Tuesday, February 28, 2012

whatever the psalm...

Did anyone else notice?  Yesterday I quoted Psalm 145, but typed it in as 146.  Didn't realize the error until after I'd prayed with Psalm 146 this morning.

Had a fruitful time of prayer, did some scribbling in my prayer journal, and then realized I'd put the wrong psalm number with the quote yesterday. It's not the first time I've made such a "mistake." I did it several times when I was first going through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius some years ago. The most interesting thing about my occasional "numerical confusion" is that God tends to work with me in the midst of it.

If my intention is to talk with God, He is always ready to engage in conversation. A good fruit of this is that I can share with you what happened as I prayed with Psalm 146 - with no concern that my own reflections will influence what may happen with you if you're praying with Psalm 145!

So:  here's a brief rundown from my personal journal-jottings.  I share these, this one time, to give another example of how this usually works for me.  I normally pray with the Scripture, then make quick notations of where I felt I was led in prayer.  This way I can stick with the prayer without distraction, while keeping track of how things are going.  I can go back later to my "jottings," and sometimes I see patterns emerging.

I began Psalm 146 by praying the first few lines, which were of praise.  Then I was struck by "put not your trust in princes, in man, in whom there is no salvation." (vs. 3).  Princes. Hmm.  I thought of government leaders, and I prayed for ones I could think of.  I prayed for our country's upcoming presidential election, and for God's will to prevail; I prayed for the primaries going on right now.  I prayed for leaders of countries throughout the world.  Then I felt God gently letting me know that I am to put my trust entirely in Him, always, for He will bring good out of earthly situations, whatever they may be.  I thought of Romans 8:28  "God makes ALL things work together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose." The next lines were confirming of this sense, and again led me into prayers of praise and thanksgiving. My prayer moved back and forth, alternating between thanksgiving and petition, praise and intercession.  I generally end with praise of God.

I asked for grace to go into my day with one ear pressed to the keyhole. Tomorrow or even later today, I will be praying with Psalm 145!

Suggested scripture for prayer and reflection: 

"We are truly His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance."  (Ephesians 2:10) (umm...I THINK..) 

Psalm 145  

Text not in quotes

(Waterhouse painting on this post is public domain)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lectio and Keyholes

"When it’s God Who is speaking.. the proper way to behave is to imitate someone who has an irresistible curiosity and who listens at keyholes.  You must listen to everything God says at the keyhole of your heart."  (St. John Vianney)

Lectio Divina is so central to monastic life that I’ve hesitated to write about it, for I am terribly aware of my inadequacies to explain.  But interestingly enough, Lectio itself is not about explanation.  It’s not about study, not about intellectual speculation.  Lectio is about listening and noticing and hearing and responding.  Lectio is about love. 

Lectio Divina is reading of Sacred Scripture, but with a specific purpose.  That purpose is not to gain information, but to interact personally with God.  Leaving further defining for future days, now I prefer to simply illustrate how this operates in my own life.  I’ll share memories and journal jottings from a time when I prayed with Psalm 63….

Opening with a prayer that God would lead me, I began to read.  I spoke the first words directly to Our Lord:  “God, you are my God whom I seek.”  My practice is to read, slowly and prayerfully, until something particular grabs me.  I will not copy every word here, but soon I was echoing words of the psalm, that my lips would glorify Him.  The next verse (5) had me telling God I would bless Him as long as I live.  I prayed for the grace to do just that:  for the grace to praise Him throughout that day and throughout my life… 

That’s when I felt He “spoke” something to me.  This was not in words... it was simply a gentle sense of awareness that to bless Him as long as I live means that ... wow!!! ... I can bless Him forever!  Jesus has come and opened to me the doors of eternal life, so I can praise Him forever!  I went on to tell Him that this was the best thing I could imagine about eternal life. 

I went on, awhile later, into prayer of intercession for several people who came to mind, asking that they be given grace to seek God and to bless Him forever.

The practice of praying with Scripture is central to monastic life; it is central to allowing God to lead His people to the graces of contemplative prayer.  It is not just for those in monasteries; it is also for you and for me.  

I lean in closely to listen....

For prayer and meditation:

“Every day will I bless You, and I will praise Your Name forever and ever.  Great is the Lord and highly to be praised; His greatness is unsearchable.  Generation after generation praises Your works and proclaims Your might.”  (Psalm 146:2-4)

All of Psalm 146


Saturday, February 25, 2012

up the staircase

The corridors in our cloister are long and winding.  One leads to another, which leads to another, and before long we’ve reached a staircase…

We begin to step.  Only one stair at a time, of course, even if we’re anxious to make our way up speedily.  We do not reach holiness in one quick swoop.  The realization that I can take it one step at a time actually gives me hope.  And so I inch my way forward, taking today’s step toward not complaining when tempted to, tomorrow’s toward more prayer, the next day’s into opening the Bible a bit more often…  

I will trip once in awhile, I will hesitate.  I might take a tumble; after all, even Peter denied Jesus.  But Peter didn’t stay down; he got up, allowed the Lord to forgive him, and continued his climb.  

Our Lord Lights the way; He does not let me “climb” alone.  As I make my way, I hold onto the strong railings of Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  When my faith and determination grow wobbly, I open those and I LEAN….. 

I look up at the staircase.  Have I brought with me anything that weighs me down or makes me afraid to take the next step closer to God?   In Matthew 4:20 I’m told that Jesus’ first disciples, upon hearing His call, immediately dropped their nets to follow Him.  Are there “nets” entangling me?  Is there some sin or vice that I need to drop?

If so, I can talk to Jesus about it right here, right now.  So what if I just stumbled across a random blog?  Even while looking at a computer screen, I can pray.  Jesus' mercy and love are waiting for ME.  

For prayer and meditation:   

“I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk; I will counsel you, keeping My eye on you.” Psalm 32:8

“Lead me in the path of your commands, for in it I delight.” Psalm 119:33-35

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Bring me into Your Chambers

The cloister I have entered is grander than I could have imagined.  The reason?  Because He is here.

He.  The King.  He is the one who has been bringing me all along.  I could not have entered here on my own.  He is the one who has drawn me to take steps toward choosing Him. 

When I choose cloister of the heart, I am not choosing an idea or a system or a concept.  I am choosing Jesus Christ.

“Bring me, O King, into Your chambers.” (Song of Songs 1:4)

I find that as I write this today, I am unexpectedly rushed.  The day is suddenly demanding much more of me than I’d anticipated.  I remember Brother Lawrence, who wrote in The Practice of the Presence of God:  “We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime and talk to Him…. so why not begin?”

As we proceed more deeply into the rooms of the cloister, I offer the following scriptures for meditation and prayer: 

“In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you?”  (John 14:2)

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise.”  (Psalm 100:4)

Lord Jesus Christ, I thank You for _____________.  I praise You, for You are all Goodness and Mercy.  I praise You because_________  .........………...........

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

got journal?

This is a quick extra post for today, just letting you know that I'm anticipating our "Lenten cloister adventure" more by the moment!  I have decided to keep a written record of how God inspires and leads me, personally, as we go along.  If you've never experienced the fruit of keeping a prayer journal, you might like to give it a try!

can't wait to see....

Our friend Joy wrote to share her reaction to yesterday’s picture of the enclosure entrance. “I can just see myself walking that long hall.  We have been asked to leave all of our belongings, our ‘baggage,’ outside the door.  We are invited to come in with empty hands that they will be ready and free to receive whatever it is that the good Lord wants to give us. 

"We bring an expectant heart, a willing soul and an open mind able to hear the words of our Lord and His daily directives to us. 

"As we enter, there is such an air of excitement.  We look around and see many there who are like us in so many ways:  willing, ready, and anxious to get going. 

"The Abbess is the Blessed Mother.  She is there to welcome each and every one of us and assure us that she will be alongside us the whole time.  She makes us feel at ease.  We are comforted by her motherly love.

"How excited we are, not really knowing what lies ahead.  We can't wait to get started.  We’re a little curious and maybe even a little unsure of the ‘unknown.’ Especially with us having to leave all of what we are so familiar with outside the door; no longer having that crutch to lean on or grasp to ourselves.  This is a whole new way of life, but one we are all too willing to start.

“Mary takes each one of us by the hand as we silently move ahead into the silence of our own hearts and are ready for whatever is waiting for us there.  I can't wait to see...”

Can I identify with Joy’s thoughts or feelings?  Do I come into this Lent with an expectant heart?   

If I have anxieties or concerns, Jesus is inviting me to give those to Him.  My Mother Mary is waiting to help me as I do.  When I get to the end of this first hallway, what will I find around the corner?

I can't wait to see.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Your Lenten Invitation

As Lent begins, I am stepping back to take a fresh look into the "cloister."  I've been trying to live as a cloistered heart for a number of years now.  So how am I doing?  Hmm.  I'm not so sure...

Perhaps a good Lenten exercise would be to look more intensely, more personally, more prayerfully, into various areas of the cloister.  What would you say to joining me for some "cloistered exercises" for Lent?  Not unlike what we've been doing... we'll still be visiting areas inside our monasteries... but with the addition of a few brief "application" possibilities for anyone who might be interested in such things as we wander about the halls.   Nothing lengthy, no departure from our present explorations, but with the inclusion of a scripture and maybe a question and/or prayer for personal reflection.

I think the discipline of "praying in each area of the cloister" would be good for me.  Heaven knows, I need it!

You will not "miss out" if you cannot check in every day or two, so please come when you can.  Each "visit" should be able to stand on its own.

The enclosure doors stand open to receive us!  Once we step through, we'll find a grand reception awaiting.  The first person we'll meet is the Abbess.  I'll bet you can guess who that might be.....

Sunday, February 19, 2012

beyond the sweet thoughts

As a cloistered heart, I spend a lot of time at the grille.  There is a good reason for this.  As one desiring to see and respond to every person and every situation through the "grillwork of the will of God," I am called to face life through the grille at every moment.  The grille is a place of separation and of connection.  If I were not called to encounter the world, there would be no reason for grillwork; I may as well (in that case) be enclosed only in walls. 

Ah, but responding to life as God asks me to in Scripture and Church teaching - that is far from easy.  In 1991, I wrote to a cloistered nun about my struggle.  "God's will is my 'cloister grille,'" I said then.  "Such a sweet, charming thought!  You and I both know that if my will and God's will are always the same, then that statement remains nothing BUT a sweet, charming thought.  God's will in its varied manifestations is not always so attractive to me, and my feelings just love to rebel and send me beating my unsurrendered fists against the grillwork with pleas to let me out..."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

in the attic

It is chilly here today; the sky's an ominous sheet of gray.  It strikes me as just the sort of afternoon for a climb up creaky stairs to rummage around in the monastery attic.

A friend compares the Church's storehouse of spiritual treasures to an attic filled with family heirlooms, ones discovered anew as each generation comes and goes.  Our Church is blessed with devotions, traditions, revelations, stories, truths, and precious gems of faith.  Some of these are emphasized at particular times, while others slide into the background only to resurface a few decades later.  Thus we may find it helpful to “climb up into the attic” from time to time to see if perhaps there might be some treasures we're overlooking.

There are a few people who try to caution us about the attic.  There's nothing but old stuff up there, we're sometimes warned.  Just bundles of old junk not relevant to the world today.  "We don't really have books about saints," I was once told by someone running a Church library.  "Mostly we have modern self-help books and some fiction." I came away feeling like someone whose spiritual ancestors had been forgotten; maybe even erased from the family tree. 

One of my favorite books was sent to me by a friend in another country.  She'd rescued it when people running a retreat were throwing it into the trash.  It's just an old volume, very "out of date," she was told.  Funny.  I quote this (out of print) book here from time to time, and am often told how much help it has been.

What do we find when we look around in the attic?  Anything we might have forgotten about, but that could really help us in our lives of prayer today?  Letters from ancestors in the Faith?  Devotions carefully folded away for us to discover?  Eucharistic adoration.... ancient prayers... teachings of the fathers... diaries... approved apparitions and revelations... rosaries.... inspired artwork... pearls of great price? 

“The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly...” (Documents of Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy).

“Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed; for they are the ornaments of the house of God.” (Documents of Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #126).

“Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2502) 

(painting on this post is in United States public domain)   

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Carved in His Heart

The photo on today's post is of my favorite tree.  When I found the heart-shaped hole in it not too long ago, I was touched to see where it happened to be located.  The "heart" is directly above a spot where I often sat, some years ago, scribbling my first journal notations about what it might mean to live in this world as a cloistered heart. 

Coming across this photo in my files today, I immediately thought of hearts carved in trees.  Hearts made by young men and women intending to signify that their love is permanent.  Names carved inside a heart... linked together by a + . Initials not just scribbled on a piece of paper, but put onto a more permanent object; something expected to last.  "I will love you forever," the hearts imply. "I shall carve your name inside this heart, for I do not intend to let you go."

"What will we do," asks St. Francis de Sales, "when, in eternal glory, we see the most adorable heart of Jesus through the holy wound in His side.. a heart in which, written in characters of fire, all of us will be inscribed?  Ah!  We will then say to the Savior, 'is it possible that You have loved me so much that You have even written my name in Your heart?'"

"See, I have carved your name on the palms of My hands," says the Lord to us. (Isaiah 49:16). 

 He never intends to let us go. +

(photo copyright © 2011 N Shuman)

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

warmed by the Son

"Do not be surprised at having distractions or at being cold and weary at prayer, as these are the effects of the sensitive and emotional part of our being and of the heart, over which we have little control.  For these we should not give up going to Holy Communion, because no one can better recollect our spirit than its King; nothing can better warm it than the Sun, nothing can better sweeten it than such balm."  (St. Francis de Sales, letter)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

our eyes on Home

Finding the "view through the grille" is a bit like putting on a pair of glasses.  Viewing situations through the lens of Scripture and Church teaching, we begin to see life as it IS.  Not merely as we'd like it to be, not as the world around us and the media present it, but as it truly IS. 

The view through the grille is a long one, perhaps more akin to one seen by a telescope than through a pair of spectacles.  The telescope, after all, brings into view sights that are light years away; things actually in the past.  Scripture brings into view not only what is before our eyes today, but also realities awaiting us in eternity: truths revealed by God to help us keep our eyes on the vision of Home. 

"Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

"Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.  To live in heaven is 'to be with Christ.' " (Cathechism of the Catholic Church # 1024-1025)

"We will see face to face and very clearly the Divine Majesty, the essence of God, and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity."  (St. Francis de Sales) 

"The pleasant companionship of all the blessed in heaven will be a companionship replete with delight.... the joy and gladness of one will be as great as the joy of all."  (St Thomas Aquinas)

"When you awake in that world, you will find that nothing could tempt you to return to this! (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton)

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

the long dry winter

Monasteries are not drought-proof.  When skies close up and rains no longer soak the ground, monastery fields and gardens are no less subject to dryness than are any other plots of land. 

The monastery of the heart is not drought-proof, either.  Sometimes we feel as if our souls are barren, lifeless, parched.  There are days when our prayers seem to go nowhere, times when we feel that God Himself has left the universe to dry up and wither to dust.

If we’ve ever felt this way, we are not alone.  “I could neither pray nor read,” wrote St. Teresa of Avila about one such experience, “but there I remained, for hours and hours together, uneasy in mind and afflicted in spirit on account of the weight of my trouble, and of the fear that perhaps after all I was being tricked by the devil, and wondering what in the world I could do for my relief.  Not a gleam of hope seemed to shine upon me from either earth or heaven; except just this: that in the midst of all my fears and dangers I never forgot how Our Lord must be seeing the weight of all I endured….”  

So:  we’re not alone in having such experiences.  But what do we do about them?

I have found that the saints help me, in this kind of challenge, to find "the view through the grille."  
“If you do nothing else the whole time of prayer than bring your heart back and put it beside Our Lord, although each time you do so it turns away from Him, your hour will be very well employed.” (St. Francis de Sales)

“One single act done with aridity of spirit is worth more than many done with feelings of devotion.”  (St. Francis de Sales) 

“Let your prayer be very simple.  For the tax collector and the prodigal son just one word was enough to reconcile them with God.”  (St. John Climacus)

“His will is, that entering into prayer, we should be prepared to suffer the pain of continual distractions, dryness and disgust, which may come upon us, and that we should remain as constant as if we had enjoyed much peace and consolation.  It is quite certain that our prayer will be none the less pleasing to God nor less useful to ourselves, for having been made with difficulty.” (St. Francis de Sales)


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Enclosed in Joy

God's will is always for my good.  While I realize that enclosure in God's will is 'confining,' I must also recognize that it is for my ultimate good.  I cannot lose sight of this truth.  God's will is not for my destruction.  Yes, He wills that sin be destroyed in me, that evil be destroyed - but this is because sin harms me.  God's will shall bring me joy.  This does not mean it will bring me pleasure at every moment, but ultimately it will bring me into the fullness of joy.  And so, surrender to God's will should not be a gloomy kind of thing, but a giving of myself with joy.  

No illness, financial collapse, or political circumstance can take Jesus from me.  Nothing can remove Him, for He is in my heart.  I possess the very satisfaction that all are seeking and that no one can really find without finding Him. 

In cloistering my heart, I must remember that cloistered life is meant to be a life of joy as total as one can find on earth.  
(adapted from Cloistered Heart book)  


Sunday, February 5, 2012

prayer in the hallway

I have been blessed to go on retreat, several times, to monasteries.  I loved being in my tiny cell, “alone” with God yet aware of the silent presence of others.  I was with God, others were with God - and we were all connected.  A wide hall linked us together.

As one who wants to live for God in the cell of my heart, I am grateful for every one of you  doing likewise. I may not know each person in every other “cell,” but I can stop and remind myself that they… that you… are there.  Ours is the hallway of the Church.  Ours is the hallway of the Body of Christ.  My heart cell is part of a multitude of “cells,” part of the vast and ageless Communion of Saints.  “All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have His Spirit, form one Church and in Christ cleave together.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #954).  

Our hallway is not limited by geographical location.  It is wide and vast and stretches beyond the ages, connecting us to all in the Communion of Saints in ways we can scarcely grasp.

Today, thinking about this and praying for you - and yes, I do - I had an idea (I actually think it was an inspiration).  What if everyone reading this takes just a minute, a second, the length of a mental aspiration – to pray for everyone else who is reading this?  We don’t know who each other is… but God does.  He knows every one of us individually.  He loves each of us beyond all imagining.  He cares about every one of our stresses and worries and needs.  

So: today you’re invited to “stretch a prayer across the hallway.”  It can be oh, so quick.  Maybe something along the lines of “Lord Jesus, please bless everyone who has or will read this.”  Imagine the prayers we will thus be extending across the globe!  

I, as one of the recipients of your prayers, thank you with all my heart.  I ask our Lord Jesus to bless you… you personally… you who are reading these words.  I pray that He will let you know how deeply you are cherished by Him.  


“The children of the world are all separated one from another because their hearts are in different places; but the children of God, having their heart where their treasure is, and all having only one treasure which is the same God, are consequently always joined and united together.”  (St. Francis de Sales)

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

cause for rejoicing here

A friend recently wrote:  "I was thinking how good it is that we have 'salesmen' and things that 'bang on the grille' for our attention. This means that the cloister, this way of life, is REAL. Were there not difficulties, dryness, repulsions, it would just be a nice idea - a human idea. Thanks be to God for the temptations and the noise - for it is by these that we are made humble and are given a sign that the work is hated by the evil one - a true mark that if we are faithful to it, to Christ, in times of difficulty, the effects of grace will extend far beyond our imaginings..." (from J.)
"There is cause for rejoicing here.  You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears."  (1 Peter. 1:6-7)
There are salesmen in our foyer.  They don't just call to us, they bang on the grille.  They remind us that there are difficulties in life, they throw dryness and temptations at us.  Their presence, as my friend says, is a mark that IF we are faithful to Christ, the effects of grace will extend FAR beyond our imaginings.

We have cause to rejoice.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

salesmen in the foyer

The monastery foyer is where visitors enter to be greeted through a grille.  In the analogy of the cloistered heart, I think of the foyer as my mind.  It's where thoughts come in requesting admittance.  Ideally, good and virtuous thoughts are allowed to linger.  Mean, condemning, fearful, evil thoughts are shown the door.  At least, that is the ideal.

We all know it's not that simple.

I think of unholy, unkind, worrying thoughts as "salesmen in the foyer."  They generally enter unbidden, although I often do invite them (even if unintentionally) by what I read, listen to, view.  They trail in on the coattails of family members; they hitchhike in magazine pages; their voices thread through memories I entertain.  They stand in the foyer, opening their catalogs of old regrets and new fears and future dreads.  

Recently there was a convention in my foyer.  I didn't recognize "the salesmen" at first, and by the time I realized who they were and what was happening, I was already quite mired down.  I had forgotten there was a grille between us, and I'd focused my eyes right between the grille-bars so I could plainly see the wares being offered. And then I remembered my grille.  I will admit to finding it hard, at first, to step back and take a look THROUGH it... after all, the catalogs of worries laid out before me were remarkably compelling.  Part of me wanted to continue my unobstructed view.  But then I picked up my Bible and opened it to a "bar of my grillwork....." 

"Praised be the Lord, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies."  (Psalm 18:4) 

I cannot describe the sense of relief that flooded me as I not only read these words, but began to put them into practice.  I wasn't feeling physically up to par, I'd been bombarded by worries and stresses..... but still, I could praise the Lord!  Nothing should be able to prevent that!  Every salesman on earth might be standing in my "foyer," but I could make the decision to praise God.  Each time a worry trickled in, I could actually let it serve as a reminder to give thanks and praise to God. 

"Praised be the Lord, I exclaim"... and so I do. 

...and I am safe from my enemies."  And so I am.