. While not professing to have a perfect answer, I humbly offer the following as spiritual guidelines in beginning the journey.

  1. Speak-but speak less. Do not underestimate the gift and consolation of listening. Your presence is still needed amidst the changes in the life of the one who mourns, though perhaps in a different way. Before speaking, pause, and allow the other the space to lead the conversation. In your listening, inwardly invite the Holy Spirit into the moment to guide the direction and breadth of discussion.

“Speak only if it improves the silence” Mahatma Gandhi

There are times when silence can speak volumes, and others where we are called to do more than talk but are called into the do-ing of life. When my brother, having committed suicide, left this world my own mother was left initially in a world of silence. The suddenness of his passing left her,for a short time, unable to cope with the everyday essentials of sleeping, eating and caring for herself. This I realized was something that I was being asked right then and there to take to doing. The roles had in one swift moment been reversed. For the many countless nights she had taken care of me, I felt privileged to return in kind, albeit in some small way. With a toddler in tow, I cleaned, cooked and took care of everything I could put my hands and feet to. Then I would sit beside her and let my son do his magic. Reaching up, smiling and looking into the eyes of his grandma he connected, drawing her out of herself and into the beauty of the life before her. Though slowly she came out of shell shock, it would really be months before she could truly speak to any of the pain that she had felt. This time of silence to the experience of grief was her a much needed time of healing and reflection, one that could not be rushed or anticipated.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” Washington Irving

  2.  There is no perfect response- Perhaps the most common question that continually comes forward from those seeking to offer consolation is simply, “What do I say?” There is an honest seeking to meet the pain and loss that our loved ones are facing with some sage advice or uplifting heartfelt message to ease their suffering. And yet, our words often fall short of touching the profound pain in grief of the situation. The moment we release ourselves from the responsibility of saying just the right thing, we can embrace the other with authenticity. That is not to say, however, we should speak every word that comes to the forefront of our thoughts. Strive to avoid platitudes and clichés like, “Time heals all wounds”, “Your loved one is in a better place”, “God wanted him/her with him” or “I know how you feel”To this day, three simple words seem to be a much needed balm when spoken truly from the heart..

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.                                                -Mother Teresa

3. Love –but love more. The picture of someone that is deeply immersed in the grieving process isn’t a pretty one. It is messy, challenging, and calls forth from those that love them a willingness to get dirty in the process. It requires patience and understanding holding each death and each one who grieves in the uniqueness of the moment. Comparisons or preconceived notions of recovery fail to take this into consideration. So, for all those times when our desire to console is not well received or our small act of kindness feels unappreciated…love. When they reach for support from others, or seem to have no need for support from anyone…love. When we cannot understand what is holding them back , hold on to hope and…love.

Walking with someone in their brokenness is to recognize our own brokenness too. And in helping them to find their way, we discover both community and communion in the One who brings wholeness, love, peace, and joy in the journey.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Reconciled


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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

In Reconciliation we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend.

If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

Worth Revisiting: Finding Patience

Have you met Faith, Hope and Charity in your own life?  Intended for our youngest readers ages 4-8, Finding Patience is a very endearing introduction to these extraordinary gifts from God.  When 8 year old Faith moves with her family to a new home and school, her initial excitement fades as she encounters the daunting challenge of making new friends.  Encouraged to seek patience in prayer, Faith soon finds the love and support of her family and a new puppy to help her persevere. This time also prepares Faith with a true appreciation for what was to come next…a new friend!

As we have come to discover in our own lives, the experience of change and disappointment doesn’t begin when we are old enough to equip ourselves with ready answers or are accustomed to waiting patiently. Much less is patience something acquired once and for all, but as with the other virtues, is a gift that we are to grow in throughout our lives. This as young Faith demonstrates so well requires perseverance.

flower-1-1527160Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (James 1:2-3)

While so often we struggle to attain even a good measure of patience in our lives, this struggle is incredibly important. For, when tested we do have a choice- to give up to discouragement  or lift up and lean into God. When we actively persevere in trusting God, in his timing and will, it is then we receive that inner strength needed to endure whatever trial we face in our lives.  Only then, do we get to enjoy in the fullness of all that God desires for each of us –true peace and love.

For most of my early life, I believed myself to be patient. Since, accepting the failures and faults of others came quite naturally. What I did not do, however, is practice patience with myself and God’s timing with my own life. Meeting obstacles by seeking to control all conditions involved, I was left with anything but peace. I thought that God would act quickly, and if he hadn’t was depending on me to do my part to move things into place. Then, when things didn’t go as planned, I felt this was only because I had failed to execute the plan perfectly.

Like 8 year old Faith, I didn’t realize right away that waiting, and practicing patience, was an active journey in virtue. Exercising patience, unlike seeking control, requires a choice of placing the situation in the hands of God rather than solely your own. It is trusting in the outcome that God has in store and finding peace in the midst of it. As Christian parents, we seek to teach our children not only how to get through life but how to discern fully and follow Christ with each step along the way. The virtues are spiritual tools to do just that. So, why not start today on this path with your child to learn and grow in virtue?

 

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Worth Revisiting: Assuming Mary

For those that have grown up in the Catholic faith, this feast is well known perhaps at times a bit too familiar. Do we stop and take the time to truly ponder the life of Mary as we celebrate this honor bestowed on a life well lived? Or do we simply take for granted Mary’s yes and assume we know her while failing to see the implications for our lives today?


Assuming Mary

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother,“Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” John 19:26-27 NAB

Like all good movies, there will most definitely be a prequel and subsequent sequels to this conversational confession of my conversion to Catholicism. Yet, with the Church’s celebration of Mary’s Assumption today, I could not bear to let this day pass without sharing my own journey of rediscovery of Mary. Not having grown up in the Catholic faith, I knew of Mary, but did not truly know her. For, while well acquainted with biblical stories, I still never fully reflected on God’s choosing, her response, or her role in the life of the Church. Beginning with an initial inquisitiveness, this path has led me through faith, scripture and onto a pursuit of heart and mind to understand who Mary is and truly wants to be, in my life today.

My confirmation day in the faith was the equivalent of suddenly finding out that you have family- all over the world, spanning centuries of belief , that are joining in on the celebration. That not only are you part this timeless, vast community, but they are to be a part of you as well, and in the struggles, hopes and joys that are to be encountered.  This is such an incredible immeasurable gift that quite honestly I feel I have been unwrapping it ever since that day! So too has been the journey of getting to know our mother Mary. No longer is she resting still in the shadows of the nativity scene, just one of the many characters of a beloved story but an indelible part of my own story as a woman of faith.

mary&babyJesus
The Manger by Gertrude Kasebier

Paramount to this animation of faith, is that in considering her as God’s chosen, I am compelled to also recognize Mary’s beautiful choice to add her “Yes” to God. In doing so, she modeled a faith so pure and trusting, expressive of her love of God and desire for service, that in this moment she became the very first disciple.  At the tender age of probably 14 or 15, she possessed an awareness of the situation before her, expressed deep acceptance and commitment, and spent a lifetime of learning and growing in faith and understanding. Isn’t this what we too desire in our own lives as Christian daughters, sisters, and mothers? Do we not want to be known by our love, dedicated lives of service with hands and feet that lead others to Jesus? Following Mary’s guidance, over the last few years, I began recommitting myself to God at the start of each new day. Before my eyes even open, and despite my inclination to stay in bed,

  I simply say “Thank you God for the gift of this new day”. Then quite deliberately before my feet hit the floor I say “Yes!”. To what you might ask? It is my yes to what God has in store for me, in the ability to accept the unknown as opportunities of grace and the choice to be a part of God’s loving plan in my life.

So too has it been in my life as a mom. With each of my three children, I have prayed, “Lord please grant me a healthy child that is loved, nurtured and is to flourish within. May I be worthy of this gift of life, and may you continue to guide me in guiding him or her in the light of your love”. (Lk. 1:39-56) For me, Mary has been a part of God’s promise to do just that- to become a constant guiding light for my children. Equally as true, she has comforted me when I have been at wits end, seeking more patience than that day had allowed. In keeping with this very thought, one of my favorite scriptures as a parent has been the finding of Jesus at the temple (Lk 2:41-52). Tangibly, I can sense the very real frustration, and “anxiety” of Mary and Joseph as they, having searched for 3 days, finally discover him teaching all present including themselves.  It is said that Mary, not fully understanding, took her Son’s words and “kept all this in her heart”. 

Yes Lord, when I have failed to understand the why I too need to keep your words in my heart.

This is no more fully witnessed than at the foot of the cross. Oh, the profound sorrow that she as a mom felt at the loss of her Son, and the love poured out for a rejecting world! Yet, here too Mary was asked to meet this both with an open acceptance, and allow God to transform the pain into the hope of salvation. Even in Mary’s life, there is transformation, for in the simplicity of Jesus’ presentation of the gift of Mary to John we begin to grasp the importance of the larger family. We are never alone, but part of an immense communion of believers. Thank you God for the hopeful promise that we like Mary will enjoy an eternity with you one day. Until then,

“Father, please use my humble hands, feet, voice, and heart to serve you as you will.”

In Christ Always,

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Worth Revisiting: Portraits of Martha and Mary

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: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisting: Theology and Spirituality

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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”