Bethany Hang Out

Christian contemplative life and devotion

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

A spiritual interpretation of dementia

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March 2008

I’ve been pondering dementia all day. By this I don’t mean spinning my minds’ wheels obsessing on it or trying to think what else it could be that Mom might have, or whether I’m going to have it (or how anyone will be able to tell if I do) or anything like that … the way I was before. I’ve been wondering what dementia means spiritually. I think this is partly me trying to find a way to understand this that takes away some of the horror of my mom’s dementia for me or at least gives me a way to think about it that I can stand. But I also think what’s happening in my mind shows that God is giving me not only a little bit of serenity but maybe a glimpse of part of my role, part of my particular walk with Mom and with God and with my family through this. I don’t know if it will make sense to anybody else. But it is beginning to give me a new point of reference that I think I will need, that maybe we will all need in this time ahead of us with Mom.

I remember after the death of my first husband, Blaze, in a car accident in 1998, being so afraid I would forget something about him. I would obsessively focus on remembering the curve of his cheek, the sound of his laugh, on and on. It was very painful to cling so tightly to each remembrance with such fear of losing it. Then one day it occurred to me that I really didn’t have to worry about that because God remembers everything. God remembers every hair of Blaze’s head. Even better -in God there is no time. Blaze’s past, present and future are all present to God. That thought applied to my mom gave me an image of her memory being released into God as the disease progresses.

I also thought about how the Church believes that even if my mom loses cognitive function so far as to have no idea who she is at some point- that her soul is still functioning within her. I’ll take that further and say there is a wisdom passing between her and God, a destiny being worked out and fulfilled whatever we might see on the outside. She is of course more than her body, more than her intellect or personality or social identity. She has infinite value in Christ and as long as she lives God has a purpose for her on earth. We all know that truth of our faith but how much do we really believe it? I think those of us who love my mom are about to learn a lot about that. Maybe she is too.

It came to me that there are three ways the soul can be stripped down to the “nada nada nada” of St. John of the Cross-, until there is nothing left but itself stripped bare before God. Death is one way this happens. The practice of an apophatic spirituality, releasing all that is not God in order to find Him in that “Cloud of Unknowing” where He dwells, is another way.

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Perhaps the progression of dementia is another way the process of holy negation can happen. Several times I have thought of my mom’s interests- gardening, cooking, literature, etc. being dropped behind her as she walks. These things so important in her life until now I imagine falling and then being left on her life’s path like accoutrements and uniforms she doesn’t need anymore. I am reminded of Blaze’s shaving things in the bathroom after his death. I couldn’t throw them away for a while. Then one day I thought of how much he hated shaving and how he didn’t have to do it anymore now. I smiled and I threw them away for him.

For Blaze the loss of the world’s and the soul’s external trappings was instant and abrupt. For the mystic and for my mom it is a slow surrender. It is interesting that John of the Cross says the memory is purified by hope. I wonder how that applies here. Complex mystical theology aside if I just saw that sentence, “memory is purified by hope”, I would think about my mom in the slow loss of orientation and desires and memory and wonder where the hope is. The hope is Jesus. Maybe unlike Blaze who was suddenly taken into God’s presence my mom is just going slowly- fading not into meaningless oblivion but into the Heart of Jesus, into the Kingdom of God where she belongs. I think of her common reaction, when she is irritated by some circumstance, of saying, “Well, maybe it will take time off my purgatory!” Maybe this is purgatory for her. Maybe she won’t have to go there now. Purgatory means “purification” doesn’t it?

What if someone went through this degenerative process of Dementia, as much as he or she was able to – with love? What if this person said, “OK, God, here is another part of me for you to keep- I can’t.” I wonder if anyone could do that at least for a while? Dementia is such a heavy cross. Does anyone accept it with love eventually- with faith hope and love- which are the only things that remain in the end? Do those remain even at the end in ways we don’t begin to understand? These three things are not intellectual concepts of the mind. They are so eternal they’ re all that remain. As far as I know they are the only things that go with you when you leave this world and even after this world ends. What does that mean in this situation?

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My brother, Mark, is preoccupied with my mom’s apparent sense of isolation. He hates the thought of her being alone in her deteriorating mind. But she isn’t. In the vast gray silence of dementia God is still there, maybe even more there. Who knows but that she will know this better than we do who stand by? If the connections I am making are true then the mystic knows the answer to that. That’s exactly where God is.

Mom doesn’t know about her diagnosis and we won’t have a definitive one for a few weeks when we will hear it at her next appointment. We will all be there with her. I am trusting, or trying to – that God will send each of us whatever grace we need that day. I suppose we each need a way to think of this that makes sense to us. Maybe I found mine.

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*Epilog: My mom was diagnosed with Fronto-temporal Dementia and Lymphoma in 2008 at the age of 59, and later, COPD as well. On her own inspiration from the beginning she offered her suffering and her life in union with Christ’s for my brother, who was having very great difficulties, and for our family. She said she felt that God had accepted her offering. She died October 2012 in my care. In the couple of months before her death she had not been able to speak or understand very much at all. Even yes no answers had been hard for her to give. But she started talking a few weeks before she died. She talked a lot about God. She prayed aloud often and seemed to have conversations with the Lord. In one of these she said, “Yes, I’m ready. I’m ready to become a lamb.”

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To read the cool obituary I wrote my mom check here:
To read more about offering one’s sufferings with Christ read On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering by Bl. John Paul II

Praying for enemies

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Jesus just said to do it. Pray for your enemies.

Sometimes we unnecessarily complicate this simple command. We may pray ineffectively, blocked by our own pride and the subtle forms of self deception and  judgment that keep us from being open to the grace of God just when we (and our enemy) need it the most and God wants to give it.

We can pray angry of course. That’s fine. The Psalms and the Prophets are full of good examples of Biblical freaking out at God. I can testify to its being a healing experience myself.

Pride, however, tends to distance us from God. “God resists the proud.” (James 4:6.) He is a push-over for humility and a contrite heart, however. “A humbled contrite heart you will not spurn…For you love truth in the heart. Then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.”
(Psalm 51)

Remember those two men praying in the Temple and which one went home justified? (Luke 18:9-14.) The one who had the impulse to pray humbly and ask for mercy is the one God blessed. Pride seems to impede prayer. Perhaps humility opens the way for prayer as it grounds us in truth and right relationship between us, others and God. St. Therese even said God can’t resist a humble heart. Scripture says the same thing. Again,  James 4:6. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Asking for mercy, though, seems to turn Jesus to mush. St. Faustina would agree.“I have opened My Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Diary (1520). “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner,” the “Jesus Prayer,” would seem a good prayer to clear the way for praying for our enemies, opening our hearts to how the Lord of Love wants us to carry that out.


The Gospels show us Jesus responded to the cry for mercy every single time He encountered it. So we can count on that.

The virtue of “self forgetfulness” can re-direct us to God. Praying for my enemies can’t be about myself. I am not praying for my enemies so I can come out of the spiritual beauty shop feeling good about myself in my new “obedience do.” This obedience, ideally, is not to show anybody else, even myself. It is to do and let go of.

Prayer for enemies is not exactly about the enemy either. Who are we to say what he needs? Only God knows the heart. Chances are, if this is an enemy, we really don’t.

Praying for my enemies should not be done in such a way that I feel superior to them. This is another self deception we can fall into: “Lord, please help this sick, hurting person who must be mad at me or disagree with me because she is flawed in some way or had a bad childhood.” Nope. That is often an attempt to place myself above that person or invalidate her, to judge her in the guise of pity. How do I know I’m not more messed up than she is? I don’t. And I won’t unless I stay open to God. I can’t be open to His transforming grace as long as I try to feel superior.

I have to forget about wanting to be right as well. “Forget about that,” I tell myself. “Right is for God. It doesn’t even belong to me.” This is a hard one. But really it’s just a matter of focus. I have to stop looking at myself and my enemy and focus on God alone. Then I can let Him be right and not worry about me. The thing that feels the most on target to me in light of the Gospel, is to take the lowest place, praying from the truth that I cannot see as God sees. I have to know that I don’t know.

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We can tell we are praying rightly when we sense that solid peace that comes from God. We can feel this peace even if we are still really upset. We can let Him guide our prayer.

Something that often gives me peace is offering with Jesus all the suffering my enemy has caused me that he might be given whatever God wants to give him.

When we pray we must also let go. God is not going to wrest our problem from us. He waits for us, patient Father that He is, to hand the situation over and for us to get out of His way so He can work it out the way He wants to. With all love He will do this as soon as we allow Him to.

One of the best prayers I ever heard was“God, work Your will through me and work Your will through (name), and let our relationship be what You want it to be.” This is centered in God, simply seeking His will.

In order to empty myself so that God can fill me with His loving will, I try to practice certain mental rules:

• No imaginary conversations with my enemy allowed. At all. If I catch my mind doing that I give it something else to do like a walk with the rosary.

• No brooding. My mind will want to go over and over what happened, what was said, etc. This is what minds want to do when they are upset. I try to have an inner buzzer about that too. “Nope, stop thinking about that. Do the dishes and say the Divine Praises.” Repeating the Holy Name of Jesus works great, too, anytime a negative thought comes up.

*No diagnosing what mental illnesses my enemy might have. God already knows all that there is to know about my enemy.

• Renounce negative thoughts about my enemy in the Name of Christ. When bad thoughts come up and I catch myself I say exactly that. It’s simple. It’s just that I have to do it over and over. It tends to work after a while though. “I renounce that thought in the Name of Christ.” I learned this from a very dear priest after he heard my confession. It works.

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I asked my favorite Buddhist, my friend Leslie, if Buddhism has a teaching like praying for one’s enemies. She said the closest thing was probably practicing detachment from anger. Buddha said, “The problem is not with the other person; the problem is with your mind.”I like that. What do we do with it? For us as Christians recognizing the helpful truth of that statement  can be a prelude to prayer which is ultimately about God. When we detach from our anger we can align ourselves with God Who is Love and Who asks us to pray for those who harm us. We let go of the brooding, analyzing and judgment that is part of our natural reaction to an injury. Then we can pray in the Spirit and the Holy Spirit can pray within us without any resistance from us.

St. John of the Cross, said, “In the evening of your life you will be judged on love. So love- the way God wants to be loved, and leave off your own way of acting.“
 It seems to me that praying for our enemies is about the love of God. We do it because that is what our Beloved asks and that is also what He Himself did, even in His darkest hour.

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This is a suggested intercessory prayer from the great Russian Orthodox spiritual classic The way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way (the sequel to The Way of a Pilgrim)

“… it is well to bring a mental image of him into the presence of God, and to offer prayer in the following form:
’Most merciful God, Thy will be done, which will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
 Save and help Thy servant, (name.) 
Take this desire of mine as a cry of love which Thou hast commanded.”

Repeat as necessary. (It helps restore sanity too, as a bonus.) It is even suggested that one repeat this prayer using the prayer rope. Catholics are more likely to have a rosary on hand to try that with and that works fine. The anonymous author says he has found this prayer “to act powerfully on the one for whom it is prayed.” So maybe we should give our enemies a copy and ask them to pray for us too!

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Worship in Holy Attire at Mass

My dear friend, Jocie, worried about showing up to daily mass in flip-flops, asked Fr. (now Bishop) Mike Sis if he thought her flip flops were disrespectful to wear to church. He said, “ I was just in the Sudan, where they had no other shoes to wear but flip flops to church. You can be in solidarity with your  Sudanese brothers or sisters, today, at mass!”

What if we started with the virtue of solidarity with the poor when we dressed for mass?

Jesus often made fun of the mistaken ideas we have about the importance of our outer presentation compared to our inner dispositions. “Clean first the inside of the cup,” He said, before worrying so much about the outside. “It is out of the heart that good or bad things come.” So how should we dress our hearts for mass?

I have to smile when I walk into church. I bet you do, too. My gaze goes to the altar and the tabernacle and I feel a surge of joyin the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

I don’t wear make-up anymore.  But I hope my joy makes me beautiful to Jesus anyway. “Lord, it is good that we are here!”

I look around at the diverse family gathered here; my family, God’s family, the Church. I have a tiny place here, being one cell of the Body of Christ. Sometimes, even after all these years, I still can’t believe I get to be a part of it, that this is really me here in this place. Our gratitude for the great gift that the Church is to us, is perfect mass apparel.

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This Sunday night I am at mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Student Center. Some people are dressed up, some are wearing jeans, but everyone I see shows devout conduct that comes from a spirit of reverence. That is a wonderful way to array our souls in gold, in radiant reverence.

Every movement we make, each response we say at mass has meaning and purpose. We can adorn ourselves with prayerful attentiveness that all we say and do here will come from the heart as prayer.

We assist and participate in the Holy Liturgy as the people of God. The ancient Jews, at the time of the Temple, saw their liturgy as helping to keep the world going. We Catholics believe that about the mass. As in the Book of Revelations, the participation of the people of God in the Liturgy of the Church, releases His power and glory into the world to accomplish His will. We get to be a part of that.

My husband, Blaze, used to say being at mass was one thing he could always do to help the world every Sunday.

We know our Lord sees love of neighbor as a necessary basic for the Church, His Bride. Come in the spritual garments of love and mercy, to embrace and grace the world by assisting at holy mass and taking part in Jesus’ mission of salvation in a deep, mysterious, wonderful way.

The ancients believed the Liturgy in the Temple was a reflection of the Heavenly Liturgy. The early Christians saw the mass this way, as did the Church Fathers, and this is still our Faith. We should veil ourselves in worship as the angels do, who join us here.

At mass the Holy Scriptures are opened for us. This is the living voice of God speaking to us collectively and individually in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy, the public prayer of the Church. Receptivity to the Holy Spirit is needed to hear this voice, internalize it, allow it to work in us, apply it to our lives. Dress your soul in open-ness to the Holy Spirit as you get ready for mass, that you may have ears to hear what the Spirit and the Bride have to say to you there.

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We believe the mass makes present the Last Supper and that we participate in it, past present and future, with the Church all over the world and the Church beyond the world. We believe Jesus is truly present spiritually and in the flesh among us under the appearance of bread and wine. We believe mass is Heaven on Earth. Holy Awe is a shining garment in the eyes of God. We are at the Wedding Feast of Heaven. We should be sure to be wearing wedding clothes.

When I was serving at mass, helping distribute the Eucharist to others, I often thought about how no matter the age, social status or personality, each person is a child at the moment of receiving the Lord in Holy Communion. It was a privilege to watch this on people’s faces and be part of it. Humility and a child like spirit before the Lord: these are our crown and our jewels at mass, and in the Kingdom of God that is to come.

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After Communion we should wrap ourselves in interior silence. There is nothing more lovely to God than the face of His Bride at prayer after receiving Him in Communion, and, as St. John of the Cross said, “The language He hears best is silent love.”

We are also together in a special way in the Eucharist we just received. A sense of unity is a wonderful thing to wear to mass, aware of our connection to all of our family in faith, the One-ness Jesus prayed for. This is the cloak that covers us all.

If we take care to wear these things, the little matter of how we dress will follow naturally. Then, we will be a truly beautiful Bride of Christ, adorned for our Bridegroom.

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I was a young widow running through the house kicking toys out of my way, spilling my coffee, responding to a loud crash at the other end of the house. I had been cooking, having invited somebody over for dinner, (what was I thinking,) my toddler was running from the scene of the crime, my five year old was screaming, and my dog ran by with a piece of cornbread in her mouth. “OK,” I said to myself. “OK.”

I stopped. “OK.”


I set my coffee down. I took a breath. I looked outside at the juniper tree by my front porch. I noticed a thin branch trembling from the hesitant hops of a sparrow along it. I closed my eyes, felt the wood of the floor under my feet, breathed a silent prayer.

It was a centering moment.

I let the toddler get away. I hugged the outraged five year old. I attempted to salvage dinner. Life went on; just with a little bit more clarity, renewed meaning, and divine order.

The word Selah appears 71 times in the Psalms, and 3 times in Habakkuk. It often appears between stanzas of the Psalms, as if to tell the reader to pause and reflect. The precise meaning of the word is unknown, though some of the educated guesses are, “Pause,” “Lift up,” “Praise.” It could have been a musical term similar to our “rest” sign. It may have been a direction about how to read the verses, as in where to stop and take a breath.

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In my life, “Selah” has become a practice of putting a pause on exterior and interior clamor and connecting to the Real, to lift up my heart,  my situation, the world for a moment, to praise God by an act of mindfulness of His holy presence.

Eventually, developing this habit can lead to a greater general awareness of God at all times, and a natural continuous turning toward Him, in His outward expression and presence in the created world, and in His indwelling in the human heart.

Selah, as “stop and listen,” helps me deal with overwhelming emotions, fearful thoughts, angry rants I discover raging in my mind, to stop or at least slow the wheel of worries that can spin on its own mysterious power for disconcerting amounts of wasted time. Sometimes Selah is just a quiet moment of gratitude in the middle of a busy or even not so busy day.

The meaning of Selah as “lift up” may have been a reference to the scales used at the time.  An object was weighed by being lifted on a scale against a counter weight. So Selah can also mean to weigh, to evaluate. Selah as “lift up and weigh” helps me place all things in the balance of God, lifting up my mind with all its wild beating of wings against its imaginary cage, when it needs to be set free to fly in Heaven’s peaceful skies, even for a moment. Grace can do that if we let it.

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Even a tiny fraction of a second that we open ourselves to God is enough time for Him to do all that is needed.

An instant of conscious contact with the holy changes us, whether we feel it or not. We invite Him Who is all good, into ourselves, and into the world through us. God can do anything. He isn’t limited by time, that’s us.  We can use time to drive ourselves crazy, or we can use as much time as we can to help God help us, and to open ourselves to be channels for the  outflow of His grace into the world.

Selah as praise helps me accept what is, as where God has me in the moment, whatever is happening, and to step into my inner chapel, to build a little alter, a temple in the day.

During a difficult day, this can even be necessary in order to hold onto the strength that comes from God. I heard a priest at a San Antonio Marian Conference say once that when we adore God, nothing evil can touch us. I never forgot it, because I found it to be true. Adore the Lord in His holy court,says Psalm 29It’s what’s going on in Heaven all the time. We can join in at any moment, and the grace of praise, which Psalm 8 says foils the enemy, is ours, grace that the Scriptures say God inhabits. 

But You are holy, O You that inhabit the praises of Israel. Ps. 22:3

So how do we practice Selah in the ongoing Psalm of our day?

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Selah. Pause. This is simple but not easy. We forget. We get busy, or in a hurry. We freak out. We don’t notice ourselves or what is around us because we are worried or sad, or scared, maybe mad, maybe caught up in the constant wild flow of the negative distractions of the world. Maybe our minds are flying down the rapids of our thoughts and experience, without direction or control.

Sometimes it helps to stop, and notice the sky, to be mindful of the wind, of the sounds around us, of the feeling of the grass or the floor under our feet, the feeling of our own breathing. Getting grounded helps us connect to God. When we stop being carried away by the whirlwind of our worries and busyness, we can dip into an undercurrent of peace. Try stopping and just noticing your environment, tune in to your senses, and then, if you can, go deeper within yourself where it is quiet and God waits for you.

I found myself unconsciously putting up a hand in a one handed prayer pose as a kind of “Selah” in personal sign language. Sometimes coming up with a simple, unobtrusive gesture to myself can really help my state of mind. I still do that hand gesture sometimes without thinking, and it can bring about the inner calm and readjustment of attitude I need without saying anything or particularly thinking any word.

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Selah: Lift up.  Especially when I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to think, “What is going on?” Sometimes something is really bothering me, but I don’t realize it. Prayerfully accounting for my inner state with God often helps me to step out of my anxiety, to get organized inside, gain perspective. I can lift the whole thing, and myself to God and in this way give over to Him any and everything that is a mess, inviting Him into it to arrange it to His will. Sometimes I have to repeat this step. OK, I almost always have to repeat it several times. When I can let go and let God, he sets me on a high rock, so I can see.

Maybe I just want to hug God, for no particular reason. A little Selah can help me stop and do just that.

Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God.

~ St. Therese, the Little Flower

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Selah: Praise.  It seems to me that it is a praise of God to focus on Him, to be grateful for His beauty and presence, to focus our attention on Him, to love and acknowledge Him. We can praise God by a simple glance in His direction. Sometimes I say, “ The lot marked out for me is my delight because it is You Yourself Who are my prize.” Sometimes it is easier to say than others. Sometimes I don’t say anything. I just place myself in His light and do my best to adore.

A good way to do this is to imagine Jesus with you. Really, this isn’t your imagination because it is the truth. You are just tuning into it.

Or remember that the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, fills the universe, and is Love Itself, always drawing us into the life of the Blessed Trinity. You are a part of that vastness that is filled by the Spirit of God, along with the sky and the sun and the stars and planets beyond them, and every bug, butterfly, and blade of grass or drop of rain on the planet. The Scripture says that all of it praises God.

Let yourself join in the praises of Heaven and Earth just by remembering what you are: a child of God, a little brother, a little sister, of Jesus. All these things are good to think about.

Or think of God speaking to you through your senses. Because He is. Let tuning into your senses quiet your body, your heart and mind, and then step further, inside that quiet, to be with God in your soul.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity said the name she wanted in Heaven was “Praise of His glory.” St. Paul says in Ephesians 1:12 that this is what we are. Stopping and listening puts us in touch with this. It’s about just being for a moment. It gives us a glimpse of divine perspective.

…that we may be unto the praise of his glory.

Pause. Lift up. Praise.

St. John of the Cross said,  “With what procrastination do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart.”

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A stop in the path. This very moment.


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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.


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

Say, “This is the time for my soul.”

When your heart says to God, “you have cut off my life

like a weaver severs the last thread, “

when you’re alone in the desert on a cold night

with no fire,

and you’ve never known such emptiness

or alienation

and you say in your alarm, “no man can can be trusted!”

When your life is born away from you

like a tent struck down

and you feel you have nothing left to give,

that you are broken to the core

and you cannot imagine your restoration,

when even the sunrise seems cold and heartless

and you think, ” there is no love in my heart at all!”

know that all you ever had came from God.

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Don’t be afraid anymore.

Say to yourself in the cave of your heart,

“this is the time for my soul.”

God is closer than ever before.

Your restoration is in the depths of his will

and in time to come,

the love in your heart will be renewed

and be all his.

You have nothing to give, so wait to receive

in his time.

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Be patient in suffering.

Persevere in prayer.

Trust in not knowing

even who you are anymore,

except that you are his.

Be little, be weak, sit quietly in the shadow of death

and say to your empty heart, “this is the time for my soul.”

Allow this darkness of unknowing.

“Let it be done to me according to thy word,” she said,

even at the cross,

and on that desolate Holy Saturday

when she sat in darkness deeper than any she had ever known could be.

She suffered unspeakably.

Still she trusted, remaining present in the very bleakness of her heart.



So you, her child, alone in your desert,

you desolate of heart,

when you say to yourself, “my one companion is darkness, “

say, “This is the time for my soul.”

A time of grace.

Your light will come

As God defines it.

And that joy no one shall take from you.

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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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My guru

His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything  you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?

I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.

His  eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find  enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.

When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”

As I get him ready for the day  he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)

I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga  now and then. Mac had to put up with me.  He looked pretty worried at times.

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Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says  Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.

For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.

Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.

At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.

The day  the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.


I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking.  His  “Macnastics”  dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.

A big part of our day is listening to music.  He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.

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Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.

Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.

In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.

Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.

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When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house.  It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too.  I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.

What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it?  Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.


There are so many things  Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.

He teaches me things I thought I knew.

Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.

I have  finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.

Mac really is my guru.  His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.

The Feet of the Master

feet of the master 🙂


  • I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.

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