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Nostra Aetate over shisha: a conversation about inter-religious experience

We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.

Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)

Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

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Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.

Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.

“?”

While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)

Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.

He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s.  He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.

He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.

I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.

Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.

Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.

His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

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After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.

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He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”

He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”

But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base. 

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Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.

The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.

Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.

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The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this.  He liked sitting in silence with them.

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Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.

I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by  his kinder  attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.

I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.

He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.

Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.

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I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews.  They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish,  he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not.  It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.

Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.

I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”

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Read Nostra Aetate

Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha

The soul power of chastity through all life’s changes

A good book I am reading* begins by saying that the legend of the long, winding history of the Indian Koohinoor diamond began when Krishna gave it to one of his disciples in response to his meditations. I tried to imagine Jesus giving me a diamond. “Have you ever given me a diamond, Jesus?”

“If so, what was this diamond,” I thought.

I know Jesus has given me everything, grace upon grace. But I was surprised when the first thing that crossed my mind was that he has given me the diamond of chastity, and it is of eternal value, and that it is my consolation now.

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Not too long ago, I ran across a secular video about celibacy. It was odd to watch because I am used to hearing about celibacy in religious terms, and this video’s attitude seemed to be, “Hey, look, people actually do this, and on purpose!” There were about five people presented with their various reasons for being celibate permanently or temporarily. The last person featured was a religious sister, who gave an explanation about Jesus being her spouse, and so her love in service was his love, broad, deep and available.

I thought about my journeys as a wife and mother, then a widowed single mom, and the evolution of chastity’s meaning for me. We are all called to chastity according to our state in life. My state in life has changed in ways that have been confusing. What is my vocation now? I don’t think of myself as a single person, really. Being a widow is different. I am someone who lived and fulfilled marriage vows. However, I am alone. At the same time, I am much aware of a deep spiritual connection with my spouses, so in that way I am not alone. I am forever changed by marriage, in all the best ways, and I feel its beautiful seal on my soul.

After the death of my first husband, Blaze, in a car accident at the age of twenty-eight, I didn’t understand what my life was- I lost that much of myself. I slept fitfully with the light on for years.

It felt imperative to me to understand my vocation, to understand what I was supposed to build on and be. I was still a mother. I still loved my husband. Just because he was dead, I did not stop feeling like his wife. I didn’t even consider dating. I had some very intense little girls to raise, and challenges that were hard to accept were mine.

Over the years my ideas about celibacy evolved as I moved from the chastity of a wife to the chastity of a widow. I was surprised to realize that I felt an expansiveness of love, of my womanhood, of my motherhood, as I developed in this new life I did not ask for, but slowly embraced. When I turned the light off at night, I felt enveloped in love and peace.

“Through the silent watches of the night, bless the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2b)

I wondered, during the quiet mutations happening in my soul, if this was how priests and religious felt- like they were half in love with everyone, like their hearts were available to people, and to God in a special way.

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My marriages were beautiful and life giving. I was a very happy, totally in love, fulfilled wife, both times, in every way. My present choice of celibacy is not a repudiation of married love in the least.

One woman on the video I mentioned said that she had always felt “asexual.” I wondered if she used that word only because she didn’t have the language to describe herself as a sexual being who is celibate in expression. In this present culture it would be hard to find any such language in every day public discourse.

I have come to recognize sexuality as a spiritual energy, so to speak. It is like a power current and a connection, body and soul, to and through God. This was so when I was with each of my husbands, and it is so now. It is just directed differently. The proper direction of the spiritual energy of sexuality is what chastity is.

Eventually I felt very happy and whole in my new life. I missed (and still do miss) my husband every single day. But more and more I felt that he was with me and part of me. I loved him as much as I ever did. And it was OK.

My reasons for remaining celibate were changing. It wasn’t because I was broken in that area anymore, or that I still felt I needed to be faithful to Blaze (though some of that has always remained.)

It was because I felt married to Jesus.

As my girls began to be interested in boys and have their teenaged heart breaks, I would tell them just to let Jesus be their boyfriend for a while. “He’s the best,” I would tell them.

I was so perfectly at peace with this idea, that God is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan, that it was a very difficult adjustment for me when I felt I was being asked to consider loving Bob, ten years after Blaze’s death. It took a lot of prayer, a few “burning bushes,” and a couple of little miracles to help me see that loving Bob was now my way. I came to understand that Christ and I were going to love Bob together. Slowly this began to make sense, and I was able to let that love happen.

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I was very, very happy as Bob’s wife. I was more happy and unified with him than I can say. He said we were each other’s priests one time and I laughed because that is not so far from the Catholic idea of marriage. Truly, we formed Christ in one another and experienced Him living in our relationship. In an ineffable way, though changed, it seems to me that we still experience that.

Now the diamond of chastity is given to me again in different setting, with a new cut. I didn’t think this would happen again. But I cherish this beautiful gift. It is powerful and affirming.

Truly, it is a wonderful consolation. I am still growing to understand it and let it be a fullness in my life. Widowhood is to live with a bottomless loss. But it is also a very special kind of love, and celibate chastity can be one of its expressions. It is less an expression of emptiness, in time, than a different kind of wholeness. This love, this diamond, is the gift left to me.

I heard that a wife said to her dying husband, “I love you so much, what will I do without you?” He said, “Take the love you have for me and spread it around.” That is beautiful and I identify with it deeply, especially since that is something Bob would have said for sure. I think I have started to do this again now, and I recognize it as a sign of life. As Bob and I loved each other, and that love went out to others, this is what is happening in the relationship I am developing with God, in my life as a widow.

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As a daughter of the Church, I have the richness of Carmelite spirituality to draw on, and other Catholic spiritual traditions, too, that speak of the soul as a bride of God. Ronda Chervin, who has written about the spirituality of widowhood, calls this, “Jesus [as] the second Bridegroom.” * (In my case this would be “third Bridegroom,” of course.)

This understanding of my present form of chastity is profoundly healing for me. I feel filled, enclosed, and loved, carried and protected every day, in spite of my still very present loss. Celibate chastity is a positive, liberating presence in me, peaceful and meaningful.

To me, the virtue of chastity is a beautiful diamond, a true One Love that puts all other loves in their proper perspectives, making them even more vivid. Chastity is a vessel and an expression of love according to my state in life. But it is the same effulgence of brilliancy; a faithful, steadfast and complete love.

The more I learn about it, the more I am dazzled.

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“From His fulness, we have all received, grace flowing upon grace.” John 1:16

* Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan.

* For more on Ronda Chervin http://www.rondachervin.com/

Explore your Interior Castle through the prayer of journaling

Long before I heard of my good friend St. Teresa of Avila, and threw myself into Carmelite spirituality, I learned from a beautiful spiritual teacher named Morton T. Kelsey in a book called The Other Side of Silence. If I hadn’t met Kelsey in his books I’m not sure I could have ever taken to the Holy Mother of Carmel’s teachings.

I think St. Teresa may have been guiding me to Kelsey. At that point in my new spiritual life I was still pretty uncomfortable with Jesus. However I was unwillingly drawn to the Catholic Faith to the point I was attending daily mass.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I ended up at St. Anthony’s  every day with all these old people who said the prayers really fast. I didn’t even understand anything that was going on and sometimes I was offended.  And sometimes I left. Always I wondered what I was doing there again and told myself I didn’t belong there.

I had learned some practical spirituality about a year before that that was necessary to keep me from going crazy through a difficult time in my life and I believed in God by then. I knew how to pray and ask for what I needed and to say thank you for what I received each day. I knew how to go on long walks and talk to God like a friend.  I knew the Our Father well enough to say when other people were saying it. But I didn’t really understand it very much.

Anything more than that was going to be really hard because first of all I was allergic to Christianity due to bad experiences with Christians.  I was ignorant about the faith plus having been raised in a completely secular household, I had a lot of prejudice about it. And Jesus freaked me out.

I read this book The Other Side of Silence, and also Adventure Inward by Kelsey somewhere around that time. I was twenty years old I think.  I had kept a journal since I was ten. I loved to write.  I had seriously bad ADD. But when I wrote I felt a sense of flow, and focus I didn’t have normally.

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I had heard of “meditation” of course but I didn’t know Christians did anything like that.  I certainly did not know of any type of prayer that was more than what I was doing, and the idea of  “contemplative prayer” was completely unknown to me.

I was most intrigued by the idea that one could pray by journaling and also by the suggestion that God can “talk back,” that I could actually encounter God in a personal way and that He would respond to me.

Kelsey’s suggestions about prayer journaling helped me with some of my problems with Christianity and prayer.  This prayer method turned out to be profoundly healing for me and to be the launching pad for my learning to do what St. Teresa called going within oneself to be with God. Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. The Lord is within us. And I love how Teresa says, “We aught not to leave him there alone.”  I didn’t know it but I had found a way to consciously make my way inward for the first time in my life.

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In this method of prayer I could use my abundant imagination to create an image of Jesus I liked. St. Teresa advises getting a picture of Jesus to look at, “One that you like,” to talk to and facilitate prayer in the beginning. I created a picture in my mind and on the pages of my journal of a Jesus resembling the kind of people my young college student parents had around when I was growing up in the early 70’s: a long- haired hippie guy in jeans and a faded blue button up shirt, a kind face, a big smile, sandals.  I could ask Him anything and He wouldn’t freak out.

He usually brought food and he liked walking on the beach like I did. He laughed easily. He cried easily too.

My imaginary conversations with Jesus often surprised me by their depth and content.  I began to draw wisdom and comfort from reading over these pages when I was upset. Sometimes He said things I didn’t’ like but I knew were true and sometimes I received deep inner healing from these encounters that changed my life.

I became able to study the faith, and study the Scriptures without getting so offended. If I didn’t understand something I was able to pray about it and ask for light and study the reasons behind the Church teaching I was having trouble with or the Bible verse that upset me.  When it came time for me to deal with some traumatic memories from my childhood and adolescence, praying in this way made it possible for me to do the inner work and receive the inner grace necessary to face the damage and to heal.  All I was really doing was using writing as a way to go within myself and encounter the Lord in the “Little Heaven” of my soul.  And I liked that guy. In fact I fell in love with Him and He became the center of my life.

Once I was a Catholic (as of 1990) I had spiritual mentors and priests I knew that I could read these writings to and have them reflect for me about them, helping me keep perspective.  Keeping proper perspective is important if this type of prayer or any other is to be a source of growth in the love of God.

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This prayer has the same danger spots as any other mental or interior prayer form.  One must remember that even the most authentic encounters with Christ are not literal messages to be taken as prophecy or to be put on the level with the Word of God or the Magisterium of the Church.  They are the traces of prayer: usually part us and part God.

Receiving great consolation from God in prayer does not make one a holier person than anyone else.  And we are all capable of fooling  ourselves, of being subtly influenced by evil and by the various forms of pride and selfishness we are infected with in our hearts that can mislead us. We can all become so attached to the experiences the Lord gives us we can hold ourselves back from the Giver because of our fascination with the gifts we receive. It is important in the interior life to have experienced people to share with who can keep us on track in our growth.

Still, the Holy Spirit is at work as the pray-er within and you can trust that if you are earnestly praying and attempting to make contact with God that in His mercy and grace He responds to that intention. Also when we encounter ourselves we encounter God because truly He is in us in a very real way.

This way of prayer also helped me as a single widowed mom of two wonderful but particularly challenging kids. I did not have a lot of time for prayer and solitude. So I created an inner chapel where I could retreat to pray and be with God within myself. At first I would have my journal open on the kitchen counter and I can remember writing in it as I also did dishes or made dinner. Often I didn’t need the journal I just went within myself while I was sweeping or doing something else. Late at night I could be found writing, writing, praying, pouring out my heart, being nourished and strengthened by the Lord within.  I could never have made it through without  having recourse to praying like that.  I filled up many a journal. I think my closet has more journals in it than clothes.

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The way I did this prayer is to just start writing, creating first a landscape or scene that reflected my mood or else was a place I was comforted by. Pretty soon, as I scribbled away about the scene I could see inside myself in a symbolic way, I was quiet inside and focused, and before too long, into the eye of my imagination, would come that long-haired guy in sandals to see me. The interior images and words would begin to flow easily and I have no doubt I was in my Interior Castle developing my relationship with  our “Friend Who we know loves us,” as St. Teresa said.

I used this method of prayer for years. Strangely enough I don’t use it anymore. It just went away about ten years ago or maybe more, as if the pen fell out of my hand. My prayer became much more passive, simple, silent and dark.  I just sit in the cave of my heart, if you will, nowadays, and God is there too.

Sometimes the Lord seems to take away one kind of prayer and lead you another way. We must all be docile to that and trust it as long as it is not really that we are being lazy or flighty. Prayer requires discipline and before we give up a kind of prayer we are committed to we should be discerning about what that’s really about, what our real reason is. It is always tempting to turn our hand from the plough. Sometimes continuing to pray is hard work, or an issue has come up. And we want to quit. Other times it is that God is leading us in a new path. And we should go with that.

Imaginative journaling is a great way to pray and it can be powerful and transformative.  To me it has much in common with the more active types of prayer Teresa suggests for beginners. Though I think she might have been amused by what I was doing, I don’t think she would have had a problem with it.

I found out Morton T. Kelsey died some years ago.  I hope someone told him how helpful he was when he got to Heaven. I hope he and St. Teresa were able to have tea or something and some good discussions.  Maybe she would say, “Thank you for helping my little wayward  daughter to find her heart when she was wandering lost.”  And maybe he would say, “You’re welcome. I’m sure glad you took over trying to teach her anything though. Better you than me!”  And maybe they laugh.  And they toast their tea  cups to wayward little souls that God leads in whatever way He can get them to go to find Him.

If you decide to read Morton T. Kelsey remember he isn’t a Catholic but an Episcopalian priest. Also he talks a lot of Jungian psychology, having found some of Jung’s ideas helpful to his own prayer journey. You can either not read him or take what you like and leave the rest if that sort of thing bothers you.  Adventure Inward is more specifically about prayer journaling. It is also simpler and shorter.

Or you can just sit down with your journal, get quiet inside, and start writing. Maybe you’re walking along the beach, the waves are choppy and the wind is cold. It’s about to storm. You see someone coming to meet you, his long hair peeking out from his rain coat hood, flashlight in hand. “Hey come on, I made breakfast!”   He slips his arm around you and you’re off on an adventure inward with the best Friend possible, the Lord within.

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* The teachings and quotes mentioned of St. Teresa of Avila’s can be found most easily in her book The Way of Perfection.

Prayer without “praying”

 “Today, the vegetables would like to be chopped

By someone who is singing God’s Name.”
~ Hafiz

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.”

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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

 

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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.

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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.

 “Today, the vegetables would like to be chopped

By someone who is singing God’s Name.”
~ Hafiz

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The Prayer of dreams; being attentive to the Dreamer within

“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.

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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.

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    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.”

    Dream on, Christian soul.

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Sunrise: through the dark faith of Advent to the brightness of Christmas

Traveling through Advent with grief this year has led to me to soul search about what Christmas is, and, in the process, to notice similarities between the journey of Advent into Christmas and the stages of the soul’s progression into the heart of God.  According to Carmelite spirituality,  the soul first travels through and away from outward distractions, into inward beauty, then into the deep pain of the dark night when even these lovely interior gifts are removed and the soul’s perception of them and consequently, of God, is radically changed. This happens so that the true nature of God can be apprehended by naked faith and purified love. In this way, the soul is prepared for union with God, and begins to radiate peace and love through His indwelling presence.

Throughout this journey, the soul finds that the things around God, even things that point to or reflect God, are not God Himself. The soul has to learn to relate to all these other things in a whole new way that has to do with loving God as He is in Himself. This is something which God will begin mysteriously to teach the willing and loving soul, who responds to God, in and through this suffering, with more and more surrender and determination. God will transform that soul, making it able to receive God in pure faith, hope and love.

In a similar way, the journey through Advent prepares us for the very real grace of Christmas, which is beyond all of the outward and even inward trappings that surround Christmas itself. We journey through all these things to the heart of Christmas, and thereby receive its true grace.

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Advent is full of things that are good and point the way to Christmas, but they are not Christmas itself. I can be distracted by the outward show of the season; the lights, the gifts, the traditions, the social interactions. These outward things can be good, used to serve others and remind us of the birth of Jesus. But they are not Christmas itself.

Even the people in our lives, whom we love and enjoy, and/or who cause us a lot of stress at this time of year one way or the other; they point the way to Christmas because they are our school of love, forgiveness, mercy, sacrifice, and communion. They reflect the love of God to us. But people and relationships are not actually Christmas itself.

The events we plan with our families and friends, as good (or as stressful) as they can be, are not Christmas either.

Our feelings, memories and thoughts, so intensified (sometimes painfully, sometimes happily) during this time of the year, are part of our journey. Our expectations, our longing for unity, joy, peace, justice and beauty, are all from God and are holy. They point us to the meaning of the Nativity, and to the joys of Heaven. But even these are not Christmas itself.

Sometimes I am happy about shared love and memories with family and friends. Sometimes I am keenly aware that I am in deep mourning. Some years I have truly felt that I have known Christmas joy. Other years I did not feel it. But it is still Christmas, whatever I think or feel.

Cultural expressions of the season, social events, our relationships,  and even our inmost feelings, all these things, painful or joyful as these may be, are not Christmas. These are things that surround Christmas, that reflect its light.

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What is Christmas? Is it just a remembering of the birth of Jesus? I think it is that, but what else is it?

Does something actually happen at Christmas?

I think Christmas is a remembering by us, the Church, that makes present and re-presents an eternal reality. With this remembering, I believe, Heaven cooperates whole heartedly.

I believe that at Christmas, by a special grace, there is a sunrise that bathes every face, a release of extra love and light coming through the heart of the Church, Christ’s Body, that shines on everyone.

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The Church prays for it: “Grant….that the the coming solemnity of [the Nativity of ] your Son may bestow healing upon us in this present life.” ~ from the Liturgy of the Hours Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Jesus has come into the world and continues to be with us.

Christmas is true no matter what happens with events outside or inside myself, or how I perceive them.

Christmas is real, and that sunrise is there.  It’s coming.

The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.

-The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.

To give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory that appears on the face of Christ.

-He has shown in our hearts.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.~Responsory from Morning Prayer from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours, Feast of St. John of the Cross.

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  • I originally wrote this piece in Advent of 2015

How to love in troubled times; St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

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?

 

by Mark Hudgins

 

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.

 

by Mark Seven Hudgins

 

 

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.

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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.

Let me kiss every face.

Let me hold every hand.

Let me be your peace.

Let me be your love.

Whatever it takes.

 

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

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  • Art by Mark Hudgins

 

Pentecost Novena Day 6

I delight in you

So taken with you

I sink my love’s Fire

Deep within you
!

Be steeped in the Fire of the Dove.

Your womb exults, O worthy daughter

Bless the sea 
Make it holy water

Infused by the Dawn,

Bring forth the Sun

Exult like the grass the Dew is nestled on.

So full of ecstacy is your body

It resounds with Heavens’ symphony.

That is how it is with you, Mary,

Mother of all Joy.

~originally a song by Shawn (me) and my husband, Marc Blaze Pauc

with (italicised) words of St. Hildegard

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Come Holy Spirit, infuse us, body and soul with the consuming Fire of Your Divine Love bringing about all healing and the transformation of every faculty to Your Divine Order and intention. Anoint us with Your Holy Peace and help us to listen to Your voice in our hearts guiding us.

Lord of all Love and Wisdom and creative power, we never know how we are to pray but Your power is never limited by our perceptions. For this we are grateful.
Holy Spirit, Your inexpressible groanings intercede for us to the Father and are our true prayer. We know that You understand our hearts and our situations in life, and we open our hearts more and more to You.
Spirit of Hope, pour out Your gracious hope into our hearts and strengthen us.

Mary, Mother of all Joy and Bride of the Spirit, intercede for us that we may receive with joy all the graces the Holy Spirit wishes to give us with pure and open hearts.

May we be steeped in the Fire of the Dove.

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Luke Interviews Mary: The Annunciation

 

After the breaking of the Bread and the Prayers in the house of John the Apostle, when all the others had left, Mary sat me down, bringing me water and a plate of olives. She walked quickly through the house, putting things away, straightening mats, stirring a stew she was making for John and me for dinner. Finally, after much motherly bustle, she sat down, smiling at me expectantly.

I marveled at the way her gently lined face still looked like the face of a little girl, and wished I could see all that her kind and peaceful eyes had seen.

“So, you understand why I came, and what I am working on?” I asked her.

“Yes, how wonderful!”

I took my writing materials out of my bag.

I was nervous but felt calmed by the comfortable, child like enthusiasm on her face.

She wanted to know everything about my work.

I went over with her the information I had gathered in my process of talking to eye witnesses of the events, my list of parables, details of healings, outlines of teachings, the order I proposed for the narrative, my sources, one of which I hoped would be herself.

She asked good questions, gave thoughtful replies, made helpful suggestions. She was wise, warm and encouraging.

“Luke! You have done so well already!  I am sure God has chosen you for this!”

“Mother, I will need to include some truths about you that will help me show the nature of your Son, and to record events only you can tell about. Especially important is… the way Jesus was conceived, and how it came about. The Church needs that story. We need it from you.”

I could see she was troubled.

She looked out of an open window, to the quiet garden outside, to the sky above.

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A light breeze moved, as if in consoling answer to her inward prayer, rustling a tendril of her hair, stirring the air, stirring my heart. I remembered what I had heard: The presence of the Holy Spirit is felt when one is with the mother of Jesus.

Then, she looked at me and smiled, touching my wrist lightly to reassure me.

“It would be easier for me if we walked. Walk with me?”

I rose, alive with excitement that I was perhaps about to hear things no one else had ever heard.

“You must pray and decide what to leave in and what to leave out,” she said, as she took her wrap and draped it over her shoulders.

Outside she put a small hand on my arm, and I saw that she still wore her wedding ring, a simple band of carved stone. It touched me to think of her love and faithfulness to Joseph. How she must miss him. How she must miss her Son.

“How can I ever do her justice?” I thought.

At times we walked in silence. At times she spoke.  When I had to, I  asked questions. At some of the things she said, I caught my breath and tears came to my eyes.

I had not known, no one had known, just how this conception had come about.

Ah, the Angel Gabriel? Of course, how fitting. The Book of Daniel came to mind, and its implications.

She stopped and turned to me at certain points in her story, as if to make sure I heard what she said,

“He shall be great…. And shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David! And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!”

She would squeeze my hand, nod at me, and we would walk on while she thoughtfully considered what to tell me next.

The hardest part for her to talk about was the experience of her conception of Jesus. She almost could not do it.

She had been overcome with holy fear, she said. As Abraham was filled with godly dread in the night before his visitation and the sealing of God’s covenant with him, so it was with her when Gabriel appeared to her, and said, “Hail, full of grace!” She had not known what it meant, she had been overwhelmed, overcome completely.

But when the Angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” she found that she was not afraid at all. She was allowed, she said, to gaze in wonder.

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In reply to the astonishing request the Angel brought from the Almighty, and the announcement about the coming of the Messiah through her, she had been perplexed. She and Joseph had felt so strongly guided by God to remain virgin. They had made a vow. How was this child to come to her?

After her questions had been answered by the Angel, she had said, in a rush of love, exultation, and understanding, “Yes! The Lord knows everything! He knows that I love Him, that I love His people!”

She stopped walking now and closed her eyes, stretching her arms forth in prayer, remembering, “Then I said, with great joy of heart, ‘Mighty Gabriel, see, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Amen! Let it be done to me as you have said.”

 

She rested her hand on my shoulder, we began to walk again. I thought of  Sarah, and of Hannah, of daughter Zion, as a light breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees around us, rippling the hem of her veil. I enjoyed the light of both the sun and the glow of inner joy on her face.

“Holy Gabriel had said the Lord was with me. I thought, ‘I must have been made for this.’  But… I didn’t quite know what to do when the angel left me. I prayed, what happens now?”

Mary closed her eyes, her hand on her heart, our steps slowing on the path.

“I felt the great and tender Spirit of the Lord, asking me to welcome Him. I said in my heart, ‘I don’t know how. Show me. Command me to receive You, and it will happen.”

She said that suddenly her senses and inner faculties were suspended, all was still, and she knew only Love, only God, only tenderness, as if light flooded her soul, even her body; light so bright, she was inwardly blinded.

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For the first time she was aware that God was One God in Three Persons, as He revealed His very nature to her- like three suns rising in her heart as one.

He never left her.

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She cried trying to tell me this, and she said she knew she had not gotten it right, not expressed it as it should be told, but she trusted that I would know what to say in the Spirit.

Yes, I knew. I thought of the Scriptures about the Arc of the Covenant and the cloud of the Lord’s presence, the shekinah glory that would settle over the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the Temple. I knew what I would say. It would be simple.

I would protect the secret of her soul, except what I must write in Jesus’ Name, of what the Angel himself had said, that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. 

 

In the days to come the holy mother would tell me many more stories of the Lord. She trusted me for the sake of the Gospel.

I believe I came to know her heart in those hours spent with her in the garden behind the house of John. Some of what she said was to remain with me, some of it was a gift for the Gospel. I let the Holy Spirit decide which was which.

I am often asked about my time with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Christian soul, child of Mary, you may ask her in the Spirit anything you like. I have said what is mine to say.

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