I want you to know that I have addressed this issue on ATX Catholic and here is the link if you would like to read it.
God be with you,
We are sitting in a bar on a hot summer day. I stare at my dejected feet on the bar stool, then out the door at the hot day, the burning sidewalk, the occasional overheated human being passing by.
I don’t want to look at him, though I am relieved by his presence. I glance sideways at his calloused elbow resting on the dark, scratched wood of the bar; noticing, too, a scrape on his for arm. He always has at least one.
“Shawn, look at me. Can you look at me?”
I knew he was going to say that.
Reluctantly I look up to his face,
and am captivated
I am captivated because when one looks at Jesus, even without seeing, one knows by faith, apprehends by love, the radiant beauty of his features, the dark loveliness of his eyes, the gentle tenderness of his smile, the silent fire of his gaze, that comes from who he is.
Maybe the strangest thing about this looking at Jesus is seeing one’s own reflection. Stranger still is how different one looks reflected in the pupils of such eyes as these.
Jesus asked the Twelve: “Who do people say that I am?”
He listened to the various answers; all of them incomplete at best, though understandable.
Then he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
I am going to stop right there. I am stopping because it is easy, seemingly, for me to answer, with all my heart, at one with Peter, “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God.” I know this to the depths of my soul. It is the guiding truth of my life: Jesus is Lord.
But today I have a question. I have this question because my heart is broken, forsaken, wounded, my life in ruins, and I have lost something in my suffering and dismay; something almost as important to my existence as who this Lord is who has captivated me and will for all eternity.
“Jesus,” I ask, “Who do you say that I am?”
What happens when you ask this question of the Lord?
What has happened for me is that he has been answering me in different ways ever since I asked; in verses from Scripture that show up at mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours, or that quietly come to mind as I pray or go about my day:
“You are sacred to me.”
You are “…beloved of God and called to holiness.”
“…a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord… a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God.”
“… light of the world…. salt of the earth.”
He has seemed to send the right song into my day at the right moment, drawing my attention to it, speaking straight to my heart.
He has sent unlooked-for love into my life and increased the strength of my soul.
He has brought me to understand that each of us are, on a certain level, and in a very real way, all the things he is, because he shares them with us and lives in us. We even share in his very being and his place in the Father’s Heart.
We reflect him. He reflects us back to ourselves.
And when we look at this Light of the World,
this Way, Gate, Shepherd, Truth, Bread from Heaven,
Life and Love itself – he who is gentle and humble of heart,
we are looking, Christian soul,
When we see ourselves in his eyes, his yoke becomes easy and his burden, even the cross, becomes light. He shows us who we are to him, and we are filled with his grace. Perhaps we can go forward after all, once we know who we are in the Lord, doing all things in him who strengthens us.
Maybe, even, we shine with glory from the inside as we make our way through the elements of this world, with our eyes fixed on him whom we radiate.
” I will give to each one… a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” ~ see Rev. 1:17b
January is the month we focus on the Holy Name of Jesus, celebrated January 3. It’s also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1. As the eve of the New Year leads me to reflect on the past year and my resolutions for the year ahead, I feel that God is re-directing me to a new way to make use of a fruitful practice of mine. I understand that it will help me again to heal from trauma, to walk free from injustices, losses and grief that I can do nothing more about now that I have done all I can with God’s help.
I have wondered how I will ever heal, ever be able to forgive, ever be able to be whole again. I begin to see the way, and I have a powerful tool to start with.
I can take the reigns of my mind once again. I can draw it constantly back to the healing, freeing presence of God, turning painful memories, overwhelming thoughts and situations over to Jesus and to the prayers of His Blessed Mother and ours by repeating their holy names when that sense of helpless outrage rises, or bitter thoughts try to take over my life.
This will be my main resolution: to repeat the holy names of Jesus and Mary, as others have for centuries of Christian history, as a way to attaining the mind of Christ, and to cultivate in my battered soul the beautiful receptivity of Mary. May God give me the grace to follow through, and if I fall away from this constant prayer, to draw me back to it. I have already begun to experience mental freedom and soul healing in making a new beginning with this prayer.
Should you be interested in joining me, but perhaps “Jesus Maria” doesn’t appeal to you, there are other choices that run deep in our faith tradition. They are oft repeated prayers that shine like paths well trodden by holy feet, blessed by the Communion of Saints, for you to choose from and make your standard in the battle of earthly life.
Eastern religions make use of mantrams (or “mantras,” as one hears more often.) We do too. We may not realize that we Catholics have some mantrams as well, and that we could put them to good use in our spiritual lives.
This is one way to pray without ceasing, one way to occupy the mind properly during a difficult temptation, or slow it down when it is racing or dwelling on something that makes it angry or destructive, a way to harness the power of anger, or to find guidance and inspiration, and to grow constantly in love of God.
As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, God is accessible only by the little spark of love, that impulse toward Him, even if for a moment we lift our hearts toward Him, this is how to reach Him as well as any arrow hits the bull’s eye on the target. This impulse of love is the way to penetrate the overwhelming mystery of God and to possess, even apprehend Him by love in a way our intellects are not capable of. A mantram gives voice to that spark of love and helps us consciously place all of our lives in the presence of God throughout the day.
For those of you familiar with “Centering Prayer,” (a form of Christian meditation, or mental prayer using a prayer word or phrase ) you will already have an idea what I mean.
This short prayer can be done all the time, even when we are busy, or bored in a lobby somewhere, or sweeping the floor. We can pray those moments with a word or phrase that we repeat either vocally or mentally.
Don’t worry. Vain repetition means just that: vain. Are you being vain or mindless? Is it vain to repeat something that means all the world to you: the Name of Our Lord perhaps, or of Our Lady, or both? Of course not.
Some Christian mantrams:
In the Eastern Church the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) is used in a mantram fashion. One is encouraged to repeat it constantly from the heart… until it begins to pray itself within us on it’s own and becomes as much a part of us as breathing or the heart’s beating.
St. Francis is known to have stayed up all night at times repeating, “My God and my all, my God and my all, My God and my all!”
St. Rose of Lima memorized the Names of God from Scripture during a period of terrible aridity for her. She would say them over as she did embroidery and this practice gave her light.
The prayer received by St. Faustina is a good one to base our lives on, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends simply the word, “God.”
The angels sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” It seems like they are always saying it. We join them at every Sunday mass. Why not as often as we can?
There are a lot of very short, one line Catholic prayers that make good mantrams.
“Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls,” is one I have heard people use. An elderly Carmelite told me it was her constant prayer.
“May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored and loved,” is good.
Imagine how much good a constant spiritual communion would do. “Lord come spiritually into my heart.”
There is that great word from Revelation, too, “Maranatha” Our Lord come!
And then, there is the Holy Name itself, which, as St. Bernard says, brings to us Jesu dulcis memoria, “the sweet memory of Jesus.” Repeating it is a beautiful way to consciously live in His presence.
My mother used to say during chemo, “Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy,” especially since she was afraid of needles. If she started saying other mantrams that were not so good for her I would laugh and remind her of “Divine Mercy.”
Each of my daughters has a personal mantram that they repeat in times of trouble or difficulty praying or temptation or stress. Maire’s is “Stella Maris” or (Star of the Sea), one of Our Lady’s titles. Roise’s is, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” or “Ave Maria, Ave Maria…”
My fiancee, Mark, is beginning to explore the use of a mantram prayer. His choice is “Baruch atah Adonai.” It is Hebrew for “Blessed be the Lord,” a phrase that has been sanctified by centuries of pray-ers.
Mine, I got from my beloved St. Joan of Arc, from the words on her banner, “Jesus Maria.” I hope I’m saying it when I die, to accompany me into the the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Some ways to use a mantram and some practical advice:
When you’re mad or worried about something, a brisk walk repeating your mantra can really help put you in the right frame of mind. The mantram is a good way to pray when you are at a red light or a seriously dull meeting or doing something tedious. It is great during hard, physical work to keep you going and dedicate your work, says my fellow Carmelite, George. It’s not bad for when a mean dog is chasing you, either, according to my kids.
If you are not having to concentrate on anything like navigating freeway traffic or doing a delicate repair that requires all your attention, the mantram can and should be said anytime.
One of my favorite ways to use mine is when I am falling asleep. If I’m good about staying on it, my heart will repeat it all night and if I wake up I notice I am still at it.
I try to pray it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes it helps me get out of bed.
Sometimes when I am too upset to pray the rosary I just hold it. Sometimes I am in need of the greatest simplicity; something for my mind and heart to hold onto. A mantram prayer is perfect for that.
I would say don’t change it once you have chosen it. This way it will become part of you and sometimes your heart will start it on its own. It will grow with you and be with you all of your life. I have had mine for about twenty years. When I fall away from it, it is not too hard to get back to because of that. It has become a part of me, and my response to it is quicker and deeper now because it has grown over the years.
There’s nothing useless or vain about a mantram. Think of it as steps that lead you closer and closer to Heaven. Just choose it carefully so that it has the most meaning to you in your faith journey.
I have a little book I write the mantram in at times. I might dedicate a page to peace or to someone in trouble. There are several pages on which I have drawn pictures with the mantram in different colors and shapes. You will be amazed what a calming, peaceful activity this can be. It’s fun to do as a family too. We have made some mantram art together with all our different mantrams making a picture. Some of these hung on our refrigerator for years, serving as continuing prayers, and signs of family unity.
Try a mantram prayer with me this year. It couldn’t possibly hurt you. Most likely it will get you all straightened out when you need it and help you not waste time that you would ordinarily just use to worry when you are stuck somewhere or letting your mind go all over the place in unhelpful ways.
Perhaps it will help you regain focus on the present moment,
and to be present in the moment,
the **sacrament of the present moment,
where God always is.
It’s been very good for me.
I like to think of every repetition as a rose petal that drops into my heart as a gift of God, or that I let go into the wind to bless someone else, or the world in general.
The mantram “Jesus Maria” is my constant companion and has done me nothing but good. Have fun choosing yours, choose it carefully, make it part of your every day.
Maybe you will see what I mean.
*I am much indebted to one of my favorite spiritual authors, Eknath Easwaran, for first teaching me about the mantram and finding it in my own faith tradition.
**Jean Pierre de Caussade
Related and also by me:
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.
Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.
I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.
I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.
I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of. I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.
It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.
I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.
There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.
I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.
What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?
I have been asking all that for a good while.
I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above) the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.
“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ”
I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.
I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.
No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.
In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)
All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.
In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.
The reality is God.
And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.
That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:
“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.
The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.
My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.
Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.
Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.
What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.
On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.
On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.
For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.
As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”
When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”
The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.
I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.
We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.
Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.
Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.
We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.
The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.
During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.
When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.
I have been thinking about that.
I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.
However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.
Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.
They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.
I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.
One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.
I try to get certain things done at work by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.
Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.
The temptation, when I get home from work, is to flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.
When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.
I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.
Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.
Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.
It makes me chuckle.
Maybe I’m on the right track.
*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis
For more on finding meaning and mindfulness in house work, you might like my post The holiness of house work
Something that seems to be returning to me as I very slowly recover from the grief and trauma of the past year, or even four years, is a slight sense of self determination. I had not realized it was gone in the first place.
What I did know is that it was very hard for me to talk about the future without feeling really freaked out, or even angry. It was hard for me to let go of anything, or make any changes, even though I kept having to do just that.
I felt like my inner infrastructure had been bombed out and I was not at all sure it would ever really be rebuilt. It’s not that I thought God could not do this. I was just not sure He wanted to.
Actually, He was waiting for me to remember a few things. “You are not dead,” Jesus says, “…only sleeping.” (see Lk. 8:52)
One thing to remember is that God does not create our hearts to be empty wastes, but to be lived in. (see Isaiah 45:18)
Why in the world would God create me and send His Son into the world for me only to have me be destroyed and stay that way? That makes no sense, and can’t be true.
“I came that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (see Jn. 10:10b)
The next thing I remembered is that we are each co-creators with God, and even though we always want to be guided and conformed to God’s will in our lives, this is actually a creative process in which we work alongside with God with a combination of His inspiration, His help, and our own volition and creativity He gave us.
Then I remembered one of the many things my beloved second late husband, Bob, and I learned as we journeyed through our fight for his life against Brain Cancer. We discovered the beauty and strength there is in thinking of each day as an entire life time in miniature. Each day begins with the re-birth of waking up, and the gentle death of falling asleep in our Father’s arms.
We found a lot of peace, courage, empowerment, manageable self determination, and a new way to stay in the present, living fully, in this idea of life being represented in each day we lived.
I thought about how to apply this idea in the new life I realized God wants me to build.
I can make a life one day at a time; one day, my life’s microcosm.
I have to decide what is important to me, what ingredients I want in each day, what ornaments I want to decorate my life with, what design I am trying to trace.
Then I have to start somewhere.
Right now, I have decided to start with rebuilding my prayer life, which has altered along with the rest of me.
What else do I want?
I want peace. I want peace in every day.
What else? Love. I want to live love every day.
That’s a good beginning.
So I am setting off , one day at a time, with a bit of holy self determination, to adorn my days with prayer, with peace, with love; to rebuild my life.
“…rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD.” Haggai 1:8b