We are holding hands as we walk together along a rocky path on a hot July evening. We are talking about this and that. She asks me questions, listens thoughtfully as I talk about my life. She has a lot going on too, these days, and she unburdens her heart to me about her work, about her children. I squeeze her hand and we pray together as tears gather in her eyes. I know she works hard for her children, and prays constantly for their needs, for their good, for their souls. I am glad she will talk to me about things that concern her, that she finds my company a comfort at times. We lapse into comfortable silence.
She gathers up the brown skirt of her habit a little as we reach an incline, and I smile that she is barefoot like me. Of course she is.
People say we resemble one another, especially around the eyes. All of Carmel shares the family resemblance to Mary, our sister, as we share everything else with her.
Some might say that ours is a curious Marian devotion, this Carmelite love of Mary not only as mother and queen, but as sister.
Carmelite Marian devotion is primarily about the imitation of Mary. We see ourselves as “the other Mary,” and we view our Carmelite life of prayer and simplicity of heart as a reflection of the interior life she lived and still lives.
More than reflecting on Mary, we tend to simply see through her eyes, to love Jesus with her heart, to share in her hidden work in the world; in the silent drawing of her Immaculate Heart of all peoples toward her Son.
Siblings share confidences, and understand each other in a special way. They tell each other everything. In intimacy and cooperation with Mary, we receive a double portion of Christ’s spirit, because she magnifies the Lord, and together with her, we treasure His words and His life continually in our hearts, in union with her.
A sister can share our lives, walk beside us, trust in us, and we in her.
Mary doesn’t have to knock; she practically lives at our house. When she comes over, she might even fold some of our laundry with us.
We are always welcome at Mary’s house, too. We are allowed to pick the roses in her garden. She doesn’t mind.
Living with her as a sister keeps us in touch with the precious, pure humanity of Mary. It keeps her close by our side, walking with us in a familiar, loving way.
We are less likely to only look up to her, but more likely to unconsciously reflect her- maybe around the eyes, yes, certainly in our ways, surely in the joyful depth of our inner lives in Christ.
As we walk, I notice more and more that there are many others around us. I recognize that it is the craggy path of the ascent of Mt. Carmel we travel with our many brothers and sisters, following Jesus with Mary, our sister, in our midst. She is smiling, enjoying the company, glad we are following her Son all together.
On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16,) the family of Carmel invites you to love Mary like a sister.
If you’ll be her brother
She’ll kiss you like a sister
She’ll even be your mother for now…
I will be her brother
Kiss her like a sister
Come and be my mother forever.
~ Sixpence None the Richer from their song, “Sister Mother”
When I answer the door, a wild- looking old hippie guy standing on my porch asks me for some water and a sandwich. I don’t actually have much food in the house right now, as it’s a few days until Pay Day. I’m trying to think what to give him, remembering I am down to the last scrapes of peanut butter, when, seeming to read my mind, he says that I won’t run out of either bread or peanut butter until the next time I get paid. “Just make me a sandwich,” he says in response to my incredulous stare.
In my kitchen, I open a cabinet and find my jar of peanut butter unexpectedly full. I also find a loaf of bread. So I make him a sandwich.
“Should I know you?” I finally ask. “Yes. I’m the prophet Elijah.”
I ask him, “Aren’t you supposed to appear in the end times?” * He looks at me sharply with an expression of terrible ferocity, sadness, tenderness, radiance, and when our eyes meet, I feel exposed to the vastness of space, and I know even that vastness to be flying by, nothing at all. I know myself to be dust, less than dust. Both the prophet and I are dust in the wind together.
I find myself on a mountainside next to him. I don’t look at his face, but I watch his feet in their dusty sandals as I follow him up. The path is rough, steep, and though well worn, it is still difficult. We climb on and on in silence. This must be Mt. Carmel. Suddenly I take a thoughtless step, sliding and falling backwards down the narrow path, and then over an edge I didn’t notice before.
He catches my wrist, and as soon as his hand closes tightly to catch me and stop my fall, I see what fills the pit I almost fell into- the charred remains of little children, so many, too many to count. The full horror of this scene chokes me. As I hang over this terrible place in Elijah’s grip, I hear the Scripture, “it is not against flesh and blood that we are at war, but with the powers and principalities of darkness,” and the words of Jesus, “Satan is a murderer and he was a murderer from the beginning. “
Suddenly I am back on the mountain path with Elijah, trying to recover my calm. I look at him, his face covered with angry tears, and I remember the priests of Baal he was up against, and I feel I understand the extreme zealous intensity of Elijah. It wasn’t only the worship of an idol, offensive as that was, it was all that this led to, and ultimately, it was the Evil One beneath it all, and who is still our real enemy.
The little children sacrificed to Baal* don’t suffer anymore. It is God who feels it forever, God who is horrifically wronged, the order of the world distorted by every scream, because He is Love and Truth itself, and we are made in His image, to love and to be loved. There is only one way evil can have any effect on God; through the harm or the betrayal of those He loves.
Unfaithfulness to Him inevitably leads the human heart to ruin and darkness and worse. “All who worship them will become like them.”
That pit. I shudder. That place was strangely familiar. I know it signifies much. I will be sorting out its’ implications for a long time.
Elijah seems tired as we continue our climb. “Thank you,” I breathe, feeling that he can hear me, and that he knows I am thanking him, too, for his life of powerful witness to God, of jealous love for Him.
“Zelo zelatus sum,” I think to myself, as we duck into Elijah’s cave. “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts;” Elijah’s words, and the motto of all Carmelites.* This is why we live, this is why we pray: “As the Lord lives, in whose presence I stand,” that He come through us into this world, that we might arise and burn like a torch in the spirit and power of Elijah against the spiritual forces of darkness, the idols and injustices of our time, with “a double portion of [his] spirit.”
We sit watching the ravens bringing us food from afar. I want to explore the cave, but the prophet’s eyes are closed, and I know we are supposed to pray now, as the sun sets. Just before I close my eyes, I see in the distance, over the sea, a small rain cloud coming up over the water. I understand what this means. “He shall descend like rain on the meadows.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
I am aware of the profound, incomprehensible tenderness of God in the “still small voice” withinElijah and myself. We cover our faces, and we say His name, the Name of God.
“The fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice… and the people fell on their faces saying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”Notes:
Elijah’s life is in 1Kings chapters 17- 21, and 2Kings 1- 2:18
My daughter, Maire, got in trouble at her Catholic middle school for wearing green nail polish, which was against the rules. (Only clear or light pink nail polish allowed, if I remember right.) When asked about her indiscretion, she said, “It’s for Ordinary Time!”
I laughed hearing about that. At least she remembered what season we were in as Church, and it meant something to her.
We have just begun Ordinary Time, that big section of green, the liturgical color of the current Church season, that fills most of the wheel illustrating the Liturgical Year.
We have special things we do at other seasons in the Church year. What about Ordinary Time?
Ordinary Time has it’s own feel. I associate its’ post Pentecost beginning with that first breath of cool air from the church door as I step into the intimate hush of daily Mass on a hot Summer day. This season is a contrast of calm and peace after the penance of Lent and the holy fire of Easter and Pentecost. It’s a return to the simple holiness of daily life.
One of our family albums is titled, “Ordinary Time.” It is a scrapbook of our family life during a few months of Summer and Fall. Into it I recorded our daily “rule of life;” (or sometimes not-so-rule,) song lyrics to music we were listening to at the time, the every day prayers we prayed, the silly things we did on the spur of the moment like a spontaneous family dance in the middle of dinner, as well as our little celebrations of the feasts of Ordinary Time, such as the Nativity of Mary (September 8.)
We always made Mother Mary a birthday cake. “Chocolate. What other kind of cake would she eat, right?” the caption says in green ink.
We remembered this part of the Church year by keeping green candles on our family alter. We prayed a “kid version” (when the kids were younger,) of the Liturgy of the Hours I put together for family prayer, which always reflected the current season.
At Mass, the vestments and alter cloths will be green or have green trim. My mom, always the gardener, used to say this was because “green is the color of life.” In Ordinary Time, the focus shifts from the culminating moments in the life of Christ and His Church; the birth of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and then Pentecost, to the space in between where most of life is lived.
“Ordinary” comes from the word, “Order.” So we enter into the daily order of the Church at this time of year, and the emphasis of the Gospel readings is on the ministry of Jesus; His preaching and healing, His daily encounters with people, His conversations, his journeys.
Ordinary time can be a time we pay special attention to our own encounters, conversations, and the events of our own lives, and how God speaks to us in these. How does the life of Jesus unfold in your own?
What do you do every day? I know I spend a lot of time coping, and sometimes I need to cultivate more conscious awareness of life so it doesn’t just happen to me and I miss it.
I am not by nature a very rule or schedule oriented person. But I do know paying attention to my loosely interpreted cadenza of a life, makes it more of a little holy rule instead of a stream of consciousness in which I might forget to practice the presence of God. * When I can lightly observe the rhythm of the day with holy intention, I feel peaceful and connected.
Ordinary Time is a great time to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to read the daily mass readings, (or maybe just the Gospel each day, as my youngest adult daughter and I do.) It’s a good time to get in the habit of sanctifying time by stopping, or at least pausing, in our day, to pray, even for a moment. It’s a good time to remember to look around and notice how beautiful God is, and how He is everywhere represented and speaking to us.
Now is a great time to carry Jesus into the work we do, and to consciously do all we do as it truly is; through Him, with Him and in Him. We can try doing every task with gentleness and love. Whether we sit, or lie down, or are talking to our children, whether we are in our house, driving our car, doing the shopping or at work, when we are sitting with friends, or going for a walk, we can try always to be remembering the nearness of God, even in our breathing.
“God is alive. I am standing in His presence.” ~Antiphon from The Carmelite Proper for the feast of Elijah the Prophet (July 20)
We can each day seek to understand how it is that His yoke is easy, His burden light, His Heart meek and humble. We can slowly begin to incorporate that lightness, that easiness, that meekness and humility of heart into our lives as we become more aware of the sweet companionship of His spirit every day.
This is how we enjoy life as people who consciously live in God; by bringing the remembrance of Him into the sacred Ordinariness of our time.
“See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.
~ Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Nowich
* The Practice of the Presence of God is a term coined by the Carmelite mystic, Brother Lawrence, and is the title of a collection of his writings.
“Come, Holy Spirit, Fire of Love, Come Father of the poor, heal my wounds by your love.
Lord, You have chosen me already in my childhood and I know that I am the work of Your Love.
– Come, Holy Spirit… I’m not anything more than pure weakness, You know well my God, that my hands are empty
– Come, Holy Spirit…
You know well, my only friend, that the One that captivated my heart, the One I love is You, my Jesus
– Come, Holy Spirit…
And only You can give joy to my soul, which desires to love You for Eternity
– Come, Holy Spirit…
Mary, Queen of Heaven, my dear Shepherdess, you knew how to protect me with your motherly hand
– Come, Holy Spirit…
When I was playing carefree over the chasm, You showed me the mount of Carmel
– Come, Holy Spirit…”
~ St. Therese
Holy Spirit, the Comforter, come and enter into the deep recesses of our hearts. Heal us as we come to know You in the quiet of our souls. Teach us to seek you in “the cave of the heart”. Renew us in hope. Strengthen us in faith. Bring each of us Your healing grace in the depths of our hearts that we may know the deepest peace.
In the midst of darkness and anguish, that is nothing to you to transform, in the midst of very difficult situations, bring an explosion of Your grace that makes all that is ugly and fearful beautiful and free.
We know and believe you are already doing this and we sense Your genius in the unfolding of our lives. You are Love itself.
Come, Holy Spirit, and take us to new heights of Love. For perfect Love casts out all fear. May we live continually in a loving awareness of Your presence within us and around us and in everyone and all our experiences of each day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
This is a story of a love that grew between a very Catholic thirty-something widowed mom and a crew of very rough men who were not only physically dirty but rough in all the ways blue collar guys can be. They drank, they cussed, they smoked (and not only cigarettes), they did other things there is no need to mention or think of, some of them engaging in varying degrees of what one might call debauchery. I didn’t care though. And I was right not to.
They all knew me because my brother, Mark, had worked with them for many years though he was now in a different part of the production department. The crew had worries about my coming. First of all, I was female and they were and had been an all-male crew for twenty-five years in a job that isolated them from the rest of the paper, the rest of the world, most of the time. The press room is it’s own little world with its own culture and social structure, its own legends, history and lingo. How would a new, small, alien being fit into all that? They were also worried because my job would be very tough physically and I am a very small person. How would I manage — and were they going to have to do my work for me? Could I handle the rough environment, their dirty mouths, their nasty talk, their supposedly bad manners? They knew I was very religious…really, really religious. What were they going to do? How was this going to work? Would I try to convert them or get them to pray with me?
I was worried I wouldn’t be any good at this job, which was basically being their helper, “the Catcher” and catch-all, doing whatever was needed in that loud, filthy, fast-moving place, to help them every day. (Don’t worry I held my own. I think this helped a lot in getting along with them).
To start with, I made a goodwill gesture by sending muffins for them with my brother a few days before I was to start. I got an e-mail from my future foreman that they were the best muffins they ever had and they ate every one of them. Still, my first day in the Eagle press room, the crew was nervous and could hardly talk. I could tell they were uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what to do about it. But the first thing I did was laugh at their jokes. They were very funny guys. I got them to tell me their wild stories from back in the day when they were all young and played crazy games and pranks on each other and were generally very bad. I laughed at the stories too, which surprised them. I said I was going to write a book of “Eagle Legends.” They said not until they were all dead.
They still seemed to be nervous by the afternoon of that first day so I waited until the press was rolling, until we all had our head sets on, so they wouldn’t have to look at me, before I brought anything up. This way they could just go on being busy while we talked so it would be less tense. I pushed the button under my right ear that would let them all hear me. “OK,” I said, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Silence. “Do I make you nervous?” They looked around at each other.
Finally Mike said, “We’re trying not to make you mad, or make you cry. We’ve been trying not to cuss or say anything bad all day.”
I thought about it.
“Well, I know I am supposed to but I really don’t care if y’all cuss. So that’s not going to bother me. Just don’t talk dirty to me and we’ll all be fine.” They thought they could comply with that. And they did.
Not only that but they were such gentlemen in the true sense. I already liked them. In fact, they turned out to be the best guys in the world. They still are.
I was in the lowest place, certainly, but the lowest place is not so bad when the people above you make little platforms for you to stand on so you can reach things, when they make a big deal about everything you do right, when they clap when you come out for the first time dressed in your blue pressroom uniform, when they are rapturous about everything you cook for them, and laugh at all the things you waste time on (like the day I decorated all their coffee cups and another time I figured out each of their Captain Underpants’ name, and that one prank I pulled that was pretty funny if I may say so myself).
I obeyed them with love and devotion and all my work was to help them and keep them safe. When I mopped behind the press I did it to keep them from slipping. When I helped them at my end of the press (catching and stacking the bundles of paper as they came out) and agreed to go for hours and hours on a long run without a rest when they had a heavy day, it was to ease things up for them and help them get their work done smoothly. I found out this was how they worked, too, they each worked for the sake the others.
They loved me and I loved them. We were happy.
I listened intently to their problems, put Band-Aids on their wounds when they got hurt (pressmen get hurt a lot,) and they tried to help me with my troubles, comfort me when I cried, and make sure I didn’t lose my keys.
Ways we confronted the culture clash between us were playful and respectful. When they used the Lord’s Name in vain, I smiled and said, “I LOVE that guy!” At first they stared at me but then they laughed.
When my rosary broke they thought that was very funny and tried to figure out how I broke it. (Praying too hard for them?) Red fixed the rosary for me with the tools for tiny parts in the workroom. He asked me how to say the Hail Mary. He never made it all the way through the prayer without a joke you wouldn’t like. But when his dog was bitten by a rattlesnake he said he couldn’t remember what to do with the rosary, but he had held it up and asked God to please help Chester. Chester, happily, is alive and well. I gave Red a rosary. It still hangs in his truck.
I made fun of them about how they couldn’t get anything done when the female electrician was there and they kept tripping over things. They laughed too.
As to the question about handling gossip…truly, I loved them so much, I didn’t care what they said. But I teased them that they gossiped like Jr. High girls, which made them laugh. They did try not to “talk mess” around me though, since I explained I wasn’t supposed to. “I can’t be doing that,” I said… and I tried not to.
If they messed up and talked about anything dirty, I had playful ways of dealing with that too, though it hardly ever happened. One time I said, “OK let’s talk about sex then!” They were very uncomfortable. I started talking about Theology of the Body and got my Bible from my backpack and started reading them the Song of Songs with a big smile on my face that was totally authentic, I promise. You wouldn’t believe how bashful, sheepish and embarrassed they were and how much they balked at the steamy language in the Song of Songs. They didn’t really want to talk about sex. They just wanted to be gross, I guess. I could not stop laughing about their reaction, and they wondered why I was so crazy.
We laughed at each other. We laughed at each other a lot.
Eventually if they had something they wanted to say that was “bad” they would tell me to turn off my head set. So I would roll my eyes and turn it off. After a while I did not have to turn it off so much. We liked to make each other happy that’s why.
Richard got me a kid chair to put with everyone else’s in the formans’ office so I could have my own seat at our morning meeting even though the catcher is not usually a part of that at all. I didn’t find that out until later. I just assumed the meeting was for me too and they treated me like I was supposed to be there. They accepted me. They let me in.
One of them had trouble letting me in. That was Luis. I could hardly get him to talk to me. But I found out he liked whistle candy and got him a big box of it. We played with the whistle candy and slowly started talking. We ended up great friends. Whistle candy is one of our inside jokes.
I loved hearing about their lives, and Mondays were my favorite days because I missed the guys over the weekend.
One time they were talking about a new girl that was working up front and I asked if beauty was kind of healing for them because they liked looking at her so much. They liked this a lot. “Yes,” one of them said, “I guess you could say that.” They were all smiling. They thought I was funny. And I thought they were funny too. We knew how each other was. And it was all fine.
I got mono one time and they kept calling me to see about me and ask when I was coming back. One time my brother got on the phone, “Get back here! They are right back to the way they used to be before you came! They’re awful!”
I loved that these guys had been together all their lives, watched each other’s kids grow up, had been there for each other in bad times, had played maybe a thousand or more basketball games together and remembered every one of those games and could tell you about it, as well as every repair they had done on each others’ cars and motorcycles and houses and plumbing and so on. They were the best press crew in Texas, and rightly proud of the excellent work they did. They were honorable guys in so many ways. There was so much good and beauty in each of them.
They came to like me too and accept my quirks and oddities — like the way I don’t eat meat, (or drink, or date, or smoke, or do anything fun as far as they could tell at first), the way I will cry easily, don’t take criticism well, the way I daydreamed and lost count of the bundles coming out or how many skids I stacked at times. I alarmed them by blowing bubbles on the roof when we were supposed to be putting up the Christmas lights (and people on the busy road were staring at us and the publisher was sure to hear about it.) I glazed over when people talked about boring stuff like engines, money or tools.
I got mad at Wayne from the mail room when he refused to take a cookie from me and stalked past me without a reply. I put a handful down his shirt.
Wayne and I learned to live in peace. He shakes his head when he sees me, and I call to his attention how much I love him- “See? I love you so much, I didn’t even say anything when I saw you! Not even good morning!”
The guys put my impulsive loss of temper at Wayne into verse. Never mind about that.
When I made fun of them they thought it was great. One time they went too far teasing me and I went in the bathroom and cried and wouldn’t come out. They were totally freaked out until I did come out. When I finally did, they were so sorry and I just wanted them to forget about it and not feel so bad.
Usually when I showed evidence of my shortcomings, they would start laughing and say, “We gonna tell them Carmelites you said that!” Or Mel would tell me I would have to go to Confession that Saturday if I didn’t stop that. “I’m surprised at you!” he would say. When I got on their nerves, Jason would start asking if it was 2:45 yet. “Isn’t it time you went to pick your kids up from school?”
I tried not to annoy or offend them. I want to be good for them and they want to be good for me. At the same time we accept one another. I think this is a good balance.
On my birthday one year they wrote me a song, “Our Angel,” and performed it at our morning meeting. Bob played guitar and they all sang it to me. I cried, I was so touched. I could barely stay in the room with all that love, appreciation and acceptance. They understood. They had to tell me it was OK . “Just listen.”
One time Red had said they wanted to heal my broken heart. I hope they know they did. They brought me out of myself and loved me and helped me be part of life again.
I remember all their middle names. I remember their birthdays. I make them cakes every year for their birthdays still and one of them (usually Mike or Mel) will call me on mine on behalf of them all. I ended up marrying the only one of them who was a complete atheist. (That was Bob, and he ended up Catholic).
They have fixed my cars, helped me around the house, cared about my kids and at times have fathered them when they needed it, and are still there for me though I have not worked there officially for a few years now.
When I bring a cake there for one of their birthdays they stick to the tradition I started of singing Happy Birthday to the birthday person and telling stories about him. If I forget, they remind me.
Now and then they remind me that my rosary that I prayerfully hung on one of the press motors when the press was down one terrible night, is still there, (at this writing,) melted into the metal that got so hot during the crisis. I think that is symbolic. We are melded into each other’s hearts.
Looking at them one time, and thinking about who each of them was, I prayed to Jesus about them, that He would bless them and not worry too much about some things, because the good things were so good. I reflected that He knew them better than I did and loved them better too. He brought us together and He knew what He was doing. I realized that I was finding Him in them.
Maybe that’s what “bringing Christ to the workplace,” or any place, really is. Maybe when you look for Jesus in others, you transmit His love and grace in a mysterious way the Spirit knows. If you find Him, you give Him, and receive Him, too.
Jesus said, “Whoever hears you hears me.”I hope it also means, “Whoever loves you loves me,” because I love those guys. And they love me. “Where my disciple is there will I be also.” We all turned out to be disciples even though maybe some of us didn’t know we were. “Wherever there is love, there is God,” said St. Thomas Aquinas.
So what is the advice in this story? “Look for God in your co-workers so they can see Him in you,” or “Find Jesus everywhere,” or maybe, “ Stop being so uncool.” After a while Jesus shines out on both sides. It’s easy then.
If you’re reading this, guys, I love you! Get back to work too!
* Dear Reader, please take a moment and pray for my guys. ❤
* Originally this article was published in the Flos Carmeli, the Provincial Newsletter of the Secular Discalced Carmelites of the Oklahoma Province. I was asked to write about “Bringing Christ to the work place,” as a Carmelite, and to offer advice about dealing with the everyday worldliness, gossip and rivalries lay people encounter at work. I decided to tell you a love story instead, and maybe the story would cover some of those points. It was later re-published for ATX Catholic and also The Eagle in my monthly column in a more edited form. I thought it would be fun to bring it out in honor of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 🙂
As soon as my friends and family stop laughing that I am writing anything about this subject, we can begin in earnest, Gentle Reader…
Well, never mind then. We will just go on anyway. I deserve it, I know. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I had better meditate on Philippians 2:12,b EVERY DAY! My step dad, Tom’s reaction to my writing this was, “OK, you got guts!”
Actually I enjoy housework. It’s just that with my ADD (I believe I mentioned it to you before a time or two) it is very hard for me to stay on task and to be consistent or plan my work very well. This is called a lack of executive function, I believe. Also I have trouble practicing habits that make it so I don’t have to play bulldozer when I do clean (that’s called being a bit of a slob I believe.) I am quite likely, as my witnesses know, to pick up a book to put it away and suddenly realize I’ve been sitting on the floor reading it a good while, or to start a grand project and then find myself staring out of the window thinking of my next “hum” in Pooh-Bear fashion.
I’m not lazy. I like hard work. My last job was in the press room at the local newspaper, which was very hard physical work. I loved it. So work is not the problem. As long as I am not distracted or confused, I will be fine. An overwhelmingly messy laundry room, however, causes a kind of short in my circuits that makes me gaze unseeing or become instantly distracted. OK, maybe I run away.
My difficulties confessed, I do think I have something to say about housework and its sacredness. I may even offer some advice for other ADD and AD/HD sufferers or people with small children and/or busy schedules (or maybe just anyone!) that might not be so out of line about getting a modest amount of work done in a prayerful way.
My house is clean right now. Roise was slightly helpful in the way that a mopey 15-year old can be when she really wants her friend over, and Mom has said, “Not until this house doesn’t know what hit it!” Still it was mostly myself working on this goal. Roise took a few Facebook breaks as mopey teen agers will.
When my kids were small, I used to go with them one room at a time to work with them side by side. We used to offer up our work in each room for a different prayer intention. Maire, at age 7, usually offered her room cleaning for Brittany Spears. She was always worried about her. When we finished a room, we bowed, before lighting some incense in the clean room; a ritual we got from their dad, Marc Blaze, that added a sense of completeness and made our work feel sacred.
My second late husband, Bob, taught me a lot about the holiness of work around the house and of conscious service to the family. He said this was part of what he called his “skin religion.” He said his work in the yard, for instance, was a form of prayer. He was mindful, as he mowed the lawn, picturing Maire and Roise’s bare feet on the grass and how nice he was making it for them, how soft it would feel on their feet. He said he wanted us to look around and see the things he had done for us around our house and feel like each one was an “I love you,” from Bob.
House work and yard work seemed to open him to the “sacrament of the present moment” * and to fill him with love.
We do look around and see his “love notes” all around us. One can hardly look anywhere and not see something he did for us.
I was at Bob’s side a lot of the time as we painted our house the exact blue of my sister-in-law, Jamie’s, eyes. I felt a sense of loving gratitude toward my house as we painted and like I was getting to know our house better. We thought about how meaningful it was to be painting this house that had been drab, dirty white for so many years. We were covering it with brightness like a metaphor for how colorful our lives were now that we were together and so happy after so many years of loneliness for both of us. It felt like an act of gratitude and a recognition of the sacredness of our home. Later Bob made me a painting of our house shaped like a heart with the two of us contemplating it. We went on to paint the garage green and to put in a pink antique front door.
When I wash my mixing bowls, which belonged to my granny and then to my mom and now to me, I have a sense of being close to them, and that those bowls are holy. So are all the dishes on which I feed my family and all those who come to my house as guests. Cooking is holy too. The Sufis believe food cooked with love, especially by your parents, carries a special blessing- which indeed it does. We should always try to cook with love. My mom did.
I have a few habits when I am working around the house that help me stay in tune with the holy and remind me that my housework is not only an offering but it can be an adoration of the Lord who is continuously present with us in all we do. I know it’s weird but I have a tendency to pause and genuflect now and then in the kitchen. Bob used to ask why I did “church stuff in the house.” I said I was just praying while I worked. He understood that.
My Carmelite Community has a “Day of Recollection” each December. One time the Holy Cross Brother leading us in our day asked us what we imagined ourselves doing as holy people, as we are all called to sainthood. What did we see ourselves actually doing? He said he saw himself writing. I was surprised that I saw myself sweeping the floor. Well! That’s already true. I could think that’s pretty disappointing, or I could think that is worth pondering. Maybe God is telling me to find Him in these things I am always having to do anyway. It is true that He has given me some great moments of insight and growth in the middle of a daily task like sweeping the floor or folding laundry.
This sense of love and holiness involved in caring for my house makes me more mindful of each task and even makes me handle material objects with a loving gentleness more like I would if I were putting the vessels of the alter away, were I to be doing that. I do sometimes feel an infusion of love and awareness of God’s presence when I am engaged in simple tasks.
So why is it so hard for me to be consistent, to get started on a project and stay with it? You remember. I’m terribly ADD.
If you are too, or have young children, or are otherwise busy and pre-occupied, here are some things I do to get myself through an afternoon of housework and grow in the awareness of God’s presence at the same time. Maybe you have some tips for me, too. I bet you do.
First, Roise and I ask the prayers of St. Anne, the patroness of our house, as well as patroness of house wives. This is her house so I ask her to pray for me while I clean. Sometimes, if I am badly distracted or overwhelmed, I lay a novena to her out on the kitchen table and set the oven timer for 30 minute increments. I will stop and pray another “day” of the novena each time the timer goes off. It keeps me going.
Also I trick myself. I tell myself I am only going to fold five towels (when I have a huge, intimidating pile of laundry) and then I’m quitting. Once I get going, it is not an unpleasant task so I keep going. Anyway, it fascinates my cats.
The timer is also useful for seeing what I can get done in 15 minutes. My house used to be a duplex and my dear friend, Andrea, lived on the other side. One of us would watch our kids in the back yard for 15 minutes while the other rushed around her house to see what she could get done in that much time. We were amazed at how well this worked and how much we got done in such a short, focussed period. Both of us still do that sometimes even now; set the timer for 15 minutes and see what we can accomplish.
It’s hard for me to stay on task so one thing I do is follow a rule that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t stop doing things, just keep moving and bringing myself back to housework like I bring my mind back to prayer when I get distracted. Audio books help me a lot too. They get me to stay in the room, and if I’m caught up in St. Julian of Norwich the work is a breeze; I’ll stay right with it and listening to her could only increase my consciousness of being immersed in the Source of all Good. Holy music can help with this too, though I like Metallica for mopping.
I saw a painting of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in which she is washing dishes and holding up a dinner plate like an offering. I liked that picture a lot. It expresses well what I am trying to do.
Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God, said that he felt just as close to God when he flipped an omelet for love of Him as he did on his knees in chapel as if there was no difference. As St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God moves among the pots and pans.”
That he does. Finding Him and hanging out with him there is what I’m working on a lot lately; even if I have to trick myself to get started.
Laugh. It’s OK. I don’t mind. 🙂
“Father, may everything we do begin with Your inspiration and continue with Your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in You, and through You reach completion.” (from the Liturgy of the Hours Monday Morning Week I)
“You who work in this house…. Mary counts your steps and your labors.” ~ Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified
I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!
During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.
He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”
This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?
For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.
What I eventually found, as I developed spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.
Mary did not and does not sit out on God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out. With that idea in mind, I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.
With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.
Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.
How is this done?
It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.
Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?
Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?
Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?
Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?
If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.
You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.
Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?
Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.
By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us. In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.
Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.
Jesus lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.
As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.
She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple
She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.
She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.
After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.
She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.
What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ, and Christ to the world.
This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “
In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore in ours as well, through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.
We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.
We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)
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.
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!