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Bethany Hang Out

Catholic contemplative life and devotion

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Jesus

Guided Prayer of Recollection (9 minutes)

This is a brief guided version of the Prayer of Recollection of St. Teresa of Jesus with some additional preparation to help you relax and get centered at the beginning. There is a lot of room in this prayer for us to “look” at the Lord in the way that works best for us. It is supremely simple in structure, leaving room for conversation with God, imaginative prayer, or interior silent communion with Christ, whatever way helps you keep the eyes of your soul on the Lord and attentive to him. I used the simple structure St. Teresa outlined in The Way of Perfection, Chapter 26. As an anchor to keep us focussed on God’s presence I suggest mentally praying the Name of Jesus to gently bring our minds back when they wander.

I hope it makes a nice prayer break in your day.

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Lessons in Prayer of the Heart

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 I went to see Fr. Cassian Sibley to discuss  Prayer of the Heart in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The sign on the house read, Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring Russian Orthodox Church. That has to be the coolest church name I have ever heard in my life.  I told Fr. Cassian so when he opened the door. He is a cheerful man with a kind face and a big bushy beard. He offered me coffee and showed me an assortment of beautiful prayer ropes, or “chotki” used for the meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer,” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) which is at the core of Prayer of the Heart. Some of the chotkis were made with beads, some with knots in the shape of crosses. Some were quite long, and some were tiny, designed to fit on a baby’s wrist. 

He explains that the simple repetition of the Jesus Prayer is the most common use for lay people, in order to pray without ceasing as they go about their busy lives. I am familiar with this because of one of my favorite spiritual books, The Way of the Pilgrim/The Pilgrim Continues His Way. The pilgrim wanders across Russia praying the Jesus Prayer until his heart prays it continually without effort. The book charts his travel, conversations and spiritual growth in the prayer. 

Fr. Cassian points out that by replacing the “me” in the prayer with the name of someone else, one can use the prayer as an intercessory prayer – while warning that one does not use the phrase “a sinner” while doing so, since a Christian has no authority or right to judge another.

I had brought a rose for Mother Mary which he put in the chapel.  Then I followed him into a pleasant sitting room filled with morning light, and comfortable furniture, lined with books. A parrotlet sang from a nearby cage. I got out my notebook but the conversation was so interesting and lively that I hardly took any notes. I couldn’t have been more content. I was sitting in a cozy chair conversing with an extremely intelligent and deeply spiritual person in a relaxed and friendly way, neither of us hurried. Priests are busy people so I was aware of what a gift his time was.   

Fr. Cassian grew up Southern Baptist but was, as an early teen drawn to the Anglican Church and was preparing to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. As he studied theology though, he became more and more sympathetic to the Orthodox Church, and as a teen, he had read the J.D. Salinger novella, Franny and Zooey, and been introduced to the Jesus Prayer and The Way of the Pilgrim. Eventually he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately was ordained as an Orthodox priest. 

I told him my story of being tricked by Mother Mary into falling for Jesus and the Catholic Church after having grown up without religion. He chuckled knowingly and we talked about Mary in both our traditions. I really like the Orthodox title for her, “The Theotokos,” meaning “God-bearer.” 

Our discussion turned to the life of prayer as experienced and expressed in each of our faiths’ contemplative traditions. We have so much in common. There are some interesting differences in our mystical theology, and in our ideas about the experience of Heaven. The Orthodox regard heaven as a continuous free growth of divinization -as an “ever moving rest” – which the Orthodox feel is in contradiction to the experience of what the Western Church calls the Beatific Vision. I said that St. Therese is busy “spending [her] Heaven doing good on earth,”  so maybe we’re not so different there after all. 

We discussed Confession, local events and world news, Church history, the degrees of union with God, the differences between praying with the chotki and the rosary, (for instance we use imaginative prayer and the Orthodox strongly caution against it). 

We talked about the importance of being willing to know Jesus as he is, being ready to shed our own ideas and misconceptions and our lamentable tendency to only accept the aspects of the Lord that we are comfortable with. 

I learned some Greek words and heard a few Russian ones I would be unable to reproduce. 

Eventually we came to the point of my visit, the practice of Hesychasm (the path of deep prayer and living the life of prayer in the Orthodox tradition) and the practice of Prayer of the Heart.  

Before Fr. Cassian gives me practical instructions, he cautions that if one desires to enter into this practice, a spiritual guide, teacher or spiritual director is extremely helpful – which is why the more mystical and non-verbal use of the Jesus prayer is more common, in Orthodoxy, amongst monastics and those with a monastic spiritual father or mother. 

He goes on to say that today in Western Society we think of ourselves as centered in the brain, the mind, and that we tend to pray from there. Biblically, however, the heart is seen as the center of the person where both thoughts and spiritual movements occur. In Orthodox prayer, the pray-er seeks to redirect his or her awareness from the head down into the heart. Fr. Cassian touches his heart often as he speaks, seemingly unconsciously, closing his eyes when he does so. It seems to me that when he does this, a switch is flipped somewhere, a “peace switch” that visibly changes his entire demeanor. Maybe it is a breaker switch because I feel it too! 

Practical Instructions for Prayer of the Heart

Stand or sit comfortably with your back relatively straight, in silence, solitude and stillness. 

Breathe in, and allow one’s conscious awareness to follow that breath as one prays, silently, “Lord Jesus Christ”

Exhale slowly, maintaining, if possible, one’s conscious awareness in the heart, as one prays silently, “Son of God,” 

Inhale, as before, while silently praying “have mercy on me”

Breathe out slowly and prayerfully acknowledge that one is “a sinner.” 

Slowly repeat this cycle again and again. 

Continually bring your awareness into your heart, bringing Jesus’ Name, his presence into it. Eventually it will be the heart that keeps time, so to speak, and the heart that speaks. After that, everything is up to God, and God alone.

The true Prayer of the Heart as he describes it sounds like what a Carmelite would call the grace of infused contemplation, where it is God who acts within us, and we are drawn into union with him. 

We talk about the traditional understanding  of the progress of the soul through the Purgative Way (purification), the Illuminative Way (the growing knowledge of God and his ways) and finally the Unitive Way (one-ness with God).  

Before I leave, Fr. gives me a copy of his wife’s new book of poetry, Zoom and the Neanderthal Girl by Olympia Sibley, (I highly recommend it!) and I give him a copy of my book, Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother. (Release date September 26)

He invites me to come again, perhaps for dinner with his wife and him. I say that would be great. 

I had set out today to write about the Prayer of the Heart but I can’t help but feel that perhaps Fr. Cassian and I have begun to do our part in healing the Great Schism one conversation, one prayer, one friendship at a time. 

*My thanks to Fr. Cassian Sibley for his assistance with this piece.

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Christian love: is it fake?

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What is Christian love? After my conversion to Catholicism (quite a leap from the way I was raised which was without religion,) my family had adjusting to do. My brother was the person I was closest to. We were symbiotic and as my mom said, “joined at the hip.” For me to make such a radical change in my world view seemed like a kind of betrayal by me. In the beginning we argued. I would say I loved him, which wasn’t especially well received when he was mad. Once he said, “I don’t want your ‘Christian love.‘ I just want you and YOUR love.” This upset me. I thought “What’s the difference?”

Pondering this interaction on the drive home, I realized what he meant and what his fear was. When we were kids my parents were very young, idealistic and nonconformist. We looked different. Our Hippie family was ill treated in the small Texas town my parents had moved to for school in 1968. It was a college town, yes, but unbelievably conservative. They did not allow women into the University unless they were married to a male student until 1972.

A lot of people who said they were Christian didn’t let us play with their kids, talked mess about our parents right in front of us, were harsh and cold with my brother and me and we didn’t understand why. We saw them as alienating people with fake smiles, and vacant eyes who were prone to heartlessness. When they said anything about loving us for Jesus’ sake it just sounded like they didn’t want to “love us” (whatever that meant) but Jesus wanted them to play nice. Which they didn’t.

My brother was afraid I would now love him in some generalized fake way, judging him as a person the whole time. It took him time and experience with me as a Catholic to disabuse him of that notion.

What does Christian love really mean? What does it mean to love someone for Jesus’ sake? I do think sometimes people don’t go very far with this. Maybe sometimes we do think it means to play nice.

Someone on social media told me he was tired of the Church being “the Church of nice.” I said I knew we weren’t supposed to be “the Church of Nice.” No we are supposed to be the Church of radical love.

I’m still working this out. All of us are, as my granny used to say, “full of prunes.” We don’t know what we’re talking about and we think we do. We think better of ourselves sometimes than we really are. We can wake up feeling like we love everybody and we hate everybody by 2 O’clock, or at least we hate several people. Some people. I’m no different. Sometimes I tell Jesus, “I know I’m not allowed to hate that guy. I know you love him, I know.” I tell him all about it. Then there is a glimmer, a hint, of what Jesus feels for that person, and I can’t go on with my tirade or hot headed attitude. I can perceive my self both as the fool I am and the affection and love God has for me. Most of the time peace comes to me pretty quickly if I’m willing. Life is so hard and I don’t know why it has to be so hard. It just is.

In that glimmer of understanding and touch of peace, I think lies the answer of the beginning of Christian love, real love, personal love for a unique and unrepeatable human being we may not know as well as we could, or a transformed love for someone we know as we know ourselves.

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He has put into my heart a marvelous love

– Psalm 16:3a

Christian love comes from union with Christ, the transforming love of “putting on the new self.” (Eph. 4:24. This is how we begin to love others as Jesus loves us. (See Jn. 13:34.) I don’t think this ability comes from baptism alone. I think it comes from prayer and time spent consciously in God’s presence. It is prayer that taught me how to love more fully, to examine my inner motivations and attitudes toward others and myself. Prayer and fledgling love of God inspired me to own up to my character defects and wrongheaded, prideful or selfish way of loving- even my brother.

With prayer and being with God we receive a new clarity and freedom of heart. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes so much time that often I get frustrated with myself. I have to remember that God will “complete the good work he has begun in [me.]”

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

Teresa of Avila wrote about detachment in relationships, especially in Chapter 7 on spiritual friendship in her book The Way of Perfection. “Detachment” sounds cold to us today. Based on my own experience I think I know what she means a little bit that we can apply here. This doesn’t mean less love for someone! It really means a detachment from self, from selfishness in our relationships.

How do we do that? Admittedly I don’t have this figured out yet. However, there is a lot of mystery involved so I don’t blame myself for that!

Similar to our efforts and experience of prayer there is an active part to this new kind of human love, and a mystical part.

The active part is more obvious. We decide to be more self aware to notice what to let go of in our ways of relating. Some of this is simple. Let’s have a look at my brother and me. When he went to rehab at age 16, we learned from the staff there how to better communicate. At first we felt silly like we had to learn to talk all over again and we would get tired of it sometimes and revert to old ways. Or we lost our tempers and had outbursts. We talked about this. We decided to see our progress. The progress was we noticed what we were doing wrong. Then with practice we got where we noticed even before we were mean and stopped ourselves. Then later, we didn’t even think about being mean anymore. Or controlling. Or selfish anymore. This is basic stuff for some people but to us it was a whole new fish bowl.

In the mean time I was learning to pray. I must have been quite an emergency to God because he set about teaching me what real love felt like right away. It was the way he loved me, and the way I learned to love him back. His love is simple and tender and clear. It stops the thoughts and worries running through your mind and you don’t even think “Hey I’m being loved.” It just is.

My own love started to simplify itself, both my love for God and my love and regard for other people. I learned to listen to people in the same way I was learning to listen to God. This took work and came from an urging I think was from him, that I do so. But the transformation took time.

My brother decided I was still me and that he didn’t have to worry about me turning into someone else or loving him in some impersonal creepily fake way. He noticed me growing as a person and that he could translate my new language of spirituality into his own understandings about life and his pragmatic view of spiritual things. He noticed I judged him less, not more. Sometimes, like his early sober days, we reverted to old fears in our relationship, both of us afraid of not being accepted as were were. We both learned, we both grew. We learned to accept one another.

And that’s how it is. What do you know? When we are able to love someone in a Christly way, they don’t just experience Jesus through us, we experience Jesus through them as well, whether they are Christian or not. We want to know a person better when we meet them and we know that every one of them belongs. We may not know how we know, but we know.

And pretty soon the whole thing gets out of control and our way of loving grows a new dimension. The world opens up and the possibilities are endless.

What does God say about this?

Beloved,
we are God’s children now.
What we shall be
has not yet been revealed.
However, we do know that when he appears
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he really is.

1John 3:2

Applied to learning to love others, I take this to mean in this case that we are already God’s children, but we ourselves are a mystery unfolding, known only to God. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are transformed as we come to know him and love him as he is, which is for himself; the way he loves us. We will not be perfect at this in this life. However we can cultivate God’s kind of love through prayer, self awareness, God awareness, and the service he inspires. In his mysterious way he will work his beautiful will in us all our lives more and more in pathways of love.

And then we have so much to look forward to: the absolute fullness of love, the fullness of God and union with him.

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The Sacred Humanity of the Risen Lord

All Easter day Jesus was playing hide and seek, surprising different disciples in different places and in different ways, all of these encounters beyond anything they ever thought they would see and know.  It had been an overwhelming day, a world inside out day. 

They had denied, laughed, and no doubt cried. They experienced impossible things they could hardly process. It was too astonishing to make sense. 

By Easter evening, they were settled for the time being, and they said, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.” (Lk. 24:29)

They got to be with him for forty more undoubtedly beautiful days. 

It must have been hard to stop looking at him, hard to stop hugging him, hard to calm down and just be with him. Maybe it was easier in the glow of the fire to relax in his presence, to enjoy his tenderness and love for them, to truly believe in his reality.  

 He had shown the disciples his wounds, invited them to touch him, eat and drink with him. He wanted them to know he wasn’t a ghost, of course. But I also think he wanted to reiterate something of the utmost importance in the spiritual life of a Christian; that Our Lord is a real person. After the resurrection, he is still as real as before, the same man they experienced and traveled with during his ministry… except for that walking through locked doors thing, and that rising from the dead part… still their same holy Friend. 

His disciples are not having a vision, but actual contact. 

There is always the temptation among people of prayer over the centuries of Christianity, to relate to Jesus as only spirit. St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) saw this and the Doctor of Prayer made sure we understood that the only way to true intimacy with the Lord is through his Sacred Humanity. We are not angel spirits, but human beings, and that is our way to him who became incarnate for us. 

He still is incarnate for us. 

It is amazing to me that this Teacher who tended to buck religious regulations, customs and rituals if they got in the way of necessity, or especially,  the obedience of the love of God and the pre-eminence of charity, to suddenly, at the end of his earthly life, give us the Eucharist and make it a permanent ritual sacrament for all time. In the Eucharist, we will always have his physical presence with us as well as his divine presence. We will always be able to eat and drink with him (and of him) at mass. 

We can sit with him in Adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, as a real and accessible person.

He said, “I will be with you always until the end of the age.” Mtt. 28:20

Sometimes we forget the Treasure we have in the Eucharist.  

Because he is a real person, but also divine, we can take him home with us, too, and say, “Stay with us, Lord.” 

He said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn. 14:20) This isn’t just a nice thought. His presence in us is so real that that is exactly how our bodies will rise from death on the last day. 

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11) How real can he get? 

And also, St. Paul asks, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5b)

Jesus is real and he is within us as real. 

St. Teresa would add “and we should not leave him there alone!” 

He said, “No longer do I call you servants but friends.” (Jn. 15:15a)

We can’t be friends with an idea. We can’t fall in love with a vision or a ghost. 

But Jesus with his dirty feet and rough calloused hands, Jesus the real person, we definitely can. 

We can love him and see him the way he wants to be seen and loved: as real! (Jn. 20:27)  

St. Teresa said that interior prayer and being with Jesus is “nothing else but falling in love with Christ, frequently conversing in secret with him who we know loves us.” (translation, Fr. Otillio Rodrigues, O.C.D.) 

The Christian life is a life of friendship with Jesus in his Sacred Humanity, with a real and accessible, truly present and incomprehensibly humble Lord who is truly in and with us.  

We too should look at him, touch him, peek in at him when he is sleeping to make sure he is still there, hear his voice as alive and active, ask him, “Stay with us Lord.” 

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Wake up! It’s Easter!

Some types of darkness are so complete I wonder what I was calling darkness before. Fiddling with the scree at the bottom of the cave floor I am sitting on, my hand bumps into the most unlikely thing in the world… flowers? They are not dried flowers but living ones. I can feel their soft petals. I sense him smiling in the dark. 

“What are we doing?” I ask Jesus. He doesn’t say anything so I take his cue and don’t say anything either. 

It never occurred to me that the Risen Lord might have wanted to sit and reflect before he came out of the tomb but it makes sense.  Before I take a big step that turns the world upside down that is what I do too. 

And then I think that it would have been possible for him not to tell anyone that he had risen from the dead. He could have just done it in the secret of the tomb and ascended without an audience. The victory would still have been won. But Jesus isn’t like that. He wants to bring us all in, share everything with us. He wants us to choose him and engage with him in life. Even the work of bringing all the world in on this most mind boggling gift he doesn’t keep to himself. 

He wants us to share in the power flowing from his resurrection and to shine out for everyone. 

He wanted us to know what he was doing for us not when we got to Heaven but right away, and to act on it in this life. 

I wonder what he is thinking about over there.

I want to be closer to him so I start edging toward where I think I may have heard him scratching around.  I keep bumping into waxy plants of some kind. Going over them with my hands I realize they are lilies. They smell like lilies; that mild, sweet fragrance they have. 

“What are you thinking about?” I ask him. “Everything,” he says, and I am at his side.

 “Things that have happened? Things that will happen?” I ask. 

He chuckles which makes me laugh too, so glad to be in this moment with him. 

We stand together and I do my best to follow him. It must be time. 

We pause and I feel a roundish jagged rock in front of me. It is so strange that it is covered with a wild tangle of roses. I know they are roses because of their beautiful and unmistakable scent. 

I never know what is going to happen around him but I do know it will always be life, life  and more life! 

I am almost giggling thinking of how surprised Mary Magdalene is going to be when she sees him. I am so happy I will get to see this. 

“Are you ready?” he asks. “This is where things get really crazy.”. 

I don’t know what to say. Why is he asking me if I’m ready? 

“I’ve been waiting for you, Lord.” I say. 

“For me?” he asks. 

Something about the way he says it causes my understanding to shift. With amazement  I realize this is my tomb, not his.  It is I who am about to rise with him and go out from here as something or someone I am not sure I will recognize. Also he said things were about to get crazy so … I hesitate. 

He seems to think this is great fun however, and I can’t help but be infected with his joyous excitement; his happiness because he loves me and he came that I might live, and live to the full and forever with him.  

I embrace Jesus and I tell him I am ready. We step back and we count together, “1…. 2….3!” 

And what about you? 

Hey, COME OUT OF THERE! 

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

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Advent tea with St. Therese

“The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You shall see his glory within you.” — Liturgy of the Hours

We are sitting in my living room, reflecting silently together in the glow of the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. It looks particularly lovely in the dark. Its light turns the smooth, gentle face of my companion from pink to yellow to blue and back again. She seems content with her tea in a flowery cup from our kitchen.

“St. Therese, what is Christmas?” I ask.

She likes this question. I have been trying and trying to write about her, but she wanted me to interview her about Christmas. So we’re talking about Christmas.

“It is the time that the children of God remember and celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus.”

She smiles with a faraway look, “It is also a time that once again the doors of heaven swing open, great graces and torrents of spiritual light are poured into the world. The child Jesus will come to each person in a special way, to be reborn in each soul, all the world receives a blessing from heaven.”

“So many people have a hard time with Christmas, St. Therese. Some people have trouble with their families, don’t have money for gifts, or are agitated and stressed at Christmas, or they get their feelings hurt at their family celebration, or things don’t go the way they want them to, or they feel lonely or they are grieving. Can you address situations like that?”

She looks at me tenderly, knowing my mixed feelings at this time of the year, and that, as I said, they are shared by far too many others. She herself suffered grief, sorrow, loneliness, depression, severe illness and disappointment.

“I want God’s children to know that Jesus truly comes to them in all humility and with love. Just as he left his beautiful heaven to be with us on earth, so he comes to be in your soul, a heaven infinitely more dear to him because of his love, his personal love for you. When you are tired, look inside and find the little beggar of love. Cradle him, cherish him; look at him. Find a moment of peace there in the Christmas stable of your heart and he will give you his grace.”

“What should we do if we are disappointed or get our feelings hurt with our families at Christmas?”

“One Christmas when I was 13, my family got back from midnight Mass, and my father was very tired and grumpy. I overheard him say he hoped this was the last year for presents for me because I was getting a little old for this. I was crushed! I had been a very sensitive child ever since the death of my mother when I was little. My family doted on me, but they knew a torrent of tears was coming and they dreaded it. I ran upstairs to cry. Somehow something happened before I reached the top stair. Everything changed for me. A new strength, a new tenderness touched my soul. I encountered in the depths of my heart the light and tenderness of the Holy Child and in an instant I just … changed my mind. My tears dried, I turned around, came back down the stairs and surprised my family very much with my joyful opening of presents and sharing with them all the happiness of the occasion. It was a Christmas miracle!”

“How do we get in touch with the grace you describe in that transforming moment of your life?”

“If I reflect on it, I see that I had been preparing myself for that moment by making small sacrifices wherever I could. I saw this as adorning my heart with freshly gathered flowers for Jesus. Some of these were violets and roses, others were cornflowers or daisies or forget-me-nots. I wanted all the flowers I could gather to cradle the baby Jesus in my heart. “

She is leaning forward now, and I see how her face lights up talking about this.

“It seems to me you are talking about how you trained yourself not to let an opportunity to do a kindness, or make a small sacrifice slip by. Is that what you mean?

“I found that life would bring me plenty of opportunities. So if one of you should find yourself naturally irritated with someone this Christmas, decide for peace and serve that person nicely. It will set you free.

“If your Christmas isn’t going the way you planned, give up your expectations as a sacrifice to Jesus, and you will feel your burden lightened.

“If someone wants to argue, let her win; just this one time.

“You will be surprised how you can walk away happy, or even find that you regard that irritating person with genuine affection. Find opportunities this Christmas, to be kind, to serve, to take the lowest place. I will be there winking at you!”

I laugh, imagining this. “That’s perfect!” I say. “I will be looking for you.”

I lift my tea cup for a toast and we clink our cups together, smiling.

She tells me a story about life in the convent when now and then one of the novices would lose her temper with St. Therese and tell her angrily exactly what she thought of her. “I decided to savor these incidents like good vinegar on a fresh salad.” She chuckles. “You could use that at Christmas, to counteract all those holiday sweets! I will be there to give you a high five to celebrate your glorious victory over yourself, and Jesus will grant you immense strength, you will see.”

“This is hard stuff, though,” I say.

She knows it is hard.

“I had such a longing to be one of God’s great heroes. I had such overwhelming desires to do great things. I came to understand that doing these small things with great love offers plenty of challenge. Yes, these are almost the hardest things of all, these little things to do! But before you know it, you will find such joy. You will realize the presence of the Little Beggar of Love in your soul. And you will be glad you gave him what he wanted for Christmas most of all. The milk of your love at every opportunity you had.

“Ask the good God to show you an opening to do a small bit of good around you, to lighten someone’s burden quietly.”

I am smiling now because I know she is right. This is a way to be good soil for the seeds of the Gospel Jesus came to bring. If we give ourselves over to little Jesus in this way, he will find our souls full of flowers for him to be cradled in, and he will make his sweet presence there known.

We will find ourselves not only doing small things with great love, but with great joy.

And if you burn the cookies, or you say something you shouldn’t have, be patient with yourself, she says.

“Little children fall often but don’t have far to fall, so they don’t hurt themselves very much.” So strive to be little, even to yourself.

Practice this “Little Way,” for his Christmas presents, fill your heart with these flowers, and the little Jesus will come to you with his grace to be cherished within you.

That is the Christmas spirit, I believe, according St. Therese of the child Jesus.

“Love him,” she says, draining her teacup.

“Love him in everything. It’s that simple.”

“In this brilliant night which illuminates the joy of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, the gentle little child of the hour, will change the darkness of my soul into torrents of light.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

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Solidarity and Love: #BlackLivesMatter

Yesterday I walked in a peaceful (though good and loud) Black Lives Matter protest in Houston in response to the murder by police of George Floyd and by the long list of black men and women who have also been killed by police.

It was a powerful experience.

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My daughter drove us so even though traffic was slow and she didn’t know where she could park, I jumped out of the car right away with my sign, my phone in my back pocket and joined the chanting throng streaming into the street from Discovery Green.

It felt so good to be able to do something, to show support at this time along with so many others of every possible race and ethnicity. I saw “Arabs for Black Lives” t-shirts. I saw Jewish men with their prayer shawls on. I saw Hispanic people, Asian people, and plenty of other white people. There were families with their children too. Mostly I saw everywhere beautiful black people standing up for themselves, and for their murdered brothers and sisters and their families, supporting one another, demanding righteous change. It was awe inspiring.

One of the chants were the last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!” He also had said to please let him up and that they were killing him. And he called out for his mother. There was so much heartbreak that day at the protest that at times it seemed like a funeral. Sure enough that is partly what it was. As the leaders of the March said, “We are here to lift up his name.”

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That was another chant: “SAY HIS NAME!” And the response, “GEORGE FLOYD!” Over and over they said this and I think it is so important. We should not forget the individual people who have died in the seemingly never ending stream of police violence against people of color. They were people, individuals. We are standing up for them specifically, as well as the entire African American community.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” of course, was shouted throughout.

*For the “all lives matter” crowd, maybe I can be of some help as to what “Black Lives Matter” means and why it is a non starter to keep saying that.

My friend, here is what I gather about this: black people are telling us they feel their lives don’t matter to us. Can you blame them? They are not trying to tell us other people’s lives don’t matter. They are asking us to notice what’s happening when they say that. And they are reminding themselves that their lives matter in the face of all this. When people say back “all lives matter” it sounds like “you aren’t suffering from this,” “It’s all in your head,” or worse, “We don’t care.”

Suppose a fire truck arrives at your home as it is burning and begins to fight the flames; and a neighbor runs up yelling at the firemen, “all homes matter.” Think about it, or better yet, pray about it.
-Julian Mcmurrey

We marched to the courthouse where there were speeches I couldn’t hear very well. I understood that at least one woman who spoke was a mother of another black man killed by police. The drift of what a lot of the speakers were saying, though was that we should not stop here with this protest, that there is a lot of work to be done once we got back to our lives.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

There were signs about different organizations and their websites so people could follow up on their commitment. I will include a couple of these at the end of this post.

It annoyed me that there were drones buzzing around close enough we could have swatted them. Helicopters flew overhead constantly. Eventually we noticed snipers on the roof of the court house and on other nearby buildings.

“See?” a woman said to me, “They don’t even care about us. We’re trying to speak out but they aren’t listening. This is how they do.” It was over kill, I thought. And so many children in the crowd too.

I texted my daughter who had her little one with her, and told her about the snipers. That was her cue to head in another direction. (By the way I also told other people coming into the area who had children with them as well.)

I stayed a while longer. Eventually, after a couple of hours, I started to head back to the car.

A couple of women from the march stopped me and wanted to take a picture of me with my sign. I said sure I would be honored. My sign was a quote from Pope Francis, “Racism is the greatest evil in our world today.” I had a bright red rosary wrapped around my wrist. Its dangling cross against my hand reminded me constantly of what I was doing there. I absolutely considered it my Christian duty to be there. I wanted to bring Jesus and Mary with me to love the people and stand with them, to try to radiate their love and solidarity. Also I was there as a Catholic. If anybody noticed my rosary maybe they would know “Catholics (some Catholics) “are with you.”
That was my idea anyway.

Volunteers were on corners handing out masks (I already had one) and water bottles. It was so hot so I took one. Im glad I did because after that my phone went dead and my daughter and I had a harrowing few hours where we couldn’t find each other.

I also couldn’t find my way back to the car although I had a general idea where it was.

I got kind of lost but then I managed to get back to the courthouse. There was a group of women on a corner there talking about prayer not being enough, and how God expects us to take action too. (I have noticed this too about God.)

“Its the Holy Spirit,” another woman said. “This is the Holy Spirit.”

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels.com

I asked if they could point me back to Discovery Green because I hadn’t paid attention to the route we all took earlier, having been too excited to do so. They laughed kindly about that and said all we had done is go straight down the street behind them. It would take me straight to Discovery Green.

They liked my sign and I told them I had carried it in the Richard Spencer protest at Texas A & M too. One lady asked if I knew my daughter’s number. No I did not. She asked if Roise was on Social Media, and eventually she found her and sent her an instagram message for me that I was headed to the car.

Expressing my gratitude I started to pick up my sign and go. An older lady said she had an assignment for me once I got safe home. I was eager to hear it. She said, “Memorize. Your daughter’s. Number!” “I know right? Thanks ya’ll, for telling my daughter her ridiculous mother is headed her way.”

They thanked me earnestly for being there that day. I hadn’t expected that and I didn’t feel I really deserved it since it was something I wanted to do. But I knew what she meant. And I said thanks for having me.

Actually my daughter and I got that all day from people, “Thank you for being here.” Silly us! We hadn’t been quite sure we would be welcome or if it was appropriate. We know this is a black lead movement and we want to support that. Sometimes it just isn’t clear to us as white allies learning on the job, what we should do. I feel like I understand a little better now.

A long, tired, hot time later, I finally found the car. Two other people let me use their phones to try to call my daughter on social media along the way. “This is mom. I’m at the car.” I also had good conversations with them.

Of course my girl had the keys. Exhausted, I climbed on top of the car with my sign and prayed the rosary. After a while though, I started to get scared. Where was she? Did she get held up? What should I do if she never came back? What if something bad happened to her or the baby? My other daughter, I reflected, was going to kill me if anything happened. She had been very upset and scared that we were coming to this, given what happened in Minneapolis. I started to get that cold feeling you get in your stomach when you are really worried.

I saw a group of police officers getting out of a car near me. One of them pulled his baton out and said, “Yeah now we’re going to have some fun.” He caught my eye and looked (appropriately) a little embarrassed. As far as I know he never got to have any “fun.” For which I am grateful. I should say though that the police I saw around yesterday were trying to be relaxed and non intrusive.

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On I waited. I checked nearby restaurants. No luck. I went back to my car.

I think I had been sitting on the car for an hour and a half before I happened to look up at the right time and see my daughter, pushing the stroller a couple blocks down. I was astonished when she didn’t turn to come down the street where the car was.

After thinking about why she would do that, I scrambled down from the car and took off running. When I got to the street she was on, she seemed hopelessly far away. So I put on the mom voice I used to call my daughters home with when they were out playing in the neighborhood as kids. “ROSAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” A man nearby resting with his sign on his lap chuckled.

To my relief she turned around and started coming toward me. I jogged toward her and was surprised to see she had been crying. She started crying when I hugged her and said she had gotten lost and her GPS was acting crazy, sending her all over the place. She had gotten overheated and collapsed and some people from the protest had helped her up, some talking brightly to her daughter as other people gave her water and stood by until she had drunk the entire bottle. They had her sit on a curb with them until she was better. Someone called her phone and helped her find it. They gave her directions to Discovery Green but she stopped to get a soda at a pub which made her sick and she promptly forgot the way. My granddaughter, Arelani, was glad to see me. She started chattering like the loquacious little being she is.

I walked them back to the car and drove us out of the city and toward home.

We were kind of in awe about the day, grateful there was at least something we could do, and so glad of all the kind people we had met, and how amazing the solidarity and unity had been. So many people, thousands of people, coming together to do a good thing, a holy thing, really. It had felt sacred to me, as well as sad and angry and hopeful too. It was motivating and we intend to do whatever we can to help out in future.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

I want to say that our dearest black friends were very supportive. LeeAnne and her husband said “God bless you.” Mel told me to play Bob Marley on the way there for him. Between Mel and me this is how I keep him present at special times, like when I am making his birthday spice cake every year. He and his wife Lilly sent pictures of themselves to me too so I could carry them with me. My daughter’s best friend wept when she told her where we were going. “Why are you crying?” “I just feel thankful that y’all are doing this.” We hadn’t expected that but I think it is worth noting.

I remembered an article I had seen, and the photo in it of a big sign that said, “White people. Do Something.” Maybe it felt to them that we were responding. And that is what the black community wants from us, y’all. That’s what they want. For us to listen to what they want to say to us, to care and respond and be willing to help the way they want to be helped with this.

I’m slow but I am learning.

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In the car, my four year old granddaughter, who is half African American, started chanting “BLACK YIVES MATTER! BLACK YIVES MATTER!” And “GEORGE FYOYD! GEORGE FYOYD!” Well, she had heard those things a lot today. We took video of her doing this and sent it to her dad (who is black.) It was adorable but also touching to see her do that. This is all also about her and her future.

On the way home we got a flat tire. I had forgotten my spare had been stolen so we were in a pickle. A friend picked us up and we are home safe and incredibly tired today. But it is a “good tired.”

In spite of the trouble, we are both profoundly glad we went, honored to have been there, to have been a part of it.

*photos not taken by my daughter, Roise Manning-Pauc, have been used with permission from the photographers.

Think Twice (Before you call the police, consider these alternatives.)

What white people can do for racial justice

Racial justice organizations that you should support

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Choosing a method of Contemplative Prayer

And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
Romans 8:27

No matter the method of meditation, each one employs some kind of anchor to help us master our thoughts during prayer;a scripture passage, a set prayer, a holy word or phrase help us return again and again when the mind wants to do its busy work. In Christian Meditation, this anchor will also be a way to root us in our intention of prayer, openness and presence to the Beloved

There is often a format, a structure that helps us to make our prayer a process, a movement, a conversation, an exchange of love.

The basis of all Christian prayer, including holy meditation, is Jesus.

Moreover it is our intent to connect to this Lord that makes our meditation prayer rather than a mental exercise.

Please don’t worry too much about whether a method is what you think it should be or whether other people should be using it. Use discernment in your choice, but know it is not as if doing the “wrong” one is going to make your or anyone else’s prayer go down the wrong pipe and not to God. That’s just plain silly.

To me prayer is about love and my will to be with God, no matter what technique I use to learn to be ready for an encounter with the Friend. Prayer is less about me and more about God. In my experience, when I seek his will he responds and when I am open and willing to be corrected, he will correct me. This seems to run true for others as well. “If I am wrong, Lord, change my heart.”

The author of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing ( the “cloud” representing the fact that our intellect cannot reach God sufficiently) tells us to use our anchor in meditative prayer as a spark or arrow of love, to pierce through the “cloud of unknowing” straight to the Heart of God. That is a beautiful way to think of it, and it also rings true.

If a certain technique confuses you or you feel you aren’t making good progress with it, make adjustments and carry on. Yes there are pot holes on the road of prayer. I think I have fallen into them all along the way, though I eventually overcame, thanks be to God and God willing, I will continue to.

I am concerned that a lot of people seem to be overly cautious about Christian Meditation or about this or that method. Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but don’t freak out. Just move on if something you try isn’t right for you. Be free about this. I am. So far liberality of spirit has born great fruit for me,

If you are striving to grow, and you are guided by love of God, faithful in practice, doing your best to conquer sin, if you are living a sacramental life, loving more, then I think you are fine to set out on the Royal Road of contemplative prayer, or to stay on it, wearing the shoes that fit you best.

In short,

don’t be scared,

pray and be cool.

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Easter Evening: “Stay with us, Lord.”

When I wake up on Easter morning what I usually feel is happy for Jesus. He is the first person I say “Happy Easter” to. Happy Easter, Beloved Lord. You win!
Love is stronger than death, oh Love Itsef!

Then I think of the Church all over the world and how we are all together in spirit, experiencing this day that is not just a remebrance of the past, but something happening now, a special time of grace from Heaven as we all celebrate together.

Then I think of all the people I miss, especially my family that have died, and I am so grateful I will see them again because of this Lord who accomlished it.

Granted this has been the strangest Easter in any of our lifetimes, but that’s another thing about Easter. Jesus is unstoppable.

I had a good enough day, and was able to pray with my youngest daughter and her four year old in our traditional way. I heard from my eldest daughter, and my friends too. I have had time to pray and reflect and listen to music that is special to me at Easter. It was sad to be away from mass and that is an understatement. I am sure you can understand too.

It was a quiet day, and pretty outside. I blew bubbles on the back porch with my granddaughter, a sweet way to end the day.

And now my place is quiet again. I think about how this is the time maybe the disciples settled down enough they could just enjoy Jesus.

All day he was playing hide and seek, surprising different disciples in different places and in different, wonderful ways, all of them crazy. It had been an overwhelming day, a world inside out day.

They had laughed and cried and screamed, tried to understand and experience impossible things and some couldn’t even believe their own eyes. It was too astonishing.

All that was settled now, and they said, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

They got to be with him for 40 more undoubtedly beautiful days.

It must have been hard to stop looking at him, hard to stop hugging him, hard to calm down and just be with him. Maybe it was easier in the glow of the fire to relax in his presence, to enjoy his tenderness and love for them.

To me the signature of the touch of the Lord is tenderness. This is something I am deeply grateful for today.

Sometimes I don’t emotionally identify with Easter that much. My life feels like a long Holy Saturday after several Good Fridays. I’m not complaining. I want to say that I am aware that I possess a much deeper joy than emotional happiness, though I would say I am happy enough, even after all the losses. I have been aware of this joy through it all, not to say I haven’t been desolate because I have. It’s the joy of that rock solid knowledge of God all the way to the center of my soul. I don’t think I would have that if I hadn’t gone through hell so many times; emotional hell, and spiritual desolation.

“My one companion is darkness,” the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 81.) In some ways this is still true, my soul cleared of so many things that filled it. But there is something beyond that emptiness. That something is what I am made of now. The darkness has a radience to it. I lost all the lushness of my spirituality and gained infinitely more. Maybe the disciples found something in their own souls similar after the Ascension.

Carl Jung, asked if he believed in God, said, “No.”
And then he added, “I don’t believe, I KNOW.”

I can identify with that.

I don’t believe in the Resurrection. I know. And that’s a gift of the Resurrection itself, of the power flowing from it.

Even when I don’t necessarily “feel” God I just know and that’s enough for me.

When I do sense his presence, that tenderness I also know as his sign. I hope he feels my tenderness too.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” (John 14:18)

In the evening we can rest in that. We can know.

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