The Eucharist is the Word of God made flesh that we take into our bodies and souls with greatest reverence. As Jeff Cavins says, The Bible is “… the Word of God made text,” that we take into our eyes, ears and minds. We are to let it dwell in us richly, living and active in us, abiding in us, hidden in our hearts.
One way to allow Scripture to truly live and work within us, is to memorize passages, and not only come to know the words, but cherish them in our hearts in prayer and meditation.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers * lived lives of radical simplicity in order to be more attentive to God. They spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture so they would have it within them.
Internalizing Scripture is itself a form of prayer. This is different than reading it analytically or studying it.
God’s Word is alive. (Hebrews 4:12a)
“Meditatio Scripturarum” is simple, based on faith in the power and life of God’s Word. In this prayer we take a passage of Scripture we have memorized and hold it in our hearts, turning it over and over. We leave what it does up to God, whose Word never returns to Him void, but always does what He sends it to do. We silently “hear” it, and cherish it intentionally in our hearts as a communion with God.
“Ponder [the Word] without analyzing it. Give it space to speak.” (Christine Paintner) We allow the Sower to sow the seed, prayerfully tending the soil to encourage deep roots.
Desert Father, Abba Poemen said, “The nature of water is soft; that of stone is hard. But if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. ” When we continually ponder the Word of God, it will surely soften and open our hearts to its mystery.
Choosing a Passage: To begin with, choose a passage you especially love, or feel drawn to, or one that seems to speak to your current life situation. Make it the average length of a Psalm or Canticle: not too short, not too long. If you are in crisis or in discernment about something, you may want to humbly ask someone else to prayerfully choose a passage for you: a spiritual director, a priest or a friend, trusting in the Holy Spirit to work through that person. You may want to follow the Lectionary and let the Holy Spirit lead you in the daily Mass readings of the Liturgical Year. We should make sure we don’t habitually pick passages that suit our self will, but remain receptive so we can be good soul soil.
Memorizing: I like writing a passage out and keeping it in my pocket all day to read and go over again and again. You can take turns with a friend at work giving each other a passage now and then, quizzing each other when you have a chance, until it is memorized. Read it right before going to sleep and repeat it to yourself as you head into that twilight just before you slip into the unconscious. Sometimes the passage will go with you into sleep. Work on it when you’re filling the car with gas, standing in line at the grocery store, or at a boring meeting.
Meditating: Set aside time to be alone with the passage once it is memorized well. Sit in a quiet, private place, in a position in which you can be both alert and relaxed. Once you are recollected, begin to go mentally over the passage very slowly- not too slowly but don’t rush through it, either. You will find your perfect pace and phrasing. “…He…humbled… himself…. taking the form… of a slave…. being born… in the likeness… of men… “
Let the phrases be like a string of rosary beads slipping slowly through your fingers. When you get to the end of your verse, phrase or passage, begin again.
If you are distracted just bring yourself gently back to the words. A small distraction merits gentle redirection. But if the mind has completely left the passage and is doing its own thing, patiently let it know that when it does this, you will be starting again at the beginning of the passage, and then do. The mind doesn’t like that but it won’t rebel too much. You will find it runs off much less often as you practice, once it learns you mean business.
This is time you spend in intimacy with God, attentive to His Word, quietly and tenderly abiding in Him and allowing Him to rest also in you.
How much time you decide to spend on this prayer is up to you. Thirty minutes is customary but even five can do. The most important part is to do it and to practice it every day you can, for however long. Then His language will be your language and His thoughts will become your thoughts. When you call He will answer- often with the perfect verse.
When you are ready, move on to another passage. And another.
Blessed are those who hear the word of God
–and cherish it in their hearts.
(Responsory from the Liturgy of the Hours)
*Desert Fathers, and Mothers: early Christian hermits and communities of semi-hermits, whose practice of simplicity, work, prayer, counsel to spiritual seekers, and hospitality in the Egyptian desert, beginning in the 3rd century, formed the basis of Christian monasticism.
When I first came into the Church, the Sacrament that stumped me the most was Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It wasn’t the idea of it. It wasn’t the theology of it. It wasn’t even claustrophobia. It was learning how to contain myself into this little ritual. This was difficult for me because of my lack of experience and also because I couldn’t seem to narrow down what it was right to confess. My confession should not be a wild arrow that misses the Heart of Jesus or a list that makes Him sleepy. I want to hit the bull’s eye and sink the arrow deep. I had a hard time with my archery for a long time and I think for Jesus, my attempts to participate in this sacrament made me a crazy moving target hard for Him to hit.
I had some memorable reactions from priests to my confessions that puzzled me: everything from, “That’s not really a sin.” to “You sound like a monophysite,” to simply bursting out laughing.
I needed to find a way to contain myself in the narrow field of what I was supposed to actually do with Confession in order to let it be the conscious encounter with Jesus that it should be. I realized going to Confession was not just about me and my feelings. It was something I did for Jesus and for the good of the Church as well. I really needed to find a way to hit the mark and hit it in a way that was more transformative and open to grace.
The power of God is not limited to our personal perceptions of course. But the Sacrament isn’t “magic” either. It’s a real encounter with Jesus and His merciful love. I need to participate as fully as I can.
“Art…consists of drawing the line somewhere.” (G.K. Chesterton) I needed a way draw some lines, within the ones given to us by the Church, and still have my confession come from the heart.
Over the years I developed a way of ordering my examination of conscience and my confession into a more meaningful and sensible form that fits into the confessional “box” better than the disorganized, emotionally based way I had been doing it before.
How I prepare for Confession
First I ask Jesus what He wants me to Confess. It doesn’t have to be about everything in the world down to spilling my milk (not a sin by the way.) It could be about one particular situation God wants to work with me in. I try to be receptive as I think about my life. I pray to be guided and trust that I will be.
I write down the basic issues that come up. Then I look in the Scriptures and/or the Catechism to see what the Word and the Magisterium have to say about these things. I reflect on what I have read- especially a word or phrase that really stands out to me. A lot of the time I can see more deeply into a situation and where I am at fault, what graces and virtues I need to pray and work for, and where I need to make amends in my relationships, when I do this. I make a brief outline of what I have found out. Then I make a prayer about each sin I need to confess. After all, the priest is in persona Christi and this is a holy sacrament so why not make my whole confession a prayer? It helps me a lot to do it this way. I think I am more guided and I am more likely to find meaning and grace when I take my time to do this in a reflective way, making use of the Bible and the Catechism along with receptive prayer. Also this way I don’t lose track of what I am doing when I am there (as I often used to do.)
Let’s take an example of a sin I have often committed as a parent, though I’m sure none of you ever do; freaking out and yelling at my kids. The prayer I write out for that may look like this:
“My God, in Your Word, You have said “Do not be harsh with your children but admonish them in the Lord.” For all the times I have lost my temper with my children lately, I am sorry. Please forgive me and help me to be as gentle with them as You are with me. “
Or this: “Lord, You have taught through Your Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. For the times I have failed to teach my daughters patience and gentleness by modeling these things for them, the times I gave them a bad example instead by losing my temper and being harsh, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Grant to me the grace of patience and help me to do better.”
In the Confessional
When I am in the confessional, I tell the priest before I begin that I have written out my confession this way. I have never had any one of them mind about that. Otherwise, of course, The Sacrament of Reconciliation proceeds as usual.
I do think a personal, devotional act adds to the experience, (as long as it doesn’t detract from it.) It can bring us closer to love, and give us a sense of the fact that we are entering into something sacred. My friend, Shawna, takes her shoes off and kneels when she begins Confession. I think that is beautiful. Things like that remind us of our devotion, give us the sense of the fact that we are entering into the sacred, and help us to be humble in God’s presence.
Like my friend, Shawna, I like to kneel too- not during my confession but during absolution. Why I don’t take my shoes off the way she does I will leave to your imagination.
There is a saying, “The narrower the field the deeper the dig.” That has been true for me in Confession. I don’t need to dig all over the place; just enough in the right spot, in the right way, to find that Pearl of Great Price that I am willing to sell everything else to possess.
After Christ’s Ascension, Mary, the mother of Jesus, would go out and walk the way of the Cross again, the way of our salvation and hers. She could be seen sometimes in the early morning, walking slowly, pausing.”He fell here. And again here. He spoke to the women here.”
Her prayers of Good Friday returned to mind, “My Son, my Son, my Lord, how far will this go? How much of this will You allow? If it be Your will, let me suffer all with You, die with you! My Son, God’s Son. I will go with you as far as I can.”
She remembered, “This is where our eyes met. This is when I knew. Here is the place where Simon of Cyrene took up the Cross. Here is where Jesus was crucified and- unthinkably, died. Oh what those people said to Him, what they did to Him! Father, forgive them! May His mercy capture their hearts forever! Let me lead our children, Father. Allow me to lead them by heart and prayer, to our Son.”
And then she would walk back to her home with John, grinding grain and making cakes for his breakfast, kneading bread for the visitors who would come, spending her day in prayer and service, humbly telling the story of her Son to all who wanted to be set free.
So much of the Gospel depended on her witness. And her sons, the Apostles, needed her prayer and presence. She would stay as long as she was needed, until God took her home to her Son. As Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she prayed for, companioned, and mothered the early Church, living also as a daughter of the Church as long as God willed her to stay on earth.
People started to follow her when she walked the way of the cross. At first a small group of the women disciples walked with her. Soon many people went out early and walked with her in the quiet morning, recounting and reflecting on the Lord’s Passion and death, reflecting on what had been done for them, and that His spirit within them was so real it would raise their bodies, too, from the dead. In awe of the living proof and witness of His divinity and humanity that she was, they, too, paused in silence, and in that silence the Scriptures were opened for them, and their hearts burned within them as the Spirit, too, accompanied them and taught them all they needed to know as they walked with His Bride, the little and simple, humble and human Mary, mother of Jesus.
As persecution grew, barricades were set up by the authorities to keep the Christians from walking the Via Dolorosa, and the Apostle John took Mary with him to Ephesus for her protection.
There, she carried stones she had brought from Jerusalem to the back of the house and set them along a path she marked out in and around the garden. She would pause at each one of the markers she had made, pause and remember: Here He fell, and again here. He spoke to the women here. Our eyes met here. Simon took up the cross here.
In the end there were fourteen stations where she could stop to pray. The Ephesians from John’s church would visit her and walk this way of the Cross with her, and with her remember and reflect on all that had happened.
The Gospel had not yet been written. But it was recorded and treasured in the heart and in the footsteps of this mother who, lowly and barefoot, walked and pondered, in remembrance of her Son’s suffering and death. This walking reflection of hers became the Stations of the Cross represented in every Catholic Church, on which we meditate each Friday of Lent to this day, and especially on Good Friday, the day of our Redemption.
This is only a legend about the evolution of the Stations of the Cross, filled out by my prayerful imagination, but it makes deep sense to me. In a way it is true whether it’s factual or not. Mary is the one who treasured the truth about Our Lord for us in her heart. She was the one person who truly knew where He came from. There are parts of the Gospel that could have only come from her, including some of her inmost thoughts… and the fact that she treasured and reflected on all these things in her heart. Even if she never walked the Stations of the Cross in such ritual fashion while on earth, though it is easy to imagine she did, we know she carried it in her heart. We remember her, and she remembers us when we pray it now, and she joins us, her Son’s Church, in prayer, as she always did.
I attended the Stations of the Cross the evening of this writing. This time I walked it in my soul with Mary, from the original events of Good Friday to after the Ascension, to her last days in Ephesus, joining her on the Way of the Cross, consciously drawing on her memories.
Learning from Mary is so easy. She is full of grace. It’s what she has to share.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you–because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.
The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.
“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”
We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.
He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.
He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.
Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.
He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.
“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”
I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”
I have to think about this, too.
He says he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.
His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.
He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.
Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.
He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.
Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.
The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.
He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.
I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.
I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.
I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.
He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.
I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.
“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.
He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”
He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.
He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.
The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.
He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”
I understand what he is asking me to do.
I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.
He will protect my heart.
He will defend my heart.
He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.
He will do what it takes.
He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.
“Let yourself be loved,” wrote St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.
“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.
To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.
This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2018.
I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.
He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.
I will just have to get used to it.
Something related you might like to try:
Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)
Sit quietly and recollect yourself.
Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.
Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”
If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.
Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.
I am always happy to hear that I am dust, and that to dust I shall return.
When I close my eyes to pray, I can really tell I am dust. In here where I live, it’s quiet and dark. Simple. Nothing to it. Who am I?
Inwardly quiet and dark,
yet full of exploding light in the cave of my heart,
just like you.
As St. John of the Cross points out, sometimes what seems like darkness is the over-whelming brilliance of God’s light.
Maybe that is why we close our eyes when we pray. Outside what we can see with our senses is wonderful, but only a reflection of the invisible God. When we close our eyes, we are alone in God’s luminous dark within us. We know there is light in us by faith. We know our being is created in the image of Him who is light. Even though we rightly experience ourselves as dust, our hearts are secretly bright because of Who lives there.
At this time of year, roots, bulbs, and seeds under the soil that have “fallen to the ground and died,” all winter have been nourished by the Lord of mystery and love, though we the farmers are unaware.
How did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. We know it happened, and Scripture says we also will rise, “through the power of his spirit dwelling in us.” And this is so real it is a physical truth as well as a spiritual one.
In the dark secret of the tomb Jesus physically and spiritually, in divine mystery, rose again.
I want to follow Jesus into the desert and recommit my life to the Father. I want to share the Passover with Him and the family of the Church, I want to accompany the Lord on the Way of the Cross. I want to wait quietly in the dark simplicity and trust of the grave.
I am dust returning to dust, but my Christian soul is empowered by Him to do and be all these Christly mysteries.
So let us return to be fearlessly this dust in desert wind, this Way of the Cross, this dark quiet of faith, this soil seeded with mystery.
At the same time as we traditionally renew our commitment to Jesus and his mission, to His Church, to the poor and marginalized, to fasting, penance, and to prayer as we know it, let us also re-consecrate ourselves in silence, and holy solitude, resting in the starry night of expectation.
As children of God we know that darkness also brings forth love, unfurls light, and floods our souls with renewed grace during this sacred time we are given that is Lent.
We surrender to this Lord of mysterious rising. We consecrate our souls to His purposes in ourselves and what He wants us to bloom into for Him, for this world, for the sake of His Kingdom.
We step into this night of Lent consciously.
We can remember this intention in our moments of stillness and waiting. We can take a little time each day also to purposely rest in quiet love and allow ourselves to be prepared for Spring in secret.
Let us make Lent a secret retreat into our hearts. It only takes faith, hope, and love and God will pour over us the brightness of his invisible light.
Let this Lent be a time for seeds, for dark, shining mysteries at work in we who believe… until the morning star rises in our hearts.
Warning: God is a creative genius and anything can happen when we surrender to Him completely. We might emerge from Lent new creatures in the power of His Resurrection. Let’s expect it!
I have been trying to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day for 30 days, whether it’s a holy hour or just popping in for a “hug.” I am truly seeing the fruit of deeper healing in my life and relationships, and a softening of the intense negative emotions I have been dealing with (not so well.) My eyes seem clearer and discernment is making a return. A great transition is underway, bless the Lord. Whatever you are going through, I encourage you to run to Jesus. Every day, even if only for a moment. It has set me on the right road, and I feel the difference.
I run to the place we always meet, all the way crying angry tears.
In the candle light, I kneel. I cross myself. I breathe. Breathe.
In this quiet room is my refuge, the nearness of the One I love.
I know I have come close to Jesus.
I know the Eucharist is truly a beating Heart.
And I am instantly humbled.
Peace comes to me.
I always love to be humbled by You, Jesus, because You are gentle with me. You let me see for myself, and Your love holds me tenderly so that nothing You could say would hurt me. I am not afraid or offended. How impossible! When You talk to me, everything You say is love.
I am drawn into You. And I understand that Your Heart is like the sea; vast, permanent, deep, moving on the surface and in currents swirling in the depths beyond my measure. Like the ocean, Your heart is life giving, receptive to the sunlight, the pull of the moon, the movements of the earth. But you are always your own vast Self.
Whoever comes to You, and whatever echoing depths they bestow of themselves, every tear dissolves in You. You are responsive, but immovable. You receive all, yet remain Your own. Before a Heart like this, mysterious, massive, reflective, receptive, my soul is safe. Nothing can harm me in this rightful bond of adoration.
Pour Your fathomless Heart into this small eddy that is me, as only You can.
This is what I want.
And let nothing disturb this peace.
Let nothing intrude on the quiet of being as we are.
Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!
Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.
Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work. I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused.I try to amuse myself as often as possible.It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.
I wrote, ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian, for helping when my dog was sick. Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you.Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.
I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.
Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?
I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.
The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!
Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening. One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.” My other choices seemed to be lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.
During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.
Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.
If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.
We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.
When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.
Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the momentI am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.
Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.
By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉
In the past year and a half, I have experienced the loss of three beloved pets dear to my heart. The first was Peanut, my orange and white rescue cat. Peanut lived to be 19, and died peacefully from kidney failure in August of 2016. The next was Simone, a beautiful long-haired white cat that I adopted from my sister’s vet in San Antonio. She died in April of 2017 from pneumonia at age 16. The last was my fiancé’s family dog named Flower. She died way too young from a cancerous tumor at age 8 or 9. I had grown quite close to her and she spent a large part of the last year of her life with me in my condo in Austin.
All of these losses have affected me deeply, especially Peanut and Flower. Simone spent a lot of time outdoors and was somewhat aloof. But she was just as special as the others.
I will have to admit that these deaths have affected me as much as the death of my own mother and even my beloved grandfather. At first I felt silly even thinking that. Or at least admitting to it. But it is true. Peanut spent just about every day of his life sleeping right by my head. We woke up together, spent much of our days together, and he was around long enough to witness my changing from a young man into middle age. He came when I called him, (not always the case for cats, as many of you cat owners out there know) He gave few other people the time of day. The closest he came to accepting someone else was Shawn, my fiancé. He grudgingly started allowing her access into his world. And then she took a large role is caring for him in the last few weeks of his life.
As much as their deaths affected me in a deeply painful way, the positive and uplifting aspects of how they affected my life mad that pain worth it.
Peanut was a constant, a reminder of being in the moment, of not sweating things, and unconditional acceptance. When I came home, he was there. He did not care what kind of day I had, or how much money I made, or even how accepting I was of him. Sometimes I was exhausted and needed a bit of time. He seemed to get that. Peanut was just there, content to meow at me (sometimes grumpily) and give me the honor of petting him. It was unconditional love in the purest of ways.
Later in his life he spent some time in the outdoors, but every time I came home I would call him and he would come bounding up, his slightly fat belly rocking back and forth at his steps.
Peanut was a stoic little cat. Once, he accidentally got locked in a hot closet for a day without food or water. I came home and called for him, and no Peanut. To my horror I opened up the closet door and found him. He sort of sauntered out and went directly to his food and water and then hopped to his usual spot on the bed. Oddly, he still had no fear of the closet after that, either.
It is as if he knew it was an accident and he trusted me not to do it again. I didn’t.
He had the prettiest green eyes. And he sometimes would bite me for no reason and sort of look at me like “I don’t know why I do that either”…..
He also was the last living pet connection to my mother, who died in 1998. She gave me Peanut in October of 1997. He was a very small kitten when she found him under a shed in her backyard in San Antonio.
I miss my mother often. I miss Peanut daily. He was a great cat. And at the end of his life, he got to know and be friends with Flower. I have a picture of both of them sleeping together one sunny afternoon. I treasure that photo and always will.
Goodbye Peanut. You gave as much to me or more than I gave you. Thank you.
Simone was a very skinny, somewhat neurotic 2 year old when my sister brought her up to me from San Antonio. Peanut, who was already living in the house, accepted her from the get go. She hissed at him a few times, but he never hissed at her. At the time I adopted her I had carpets on my floor, and the smell of pee (she was sneaky) in various corners of my place suggested strongly why Simone had trouble being adopted.
It didn’t stop me, as I realized it was time to pull up the carpets anyway. After she got more used to things, I let her explore outside and she stayed out there often after that. She would come in to eat and be petted. But often she ran from me when I approached her. Up until the day she died. When I had company, she would decide to get friendly and start meowing in a very loud voice (Peanut, on the contrary, had a very soft half meow, half bird call voice). She then would approach whoever was there and offer her best side, her butt. Right in their face.
I found that I could make this somewhat obnoxious behavior stop when I would merely cough. She would run back outside. But she rarely ventured far. And in the morning she would be just outside the door for food and a morning greeting.
People would comment on her beautiful white coat and my vet often wondered how she didn’t get picked off by some falcon or large bird. But she did fine outside, and even the raccoon who came over to try and eat would ignore her and her him. She wasn’t the least bit aggressive. She was just Simone.
Goodbye Simone. It is weird not seeing you outside my door.
Flower came into my life in a bit different way. She was the family dog of my fiancé, Shawn. When I first met her, Flower nearly bit me. I was visiting her at her brother’s house where she was staying. As I got out of my car in the driveway, I wasn’t sure if anybody was home. Then suddenly, out of the blue came this medium sized brown dog running up with teeth bared. Some dogs stop with a warning, but Flower wasn’t set on warning me. She chomped down, but I was quick enough to move my hand. Within a couple of seconds, her tail was wagging and a friendship was born.
Flower was a special dog in more than one way. The first thing I noticed is how smart she was. And how in tune she was to her surroundings. While still getting to know me, she was sure to come to me after making the rounds of all the family members present just to let me know I was accepted. She also could run like a rabbit, which she loved doing. She learned how to help Shawn corral her chickens in the evening.
While it took a bit (she wasn’t ready to even go for walks with me for a while), Flower and I grew close. After the tragic suicide of Shawn’s brother, I began taking Flower back with me to Austin for weekends and some days. She was a rock for me in those times, always smiling, always looking intently at my face for signs of what I was feeling.
We started taking long walks together and she became a part of my life. Sleeping on the bed with Peanut, she was a staple for over a year. We would go to the dog park here in Austin and she would be nervous but eventually get excited. Flower was a rescue as well, and you could tell she had a rough go of it early in her life.
But she grew into herself. And her unique personality shone through. She could be stubborn, even sometimes diva-ish, but she was a sweet, gentle, in tune dog that helped me through one of the most stressful times in my life. Seeing her sleeping next to me, I swear she was an angel sent by God.
Unfortunately, Flower developed a tumor on her back that required emergency surgery to even have a hope of saving her life. The way she co-operated with the process, all the pain, all of the inconvenience, was inspiring. The staff at Texas A & M Vet School fell in love with her.
Flower bravely fought her way back from the surgery. Shawn, my fiancé took care of her in Bryan the first few weeks after her surgery. The dog was in a lot of pain for much of that time, but she retained her sweet spirit. Shawn carefully took her to the backyard to pee, and Flower often took an interest in smelling the flowers and looking at the dog next door. On some days, she just wanted back in the house.
The first time I saw her after the surgery she was in her kennel that Shawn got for her. She whimpered upon seeing me, and I cried to see in her in such pain but also cried in gratitude that she was still with us. Flower took the myriad of pills and liquid pain meds with surprising cooperation, even though she hated the taste of some of them.’
The first time she came back to Austin she came we were nervous about the ride. When she saw my backporch area where she hung out so many sunny days, her first inclination was to chase my cat. We saw that as a good sign.
A few days went by and she still struggled walking. But one evening I took her out with her cloth support under her legs. At first she did her usual “I just want to go back inside”, but on this night I encouraged her to walk a bit more per vets instructions. As if to say “alright lets do this” she began to walk briskly around the back area of my condo, sniffing around as if it were old times.
The next few days and weeks saw steady improvements, along with the expected accidental peeing in the bed and having trouble getting up. You could tell this hurt her pride a lot, but her courage and good attitude continued to amaze and hearten me. There was so much pain and tragedy all around and seeing this, although hard, was also uplifting. By taking action in her healing I was healing myself.
One day Flower was ready to walk in the neighborhood were we took so many walks in the last year. Although still having trouble, she wanted to walk as far as I would let her. I cried again. It couldn’t contain it. Maybe she was on the road back.
Flower had a couple of months of good days after that, traveling to Houston with us to my new apartment there, sitting in the sun, eating heartily and laying by my new cat, Miriam. She had trouble with climbs, and her patented athleticism was not the same. But she was determined to enjoy her life. And that she did. She may have had trouble physically, but Flower remained Flower. Begging for food, being stubborn, being sweet, sleeping soundly with me.
After several months, you could see that she was having trouble again walking. We didn’t want to admit it, but the tumor, as the vet warned could happen, returned.
She travelled to Bryan to have a check up and it didn’t look good. But she did get to spend time with Shawn and her young adult daughter, Roise, whose childhood dog Flower had been. There are pictures of the girl with Roise and her then infant daughter, Lani. She still was happy to be with her people.
I took her back to Austin and things declined to where Flower could not get comfortable enough to even lay down. We tried upping her pain meds and giving her steroids per vets advice, but she still couldn’t lay down. It was sad, but it seemed like it was time to say goodbye and end her suffering.
The last day of her life I carried her around the back area that she loved and let her look around. She really did seem to understand what was happening. That day my vet came over and we had a Catholic tinged ritual with Flower there before she went to her next life. I still cry thinking about the gift of her life and yes, the gift of her good death. My vet and I carried her body to his van. Carrying her then lifeless body was very, very difficult but I am glad I did it. We laid her carefully down.
Flower was gone.
I truly can say, and I am not prone to hyperbole, that Flower helped saved my life during that difficult year and got us through the death of Shawn’s brother and the even worse aftermath of it. And I still miss the girl. Deeply. She was an angel.
Goodbye Flower. I miss you every day.
But the story didn’t end there. In fact, it started another chapter that surprised even me.
A couple of days after her death, I, still in shock and grief, went to the pet store to get a special cleaner to clean my mattress from the urine odor. Oddly, the odor offered me some comfort for a day or so but I knew it was time to clean it up.
I walked into the store, hot from the summer heat and purchased the cleaner. I was not in a good mood and things still seemed surreal. On the way out I noticed some kennels against the wall with some dogs up for adoption for rescue shelters around the area.
I made my purchase and was not paying attention to much when I made eye contact with a little white dog in his kennel. He looked very sad. He looked at me, looked down and then looked at me again. It caught my attention.
I had no intention to getting another dog. I knew also about the “don’t get a pet to replace a lost one right away” rule, which I though was a good one. But something made me turn around and ask the people at the front about the dog. His name on the kennel was “Henry”. He looked so small and fragile, but had these huge “bat” ears. He reminded me of me that day. Well, besides the ears.
One clerk told me that Henry had been rescued from a house where there was a murder and a suicide. Given that Shawn’s family had gone through a suicide (and quite frankly some metaphorical murders) I thought it odd to hear that. And it sent a chill down my spine. My heart immediately went out to the little fella. That pissed me off.The clerk then told me the manager of the store, Theresa, would have information on him. She walked up to me after doing some things with the rescue cats. I asked her about him. She seemed a bit skeptical and cool at first “oh, he is not close to being ready to be adopted. He is still somewhat feral and needs a lot of work”….I know something about feeling feral and needing a lot of work, so I said “what would I need to do?”. She said, still somewhat skeptical “you can come back and visit him and see how you two do”. I think she thought I wouldn’t come back.
Later that day, I was back. She gingerly picked the terribly frightened dog and told me I could pet him. He eyed me very cautiously. And as I petted him his eyes stayed wide open, as if waiting for a blow…Then I noticed the strangest thing. His back was shaved in a little rectangle area. “What happened there?” I asked. “Oh, he had a tumor on his back. But it was benign. It was a fatty tumor”. It was shaved just like poor Flowers back.
That scorching July afternoon brought on a pretty serious thunderstorm that for a bit made Austin look almost dusk like. It was surprisingly cool for a bit.
After waiting for it to pass, I got on my scooter, a little taken aback, and got a real sense that I was supposed to adopt Henry. And I would show Theresa how serious I was about that, whatever it took.
On the way home, I looked at the gray but clearing sky and saw a full rainbow facing east, in the direction of Flower’s place of birth near Bryan. It was beautiful and vivid. It was if Flower was saying, “You get it? adopt him”. Flower knew I needed Henry as much as he might need me. That shook me but also gave me a real sense of calm. Flower was still up to her tricks.
I called Shawn and told her the story. She laughed a bit. “Sounds pretty clear” she said.
So, every day, twice a day, I would go and visit Henry. At first I think he was wondering what the hell I was doing there. Theresa would take him out. He would be frightened, but he would cower in the corner and let me pet him. I just sat on the floor uncomfortable and sweaty. Occasionally, he would glance at me and look away. When she put him back in his cage, he would literally dash in there and look terrified.
I came the next day. And the next day. And the next….twice a day when I could.
Theresa finally started warming up to me and offered tips as to how to handle him. After a little over a week, she had me walk with Henry as she took him out to pee. Then I took him out (I was terrified I would freak him out) with her behind me. He would look back at her, very skeptically. She told me he would hold pee and bowel movements for days. He would only eat if no one was looking.
Eventually I was able to take him out daily. He started peeing, being very careful to stay directly behind me, out of my vision.
Then one day on the way back to his kennel he pooped on the sidewalk. Victory!
The day come when Henry came for a home visit the first time. I felt like CPS was coming over, I was so nervous. But Henry, once he found his trusty bed (that bed is his safe place. his world exists from there) felt quite at home. Shawn was with me that day. It was a lovely hot summer Saturdayafternoon. The visit was a success.
The next Monday I came to visit and Theresa very nonchalantly said Henry could go home with me on that Wednesday and she handed me his adoption papers to sign. She said“I didn’t think Henry was going to find a home. No one was interested after hearing how hard he was.” I passed!
Henry was gonna be a part of my family. The dogless, childless divorced guy who only could handle cats was going to be a dog owner.
Flower made sure of that. This part is too weird to be true, but as I was nervously taking Henry home for the first time, another rain storm came down on a steaming hot August day and produced, yes, another beautiful rainbow in the sky.
After seeing the second rainbow, I reflected again on how I needed all of my beloved pets as much as they needed me. They were family. I miss Flower, Peanut and Simone like family. They were a part of my everyday life. They showed me unconditional love. I could only hope that I showed me close to the same.
In this new year, 2018, I have had Henry for about five months. Each day he is becoming more like a normal dog and not like the scared, lost dog with the haunted eyes I met that July afternoon. He barks when he hears my scooter coming to the house. He growls affectionally as I walk in to greet him. When I ask if he wants to go for a walk, he gets so excited he starts shaking. But he still keeps a lot of stuff inside. It is the path of healing for abused animals as much as for abused humans.
As gets out of his bed, he circles around a few times, (still not quite sure what to do) and I put on the leash and he is ready to go. His ears are perked up now when we go outside, he stops everywhere to sniff around and even lifts his leg to pee now and again. His healing in a continual process. It is slow but steady.
His eyes, once so haunted, are softer now. And he stares at me intently with his eyes half shut. He still likes to stay in his bed, but he will put his chin on the edge and look around, taking much more interest in the world around him. I know that he sneaks out and steals dog toys and whatever else he wants to gather for his bed. Despite his rough road, his spirit and rambunctiousness are still there. It is amazing.
One day I looked at a calendar at the scooter repair shop I frequent. They still hadn’t changed the page from the month before. But the picture on the calender page was of a white dog with massive, bat like eyes and the unmistakable paws that Henry has. It was a French bulldog. Aha! I learned that Henri was part French Bulldog.
So, now, his name is Henri. Whereas he once bit me (and Shawn, too, we share that honor) when he is frightened, he now will stop at the urge when he is frightened.
It is so rewarding to see this growth. And it is rewarding to see my growth in caring for him. He has taught me to be more patient, more gentle, more accepting, more…..calm. And his reticence, even in the face of excitement has shed some light on my own history. A story in itself.
Pets are people. They share our lives. They show us love. They show us ourselves. The model for us how to be present and happy in everday moments. They are a part of us. And yes, how we treat our pets says a lot about how we treat each other.
I am thankful for my past pets, and miss them every day. I am thankful for Henri. And for the gift Flower gave me in choosing him.
I have been writing about the Prayer of Recollection. If you have begun and continue to practice this prayer consistently, you may have noticed some things; maybe some potholes along the path; maybe some flowers, too. How we respond to each of these will be important for our growth in prayer.
One of these, as I mentioned before, are distractions. Again, I want to emphasize that distractions are normal, and to some extent, in the work of prayer, we will always have them. It’s important not to be mad at yourself about distractions in prayer. They are what the human mind does. In this prayer, we are training the mind to remain with God in a conscious, continual way for a time, so that we might grow in intimacy, love, and knowledge of the Lord, the “Friend who we know loves us,” as St. Teresa of Avila calls Him.
Our Friend knows our minds are unruly, that we are anxious and worried about many things. He knows. You have chosen the better part, though, and it will not be taken from you. He will complete the good work He has begun in you. He Himself will fight for you. You have only to remain still.
So when distractions come, recognize them, and gently bring yourself back to the presence of the Lord, over and over again. I promise it gets easier as your mind comes more under control with practice. And God will give you strength.
Another pothole along the road of prayer is aptly called aridity, or dryness. Prayer starts to feel like reading the phone book. Remember that St. John of the Cross teaches us that prayer is the secret, quiet inflow of God. Sometimes that quiet inflow is even secret to ourselves. It feels like nothing is happening, or that prayer is painful and empty. This is when we go on trusting that God is in us and working in us whether we have any sense of that or not. As I am fond of saying, the quality of our prayer, and God’s power to work His will in us is not limited by our personal perception or experience of how “well” prayer is going. Do tell God how you feel and ask Him for what you need. St. Teresa said we need determined determination to continue on the Royal Road of prayer. I think of it as the dogged pursuit of God in prayer. The mystics of our faith say that God deepens our prayer and blesses us all the more for our faithfulness and love for Him in times of aridity. Be strong and take heart. God is with you.
The opposites of dry spells in prayer are usually called consolations. You may sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and joy when you pray, intense love or even feelings of euphoria. You may experience the sensible closeness or touch of God on your soul. You may receive flashes of understanding or the unravelling of a difficulty. There is nothing wrong with these things. Carmelite wisdom says enjoy them while they last, but don’t try to cling to them or perpetuate them. Understand that these experiences come and go. Try to be peaceful and accepting when they stop. These are wonderful gifts. They draw us closer to God within and away from outward show. God gives us this sweetness from time to time. Consolations can be very healing and inspiring. When these good things are withdrawn, though, we need to allow them to go easily. Simply continue the prayer, with your focus on the Giver. In this way, you will be learning to love Him more and more for Who He is in Himself, whatever He gives or does not give.
When consolations come, then, just smile, be thankful, receive. Then let go as easily as a breath. Keep loving, keep praying, keep present. If we practice this easiness about the presence or absence of consolations, our prayer life grows immeasurably.
As Our Lord said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of Myself a torrent.”
He’s kind of sneaky so His torrent could feel any number of ways to us. But if we persevere in prayer, we will see the fruits of it in what Gandhi called “the total transformation of character, conduct, and consciousness.” These are the fruits of the life of prayer.
All God wants of man, is a peaceful heart. ~ Miester Ekhart
If we dispose ourselves to Him, in the way St. Teresa has taught us, and we don’t give up, then He will surely come to us, and we will grow in awareness of His indwelling.
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