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Is God with us in depression?

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It’s a bit of a struggle. Some days are better than others. I noticed this summer that I was more emotionally fragile than I normally am. The anniversary of my brother’s death causes me grief but it hit me harder than usual this August. After it was over I didn’t feel all that much better. I had days I wondered what was going on with me this summer. When I start to feel alienated, withdrawn and broken I have to stop and sort out what it could be.

It could be regular old depression. It could be a stressor in my life. Or ten stressors. It could be that weird wiring I have from my Complex PTSS (formerly called PTSD). It could be grief issues coming up again for some reason. It could be more traumatic memories trying to surface – a process I particularly hate.

In any case I try to accept myself as God accepts me. Someone I like asked on social media whether God is with us in depression. It’s one thing to know the truth of his presence intellectually and quite another for our hearts, for our souls to know it. Of course he is with us.

Over the years when I am in this state that sometimes feels like a darkness and exhaustion, sometimes like broken-ness, sometimes like a crushing weight, I know he is with me, taking care of me, helping me bear this little cross of mine until I feel better.

It’s hard not to feel guilty when I’m depressed. Sometimes I need a walk or to pray. Other times I just need to hide in my room with a book. That last feels like I am being lazy and I feel bad. Jesus doesn’t want me to feel bad about what I need to do to get through depression. It’s hard for me to take care of myself when I am like this. It’s something I have to do for Jesus. “Eat a sandwich for me. Drink some water.” I tend to not only forget to eat when I am running rough, sometimes I feel angry about having to eat. So he says sweetly, “Eat something for me because I love you and I want you to.” And I will for him.

I’m so tired. I have this feeling of wanting to go home but I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. Even Heaven sounds exhausting.

Some afternoons are crushingly tough. Depression can be gray and tiring. Other times it can be a ferocious attack tearing me apart.

I’m impatient with my family, or irritable and I have to apologize.

This time around my depression seems like an agitated depression I have never had before. That scares me because my brother got like that before his suicide, though his was certainly more extreme. I think of this as a mild depression in comparison to what I saw my brother go through and not make it out of.

I am doing all the things I need to do. That in itself is a good sign. I even talked to my doctor; something I tend to avoid if at all possible. I try everything else first that I know to try. I look at my diet, stress, circumstances. I start taking B-Complex at my hardest time of day which tends to be the afternoon.

I look at the roses in the catalog. (I love looking at roses). I blow bubbles. I pet my cat.

I tell God, “I am depressed right now and I’m not sure what to do anymore. I’m so glad you are with me.”

Always I know it is temporary. I will get better. I imagine feeling better, sun on my face, feeling peaceful.

Now it is the holidays which are hard for my family and me, and maybe for you too. However I also know we will get through it, we all will.

If you are wondering if you should be “too blessed to be stressed” or something, (what nonsense), or if you are like me during depression and feel guilty about everything all the time every day, if you don’t know why your heart feels like it’s bleeding, and why you don’t have more faith, (you have plenty!) well I welcome you, and God does too.

Every second, love surrounds you, helping you along. This too shall pass, and once you have done all you can, and gotten the help you need, (I did, please don’t be ashamed about that) the rest is up to the Lord. Your job is to get through the day with his help.

Another thing I do is offer up my anguish to God with Mary, as she asked at Fatima, for the souls of others.

Oh Jesus, it is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against your Sacred Heart and against the Immaculate Heart of Mary and, (I add), for everyone who suffers sorrow anywhere in the world today.”

I say to Jesus and Mary at the end of the day that I made it and thank you and also I add that I love sleeping and I’m comfortable and thank you for sleep.

“And thanks for being with me through this.”

Because they are. And they are with you, too.

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Come on over to Mary’s House

The message of my book, Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother, is that Mary is real, accessible, and relatable. She is our companion in the life of prayer and in our whole life with Jesus.

I filled this little book with reflections on Mary and her life to help you form a connection with a Mary you can be themselves with and feel seen by. At the end of each reflection are brief imaginative sequences. Come to Mary’s House invites you to imagine you are with the Blessed Virgin – hanging out in her living room, working in her garden, or catching up over coffee. The goal is to encourage your encounter Mary as a friend, sister, and mother – in a comfortable, gentle way. By developing a personal relationship with her, you’ll let her lead you closer to Jesus. No one knows him better! 

So come to Mary’s house. Help her with her housework, travel with her to hear the cries of the world, fold laundry, make bread, and enter into deepest prayer in her presence and with her help. She will even let you pick the roses in her garden. She makes the most amazing soup!

This book is for all who long for Mary and want to live in spiritual companionship with her. If you want to pray more deeply, love Jesus profoundly, and serve authentically from the heart, you couldn’t choose a better master of the spiritual life than Our Lady.

Here are some reviews from readers so far. 

What a gem! The author provides a unique perspective into the life of Mary and how she may be looked upon not only as a mother, but as a sister and friend. Each chapter invites the reader to an intimate encounter with Mary while weaving in humor and personal storytelling.

If you are interested in furthering your relationship with Mary, read this. If you have difficulty understanding Mary, read this. If you know nothing about Mary, read this. If you know all there is to know about Mary, read this. Whatever your history with Mary is, this book will be sure to draw you closer to Mary in a new and unique way. – “M”

This book is extremely well-written. The author uses her own experiences to bring the reader closer to the Blessed Virgin. The writer skillfully balances Mary’s humanity with her spiritual uniqueness. This is an excellent book to give the reader a better understanding of who Mary was during her life, and who she is to us now. – Francis 

Just last week I was really struggling with prayer and this morning I had tears in my eyes while “ruffling the little Jesus’ curls”. Since starting this book I have taken Mary everywhere. It’s really full of love. I highly recommend it to anyone. – Latisha

This is a beautiful book reminding each of us of the beauty of having a relationship with the Holy Mother, and how that relationship deepens our relationship with her son. I highly recommend it , it’s very beautiful book. -Anne

This book represents such a warm invitation to build a relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Inventive and imaginative, this work soothes the soul and encourages greater mental prayer. Reading this book has helped me to grow in my love and appreciation for the Holy Family. -Maria

First of all, I do not come from the Catholic tradition. I didn’t learn a lot about Mother Mary, either good or bad. She was just the mother of Jesus, but she held no particularly high place. I always seemed to, from my many Catholic friends, get the sense that she was almost untouchable, unreachable, and certainly from my standpoint, unrelatable. It likely was my lack of understanding or experience of her than it was about the Catholic faith.

Over the years that has for many reasons changed and evolved. One of them was reading the beautiful writings of the author of this fine book.

Her unique style and vision puts real flesh, bone, humanity, and yes, humor to her Catholic faith. It breathes. And I find myself feeling I am walking amongst humans that I can not only learn from but truly relate.

This book does all of that to Mary- we revere her, but also walk beside her, she is our mother, but also our friend. 

I recommend this book not only for lifetime Catholics but for converts and Protestants who may yet to experience the richness and yes, tragic loss and challenges of her life.

You will likely leave sensing you have gotten to know someone who you can have a cup of coffee with and perhaps see in a whole new way, or this book may re-affirm the way you’ve always known her.

I found it best to read it a little at a time, and go about your day and sit with it. It will stay with you. Shawn’s vivid stories and various ways of offering encounters with Mary will feed your soul. And make you laugh. Or perhaps cry. But chances are it will move you. – Mark

Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother is available wherever books are sold. 

Come on over to Mary’s House!

She has already put on the kettle for you.

Shameless promotion of my book, Come to Mary's House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother
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Lessons in Prayer of the Heart

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 I went to see Fr. Cassian Sibley to discuss  Prayer of the Heart in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The sign on the house read, Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring Russian Orthodox Church. That has to be the coolest church name I have ever heard in my life.  I told Fr. Cassian so when he opened the door. He is a cheerful man with a kind face and a big bushy beard. He offered me coffee and showed me an assortment of beautiful prayer ropes, or “chotki” used for the meditative repetition of the “Jesus Prayer,” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) which is at the core of Prayer of the Heart. Some of the chotkis were made with beads, some with knots in the shape of crosses. Some were quite long, and some were tiny, designed to fit on a baby’s wrist. 

He explains that the simple repetition of the Jesus Prayer is the most common use for lay people, in order to pray without ceasing as they go about their busy lives. I am familiar with this because of one of my favorite spiritual books, The Way of the Pilgrim/The Pilgrim Continues His Way. The pilgrim wanders across Russia praying the Jesus Prayer until his heart prays it continually without effort. The book charts his travel, conversations and spiritual growth in the prayer. 

Fr. Cassian points out that by replacing the “me” in the prayer with the name of someone else, one can use the prayer as an intercessory prayer – while warning that one does not use the phrase “a sinner” while doing so, since a Christian has no authority or right to judge another.

I had brought a rose for Mother Mary which he put in the chapel.  Then I followed him into a pleasant sitting room filled with morning light, and comfortable furniture, lined with books. A parrotlet sang from a nearby cage. I got out my notebook but the conversation was so interesting and lively that I hardly took any notes. I couldn’t have been more content. I was sitting in a cozy chair conversing with an extremely intelligent and deeply spiritual person in a relaxed and friendly way, neither of us hurried. Priests are busy people so I was aware of what a gift his time was.   

Fr. Cassian grew up Southern Baptist but was, as an early teen drawn to the Anglican Church and was preparing to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. As he studied theology though, he became more and more sympathetic to the Orthodox Church, and as a teen, he had read the J.D. Salinger novella, Franny and Zooey, and been introduced to the Jesus Prayer and The Way of the Pilgrim. Eventually he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately was ordained as an Orthodox priest. 

I told him my story of being tricked by Mother Mary into falling for Jesus and the Catholic Church after having grown up without religion. He chuckled knowingly and we talked about Mary in both our traditions. I really like the Orthodox title for her, “The Theotokos,” meaning “God-bearer.” 

Our discussion turned to the life of prayer as experienced and expressed in each of our faiths’ contemplative traditions. We have so much in common. There are some interesting differences in our mystical theology, and in our ideas about the experience of Heaven. The Orthodox regard heaven as a continuous free growth of divinization -as an “ever moving rest” – which the Orthodox feel is in contradiction to the experience of what the Western Church calls the Beatific Vision. I said that St. Therese is busy “spending [her] Heaven doing good on earth,”  so maybe we’re not so different there after all. 

We discussed Confession, local events and world news, Church history, the degrees of union with God, the differences between praying with the chotki and the rosary, (for instance we use imaginative prayer and the Orthodox strongly caution against it). 

We talked about the importance of being willing to know Jesus as he is, being ready to shed our own ideas and misconceptions and our lamentable tendency to only accept the aspects of the Lord that we are comfortable with. 

I learned some Greek words and heard a few Russian ones I would be unable to reproduce. 

Eventually we came to the point of my visit, the practice of Hesychasm (the path of deep prayer and living the life of prayer in the Orthodox tradition) and the practice of Prayer of the Heart.  

Before Fr. Cassian gives me practical instructions, he cautions that if one desires to enter into this practice, a spiritual guide, teacher or spiritual director is extremely helpful – which is why the more mystical and non-verbal use of the Jesus prayer is more common, in Orthodoxy, amongst monastics and those with a monastic spiritual father or mother. 

He goes on to say that today in Western Society we think of ourselves as centered in the brain, the mind, and that we tend to pray from there. Biblically, however, the heart is seen as the center of the person where both thoughts and spiritual movements occur. In Orthodox prayer, the pray-er seeks to redirect his or her awareness from the head down into the heart. Fr. Cassian touches his heart often as he speaks, seemingly unconsciously, closing his eyes when he does so. It seems to me that when he does this, a switch is flipped somewhere, a “peace switch” that visibly changes his entire demeanor. Maybe it is a breaker switch because I feel it too! 

Practical Instructions for Prayer of the Heart

Stand or sit comfortably with your back relatively straight, in silence, solitude and stillness. 

Breathe in, and allow one’s conscious awareness to follow that breath as one prays, silently, “Lord Jesus Christ”

Exhale slowly, maintaining, if possible, one’s conscious awareness in the heart, as one prays silently, “Son of God,” 

Inhale, as before, while silently praying “have mercy on me”

Breathe out slowly and prayerfully acknowledge that one is “a sinner.” 

Slowly repeat this cycle again and again. 

Continually bring your awareness into your heart, bringing Jesus’ Name, his presence into it. Eventually it will be the heart that keeps time, so to speak, and the heart that speaks. After that, everything is up to God, and God alone.

The true Prayer of the Heart as he describes it sounds like what a Carmelite would call the grace of infused contemplation, where it is God who acts within us, and we are drawn into union with him. 

We talk about the traditional understanding  of the progress of the soul through the Purgative Way (purification), the Illuminative Way (the growing knowledge of God and his ways) and finally the Unitive Way (one-ness with God).  

Before I leave, Fr. gives me a copy of his wife’s new book of poetry, Zoom and the Neanderthal Girl by Olympia Sibley, (I highly recommend it!) and I give him a copy of my book, Come to Mary’s House; Spending Time with Our Blessed Mother. (Release date September 26)

He invites me to come again, perhaps for dinner with his wife and him. I say that would be great. 

I had set out today to write about the Prayer of the Heart but I can’t help but feel that perhaps Fr. Cassian and I have begun to do our part in healing the Great Schism one conversation, one prayer, one friendship at a time. 

*My thanks to Fr. Cassian Sibley for his assistance with this piece.

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A reading on spiritual childhood from my book, Come to Mary’s House

How to pray Lectio Divina

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

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

Here are the steps.

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

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

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

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

Some people will add: 

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

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

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General advice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? That’s pretty simple.

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What I did this summer plus a surprise!

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I know I’ve been quiet this Summer. It’s been a busy, hot and stressful summer so far. I feel like I’ve either been busy or tired. I’m certainly not one of those writers that sits down at a desk and writes all day the way I have read that some do. I tend to write obsessively for a while and then not write for a while. I am always writing in my head though. So maybe I should be one of those writers who writes all the time. I will have to work on that. Whenever I have an “all the time” to do that in. 🙂

We took in a cat who is a great cat (Annie) but she turned out to be pregnant. She had six lovely kittens April 30. We live in a little apartment so when they began running around and then reached that really obnoxious age where they seem totally crazy and become destructive little gymnasts, it was a bit much even for us. However we had no trouble finding wonderful homes for all but one, the most hapless one who we decided may as well stay on. We love her. My granddaughter named her Princess Buttercup.

I’ve been helping to found a new non profit in my community. That’s been exciting. I will write more about it when we are closer to getting all the way off the ground. It will have to do with helping those in need, helping connect the dots for them and staying with them through the process of finding help until they have actually gotten the help they need. It will be a community center, a food pantry, and a hub for local available services (with comprehensive case management for people in crisis.) We already have an office too! We will have a community garden and oh my goodness we are doing so much stuff! So that’s the gist of it. We have lots of ideas and I am so delighted that more than we even expected is happening, really happening.

I’ve been watching grandchildren on the days I am not working. Those are some stellar little kids. They kill me! My granddaughter I live with is getting ready to begin school again. (First grade!) This is a relief to her and to us as she has been so bored and driving us nuts!

My youngest daughter (who lives with me) started performing in public again. She is a singer/song writer/guitarist. It’s been years since she has done so and we are so proud of her for getting back out there. She heads back to college in a couple days.

My eldest has been into archery and modeling and painting cow skulls she sells at a store called “Cowboy Up.” Also she works as a secretary at an appliance installation place. Both girls are raising their children admirably though, there sure have been a lot of struggles in their lives this summer. Good thing they are both so tough.

I spend most of my work day outside and it’s been a crazy hot summer here in Texas! I can hardly keep my plants alive either!

My friend Molly flew me up to Duluth to see her for a few days. What a beautiful town and a wonderful escape from our weather! We had a blast. She is one of those friends that you end up having four hour conversations with. We talked and laughed our heads off!

So that’s my “What I did this summer” run down.

Most of all, however, I checked on my book today and was utterly astonished to see that it’s already available on Amazon Kindle. I can’t believe it! I wanted to let you know about this crazy surprise, reader!

The print version can be pre-ordered and will be released September 26th. But if you want to you can already read it! WHAT?!

Here it is! Yay!

Christian Widowhood

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The widow’s place in the Church in our times seems a bit vague. We are not exactly single. We are alone without our spouses, but they do exist in the next life. Often we are single moms, whose place in the Church seems elusive as well.   

The eventual death of a spouse is not spoken of in our marriage preparation. I think it should be talked about. One partner is sure to experience it. 

I have come to think of my widowhood as “part two” of my vocation as a wife. I just discovered that the Church agrees with me. “Widowhood, accepted bravely as a continuation of the marriage vocation, should be esteemed by all” ( Gaudium et spes, 48) 

I am profoundly altered both by the love I knew and the suffering I lived through.  

We widows have a lot to give. We have learned to be co-redeemers with Our Lady. Our hearts are wells of a unique compassion for all in mourning or sorrow. We have learned the depths of love. 

If you find yourself on the widow’s path, here are my own discoveries I hope will help. 

Your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of his own, and in whom God dwelled.God remembers and cherishes everything about him. He is alive in God and he continues his journey. 

Your relationship with your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of its own, cherished and remembered by God. It is alive in God and still accessible to you spiritually.  

As St. Teresa of Avila said, God lives within us, enthroned in the center of our hearts. This means that all of Heaven is there in our souls as well. We share spiritual goods with those in Purgatory, and we are all  one in the Lord. 

In the depths of my agony I would ask my husband in spirit, “How could you go somewhere I could not go? How can you be happy in Heaven when I am going through hell? Do you still love me? Are you still my husband?” 

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Of course death was not his choice. But these were the cries of my heart. I came to understand that he was a compassionate witness to my suffering. I received a strong sense of his continued love for me.

That last burning question, “Are you still my husband,”  caused me a lot of unnecessary pain. On the surface it does sound like the answer is no. “There will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the world to come” (Matt.22:30.) This verse has been historically  emphasized in favor of virginity by Catholic writers. This idea was extremely upsetting to me. Why would every other relationship pass through heaven’s gates but not this one in which I became one with my husband? When I was widowed for the second time, this came up again for me because of a homily I heard at mass on this verse. A visiting priest said that husbands and wives always say they want to know their spouses in Heaven but that we needed to let that go. It just freaked me out. I went outside and cried. Priests, when you preach on this verse, please remember me and every other grieving widow in your audience. Say a word of comfort for us to mitigate the sorrow we feel when you imply our profound loss will not be restored to us as the other ones will be. 

The resolution to this question of whether my late husband is still my husband is this:

 Love is stronger than death. (Sngs 6:8) 

Love is the greatest of the “three that remain” (1 Cor.13.) Love is eternal whatever happens on earth or Heaven, and even though all things pass away. I know both my late husbands are very much with me. Not only that but they will be with me in Heaven as well, and God treasures the love we share. St. Joseph is still Our Lady’s husband. He is still right next to her, even though her ultimate Spouse is the Holy Spirit. What we will be in Heaven individually is not clear to us now (1Jn. 3:2.)  However we will be more not less. I believe our relationships will be more and not less in Heaven. God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or separation. (Rev.21:4)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

In the meantime I have discovered Jesus as my ultimate spouse just as the widowed Saints have done. 

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and you will be called espoused.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 62:4-5

A whole new kind of love has opened up to me. I feel as if I am a mother and sister to everyone with a free and expansive heart. The love I had with my husbands and our journeys  together have made me who I am. Grief, intense loss and suffering have made me who I am. Taking all of that burning love and sorrow before the throne of God constantly continues to transform it into a greater depth of prayer and service in this world. 

This growth required surrender. I had to be able to tell God that for love of him I gave my consent to this way of life I had not wanted, and that I would stay in this world as long as he wanted me to, in the way he wanted me to. I begged him that this experience would purify my heart and draw me closer to him. 

My first husband, Marc, was killed in a car accident when he was only twenty-eight. We had a three month old and an almost five year old. I kissed Marc goodbye in the morning and never saw him again.  

His death and our loss felt brutal and senseless. 

I prayed all the time, “Increase the strength of my soul” (Ps. 138:3.) And God did. 

Nobody tells you how hard it is not to kill yourself when you are suddenly widowed like that. Only the love of God and of my children kept me from it.  

The Eucharist kept me alive as well. It is a gift from God that my husband had a premonition of his death and  said, “No matter what happens we will always be together in the Eucharist.” He had wanted to renew our wedding vows there and then, which we did.  A friend called this “a preparatory gift of the Holy Spirit.”

My kids and I went to mass every day. I needed Jesus more than ever. 

I didn’t see how I could ever be OK without Marc. It seemed being OK without him would be a betrayal. A kindly widower gave me peace about this. He said, “If your arm is amputated you learn to live without that arm. But that arm never grows back.” 

And so it was. I never stopped loving Marc. At fifty-four I love him as much as I ever did. But I have learned to live without him in this world. 

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In spite of my sorrow I was able to raise my kids joyfully. Our house was like a cross between Pippy Longstocking’s house and a little monastery; a fun, quirky place where we also prayed a lot. We took in many animals, and always had the neighborhood kids running in and out. We were that house on our street where most of the kids hung out. Our family and friends were often there just to be there, have some iced tea, pray in our little oratory. 

I never wanted to marry again. When I found myself falling in love with Bob ten years after the death of my first husband, I had to pray a lot to be able to accept it. I learned that Bob was not replacing Marc. My daughters and I were only setting another place at the table.  

 Bob wrote to my brother-in-law Frank before our wedding,  “Marc’s stories will always be told around our table, his picture will always hang on our wall, and his ring will always be on her finger.” This is how it was. 

Walking with Bob through his journey with Brain Cancer was the most amazing thing the kids and I have ever done. We fought a beautiful fight and we lived and loved every minute. When the time came, my heart had to expand exponentially to be able let him go with love and even joy amidst the pain. I realized I could not deny Jesus anything, not even Bob. His death was beautiful, loving, and in my arms. Ten years later I still carry that great love. 

A  help to me both times I have been widowed was Ronda Chervin’s book on the widowed saints, A Widow’s Walk. She introduced me to Our Lady as a widow, which has meant a lot to me.  

Saints come to us at different times in our lives. These days I feel close to St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, who has never appealed to me especially before. 

She loved her husband deeply. His death was traumatic for her. She was left with five children as well as seven more, her brother-in-law’s children who had been orphaned. After her conversion to Catholicism, she identified profoundly with Our Lady’s sorrow. 

Through faith and prayer, her suffering love was transformed into a powerful and fruitful love for others, especially those in need. She was a spiritual mother of many, founding Catholic Schools in our country and doing every kind of good work for the poor. 

 I’ve been helping to form a new nonprofit in our town even though I feel unequal in every way. St. Elizabeth seems to be praying for me and helping me be brave. As widows we have an understanding.

Something Bob said as we tried to process his terrifying diagnosis of Glioblastoma multiforme (stage 4- terrible news!) has continued to guide my life. 

As we held each other I asked, “What do we do?” “Well,” he said, “We love, we walk on.” 

“Miracle” by my husband Bob Chapman

Prayer and action bring transformation of ourselves and society

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We pray for peace to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead (Jeremiah 8:15)

We religious people are often accused of saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” and then doing nothing to help. Apparently this has sometimes been a problem with us. 

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” James 2:15-16

So we should not pray that mass shootings will end but do nothing to be a part of the solution or a comfort and support to all who are traumatized and grieving. We can’t expect God to do things we should be doing, should we? After all we are his hands and his feet and his love in this world. 

The secular world may mock the power of prayer but prayer is transformative both for us and for the world. 

Another temptation right now besides prayer without action is for us to take refuge in our ideologies. This is normal these days. It happens every time there is a mass shooting, doesn’t it? The same arguments and nobody listens to anyone and nothing changes. We should remember that everyone is heartbroken about the school shooting of little children and their teachers in Uvalde. No one is left untouched or unbroken by this tragedy. This we have in common. 

A challenge I want to issue is to avoid praying without taking action, and for us not to take refuge in ideology but to take refuge in God. This will read like a copout to some but it isn’t. As Fr. Richard Rohr so aptly says, when we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we are also saying, “My kingdom go.” God is ultimate Reality, and he is Truth Itself. He will not only share his truth with us, he will strengthen us to bear it and lead us into the right actions because we are really asking with open hearts. 

In open-hearted prayer we set ourselves aside. We put away our own agendas and open ourselves to God’s agenda. Not only that, we will see one another there in God too.  As the people of the Focolare movement say, “We can be one with anyone at any time in all things but sin.” With these attitudes of humility, willingness and openness to unity, we will be praying humbly  with love of God and love of our brothers and sisters. This is the kind of prayer that really works, prayer that changes the world and changes us.  

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I suggest an ancient prayer form called Lectio Divina (Holy Reading.) There are five steps to this prayer. 

Let’s try using  Psalm 25 for our prayer today. 

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

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

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

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

Step Five Actio: Like Mary after the Annunciation, arise with haste and act on what you have received in prayer! (Luke 1:39) Take Jesus, as his hands and feet and heart, into this tragedy in whatever way God has led you to do in prayer. 

Most likely we aren’t going to pray this way once and experience the immediate response from God that we do when we make a phone call. God is usually very subtle and so are the movements of our souls. It takes practice, persistence and grace as well as time before we learn to listen and discern. However, even after a few days with this kind of prayer you will notice a difference.

And don’t forget:

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

God’s word always accomplishes what God sends it to do.

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Even if we feel nothing, we can have faith in the Word of God, and in his purpose. What we are doing is opening ourselves to be “channels of his divine will into this world” (from a prayer by Fr. Adrien van Kaam.)

Over time we will find ourselves transformed, and in a mysterious way, we will have planted the seeds of transformation in the world around us as well.

Our society needs more than assistance, more than laws, more than debate and problem solving, more than access to psychological help. It needs all of these but beneath all of them we need change within.

May the Lord make each of us channels of his peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

St, Francis of Assisi

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Christian love: is it fake?

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What is Christian love? After my conversion to Catholicism (quite a leap from the way I was raised which was without religion,) my family had adjusting to do. My brother was the person I was closest to. We were symbiotic and as my mom said, “joined at the hip.” For me to make such a radical change in my world view seemed like a kind of betrayal by me. In the beginning we argued. I would say I loved him, which wasn’t especially well received when he was mad. Once he said, “I don’t want your ‘Christian love.‘ I just want you and YOUR love.” This upset me. I thought “What’s the difference?”

Pondering this interaction on the drive home, I realized what he meant and what his fear was. When we were kids my parents were very young, idealistic and nonconformist. We looked different. Our Hippie family was ill treated in the small Texas town my parents had moved to for school in 1968. It was a college town, yes, but unbelievably conservative. They did not allow women into the University unless they were married to a male student until 1972.

A lot of people who said they were Christian didn’t let us play with their kids, talked mess about our parents right in front of us, were harsh and cold with my brother and me and we didn’t understand why. We saw them as alienating people with fake smiles, and vacant eyes who were prone to heartlessness. When they said anything about loving us for Jesus’ sake it just sounded like they didn’t want to “love us” (whatever that meant) but Jesus wanted them to play nice. Which they didn’t.

My brother was afraid I would now love him in some generalized fake way, judging him as a person the whole time. It took him time and experience with me as a Catholic to disabuse him of that notion.

What does Christian love really mean? What does it mean to love someone for Jesus’ sake? I do think sometimes people don’t go very far with this. Maybe sometimes we do think it means to play nice.

Someone on social media told me he was tired of the Church being “the Church of nice.” I said I knew we weren’t supposed to be “the Church of Nice.” No we are supposed to be the Church of radical love.

I’m still working this out. All of us are, as my granny used to say, “full of prunes.” We don’t know what we’re talking about and we think we do. We think better of ourselves sometimes than we really are. We can wake up feeling like we love everybody and we hate everybody by 2 O’clock, or at least we hate several people. Some people. I’m no different. Sometimes I tell Jesus, “I know I’m not allowed to hate that guy. I know you love him, I know.” I tell him all about it. Then there is a glimmer, a hint, of what Jesus feels for that person, and I can’t go on with my tirade or hot headed attitude. I can perceive my self both as the fool I am and the affection and love God has for me. Most of the time peace comes to me pretty quickly if I’m willing. Life is so hard and I don’t know why it has to be so hard. It just is.

In that glimmer of understanding and touch of peace, I think lies the answer of the beginning of Christian love, real love, personal love for a unique and unrepeatable human being we may not know as well as we could, or a transformed love for someone we know as we know ourselves.

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He has put into my heart a marvelous love

– Psalm 16:3a

Christian love comes from union with Christ, the transforming love of “putting on the new self.” (Eph. 4:24. This is how we begin to love others as Jesus loves us. (See Jn. 13:34.) I don’t think this ability comes from baptism alone. I think it comes from prayer and time spent consciously in God’s presence. It is prayer that taught me how to love more fully, to examine my inner motivations and attitudes toward others and myself. Prayer and fledgling love of God inspired me to own up to my character defects and wrongheaded, prideful or selfish way of loving- even my brother.

With prayer and being with God we receive a new clarity and freedom of heart. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes so much time that often I get frustrated with myself. I have to remember that God will “complete the good work he has begun in [me.]”

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

Teresa of Avila wrote about detachment in relationships, especially in Chapter 7 on spiritual friendship in her book The Way of Perfection. “Detachment” sounds cold to us today. Based on my own experience I think I know what she means a little bit that we can apply here. This doesn’t mean less love for someone! It really means a detachment from self, from selfishness in our relationships.

How do we do that? Admittedly I don’t have this figured out yet. However, there is a lot of mystery involved so I don’t blame myself for that!

Similar to our efforts and experience of prayer there is an active part to this new kind of human love, and a mystical part.

The active part is more obvious. We decide to be more self aware to notice what to let go of in our ways of relating. Some of this is simple. Let’s have a look at my brother and me. When he went to rehab at age 16, we learned from the staff there how to better communicate. At first we felt silly like we had to learn to talk all over again and we would get tired of it sometimes and revert to old ways. Or we lost our tempers and had outbursts. We talked about this. We decided to see our progress. The progress was we noticed what we were doing wrong. Then with practice we got where we noticed even before we were mean and stopped ourselves. Then later, we didn’t even think about being mean anymore. Or controlling. Or selfish anymore. This is basic stuff for some people but to us it was a whole new fish bowl.

In the mean time I was learning to pray. I must have been quite an emergency to God because he set about teaching me what real love felt like right away. It was the way he loved me, and the way I learned to love him back. His love is simple and tender and clear. It stops the thoughts and worries running through your mind and you don’t even think “Hey I’m being loved.” It just is.

My own love started to simplify itself, both my love for God and my love and regard for other people. I learned to listen to people in the same way I was learning to listen to God. This took work and came from an urging I think was from him, that I do so. But the transformation took time.

My brother decided I was still me and that he didn’t have to worry about me turning into someone else or loving him in some impersonal creepily fake way. He noticed me growing as a person and that he could translate my new language of spirituality into his own understandings about life and his pragmatic view of spiritual things. He noticed I judged him less, not more. Sometimes, like his early sober days, we reverted to old fears in our relationship, both of us afraid of not being accepted as were were. We both learned, we both grew. We learned to accept one another.

And that’s how it is. What do you know? When we are able to love someone in a Christly way, they don’t just experience Jesus through us, we experience Jesus through them as well, whether they are Christian or not. We want to know a person better when we meet them and we know that every one of them belongs. We may not know how we know, but we know.

And pretty soon the whole thing gets out of control and our way of loving grows a new dimension. The world opens up and the possibilities are endless.

What does God say about this?

Beloved,
we are God’s children now.
What we shall be
has not yet been revealed.
However, we do know that when he appears
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he really is.

1John 3:2

Applied to learning to love others, I take this to mean in this case that we are already God’s children, but we ourselves are a mystery unfolding, known only to God. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are transformed as we come to know him and love him as he is, which is for himself; the way he loves us. We will not be perfect at this in this life. However we can cultivate God’s kind of love through prayer, self awareness, God awareness, and the service he inspires. In his mysterious way he will work his beautiful will in us all our lives more and more in pathways of love.

And then we have so much to look forward to: the absolute fullness of love, the fullness of God and union with him.

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