A few mornings ago, sitting at the table with my coffee, looking out over the meadow, I noticed with a smile, the moon in the brightening sky.
It was a rich gold, shining out momentarily as the sun came up, and then, as the light from the sun intensified, changing to it’s usual white. Slowly it became translucent. It faded away like the Cheshire cat, leaving a grin behind, eventually disappearing all together as morning filled the sky.
The whole thing was enchanting. It was prayer without “praying.”
There are times when the human soul is in a state of recollection and communion just by being what it is, by living, and being receptive when it is given silent brightness.
Holy mindfulness, the Sacrament of the Present Moment, and the Practice of the Presence of God are usually thought of as actively cultivated. However, perhaps these are graciously given, as well, and become the way we receive and experience the minutes and hours of daily life.
It seems in the quiet moments of the day, we can be deeply in tune with the loveliness of being, the loveliness of God, by being receptive, and just by being.
Maybe this is because we live in God’s presence, are made in His image, and the kingdom really is in our midst, and truly within us.
“…the Father and I will go to him and make Our home within him.” John 14:23b
In our gentle appreciation of beauty, in our every day task of making food for the people we love out of the beautiful carrots, onions, and garlic he has given us and that human hands have grown, we can be recollected spiritually without necessarily even thinking about it. I think, but I’m not sure, that is what the indwelling of the Trinity might feel like. After all, this indwelling is true and real in each of us.
When you lean down to hug your dog and a warm breeze comes rushing by, embracing you both, and all is still inside as you close your eyes; maybe this is what “the morning star rising in [our] hearts,” is like.
When the coffee is hot and good, when someone you love very much is sitting silently at the other end of the table with his coffee and his cigarette, as the morning light turns from blue to pink to gold to white, sometimes it isn’t necessary to form any words of love, or even really to think about anything at all. Your heart is already praying just by being there, and being what it is.
When everything seems quietly alive, as if even the inanimate in creation joins us in silent praise, and it’s no big deal, it just is; it could be there is nothing very strange or esoteric about that.
Maybe when Jesus said, “the pure of heart shall see God,” this is because with Him we are pure of heart, and when we are pure of heart, all we see is God.
Maybe when the heart is open, it automatically is filled with a receptive “heartfulness,” singing God’s name, without words, without thoughts, all the time.
His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?
I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.
His eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.
When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”
As I get him ready for the day he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)
I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga now and then. Mac had to put up with me. He looked pretty worried at times.
Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.
For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.
Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.
At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.
The day the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.
I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking. His “Macnastics” dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.
A big part of our day is listening to music. He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.
Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.
Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.
In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.
Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.
When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house. It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too. I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.
What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it? Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.
There are so many things Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.
He teaches me things I thought I knew.
Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.
I have finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.
Mac really is my guru. His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.
feet of the master 🙂
I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.
“I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking: ‘Open to me!” (Song of Songs 5:2a)
Have you ever had a dream that seemed to be from God, one that helped you understand something about yourself, reassured you He was there, or helped you know His will for you?
Maybe you have had a redirecting sort of dream, or one that changed your life. Many people have had dreams in which they seemed to talk to someone they loved who had died, or , more rarely, a dream about something that was about to happen. It seems that dreams open a door in us that is most often closed.
There are psychological interpretations of dreams, and scientific explanations of dreaming. According to the Scriptures, some dreams can be very important indeed, and are one way God speaks to the human soul.
Dreams are part of the stories of St. Therese, St. Faustina, St. Monica, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Perpetua and others. Dreams were an important part of the journeys of several Biblical people, too, like Daniel and Joseph in the Old Testament, and, of course, in the life of St. Joseph, husband of Mary. The three Wise men were also directed by a dreams. Dreams are potentially powerful parts of our own spiritual lives.
Attention to dreams can be a fruitful spiritual practice. Dreams have been powerful messages to me during times I couldn’t understand myself, or what God was doing in my life. Many dreams have been healing to me, or reassured me of God’s love and presence. Some dreams I have never forgotten though I had them years and years ago, because they were so important to me.
Dreams most often speak in symbols, which is how God tends to speak to humanity. The Church, the Liturgy, the Scriptures, are all overflowing with truths expressed in symbol and metaphor, or in imagery laden language that is closer to poetry and parable than linear narrative or stark information. Dreams have their own precision and logic that is on a different level altogether. Dreams seem to put us in touch with the mysterious reality that Heaven inhabits the human soul and speaks to her in its’ own preferred language, which is, after all, the soul’s own native tongue.
Sometimes dreams seem to come from that same place of meeting between the earthly and the spiritual as a holy vision would come. A dream can be a door to the timeless, a bridge to the sacred, a mirror of spiritual truth in our lives.
The late Episcopalian priest, author and counselor, Morton T. Kelsey, suggested that there is a “dreamer within,” and that the “Dreamer Within, is none other than the Holy Spirit,” who prays within us, teaches, consoles, inspires, and guides us.
Father Kelsey went so far as to say that when he was working with someone who was having trouble believing in God, his first suggestion was that they start writing down dreams every day. He said that practice usually helped change a person’s perspective within a few weeks.
There is something uncanny going on, a wisdom being expressed that is beyond our own. One tends to notice that when reading over a series of recorded dreams.
I think it’s less important to “decode” dreams or try to “figure them out” as much as it is important to experience them as a soul who seeks God in all things. We could value our dreams and treat them as potentially valid spiritual experiences meant to help us on our way. To do this we need to remember them, record them, and pray them.
How to Remember Your Dreams:
Be open to remembering them, want to remember them.
• Keep a pen, a notebook, or your journal beside your bed expectantly. You are more likely to remember dreams this way.
• Be disciplined and write them down while they are still fresh in your mind when you first wake up. Write them down just as you remember them as soon as you can.
How to Practice the Prayer of Dreams:
• If you have had a dream that felt important to you, a troubling dream, or a puzzling dream, make time to revisit the dream in prayer.
Try to replay the dream, perhaps as you write reflectively, in your journal.
• Recreate the scene of the dream. Step into it in your imagination, only this time with an awareness of Jesus at your side.
• Let Jesus show you what He wants you to see. Often doing this is transformative of the dream and even of the person who dreamed it!
One of my favorite things to do when I go over a dream prayerfully, is to look for Jesus in the dream. He often has a hidden role among the characters of each dream. When you go through a dream and recognize Him, it can be very meaningful and often it is a surprise. In a dream that was originally upsetting, Jesus turned out to be a crane operator showing me how to operate a crane. The meaning seemed to be that He shared my sorrow and could show me how to carry it with His help.
Sometimes God has more to tell us about a dream. We just have to invite Him to tell us what He wants to about it.
• Respond to God about the dream in prayer. You might write this prayer in your journal if you like to pray that way.
• Make good use in your life of any insights that apply.
You may want to go back and read the dream sometime when you need it to remember that God is constantly working in your soul, and this will strengthen you again.I think most dreams have to do with the part of the Interior Castle that St. Teresa of Avila calls, “The Room of Self Knowledge,” and are the Holy Spirit helping us know ourselves better.There are also dreams that are obviously an experience of the Lord or an angel or a saint, or a visit from someone you love, who has died. It’s easy to see these dreams as powerful gifts from God, messages of love and reassurance of His presence.
Dreams can guide us and point us in the right direction in our lives, or help us grow in trust that God is within us always.
Some dreams seem made to be puzzled and prayed over. Those can be just as life changing as the more numinous kind, and the process of unraveling them seems to be good for us, and our relationship of trust with God. When I have had a puzzling dream, often the Scripture readings at mass will seem to open its’ meaning for me or reinforce its message, or something will happen, or someone will say something that makes clear what God is trying to show me in a dream I have wondered about. So if you’re puzzling over a dream, keep paying attention to what God may be trying to get you to hear in your life. If He is telling you something, He will keep saying it in as many ways as you might hear.
Usually the meaning of the dream, according to psychologist, Beth Row, is the meaning that makes sense to the dreamer, the meaning that “clicks.” You are the one God gave the dream to and you will know when you have understood, even though wise people, books and other dream guides can be helpful.
When we write dreams out and pray them, they become a more conscious form of contact with God, and can be helpful for us in our spiritual lives. I sometimes get the impression that the Lord enjoys puzzling over a dream with me, and is glad I came to seek its meaning from Him and show Him I value His communications in the dreams He sends to me.
It seems to me the Prayer of Dreams is one way we can say, in our sleep, as at any other time, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.
Jesus in His Sacred Humanity
I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair; Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.
I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son.
I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.
Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.
Answer Me, say from the heart:
Truly, I have set my soul
In silence and in peace
As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,
The invitation said “Shawna’s Day of Silence.” When we arrived, her house was open, breezy, and, obviously, quiet.
My friend had set up areas to be comfortable to think, read, journal or pray or even nap. There were candles burning, and an array of books on various tables; spiritual reading, art books, a Bible. Art supplies and paper were in the kitchen with snacks and coffee. I brought a basket of rosaries to set on the coffee table. A note encouraged us to go for a walk, or do whatever quiet activity we liked.
I remember walking in her beautiful garden, scribbling in my journal on her couch, smiling at my friends, just hanging out. People came and went as they pleased or as they had time.
Shawna was going through a hard time in her life then. It is beautiful that one of her responses to her spiritual growth during her suffering was to open her home for us as a refuge of silence and acceptance.
You would think such a gathering would feel awkward, but, especially among good friends, it was not awkward at all.
I was inspired, some years later to hold a “day of silence” at my house. I decided to punctuate mine with times of communal vocal prayer.
People could come and go, similar to Shawna’s day, but they would know that at various times we would gather to pray together.
My friend Jocie came early to my “Day of Silence,” and made memorable breakfast tacos for everyone.
I set up an environment similar to the one Shawna had.
We then gathered for Morning Prayer form the Liturgy of the Hours in the room in my house we had set aside as our family oratory. (I called it my chapel but I know that is not actually correct terminology.)
Then everyone could do whatever they liked.
We had a tree house rosary at noon, Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3, and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours on the trampoline at 6.
It was a great day. One of my fond memories of that day was wandering into the “chapel” and seeing my friend Molly in there with a bucket of soapy warm water and a towel. She asked me to sit down and she washed my feet!
It was very touching.
* (You may ask where my kids were that day or how did I got them to be quiet all that time. Answer: My kids were there some, but mostly at a friend’s house that day- otherwise it would never have been a day of silence!)
I have hosted days of silence and reflection on other occasions, but they have been shorter. They were more like a come and go open house with communal prayer at the beginning and the end for a few hours, and food and coffee and tea, of course.
I have also tried a “day of silence” with my fiancee. In our schedule we made, we set times for walking, reading, quiet prayer togetherandjust open quiet time. We broke silence for meals and for going out for coffee.
At three o’clock, we washed one another’s feet, and anointed one another with oil.
The day was the first anniversary of my brother’s suicide which had unfortunately marked most of the duration of our relationship with trauma and the various crises that emanated from that event. It was important that we have a healing day.
When we washed one another’s feet, we also told each other how grateful we were for each other’s strength and wisdom, faith and resilience, acceptance and presence.
In the evening, we prayed Evening Prayer together from the Liturgy of the Hours, and went out for a special meal.
Consider hosting a Day of Reflection or a Day of Silence at your own home, your Domestic Church. There are so many ways to serve others without a lot of “doing.” You can be open and accepting to others, your house like the open heart of Jesus.
You don’t have to make small talk or worry about how you are doing. Just be like Joseph and Mary when they opened the stable at Bethlehem for the Shepherds, for the wise men, for whoever wanted to come to be with Jesus and with them under the light of the Star.
We all have so many Christmas parties we go to. We have shopping and cooking, baking and decorating, travel and other plans.
Take a moment. Let the fresh air of the Spirit come into your house, the sweetness of silence with Jesus permeate your home and your friendships.
You could have different kind of Christmas party, one that cultivates peace and gives refuge to your friends in the middle of all their intensified seasonal activity and holiday stress.
Put on the coffee pot. Light the candles on your Advent wreath. Set out some good food, some spiritual reading, maybe some art supplies.
Then open up your home and your heart.
The fruit of silence is prayer… The fruit of prayer is love The fruit of love is service The fruit of service is peace ~ St.Teresa of Calcutta
With constant developments in the news about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and constantly breaking political news, these are extremely stressful times. How do we keep some equilibrium so we can be any use to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in these dark, difficult and divisive days? Every day it seems like there are more bomb shells. How do we sustain them?
I messaged a friend the other day, “How ARE we going to keep calm these crazy days?” She wrote back:
“I’m going to be drinking! You don’t drink, so you shall have to pray, I suppose. :P”
I do plan to pray a lot, in whatever way I can, but most of all, I plan to pray in ways that simply keep me connected to God.
As a Carmelite, I have a strong belief that cultivating a constant, loving awareness of the presence of God within is a service to the world, and that it has a gracious effect on everything, and everybody.
I believe that when I am recollected, and in conscious contact with God, I have opened the fountain of living water in my soul. By doing so, I become a channel of grace for the world.
Unsealing the living fountain of the Holy Spirit in my own soul mysteriously helps others do the same, and somehow they are helping me as well. To me, this is part of the Communion of Saints.
“Let us draw from the springs of salvation
for our selves, and for the entire parched world.”
~ St. Edith Stein
Also, staying connected to God helps me to keep closer to His perspective when things get a little crazy.
It also reminds me that whether there is the earthly appearance of what I think is justice or not, God is going to win in the end, win in His kind of way, and that His win lasts forever. My sister in Carmel, Pat Thompson says that God’s will is always love. Whatever happens, I can trust that will of love is still at work.
So, in these days of fear, anger and chaos, grief, division and anxiety, I hope to remain connected and recollected.
I know I will have to be focussed about this commitment to myself, to God, and to the world. Sometimes I might become overwhelmed with what’s going on. However, I hope to make a consistent effort to draw myself back to the center every time; that center of my soul, and the center of the whole of existence, where God is. Here are some tips about staying on track for inner peace during your day.
Make a plan for your day that cultivates peace.
Plan, whether you are at work, or at home today, and the days ahead, to cultivate serenity. It’s not going to help anything or anybody for you to freak out, right?
It may be a good idea to limit your engagement with what’s going on during the day, and to limit your media consumption, to the minimum.
Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Even popping in for a few seconds helps. If you can’t get there, here is adoration live.
Plan some stopping points at certain times to settle down and re-center, and make a simple plan for what you will do. Sometimes you just need a few minutes with some calm music, a view of nature, something nice to drink.
Go to mass if your schedule permits.
Plan to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; however many of the set hours you can pray. (Morning, Mid Morning, Midday, Mid- afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer.) Universalis is a good site to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for free. You may also like The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on-line, a Marian version, so to speak, of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also free. Check in with the Liturgy of the Hours any time, and pray with others all over the world.
Plan to do acts of kindness and/or sneaky good deeds. You will feel great. Leave someone a flower. Pay it forward at a drive through. Give something to a homeless person or engage him or her in conversation. Do a chore for someone else in your household or at work, to lighten their load. Here is a list of acts of kindness if you can’t think of anything.
Make time in your day to interact with your pet. Even a quiet moment spent petting or brushing your dog or cat can raise your spirits and calm your heart.
Look at art that uplifts you. Plan ahead to do this, or check out I Require Art on Face Book. I love looking at that page. It is also on Twitter.
Have coffee with a friend and catch up. This does wonders.
Just for a Day
Pick one of these to do now and then. You can do something for a 24 hours period that would be overwhelming to do for a lifetime. But it is great training!
Hug people today, whenever possible. Seriously. This helps them and you.
Just for today, no fighting with anyone. Fight tomorrow. Not today. You can do it just for your waking hours in this next 24. Have a day like that now and then.
Have peaceful things to read that are helpful to you, comforting, or don’t get you emotionally stirred up. Don’t read anything else, just for today.
Plan to be extra caring with the people around you today. Remind yourself often that this is your intention today: to be kind. All day.
If you have a baby or a little kid in your family, read with him, cuddle with her. Spending time talking with a little kid can be healing. Plan on it. Make it part of your day today.
Eat comforting foods. It’s one day. Don’t worry about it. Plan comfort food meals for your family. Try to limit dinner talk to peaceful topics. Just for today.
Make peace your highest priority just for one day.
“Let nothing steal your treasure.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila
If you become overwhelmed, here are some quick ways to calm down:
Push your palms together for a moment.
Close your eyes.
Shake out your limbs.
Breath in through your nose slowly (count five) and then out through your mouth (count five.) Keep going with this for a while if it helps you.
Stop what you are doing- especially stop interacting with whatever or whoever is upsetting you. Turn off the T.V. Get away from that person. Get off social media. Whatever it is, stop it.
Tune in to the moment: Feel the floor (of whatever you are standing on,) hear the sounds far away, the sounds near you, the feel of whatever you are touching. Be conscious of your breathing. Look out of the window, at the sun, at the sky, at the trees or whatever is around you. Notice what’s going on in this present moment.
Go for a brisk walk. Pray the rosary or inwardly repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, or the sweet name of Mary as you walk. Let your inner, prayerful repetition fall into rhythm with your steps and your breathing. Pray with your whole body, mind and eventually, heart.
If you can’t pray the rosary, just hold it. Think of it as holding Our Lady’s hand.
Slow down your responses to anything agitating that people say. Think before you respond back. A good thing to remember before you speak is, “Is [what I am about to say] true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
Intentionally tense different muscle groups, and then release them. It’s very calming.
Make a list of five things you are grateful for, of five people you love, and even what you love about them.
Do a simple task you do all the time, but do it mindfully. Sweep the floor patiently. Wipe the table. Brush your hair. Water plants.
Wash your face, or sprinkle cold water on your wrists and dab it behind your ears.
Call a sympathetic, or light hearted friend. Say you don’t want to talk about current events. You want to talk about turtles or something.
Watch something funny (as long as it is not snarky, sarcastic or mean spirited.)
Litanies are awesome. My mom swore by these. She kept a notebook of them. “When you’re crazy, walk the floor if you need to, and pray a litany. Litanies are great when you’re crazy.”
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
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”
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