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A novena to the child Mary Days 1-9

This novena is intended for the nine days leading up to the memorial of the Presentation of the Child Mary in the temple, celebrated November 21. Of course you can pray this any time you like or leading to any of the feasts of Mary’s girlhood.

We don’t usually think of Mary as a little girl in our country though devotion to little Mary is more common in Mexico, Italy and Spain.

To me she represents the way of spiritual childhood, or as St. Therese coined it, The Little Way. We can also consider this Little Way of St. Therese as simply the way Mary lived, with a pure and open heart free for God, a boldness of trust and childlike faith, a spirit of offering and the practice of the presence of God, all rooted in the most free and generous love ever known before that of her Son. Following the Little Way in Mary’s footsteps could be called the Marian Little Way.

So let us spend these nine days with little Mary and let us pray.

Day One: Mary in the Mind of God

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you.” Jeremiah 1:5a

Before God made Adam, he held Eve hidden in his heart where she lay curled in hidden beauty until the time came for her to be part of life, the mother of life on his beautiful garden planet newly created. After the fall of Adam and Eve God already knew he would bring us the New Eve and Mother of Life. She would be the dawn of our salvation. Until that future sunrise she remained in the depths of the Divine Consciousness like a hidden jewel.

Let us spend some time in her quiet radiance there.

Little Mary, deep in God’s Heart, invite us into those silent depths of Divine Love where we can rest with you.

Pray with Mary a slow, reflective Our Father imagining yourself with her in God.

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Day Two: Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Immaculate Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8

A fond memory of mine is of teaching my children to meditate. They sat quietly on the floor, little legs crossed, eyes closed. Closing my own eyes I told them to imagine their hearts opening to God’s love like a flower opening to the sun petal by petal. They were silent for a surprising amount of time. I opened my eyes and they were sitting very still in prayer concentrating with peaceful faces. My two little girls were also holding their shirts up. It was hilarious!

As we ponder the child Mary’s profound innocence of heart we can remember too, the simplicity of childhood, it’s freedom and clarity. A pure heart is a simple heart. A simple heart is clear enough for God to shine right into. A heart full of the sunshine of God’s face is also open to God’s light everywhere and in everyone. Mary’s pure and open, simple heart really sees us and she sees us with joy.

Take a moment now and join little Mary in opening your heart petal by petal to let the sunshine of God’s love in to light up every part of it. Then take some time to look at the child Mary and let her look at you.

Little Mary, pure and simple of heart, help us to see the smile of God in all things.

Say to her, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

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Day Three Birth of Mary

“Who is she who comes forth line the dawn; radiant as the sun, as awe inspiring as an army in battle array?- Song of Songs 

She will crush your head alleluia – Little Office of the Blessed Virgin


A baby girl is born just before sunrise. She comes at the thinnest edge of dawn when stars retain their glitter for a few brief moments and the moon begins its transition to translucence. She is washed by the women of the family helping at the birth, rubbed with salt to protect her from infection, and wrapped snugly. She is handed to her mother and breast fed in flickering lamp light. The women neighbors take up bedding to be cleaned and straighten the house. Every room is full of the love and wonder that attends the birth of a new life.Everyone goes home. The father of the baby meets his child he never thought he would have. He crawls onto the sleeping mat next to his wife and the family sleeps.
But God can’t stop smiling about his secret surprise for the world and every soul he created, past present and future unfurling in and through the baby lying between her parents, rooting sleepily for her mother’s breast. Heaven holds it breath and rose petals drop gently down even as the new father begins to snore.

And God said, “It is good, “ as a ribbon of brightness graced the horizon and the sun began to rise for everyone.

Take a moment now to love snd be grateful for the gift of Mary in your life and to everyone everywhere. Feel her baby breath on your face. Smile with Heaven.

Little Mary, you are our life, our sweetness and our hope. I hold you close in my heart.


Day Four: Holy Name of Mary

Your name is ointment poured forth Song of Songs  1:3


I’ve read that in Jewish culture the name of a person is the key to their souls. The naming of a child is prophetic and represents their destiny. We know the Name of Jesus means “Yahweh saves,” which makes perfect sense. We know saying his Name or doing something in His Name has the effect of making him more present. We pray in the Name of Jesus. His is the only Name by which we may be saved. (Acts 4:12)

As Mary is not divine but 100% human, her name is given gracious power is relation to her Son’s. There are several interpretations of Mary’s holy name. “Bitter” is most common which makes sense because of her bitter suffering during the torture and death of Jesus, and her three days of desolate sorrow. “Star of the Sea” is a popular interpretation. It seems to be based on the Latin word for sea which is “mar. ” Mary spoke Aramaic which would have been Maryam. The name in Egyptian of the time meant “love,” which is how I have experienced Mary the most so that one is my favorite. What meaning of the name of Mary do you like best?

A spiritual practice of mine that is profoundly helpful to me is repetition of the Names of Jesus and Mary. I do believe saying Mary’s name brings her closer to me and keeps me connected to her. I mentally repeat it during the day, when I wake up and as I am going to sleep; any time I think of it. When I am upset it has a great effect on my state of mind. It helps me come into deeper prayer when I am distracted.

Your name, O Mary, is a precious ointment, which breathes forth the odor of Divine grace. Let this ointment of salvation enter the inmost recesses of our souls. [St. Ambrose +397]

Mary would have been named quietly at home and most likely without ceremony although I’m sure with love. She was most likely named after a relative as was customary. I like to think though that she was named after the prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses. This would have made sense since names are prophetic and Jewish parents are seen as cooperating with God in bestowing names on the children. Jesus was the new Moses, leading and freeing his people, and Mary was at his side as his support, raising her voice in praise of God after their deliverance from Egypt much as she did in her Magnificat, her song of praise in Luke 1:46-45.

Little Mary, we honor your holy name. Inspire us to pray it many times today with love, staying close to you. May your name be a precious ointment poured into the hidden recesses of our souls. Ave Ave Ave little Maria.

Day Five: As a child has rest

Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace as a child has rest in [her] mother's arms, even so my soul. - Psalm 130

You have been invited to dinner at Joachim and Anne’s house. When you come in, you see their little girl playing in the courtyard where her mother says she has been all afternoon with the other kids. She runs into the house with a gaggle of them screaming and laughing and you can’t help but smile. Mary is filthy and her dress is frayed. Mother Anne dismisses the other children washes her little girl’s face, hands and feet carefully and has her help to serve dinner.

All of you smile at Mary’s childish patter and even more as she grows sleepy, speaking more and more hapharzardly and slowly until she crawls into her mother’s lap, almost asleep.

As Joachim recites a Psalm, Little Mary gazes at you contentedly from her mother’s arms. Maybe you were worried about something or burdened with some sorrow. Somehow you can’t remember what it was and are happy just to sit peacefully and look back at Mary.

Let’s settle in and listen to Joachim’s voice as we smile at his little girl.

O Lord, my heart is not proud,

Nor haughty my eyes.

I have not gone after things too great

Nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul

In silence and in peace,

As a child has rest in [her] mother’s arms,

Even so my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord forever.

Psalm 130

In the prayerful silence that follows, Mary’s eyes gently close. You feel her little hand in yours and close your eyes too, to pray.

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Day 6 Learning to Pray with Little Mary

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6:6

She wants you to hold her and when you do, she messes up your hair. “You need to pray,” she says. She waits. “Go ahead. Pray.” Maybe you ask her, “What do you want me to pray?” To this she asks to be put down. “Stand like this by me.” When you do, she pulls your head down to her level, making you crouch. She becomes very solemn and and you can’t help but smile. Mary puts your hands over your eyes, telling you, “Don’t look on the outside, look on the inside.”

She says, in her sweet child’s voice, “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad.” She gives you a shove. “You’re not looking in!”

So now try, really try to turn within yourself where the Lord truly lives and try again.

Say with her,

Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

Dt. 6:4

She goes over the rest with you, nudging you any time you start to open your eyes. She tells you she prays this daily with her family, that everyone does. “But you have to be quiet in your heart and look inside.” Once she knows you have paid close attention to the words you are saying and to Whom you are saying them, she throws her arms around you, kissing your face.

Day 7: Being Little

Let the children come to me for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. Matthew 19:14 

We forget to be little before God. Remembering brings a joyful peace because it really is that simple. We complicate things and create obstacles for ourselves that aren’t true. Spending time with the child Mary and adopting her approach to life and the love of God gives us a clarity we lacked before. When the archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary she needed only to understand what was being asked of her to embrace it. God was everything to her and all she wanted. She trusted completely, bold and brave and sweet before God as the Holy Spirit ruffled her hair and Jesus stole her heart. She was glad to be small and humble; seeing herself as God’s littlest. She didn’t change at the Annunciation. She had always been this way from childhood.

Let’s remember that we are God’s littlest children so we can find the clearest sweetest peace by living in his heart letting ourselves be loved.

Child Mary help me to understand myself as little and dear that I may love God with bold trust and complete freedom.

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Day 8 The Way of Spiritual Childhood with Mary

Day 9 Consecration

At this writing today we celebrate the memorial of the Presentation of the Child Mary in the Temple. This was Mary’s consecration.

Let’s consecrate ourselves to God through and with her.

Find some quiet time you can spend with the child Mary. Let her throw her arms around you. Say to her, “O Mary I give you my heart, my hands, all of me, my whole life is yours. Do with me and build with me what you will, that I may run up the steps of the Temple with you into the arms of God.

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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.

https://fb.watch/gKtOEw5gd1/

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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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Let Mary be real to you in the Rosary

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An aspect of the rosary I love is that praying the mysteries, the stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary helps us remember that the Virgin Mary was and is a real human being. Her life, entwined with her Son’s was an actual earthly life just as ours is. That seems like an obvious thing to say about her but do we really think of her as a real person? Sometimes, though our stylized and symbolic depictions of her are pretty, I wish at least sometimes her Immaculate Heart would be drawn or painted more anatomically, like a Frieda Kahlo heart perhaps. I think this type of image would bring us closer to the everyday very real Mary who had a beating human heart in her chest.

Or maybe we could see her represented working hard with sweat under her arms for once!

Don’t you feel closer to her if you imagine her feet in the dirt of her garden or the weave of the rough fibers of her homespun dress, or when you imagine her laughing? I do. I always do. 

I want her to be a sister and a friend to me as well as my teacher of prayer, mystical queen and holy mother. 

I love the way Our Lady is presented in all of those gorgeous poetic prayers. But I need a hug. I want to put my face on her shoulder and smell that Mary smell. 

I want to love Jesus as completely as she does. I want to see everything and everyone through God’s heart as she sees all of us. 

I want to pray simply as clear morning light, pondering Jesus in my heart and the law of love continually in all I do, in all Mary and I do together. I want her always with me and I want myself always with her. 

I want to practice Marian mindfulness, being always aware of the presence of the Lord and his beauty.  

I want to be ready for anything God gives or calls me to, and to “arise with haste” and joy to go and act on it, share it with people and all of life as Mary did and still does from Heaven. I want to help her with her work for the kingdom, wherever she wants to take me. She is always reminding me to listen and to do whatever Jesus tells me. 

I want to come home to Mary and cook dinner with her. I want to listen to her concerns for her children and I want to be able to comfort her. I want to walk with her, hear her stories and share her happiness. 

I hope to plant more roses in her garden. I’d like to pick some too, and sprinkle the petals over her head and watch her laugh. 

It’s so easy to make her smile. 

When you think of Mary, when you pray the rosary and let her guide you through the mysteries of Jesus, let her be real to you. It will make all the difference. It will make you smile too. 

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How to pray Lectio Divina

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Lectio Divina is an ancient prayer form developed by the Benedictines in the 6th century, a way to deeply pray with Scripture. One read attentively, pondered, as Mary did, the word of God, responded back to God, and rested in simple contact with him. In the 12th century a monk called Guigo decided to divide it into more definite steps. For me over time this prayer became less formal and more of a flow that happens naturally in the Spirit. In fact with long practice it is just the way I hear and respond to Scripture when I am really paying attention. Maybe that is how this prayer arose before it had a set of concrete steps to follow. The pray-er experienced a natural, Holy Spirit guided progression between attentive reading, deep prayerful pondering and simple rest in loving awareness and receptivity to God’s presence.

It was cool of Guigo to organize this into steps however. The steps helped me a lot when I was new to it and still do sometimes especially when I am upset and can’t focus. Also everyone is different. Some people pray more freely with a sense of order and clarity. Others do best with spontaneity and receptivity. God loves both of these and can work with equal grace with every soul, no matter the preference.

Here are the steps.

Step One Lectio: First, slowly and reflectively read a passage of the Bible three times, paying special attention to any word or phrase that catches your attention. 

Step Two Meditatio: Quietly ponder the word or phrase that stands out to you slowly repeating it in silence. Ask the Lord what he is saying to you in this Word, brought to your attention by the Holy Spirit.   

Step Three Oratio:  When you receive light on what God is saying in your soul through that word or phrase, respond back to God in prayer, perhaps asking for all that you need to carry out his will, or maybe in praise and thanksgiving; whatever is appropriate. Have a conversation with him.

Step Four Contemplatio:  Rest now in simple love, in communion with him for a time.   

Some people will add: 

Step Five Actio: Like Mary after the Annunciation, arise with haste and act on what you have received in prayer! (Luke 1:39)

Encounters with God don’t always lead us into immediate service but if they do go with it!

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General advice:

If I don’t have a particular Biblical passage in mind I choose from the mass reading of the day. I consider the readings of the day to be chosen by the Holy Spirit. If none of these particularly catch my attention I pick the Gospel reading. 🙂

You can find the daily readings here https://bible.usccb.org

The number of minutes you pray Lectio Divina is up to you. God will definitely be there throughout regardless. He is unlimited by time. 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes will all work. I tend to set a a quiet alarm so I am not tempted to worry about time. I know the sound will call me back at the right moment and I can relax into prayer.

If you are new to silent interior prayer, I suggest you start with 5 or 10 minutes at first. You are more likely to make a habit of prayer when you feel you can succeed and are less likely to feel overwhelmed and avoid it. Baby steps!

Some people say to pray at the same hour in the same place every day. You may find this helpful in creating the habit and sticking with it. At times I have found that helpful too.

To me any quiet and solitude I can find will work. And anyway I like to change things up now and then.

Always remember that God responds to any good faith approach. He doesn’t get all weird, scrupulous or worried about things the way we do. He just wants to be with us.

“All I need is Jesus, His will, and silence.” – St. Miriam of Jesus Crucified

See? That’s pretty simple.

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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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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.

woman in red dress
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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.

full moon illustration
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Holy Saturday

For me Holy Saturday is usually a quiet, meditative day spent with Mary.

Normally the parish church would be open, but quiet and bare. Catechumen and Candidates would be gathering for Morning Prayer with their teacher, their sponsors perhaps, and the pastor. The feeling would be somber and expectant too, this last gathering before the class would be baptized and/ or confirmed at the Easter Vigil.

Mary seemed to sail through Great Silence like a sparrow released into a moonless night. The others watched her closely for signs of life and awareness, but her heart was fully awake.

“Mother, please,” Magdalene said, “Have something to drink. For me.” Her sisters had brought breakfast. Something hot and steaming was pressed gently into her hand. The cup warmed her fingers. She looked at the tear stained faces and worried eyes around her and took a small sip. She felt the weave of the mat she sat on, the movement of air, the stillness of earth.

The room filled with the others who also sat. As the strips of light from the shutters moved across the floor, no one spoke.

The cup grew cold.

At home I keep my little apartment quiet except for playing some Marian chant now and then. I pray the Hours too.

Our family altar is bare as well.

The door is open.

For you, my God, my soul in stillness waits. Truly my hope is in you.

(See Psalm 95/Catholic Hymn “My Soul in Stillness Waits” by Marty Haugin)

My Soul in Stilllness Waits

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