Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Thanksgiving

Thank You, Lord our God, that we have been blessed with eight years under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI.

As You lead him now into a truly cloistered life, we ask that you hold him, protect him, and draw him ever more deeply into Your most Sacred Heart.

Jesus, we trust in You.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

God Has Marked the Path

'Be at peace....and walk faithfully along the path which God has marked out for you.'

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Door in the Wall

God continues to surprise me.  As I've taken a deeper look at our "journey into the inner monastery," I have felt as if I'm walking around and around and around a circular building.  A building enclosed inside high walls.

I think immediately of St. Teresa's Interior Castle.  The outer "room" (first mansion) is where people try to stop offending God.  They may perform a few good works. They are free from serious sin and the King does dwell in their castle, writes Father Thomas Dubay, "but they have only a tenuous relationship with Him, and they scarcely see His light, so submerged are they in things of the world."

"What then, is the beginner to do?" asks Father.  "Most people cannot leave the world in a bodily sense, but every follower of Christ who is serious about genuine growth must leave the spirit of the world."

Truly a "cloistered heart" statement if ever I've heard one.

Thankfully, Father Dubay provides direction on how to move forward..... how to, in effect, find the door in the wall:  "The main business of the beginner, therefore, is to make a determined turnabout from preoccupation with this worldly life to a life centered in the Trinity."  (quotes above from Thomas Dubay SM, Fire Within, Ignatius, 1989, pp. 81-82; click this line for a link to the book).

At this point I would like to share, again, something a friend wrote several years ago.  Having once been in the postulancy and novitiate of a Religious Community, Rose brings a perspective I have never personally known.  

"When I left the convent...  I had this idea that prayer, holiness, and the spiritual life were for the religious vocation and hidden behind high, thick brick walls.  I longed to find a crack in that wall so I could have just a tiny taste of the spiritual life I once knew. 

"Then the Holy Spirit brought the Cloistered Heart to me.  The Cloistered Heart allowed me to squeeze through a tiny crack in that big brick wall. 
"I long for the fullness of all of God's promises for those who love Him to the heights.  And if that sounds presumptive, then so be it, because I know that it is meant for us all.  Not just the Religious or the saints, but for all......" (Rose)

Can I identify with Rose's words?  Am I ready to leave behind anything that walls me off from total surrender of self to God?  Am I truly serious about my relationship with Christ?

If so, then my journey into the inner cloister has begun.

Painting:  Penfold, By the Garden Door, in US public domain due to age

This post begins a 'mini-series' on walls. To continue, click here

Friday, February 22, 2013

(Ready?) for Surprises

I probably didn't mention what I'd originally thought of (for here) for Lent.  It had occurred to me to venture once again into our interior monastery, looking anew into particular areas and rooms and hallways, exploring what Our Lord seems to be doing in them now... this Lent.... today. 

I was surprised, therefore, by the initial idea of "catacombs." Still, I was ready to move forward.  It was going to be a different sort of adventure from our cloister journeys in the past, and I was ready for surprises.

The first surprise was when my Internet connection went down.  As you know if you followed my whines about it, the trouble was initially intermittent.  Then, for a few days, there was no connection whatsoever. 

Then began the adventure of writing letters to Jesus.   It was (and is) another way of practicing Lectio for me.  Perfect.

Then came an unusual onslaught of busyness.  Unexpected guests that arrived at the same time as expected ones, and a phone ringing at the exact same moment as the doorbell, while children bounced like rubber balls across the floor.  This happening just after a workman had spent all afternoon tracking down the Internet snag. Bedtime after 3:00 a.m that night (yes, for real). Soup that had to be made the next morning, and then two full days with beloved grandchildren who treated me to tea parties and clay-modeling and the playing of almost every board game on the shelf.

It was while chopping celery-for-soup that I sorely missed my letters to Jesus.  I'd barely started the practice, and already I was homesick for it.  A very good sign, I realized.  I was ready for the adventure to begin.

Then it hit me.  Writing to Jesus is not like writing to a friend who lives far away.  Jesus sees what I write, but He also knows my every thought.  Why not "write" Him mentally, even as I chopped?  Why not, as St. Stanislaus Kostka put it, “find a heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms..”?

Tonight I was able to take some quality time writing (on paper) a letter.  It is heartfelt, and real, and I hope my Lord is pleased.  But I know He's just as pleased to see a stack of games waiting to be shelved, and a mostly eaten pot of soup in the fridge, and a clay "sculpture" of Larry the Cucumber proudly displayed.  

And as far as that adventure into our inner monastery?  Oh, I think even that may be part of God's plan.  

We often begin Lent with everything mapped out, wrote the nuns at Quidnunc; "And then God steps in – He sends us on detours, sometimes through very rough terrain.  We like to take the smoothly paved scenic route; He likes to go off-roading..."  I strongly suggest a reading of this excellent (very brief) article, which you can find by clicking right here. 

I'm ready (I gulp as I say it) for God's surprises.  Hope you'll be along for the ride.

Painting: Eugen von Blaas, The Eavesdropper, detail

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Letters to Jesus

'God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.'  I am assured of this in Romans 8:28, and over the last few days I've been seeing it (again) for myself.

Because I had no Internet connection for a few days, I began writing by hand.  Somehow that felt more comfortable than doing so in 'Word,' on the computer.  It seemed I was being led into a kind of darkness, a solitude with Jesus, in which the only light whose presence I could imagine was that of a firelit torch.  

My writings turned smoothly into letters.  I began scribbling in a regular notebook (not a journal), and lo and behold.  Before I knew it, I was writing letters to Jesus Himself.

I realized by yesterday morning that my Lenten 'exercise' is to continue writing letters to Our Lord.

Oh, but this is so much more than an exercise.  It is reality.  Jesus can 'read' what I write.  Yes, He's right here and I can talk with Him; there is no reason to write my thoughts on paper.  Except:  my mind wanders all over, at times, during prayer.  Writing helps the thoughts stay on track, or get back when they've drifted.  Writing helps me remain conscious of the One to Whom I write.  Already I'd felt drawn to pray with Scripture during Lent - and Scripture is a letter from God, after all.  How rude I would be not to answer it.

My thought at present is to spend time with the daily scriptures from Mass, reading them as one would read letters from a loved One.  And then:  to genuinely, as prayer, write back.

I'd like to share, here, some of what happens.  I will write to Our Lord by hand, but I have a feeling He won't mind (!) if I share with you, later in the day, snippets of our conversations.

Where will these go?  I have no idea.  I just know this much.  It's still personal.  And apparently getting more so all the time.....

"The Bible is a letter from Almighty God to His creatures,"  (Pope St. Gregory)

Painting:   Florent Willems, The Important Response 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Singing in the Dark

I write this quickly, concerned that my Internet connection will disappear (again).  We're presently looking into changing our whole system – for yes, it has gotten that bad. 
It’s strange not to be able to access one's blog.  I have felt like I’ve lost the key to my house. 
Ah, but this is Lent.  I had a plan, this year, to have no plans.  To pray with Scripture and simply follow where Our Lord is leading.   This, I can do.  I don’t need technology for that.  I only need a heart willing to abandon my plans in favor of God’s.
And what picture did I have in mind just before the journey began?  That of a catacomb.  In a catacomb, there would be no Internet connections.  A catacomb is, in essence, a graveyard.  I think of it as a place of refuge, where Christians hid from persecutors in years past.  But in reality, it is a tomb. 
Not a particularly cheerful image, I know; but perhaps it's the perfect one to begin my Lenten journey.  In each slot (grave) dug into the walls, I have an opportunity to place something I don’t want to remain alive in my character anymore... 
“Here lies Grumbling.”
“Here lies Whining.”
"Here lies Compromise."
“Here lies Fretting.”  
"Here lies Sloth."

I cannot get rid of these things on my own, and an Internet snag might be just the thing Our Lord is using to reveal them to me, so I can ask HIM to save me from them.  HE is THE Savior.  HE is THE only one Who can save us - save me - from sin and fault. 

Because of Him, I can rejoice in the catacombs.

Because of Him, I can sing in the dark. 

"There is cause for rejoicing here.  You may for a time have to endure 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)

"Rejoice in the Lord always!  I say it again.  Rejoice!  Everyone should see how unselfish you are.  The Lord is near."  (Philippians 4:4-5)

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Friday, February 15, 2013

That Kind of Week

I had such plans for Lent.  Plans to practice lectio divina, to write about time spent with God.  Plans to consider what distracts me from prayer, and to share my discoveries here.

Lent is only two days old, and already my plans have been sidetracked.  Time got sucked up into that strange vacuum that inhales minutes and schedules and good intentions (and possibly matching socks).

And sharing discoveries?  Only if my Internet connection works, and for the last few days that has been intermittent at best here.  This very post might disappear before I hit "publish."  The worker(s) coming to track down the problem won't be able to come for days yet.  Meanwhile, I sometimes get "kicked offline" right in the middle of writing a sen

It has been that kind of week.

It has been that kind of week for all of us, and with much larger issues than Internet snags.  I moped around with a heavy heart when I learned our Holy Father was stepping down, but I am grateful for trust.  Trust in God, Who has promised to guide His Church - and trust in Pope Benedict XVI, who is surely shepherding us even in this decision.  My heart is no longer heavy when I choose to trust. 

We have witnessed a week that will live in Church history.  We've also witnessed a week that will live in astronomical history, as two asteroids swept by us on the same day.  Interesting that one became a damaging meteor even while our attention was focused on the other.  

Please stay tuned, for when the Internet cooperates, I will be here.  I wanted to "journal about this Lent," and, God willing, I shall do so.

After all, Lent is only two days old. 

"In Your Name, Jesus, and enclosed within Your Heart, I can do anything!"  St. Frances Cabrini

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Painting by Jakub Schikaneder

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Name in His Heart

The following is a re-post of what I wrote last year for St. Valentine's Day:

The photo above is one I snapped a few years ago of my favorite tree.  When I found the heart-shaped hole in it, 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, I immediately thought of hearts carved in trees.  Hearts made by young men and women intending to signify that their love is permanent.  Names 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)



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seriously, Lent

I am beginning Lent a few hours early this year, unable to wait, anxious with anticipation.  I will admit that this is a new and surprising approach for me, but it is God (and I know it) Who is calling me forward.  There is absolutely no time to waste.  The picture on this post captures my sense of this quite precisely.  It's as if I feel myself straining toward the catacombs.

What an unexpected thought.   

It's time to get serious, to get really, really serious.  Prayer must be THE priority.  I've felt Our Lord nudging me to keep it simple, to hold Scripture in my heart, and to pray for a world gone mad.  If we could see the full extent of the madness, I wonder if catacombs would be a comfort.  

"Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you."  (Colossians 3:16)

I pray that we shall have a richly blessed Lent.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not Too Early To Prepare

In preparation for Lent, I'm looking back over earlier posts on Lectio.   As I hope to develop a habit of more faithful, concentrated time in prayer with scripture, I could stand a bit of a refreshing.  So here is a shortened re-post from several months ago:

"Cardinal Odilo Scherer recommended to his archdiocese the exercise of prayerful reading of the Word of God.... the method 'proposes the reading and acceptance of the Word of God in a context of prayer, as the Church recommends.' 

Through lectio divina, Cardinal Scherer continued, a 'dialogue of faith' is established, 'in which we listen to God who speaks, we respond with prayer and try to be attuned to him in our lives.'...

The cardinal went on to offer the faithful four easy steps for lectio divina.

First, one reads the passage. 'In this first instance, one attempts to understand the text exactly as it appears, without pretending to extract from it immediately messages and conclusions,' he said.

Meditation on the text comes next, in response to the question 'What is God saying to me, or to us, through this text? Now we really do try to listen to God who is speaking to us and we receive his voice.' 

Then comes prayer. In this third step, we respond to the question: 'What does this text bring me to say to God?' 

'Let us always remember that a good biblical reading is always done only in the dialogue of faith: God speaks, we listen and accept, and respond to God and speak to him,'  the cardinal explained. The text  'might inspire several types of prayer: praise, profession of faith, thanksgiving, adoration, petition for forgiveness and help.'

The fourth and final step of lectio divina is contemplation. In this step 'we dwell on the Word and further our understanding of the mystery of God and his plan of love and salvation; at the same time, we dispose ourselves to accept in our concrete lives what the Word teaches us, renewing our good intentions and obedience of the faith....

It's enough to start; 
it is learned by being practiced.'"
  (article from Zenit, September 15, 2009; emphases mine). 

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Painting: Ciaglinski, Róża, herbaciana, 1905, in US public domain

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

That Great Discovery

'Those souls are countless who, despite their generosity, have never REALIZED, or who have but inadequately realized, the Divine Indwelling, and have never contracted the excellent habit of those intimate and affectionate colloquies with their beloved Jesus, the Guest of their souls.

'The great St. Teresa of Avila looked upon such colloquies as the best frame of mind to reach the peak of Intimate Union.... She often complained to her Carmelites of those many souls that, notwithstanding their fervour, seek God remote from themselves in a far-off Heaven, instead of seeking Him in that very much nearer Heaven - their own heart.

'Blessed are those who have found Jesus in their heart, those who have made that great discovery.

'Yes, she who has ceaseless recourse to Jesus, her soul's all-powerful and all-merciful Guest, is undoubtedly happy... one glance of the soul, one inward cry of the heart, one ardent aspiration suffices.  Though grief and doubts and difficulties beset her, her unfaltering heart makes spontaneous response.'

by 'A Religious,' The Living Pyx of Jesus, Pellegrini, Australia, 1941, pp. 25-26

Painting:  Henri Guillaume Schlesinger, Lost in Thought, 1868

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Ever Would I Wait?

What a beautiful gift.

I am presented, today, with a giant slice of humble pie, should I choose to accept it.  I can feast on it all the way until Lent if I wish, and it turns out that Lent doesn't begin for another whole week!

For several days, I've thought tomorrow was Ash Wednesday.  I've gone so far as to wonder why no one else seemed to be mentioning it, why even priests were ignoring it.  I'd felt God already preparing me for Lent, and when I realized my calendar-mistake, I knew that yes... indeed He has been preparing. 

In this, He's not "rushing the season."  After all, He is inviting me to deeper, more concentrated times of prayer, times of Just Being with Him, times of lingering.  Whyever would He wait?

So I'm accepting my slice of humble pie and admitting that, oops, I got my weeks mixed up.  At my age (I'm humbled to admit), it happens.

As for Lent, I am called then to concentrated times of prayer.  Times when I speak with God and give Him ample time to speak to me.  But of course:  He who loved us first has already begun the process. He has taken the initiative, opened the conversation.  He does so, I think, by asking a question:

"I, your Lord, am inviting you to spend more time with Me," He could be saying. "Time when I can touch your heart, show you love, bless you with gifts, shower you with mercy, flood you with graces, give you strength, empower you to face life, heal you, embrace you, and prepare you to be with Me always.  All you have to do is come to Me.

Why ever would you wait?" 

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Monday, February 4, 2013

This Time It's Personal

As we know, this is not a blog of a "deeply personal" nature.  It was never supposed to be.  However, for the season of Lent that's so quickly upon us, I think this might be about to change.

Cloister of the heart is nothing if not personal.  It is an expression of a relationship between Christ and the soul...  and relationship involves communication.  To be frank (here comes the personal part), my communication with God could use some boosting.  When we were talking about Lectio Divina, I practiced it diligently.  It stayed on my mind.  Plus I felt accountable ... to you.  Now I find myself lagging.  Putting off prayer until later in the day, and then later, until sometimes I'm squeezing it in between a chore and a meal.  Now being in the more settled situation of an"older" person, I don't have to do it that way anymore.  I no longer need to get every sink scrubbed and every onion chopped before driving carpool.  I'm not even responsible for a toddler grandchild several days a week, as I was until just a few months ago.  There are no more excuses.  It is different for all of us, but for me personally:  on most days I have time to pray.

So:  my Lenten adventure?   It is to be a cloistered one.  It is to be a person to Person one, as I talk with God and allow Him space to get through to me.   It's also to be personal in that right here, with you, I would like to share what happens as this goes along.  I have a feeling I'll be called to look into what blocks me from spending chunks of quality time with God.  Already I hear my ego crying "ouch."

And no worries:  we won't be forgetting our monastery.  For nearly thirty years, cloister of the heart has been woven into my being and throughout my every day - so I can't talk of prayer or of God without the "cloister" naturally being there.  I walk around in it (picture a monastery-shaped spacesuit with grillwork over the face).  I do hope you will join in the adventure, perhaps even sharing as YOU might feel inclined in our parlor.

What will happen?  I don't know.  I only know one thing, so far. 

This time it's personal.

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Painting:  Alphonse Legros, Communion 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Fire-Carrier's Feast

'In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

'The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

'The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor....'

Saint Sophronius, bishop.  From today's Office of Readings (Presentation of Our Lord; Candlemas Day)

This is a good day in which to reflect upon what it can mean to "carry the fire."  What do we mean by this?  A click on any of the following lines will lead to some earlier posts about carrying the fire of God into the starved-for-Light world of today:  

To Carry the Fire

It's Time...

The Cloistered Lightship 

The Lighted Path  

A Letter to St. Nicholas

Painting:  Marianne Stokes, Candlemas Day; in US public domain

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Friday, February 1, 2013

As One Just Awakened

'As one just awakened, I say,
God is here,
and I have been
unaware of Him.

'I confess it with shame:
Every minute of my day
is filled with other interests.

'My eyes are dazzled
by the sight
of things and people.
I have little time,
little attention,
little love,
to give You,
the Indwelling God.

'You are present indeed, but practically speaking, You might as well be absent,
when You are not present to my consciousness because I am inattentive....

'Yet You within me are God, Who made the world, Who created me,
Who died on the Cross.  
You make the Paradise of the saints.

'Dear God, it is unbelievable that I have thus
neglected You;
failed to speak to You.
as if I wished You to leave me to myself,
as if I were bent on wasting my life away
in silly, useless, even sinful occupations....

'O God the Father,
God, the Son,
God, the Holy Ghost,
forgive me!'

By 'A Religious,' LISTENING TO THE INDWELLING PRESENCE, Pellegrini, Sydney, 1940,  pp. 55-56)

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