Mary can be kind of sneaky though. I had been raised without religion and had been a firm atheist. But when I was nineteen, out of necessity in a time of crisis I began exploring spirituality. Though I had no intention of having anything to do with any church, I began to be drawn to Mary. Jesus freaked me out. But I was not afraid of Mary.
One day, not knowing why, I walked into St. Mary’s Catholic Church, relieved no one was there so I could look around.
I had an experience there I can only describe as being inundated by Mary’s love. As I was to explain to my mom later, “I could never have made up that kind of love!”
Eventually I realized that if Mary was real, Jesus must be real. I started trying to find ways to relate to him. Pretty soon I found myself at mass every day though I still didn’t understand why.
I was baptized at a Tuesday evening mass at St. Anthony’s, hugged enthusiastically by all the old Italian ladies in the front row. And so began the great romance with the Love of my life: Jesus.
In a bomb shelter in the Italian town of Trent in 1943, a group of young girls talked about how their hopes dreams were being crushed by World War II. Their town was relentlessly bombed. Families who could were leaving as the town literally fell apart. Those left behind were suddenly living in poverty and ruin. It seemed so hopeless.
Is there anything that no bomb can destroy? An ideal that transcends all? Something to truly live for? The answer that came was, “God.”
During the time in the bomb shelter, they opened the Gospel and read. The words of Jesus came alive for them like never before. They seemed immediate. They began to take a verse or phrase each day and try to live it concretely.
They began to care for and love those around them regardless of race, religion, politics or anything at all; to love them in a personal way and take care of them as Mary had cared for Jesus. They discovered more and more a spirituality of unity and love. Such was their light and joy that more and more people joined them. Eventually they became a new spiritual family in the Church: The Focolare Movement, an International Association of the Faithful of Pontifical Right, blessed and encouraged by St. John Paul II who was very excited about them and their promotion of the ideals of unity, love, and universal brotherhood.
The official name is actually “The Work of Mary.” They are to bring Jesus to everyone, as Mary did.
Focolare means, “Hearth,” in Italian and that makes sense because they have become true peace makers through their work, their spirit and their inclusiveness. They are a spiritual hearth, nourishing and welcoming the whole world.
Focolare operates in 180 countries now with 140,440 members. When I see what Focolare is, it gives me so much hope for the Church. “This is where we’re going now,” I think. And that makes me smile.
While Focolare is a Catholic organization, it welcomes people of other Christian traditions, people of other religions, people of no particular religion and atheists. As local Focolare member, Julia Mendonca Motekaitis says, “Anyone who wants to be one with the mission of love is welcome!”
Julia says being part of Focolare has given her a “deep sense of the universality of the faith.” She says, “This is one aspect of the Church I can really see that it is moving forward.”
What does it mean to live as a member of the Focolare? Julia says it has given her the tools to interact in society as a Christian, not to be timid, and also not to judge or move away from people who are difficult.
She talks about the ideal of unity in daily life. “You can be one with anyone at any moment. In any interaction with another person we can make Jesus real so they can see him!”
It’s not always easy. She has had to work through judgmentalism and prejudice she didn’t realize she had in order to love and encounter Jesus in others. “We have to see people with new vision, new eyes.”
Focolare was brought to Bryan-College Station by a Focolare priest (now a Bishop) Michael Mulvey, and is still going strong. At monthly meetings, a portion of the Gospel is read. Members talk about their failures and successes in trying to live it out. They support and encourage one another. Julia says the real goal is what happens between meetings, which is to love God by loving others, to be one with others “in all things but sin.” She says the spirituality and ideals of Focolare have given her the courage and resolve to live the Gospel.
Rose Schmitz, who has been part of Focolare for 24 years, described her faith life before Focolare as very satisfactory. She was very happy to be active and involved in the life of the Church. It was as if she was working for “The best boss in the whole world and I loved Him with my whole heart. I knew I was in the right building. But I felt like I was on the bottom floor and this boss was mostly on the top floor. I didn’t get to see him very much. It was as if I only saw the boss in passing on the elevator or something. In Focolare I realized he was in the other person all along. I thought, ‘Oh! That’s you!” Now she feels like she has coffee with the boss every day and he is always with her. She feels freed and more able to love as she has grown in Focolare spirituality.
I asked Rose how she thought we could heal the divisions of our time. She said that when there is a division, to remember that we are dealing with a human person. “People come first before things. People come first before ideas. Peace is more important than being right. ” Once you have prioritized seeing the other person as a human being first, “You can then enter into the division seeking to understand more than to be understood. The goal is not to change the other person, only to understand.” You will come away perhaps not as a winner, “but you will come away enlightened.”
In this way, I reflected, one would also feel more whole and so would the other person. Maybe that is what unity can be.
The Focolare ideal, I am told, is to love until love is returned. In that process of learning to love one another, each person begins to empty themselves. When that happens, the presence of Jesus becomes more clear. “He will begin to speak,” Rose says. “He will begin to solve problems, to bring about the unity he prayed for.”
Matt and Jari Whitacre, also long time Focolarine, talked to me about the annual “Mariopolis” most members try to attend regularly. People bring their whole families. The retreats are usually held on college campuses, and attendants stay in dorms. Their are different events for children of all ages, as well as discussions and talks for adults. There are shared meals and a games night for everyone. The only rule of the retreat is to love one another. Priests, Bishops, the consecrated, lay single and married people attend. Relationships are humble and egalitarian. Adoration is available as well as Reconciliation and daily mass. Jari notes that non-Catholics usually attend daily mass with everyone else even though this is not asked of them. There are times also that all can pray together as one.
All the Focolare family I spoke to talked about how loved and cared for they felt at the Mariopolis. Jari told a story about having a child come down sick and having to take her back to their room. People kept bringing Jari books to read, checking on her, bringing food, offering to help with the other children. There was an attendee who was a doctor who come by and asked if there was anything he could do.
Around the world there are permanent Focolare towns to show that people of all cultures, races and religions can live together in unity and love.
Over the years I have been to several Catholic conferences where there were tables around manned by people from various movements and ministries. I will say, “Oh there are the Focolare people,” pointing them out. And I am always right. There is something about them that is recognizable.
The founder, Chiara Lubich, asked why she didn’t wear a habit, replied, “I have no habit. My habit is my smile.”
Maybe that’s it; it’s that special Focolare smile, joyful and authentic. I consider it a sure sign of the Holy Spirit.
It’s been a stressful day. But we are here together at Hensel Park. I played here when I was little. My daughters played here growing up. Now Arelani does, too. She considers it “her” park. I brought her even though it is the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of a Texas summer.
I am anxious and worried about many things. So it takes a special effort to make consistent eye contact with her, to respond to what she says, to play with her attentively, given the stresses of the day.
I have learned from the practice of inner prayer how to bring myself back again and again gently each time I am distracted by a wayward thought about this or that.
After a while this practice with Lani becomes easy. I realize I feel peaceful in a similar way I do when I am grounded in prayer.
Time seems to flow back into itself like the tide drawing away, leaving its treasures on the beach.
The cicadas chant in the trees around us. A hot wind lifts her curly black hair, a curtain pulled away from her face – a face unbelievably pretty- sweeter than any Disney princess. The conversation is simple (she’s three,) and tender, her black eyes wide, soft and steady. We smile at each other in a timeless moment. She reaches over and clears my tousled hair from my face. Peering at me closely,she seems lovingly amused.
She crosses a little bridge, turning to beckon to me, “Come on, Granny, this way.”
It strikes me that she is the Christ Child or maybe the little Child Mary leading the way for me; to love, to hope, to the Kingdom where the littlest are the brightest of all.
The idea we can love Jesus in others, or learn to love others by seeing Christ in them may sound impersonal at first. But Arelani never seemed more herself to me than when I saw her as having the Little One inside her. I was seeing the truth of her, her “Arelani-ness” itself. Are we not each part of the Body of Christ? When someone sees the Lord in us, is that not only the simple truth? It does not make us less personally loved, but more so when the Lord of Love who is truly within us is experienced by another person.
We slide down the slide, we swing. We sing in the pavilion that echoes, run in circles for fun, watch ants. I take a picture of her running through a field of yellow flowers; a little kid in overalls and tee shirt, wild hair flying. She’s excited and she looks back to yell, “I yuv you, Granny!”
“I love you too, Pooh,” I say as I clump along behind her.
Later she picks a few flowers for her mama. She gets lost in the lovely details of one of these, touching each petal in awe. She sits down with it. Nothing else exists to her.
Time is a gift we can open and make holy by attentiveness. This is the “sacrament of the present moment.” * This is God with us. This is the first commandment and the second also.
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)
My youngest daughter begged me to help a friend of hers whose family had no place to live. It was an emergency situation. They had tried everything. Her friend had come to her in tears- a friend who I had only ever seen smile and laugh- a kid I remembered by his radiant smile.
This friend’s mom was an invalid. I didn’t know the details. She wouldn’t be any trouble, my daughter said hastily, between sobs, she wouldn’t be in the way at all, “She just hangs out.” The friend had a brother, too, an older brother. The brother had a job at Taco Bell and could pay us rent. All they needed was a room.
“Please, Mom, please!
“This friend came over later, a fifteen year old guy friend of my daughter’s. We had a guest room since my oldest daughter had moved out not long before.
The boy cried in my daughter’s arms in the front yard, thanking her. He looked at that little room like it was heaven. They only would accept this one room. They had only ever lived together in one room and they would be fine, he said.
No, I could not afford this. No, I am not an extravert who likes people around all the time. No, I didn’t want to do it. I felt absolutely panicked, actually. Neither would this be the first time throughout this family’s long stay with us ( about a year, I think,) that I had anxiety.
However, how could I ever look at Jesus again if I refused?
It turned out the mother of this family was in agonizing pain all the time. She had not walked in over a year. She was in too much pain even to sit in her battered wheelchair. She spent her days lying in bed looking at the ceiling, waiting for her sons to come home from school or work and help her with her physical needs. She could barely raise her arms without terrible pain. Her sons had to do everything for her, even feed her.
The older son worked hard at Taco Bell and went to school. The younger one went to school and mostly took care of his mother.
The mother and younger son joked around a lot. I could hear them laughing often as he cared for her. The older son was very protective of his mom, and also cared for her, doing the cooking and carrying her when needed, though he was of slight build. He was obviously proud to do it. Both boys honored their mom completely, and obeyed her in everything. Their devotion to her was evident.
Sometimes I felt bad for them for the things they had to do as teen-aged boys. They never did understand my alarm at their situation, even though they were often frightened themselves. I can only account for this by the fact that to them, this was just life as they knew it.
The first thing I saw in the mornings when I got up, was the younger son coming down the hall toward the bathroom with his mother’s bed pan. He would always smile and tell me, “Good morning!”
Of course I tried to help out. I asked people, I posted on Face Book (in a way that protected their identities,) I got out of my comfort zone and went out looking for help. Even though I am daunted by authority figures and the world of officialdom, and by having to go places and ask questions, I did all of this. What else could I do? I often thought this family could have done a lot better in the person they ended up with to help them. I did not have much success.
Individuals were often reluctant to get involved, though some offered me some money to help out, or a gave me a gift card for them. My friends brought food by for us. Because sometimes we ran out.One reason we ran out of food was that the boys got their food stamps cut at one point, to $11 a month. Yes, this is the truth. How do you feed two teen-aged boys on $11 a month? You can’t.How can a family of three survive on minimum wage, especially from a job that varies in hours of work offered? They can’t.
A lot of people said, “Oh go to St. So and So, they do that.” I did. They were out of money. In my experience they could not help us. “Go to Such and Such Charities.” I went. All they could offer us was a one time gift of a $50 Wal-mart card. It did help. But then what?
For housing help for them, I encountered a waiting list three years long, and income requirements that put it out of their reach.
Parish Social Justice ministry? Out of money, too.
The food pantry in our neighborhood could not help this family with food because they lived with me, and the rules indicated that my income must be counted as part of theirs, and, in that case, we were disqualified. We hardly ever had enough food during this time. Nothing was working out.
“Lord, I am trying to do what you want me to do, can you make the path more clear!?” …….. and maybe a little easier?
Everywhere I went to get help for this family, there really was not much. I am not putting these wonderful organizations down. Obviously, we should be helping the charities around us more than we do!
When we think of the poor, I think we tend to believe the charities have it covered, but how could they? They can’t do everything, and they don’t. We have to do stuff, too.
I went to the free clinic to try to get medical help for the mother. They could not help us or even see her at all, because they did not have the specialist on board to correspond with her disease, and those were the rules.
The community hospice could not help us with palliative care because her disease was not on their list of terminal illnesses. It was not on the list because, it is a treatable disease, though hers has been untreated so long she will likely die from it, eventually. She will die a slow, agonizing death because of her poverty and because of her status as a non-citizen.
Her sons are citizens, but she is not. They are in constant fear of being separated, of their mother being taken from them, or the brothers being separated somehow if anything happens to their mother while the youngest is a minor. They have been afraid to seek help because of these things. As it turns out, help is hard to find, anyway.
Her pain is what made me really angry. Trying to get help for her frustrated me the most. Sometimes I felt crazy.
My massage therapist friends came and worked on her, bringing essential oils that helped with pain. But that can only go so far on a body twisted and deformed by advanced, unchecked degenerative disease.
The Catholic hospital took her once when the pain was especially bad, and stabilized her. A doctor there gave her a prescription for pain. The other patients and nurses on the floor put together some money between them to pay for her medicine for a while. It was truly touching to us all. But that medicine is long gone, though she usually refused to take it, fearing she would need it more later.
When the enormous hospital bill came, it could not be paid. Also, getting her to the hospital had been so terribly painful, I think now that her illness has progressed more, that it would take an ambulance to get her there. Since it is such a temporary solution, it hardly seems like a good one now.
Oddly, a protective government service showed up to my house to check on her. Seeing it as an opportunity, I tried to ply the visitor for help and information. Getting her help was out of their scope. The social worker was very nice and did offer me a number to an organization that would help pay the hospital bill she already had. It would only be a drop in the bucket, a lot of trouble to get it, and have no effect on her present situation. This did not seem very helpful to me. Sorry, but it didn’t.
Though sometimes the stress of having another family in our house was intense, my daughter and I became very close to this family. The mom could not speak English but somehow we managed to have conversations, sometimes for hours. Sometimes she would let me help her with things, but she usually wouldn’t. She was embarrassed. That’s OK.
All three of them were very quirky, smart, and funny. I have a lot of good memories from that time. I hope they do, too.
The boys had their faults like anyone, so did we, and sometimes we all drove each other crazy. Don’t think we didn’t. Because it was truly difficult sometimes.
My daughter and her friend had their friendship strained to the limit at times.I am happy to say, she and that boy are close friends still.
The family insisted on giving me some rent, and I let them, because I knew it was an issue of dignity, and also I knew that the older son was proud of the way he took care of his family. I was proud of him, too.
When the younger son turned sixteen, he started working too. He would often be very tired, staying up late at night, sitting on the edge of their bed, doing homework in his McDonald’s uniform as his mother looked on or slept.
Both sons made good grades and took advanced classes. Their mother is very strong on education. She wants them to have a better life.
A young couple from one organization became interested in the younger son, and they were the ones who helped him with interview skills and to find a job.They were very kind to him.
One of my sisters-in-law brought audio books in Spanish to help pass the mother’s time, and my friends who spoke Spanish, would come by and talk to her sometimes. That was so kind.
People sometimes gave them helpful things, like a much needed hospital bed.One of my brothers helped the older son get a full time job, and he is doing well at that job, and taking a class or two at the local community college when he can. He doesn’t make much money, but they are able to have their own little low- rent place now, and even get around in their own vehicle, such as it is.
The younger son says it’s hard for him because he feels like he works twenty-four hours a day. He goes to school all day, cares for his mom, goes to work, cares for his mom again, and never has enough time to do all of his homework because he is so exhausted, and he worries about his grades. Sometimes he wants to run away, but he can’t. One time he started to, but he started crying and had to come back and tell his mom all about it.
They are barely, barely making it, but at least they are kind of making it.However, the problem of their mother’s agony remains.
What to do? The pain gets worse and worse all the time. The boys get scared sometimes, and I call my nurse friend. She goes and checks on them, giving them advice, but she can’t do anything about pain medicine. I have asked doctor friends. Nothing has worked out so far.There is “no room at the inn” for her.
“How is your mom today?” “She can hardly move at all. She cries. I cry. It’s really hard.”
She suffers terrible agony with no relief. She is poor. She has no insurance. She has no rights. What is left? What do we do? Dear Reader, what would you do?
God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is His beloved servant never far. ~ St. John of the Cross
* Note: the mother of this family died this Easter. Of a totally treatable disease.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… wholesome, charitable views… cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner …”
This is true. However, one can travel without leaving town. Consider the borders of social and economic boundaries, roles we occupy that keep us from knowing one another, our self protective measures in the face of suffering. To brush aside convention and fear in favor of love and adventure; this is travel by heart. I don’t know about you, but without it, I tend to create my own world and risk losing sight of the Gospel.
The rule of this travel is: Anything that softens your heart is a good thing. Anything that hardens the heart should be avoided. Cultivate a receptive heart to be a well -rounded traveler. Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter to go places no one has ever been before.
Get to know a “Welfare Mom.”
Be friends with an “illegal” human being.
Hold someone who is dying.
Breath deeply of another’s world.
Sometimes I am still embarrassed, scared or don’t know what to say, but I have tried walking through the doors when I see them, making a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of human encounter.
It’s kind of a crazy place.
Once, an elderly lady I was obediently and routinely spoon- feeding, smiled, picked up her spoon, and started feeding me! We looked at each other and laughed.
Moments like this happen all the time in life. What if you made a habit of paying attention to their opportunities every day? You would be a seasoned back packer through worlds unknown. Maybe you already are.
Sometimes you will not want to make the trip.
Tradition dictated I invite “all” my “friends, neighbors and family” to my house blessing. I thought, “Not the druggie guys next door.” But I did invite them. They looked great, all smiles, clean and dressed up, obviously totally honored to have been invited. That was humbling. Being humbled feels great.
Make the trip.
I met a young mom who had to scramble to find a house to clean or a lawn to mow to get dinner on the table for her kids at times when her meager supply of food stamps ran out. LeAnn became a good friend. I would have missed knowing a true poet, missed a beautiful friendship, if she and I had maintained the customary boundaries between “helper and helped.” She would have missed me too.
An elderly man I met during my CNA training enchanted me with his serene playfulness, his big blue eyes. We had fun together while I changed his sheets. “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” I said. “I think I want to marry you!” “I want to marry you too!” We didn’t get married. But we remain good friends years later. Jim is an extraordinary and inspiring person. To think I could have changed the sheets and walked out of his life!
The mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who is very ill, allowed me to do a few, small acts of service for her. Her courage, humor and kindness have inspired me. She has put a human face on the term, “Illegal immigrant,” for me. Coming to know her has taught me that only what God sees matters. Only His will, His law, which is always, love, matters at all.
Early in my care giving job, talking to my boss, Gretchen, suddenly it seemed I was seeing how lovely she is to God. It was magical, a holy moment, a total gift. Now I know by experience that she really is lovely, and, fortunately for me, she is a world class traveler! She saw past my brokenness, past the employer-employee relationship, to let me try even when it was scary for her to do. Her trust helped me grow.
A tendency to travel by heart can help you stay close to someone you love very much even when his journey becomes painful and frightening.
I held my husband, Bob, as he died. I went with him as far as I could until he was gone. All I or anyone else there felt was the overpowering presence of Love. As anyone who has done this can tell you, you can experience love and joy even when death comes, if you just let your heart be there. All that is left is love and you’re not scared anymore.
Habitual focus on what is human and real made me able to connect with my mom in new ways and walk with her through her dementia. It sounds crazy but we had a really good time. It was grace.
Love is its own wisdom, and God Himself IS love. Love covers all the territory. By love, you learn that the universe resides in each human heart, even your own, and that the journey never ends.
That is the kind of trip I love most, because of the peace, transformation, and joy it brings- a trip across borders God does not acknowledge, to that place where the last is first and the first is last and neither even thinks about it because only one thing matters.
So don’t be afraid to cross the borders. Explore, and love. The fence is imaginary and God is on the other side.
In silent open-ness to God, we set aside our own agendas and open ourselves to God’s agenda, which is always love, love, and more love. What could be better than that?
Lectio Divina (Holy Reading) is an ancient Christian way to pray the Scriptures. It involves reading a passage of the Bible, listening to God in silence, responding back to God in prayer, and then resting in silent prayer for a time.
To pray this couple’s method of Lectio Divina, you will need:
Some quiet, private time.
A comfortable place to sit.
A note book and something to write with
A quiet timer
Your romantic partner
An open, receptive heart
Make yourselves comfortable in whatever way you can best
be near one another.
You might begin, after the sign of the cross, with a vocal prayer to the Holy Spirit. I like this one:
Come, Holy Spirit,
come by means
of the powerful intercession
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Thy well beloved spouse.”
Step 1: Lectio
Have a passage chosen ahead of time that you both agree on. We usually choose something from the mass readings of the day.
Passing the Bible back and forth to take turns reading, read the passage aloud, slowly and reflectively.
Of course you could each have your own Bible. But I like the reciprocation in the giving of the Bible to one another, and in taking turns; one listening, one reading.
As you hear the Scripture passage, listen for a word, phrase or sentence that stands out to you. (Don’t worry, one will.)
After the third time reading the passage through, write your word (s) into the note book you have between you.
The Benedictine monks, who most developed this prayer form, called this note book a “florilegium,” meaning, “book of flowers.” Writing your verse or phrase down will help you focus as you pray, and be fruitful for later perusal, discussion, or future prayer.
This word or passage that stands out as you hear the Word of God, is considered to be the Holy Spirit speaking to you.
“It’s just that each of these verses fit each of us so well.”
She laughs, too.
“Yeah, God thinks he’s pretty clever.”
Step 2: Meditatio
You may want to set a timer for this section of the prayer. Try to make it a light, non- jarring sound. I have an app on my kindle with a nice Tibetan bell sound for this purpose.
As to the time duration, agree on it beforehand. Ten to twenty minutes should do it. But even five is OK if that is all the time you have.
This time will be silent. You may want to hold hands, or put your feet together, and close your eyes.
• Inwardly repeat your word or phrase with expectation. As you ponder it, apply it to your life and relationship with God. Let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to make clear His message to you.
When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your word or phrase, placing yourself once more in God’s presence.
• Ask the Lord, “What are you saying to me in this word or phrase?”
Sometimes you will want to stop here and discuss, briefly, the fruit of your meditatio together.
Step 3 Oratio
After the timer goes off, take a moment or maybe a few moments to respond with a prayer back to God about what He has lead you to understand or given to you during meditatio.
You might wish to write your prayer response into the notebook and to pray it aloud with your partner.
Step 4 Contemplatio
This usually means to rest in God’s Heart in silence. I think when praying as a couple, it is good to rest also in one another’s hearts at the same time.
God is love,
and whoever lives in love,
lives in God,
and God in him.
Again, set the timer, perhaps for 10-20 minutes as during the meditatio, and maybe hold hands, close your eyes, place yourselves in the presence of God, and rest lovingly there together.
If it is hard for you to do this, you might choose a prayer word like the Name of Jesus, Mary, or the word, “God,” “love” or “peace,” for your mind to hold onto like a walking stick as it travels in quiet over the next few minutes.
When the time is up, you may wish to pray aloud together the Our Father.
End with the sign of the cross and the kiss of peace.
Blessed are those who hear the word of God
– and cherish it in their hearts
(a responsory from the Liturgy of the Hours)
*We have found that sometimes adjustments to this method must be made because of time, distance, kids, etc. It can be spread out over days, or sometimes reflections can be e-mailed or discussed in the car. Remember that God cannot be limited by the things we are limited by. He only wants us to be willing, and to try, and He will respond by working His wonders in us. However, I hope you can try praying in the above way sometimes. It is very rewarding and intimate; not to be missed.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… (Colossians 3:16a)
A few mornings ago, sitting at the table with my coffee, looking out over the meadow, I noticed with a smile, the moon in the brightening sky.
It was a rich gold, shining out momentarily as the sun came up, and then, as the light from the sun intensified, changing to it’s usual white. Slowly it became translucent. It faded away like the Cheshire cat, leaving a grin behind, eventually disappearing all together as morning filled the sky.
The whole thing was enchanting. It was prayer without “praying.”
There are times when the human soul is in a state of recollection and communion just by being what it is, by living, and being receptive when it is given silent brightness.
Holy mindfulness, the Sacrament of the Present Moment, and the Practice of the Presence of God are usually thought of as actively cultivated. However, perhaps these are graciously given, as well, and become the way we receive and experience the minutes and hours of daily life.
It seems in the quiet moments of the day, we can be deeply in tune with the loveliness of being, the loveliness of God, by being receptive, and just by being.
Maybe this is because we live in God’s presence, are made in His image, and the kingdom really is in our midst, and truly within us.
“…the Father and I will go to him and make Our home within him.” John 14:23b
In our gentle appreciation of beauty, in our every day task of making food for the people we love out of the beautiful carrots, onions, and garlic he has given us and that human hands have grown, we can be recollected spiritually without necessarily even thinking about it. I think, but I’m not sure, that is what the indwelling of the Trinity might feel like. After all, this indwelling is true and real in each of us.
When you lean down to hug your dog and a warm breeze comes rushing by, embracing you both, and all is still inside as you close your eyes; maybe this is what “the morning star rising in [our] hearts,” is like.
When the coffee is hot and good, when someone you love very much is sitting silently at the other end of the table with his coffee and his cigarette, as the morning light turns from blue to pink to gold to white, sometimes it isn’t necessary to form any words of love, or even really to think about anything at all. Your heart is already praying just by being there, and being what it is.
When everything seems quietly alive, as if even the inanimate in creation joins us in silent praise, and it’s no big deal, it just is; it could be there is nothing very strange or esoteric about that.
Maybe when Jesus said, “the pure of heart shall see God,” this is because with Him we are pure of heart, and when we are pure of heart, all we see is God.
Maybe when the heart is open, it automatically is filled with a receptive “heartfulness,” singing God’s name, without words, without thoughts, all the time.
His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?
I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.
His eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.
When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”
As I get him ready for the day he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)
I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga now and then. Mac had to put up with me. He looked pretty worried at times.
Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.
For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.
Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.
At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.
The day the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.
I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking. His “Macnastics” dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.
A big part of our day is listening to music. He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.
Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.
Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.
In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.
Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.
When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house. It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too. I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.
What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it? Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.
There are so many things Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.
He teaches me things I thought I knew.
Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.
I have finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.
Mac really is my guru. His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.
feet of the master 🙂
I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
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