Thursday, February 26, 2015

Doors I Cannot Open

The ideas haven't been half bad. I've imagined a hallway lined with doors, and each door leads to a room that opens into other hallways, and every hallway leads to more doors, and these are some of the chambers we find ourselves in as we journey toward living more fully for God.

I've given a few of the rooms' "working titles," all subject to change. There is the cushy room and the cluttered room and the Chamber of Secrets. There's Pinch 'Em Tight Hall and The Room of Windows and The Clue in the Attic (it may or may not be an asset that I grew up reading Nancy Drew).

Writing about these, I thought, could be a Lenten project. I've been collecting (for each room) scriptures, and quotes from saints, and experiences from my own life.

And then I started to write. Which led not to doors or rooms, but right smack dab into a wall.

I'm still at the wall, actually. It's not quite as bad now that I'm telling you about it, now that I'm bringing it out into the open and saying GOSH I'm having a struggle writing this. And I'm not sure why.

Is it that I have "writer's block?" Well, I do appear to have a case of it, but I don't know that this is the root of my inability to get words to paper screen. I think it's more likely that the block is a symptom of something more basic.

What could be the something-more-basic? Is it not having enough time to devote to this "project?" No, I've had plenty of time since Lent began.

But of course, devoting myself to this project is not my goal. My devotion should be to God, and God alone.

Maybe with that thought, I'm getting closer to the difficulty.

Is the struggle because I'm not taking enough time for prayer? Ah ha. That certainly must come first, every time and all the time, or I'm just spinning my spiritual wheels. If prayer is not the foundation, then I cannot "hear" from God, and I'm trying to open doors through my own power.

And with that thought, I am getting closer still.

So I will leave you for this time around, and go pray. I'll publish this post and immediately take an extra bit of prayer time. Yes, right now, I promise.

And next time we meet here, I'll let you know if I've seen GOD opening a door....


Photo on this post from Pixabay

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Abandoned Lights

Journeying ever more deeply into the will of God, I find doors and rooms and hallways I had not expected. One of these is what I'll call the room of abandoned lights.

What I think of as "my abandoned lights" are various ideas I embraced over the years, attitudes I once considered enlightening and empowering. In time, those lights proved to be no light at all.  

Some of these un-lights were initially dazzling. They appealed to my broadmindedness, that modern version of "sanctity" that basks in itpolitically corrected glow. There was no pesky death-to-self in the world of my abandoned lights. The Cross was not part of the scene. 'There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death.' (Proverbs 14:12)

By the grace of God, I cast my unlights aside when I met the One Who is Light Himself.   In time, I even began to feel that a large part of the task of a "cloistered heart" is to Carry the Fire  into darkness, as well as into areas of "artificial light." 

"We can make the mistake of trying to make hard truths so palatable," writes Dan Burke at Catholic Spiritual Direction, "that we end up presenting half-truths or even worse, untruths (implied or actual).... Yes, we can and must say 'come as you are'; but we must also proclaim that the God of Love who meets us where we are, loves us too much to leave us there.  He calls us to union with Him, where we will find the Truth that sets us free to know and live an abundant life in Him." 

For a look at some of the un-light we can be tempted to follow, check out this excellent link:

How the Carmelites Rescued Me From the New Age, by Anabelle Hazard  

"God is light; in Him there is no darkness." (1 John 1:5)

"The revelation of Your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple." (Psalm 119:130)


 Painting: John Frederick Peto, Door with Lanterns

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nothing Short of a Celebration

Each time I say a deeper yes to God, I battle thoughts about what to expect. Will a giant cavern suddenly open up beneath my feet? Will I be asked to hike barefoot through burning deserts?

I really should know better by now.

Funny that I seldom consider (when I'm uttering deeper yeses) the truth that God's will is always for my good. This does not mean that difficult circumstances won't pop up from time to time, for of course they shall. But they will do so with or without my yes to God. The truth is: God showers me with blessings. I may not always recognize them as such, but the blessings are abundant. Jesus is with me, and nothing can pull Him from my heart. I possess the very satisfaction that all are seeking and that no one can really find without finding Him. 

I know I say it over and over (no doubt because I need to hear it over and over), but every time I step more deeply toward God, I am met with nothing short of a celebration. Whether or not I can "tell this" from my earthly perspective, it is in fact what is happening. 

I really should know that by now. 

"I know well the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans for your welfare, not for woe!  Plans to give you a future full of hope.”  (Jeremiah 29:11) 

"Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love.”  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

“The height of loving ecstasy is when our will rests not in its own contentment, but in God’s will.” (St. Francis de Sales) 

“I am the Gate. Whoever enters through Me WILL BE SAFE.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:9)

Painting: Jules Cyrille Cave, The Flower Girl,1897



Monday, February 23, 2015

By Holy Inspirations

'We are not drawn to God 
by iron chains, 
but by sweet attractions 
and holy inspirations.'

St. Francis de Sales

Painting: De Scott Evans, Lady with a Lute 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

In This Land of Doors

Looking back over our last few posts, I find myself wondering.

Why are we at the door again? 

It seems I'm constantly buzzing around the doorway. I am always pondering that definitive step of surrender to God's will, and always emphasizing the fact that this is the only way into our "enclosure."

Goodness. I write and wonder and muse and analyze and analogize and write some more.

But do I ever go through?

Thinking about this today, I realized. It's true that I'm almost always at a doorway.

It's just never the same door twice.

Having given my yes to God, I am inside the door and I'm inside the "enclosure" of His will. I have made a decision, and I'm remaining (hopefully, by His grace) cloistered therein.

But I don't step into His will once and for all, then settle down inside the doorway and just stand there. There are doorways after doorways, there is hall after hall. There are doors that open onto stairways that lead to hallways that lead to more doors.

Living in the land of God's will is living in a land of doorways. My yes to God is not a one time event. That first yes led into a rather spacious hallway, and then I was called toward another door, off of which was a narrower hallway... and on and on.

Cloister of the heart is not a static 'place;' it is a land of journeying. I turn away from sin and give my heart to Jesus, then say yes to the revealed boundaries of God's will, then say a deeper yes at various points when that commitment is tested. I go through a narrower door each time I choose to live totally, not just partly, for God. I come to base my choices of lifestyle and activities on what He asks of me, not on popular culture. I accept His grace to stand for Him in the face of opposition. I learn to choose His will on happy days and sad, in sickness and in health.

Yes, I am at the door again. Why? Because I want to live "enclosed in the will of God," and mine is an enclosure of ever deepening yeses. By the grace of God, I have embarked upon a long, grand adventure, living for Him in this land of doors.

"I am ready at each beckoning of Your holy will." (St. Faustina)

"What was the first rule of our dear Savior's life?... to do His Father's will... Well then, the first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner He wills it; and thirdly, to do it because it is His will." (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton)

Painting: Vilhelm Hammershøi


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Getting Off the Threshold

Admission: I have tried all day to write this post, and I'm kind of stuck.

Could that be (I wonder) because I, myself, am kind of stuck? We've often said that a person entering physically cloistered life is either in or out. She does not stick her head in and leave her arms and legs dangling outside the enclosure door, perhaps to be brought in at a later date. I find it a helpful image, for I can so easily bring part of my life into the will of God while leaving some of me outside. I might find myself clutching this little worry, that tiny vice, that long held attachment...

Could it be that I've set up camp right on the edge of the doorway? Am I parked on the threshold of living for God - not totally out, but not totally in?

Lent is a perfect time for getting off the fence - or, in this case, getting off the threshold. I'm helped by remembering that, in deciding to live "in God's will," I am not simply stepping away from something. I'm not just saying farewell to complacency and sin and compromise so I can become "a better person." No.

I am moving toward something. Or I should say, toward SomeONE. It is for Him that I step through the door into surrender to His will. And all the steps after - all of those stairs and turns and inner doorways that frighten me now with whispers of "but what if this happens," and "what if you lose that" - I will not have to take those steps alone. I will not be by myself as I live within His will.

As I tell God that I want to say a deeper yes to Him, something happens. Christ is the Bridegroom of the soul - and what traditionally happens when the bride arrives at the threshold?

All I have to do is let Him carry me over it in His arms.

"My Jesus, please accept the offering and the sacrifice that I make to You this day, as I once more sincerely  offer to You my entire will. Tell me what You want me to do. Your holy grace will help me to do it." (St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

Painting: Vilhelm Hammershoi; 
bottom copy digitally altered using a painting by James Tissot


Linked to 40 Days of Seeking Him  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Toward Hallways Beyond

'The thing that draws me most about monasticism,' I wrote here recently, 'is its absolute totality.'

I have spent days now considering this statement. Is that what truly does draw me most? 

Yes, it is. Has it drawn me for a long time? Oh, indeed! Do I live such totality? Well

I want to. I genuinely want to. I want to move out of the wide hallway of 'on-the-periphery-of-my-life-religion' into living fully, not just partly, for Christ.

The only doorway into cloister of the heart (we've said many times) is the doorway of surrender to God. But the step across that threshold is not it a one-time-and-it's-done event. I can step now, yes; but there will be new steps to take tomorrow. I know I can't just cross that threshold and sit down. I will be called to follow Christ through doors yet unseen, around unknown turns of hallways beyond.

We are now on the threshold of Lent, and it occurs to me that this is a good time for stepping. So I make a decision to say a deeper yes, to allow God to draw me closer to Him, to take a brand new step. 

I invite you to come with me, this Lent, toward hallways beyond. Let's see what's around the bend.....

'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.' Matthew 7:13

Painting: Vilhelm Hammershoi

Linked to 40 Days of Seeking Him


Monday, February 16, 2015

However Great the Crowds that Surround You

'You must withdraw, mentally rather than physically,
in your intention, in your devotion, in your spirit... 
You enjoy this solitude if you refuse to share in the common gossip, 
if you shun involvement in the problems of the hour 
and set no store by the fancies that attract the masses; 
if you reject what everybody covets, 
avoid disputes, make light of losses, and pay no heed to injuries.... 
However great the crowds that surround you, 
you can enjoy the benefits of solitude if you  
refrain from curiosity about other people's conduct and shun rash judgement.'

St. Bernard

Painting: Wojtkiewicz Mi Carême in Paris

Friday, February 13, 2015

And Our Grille is...

Sometimes I look at the world and feel unsettled.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so grateful to have grillwork. I am glad to be able to respond to world situations, the media, and various circumstances of life “through the grillwork of the will of God."  

I do not have to guess what that will is. God has revealed it.  Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church make up the bars of my "grille."

I compare this way of seeing to the view a nun might have of someone in her foyer.  Sister stands at the grille, looking out at whoever stands before her.  The foyer is a public part of the monastery, accessible to almost anyone.  In my monastery, I see the "foyer" as my mind.  I invite thoughts there by what I see and hear, but I have little control over what might come in uninvited.  If I turn on TV or walk into a store, all sorts of things push in.  Some are like salesmen in a monastery foyer, displaying catalogs of their wares.  “Have you worried about this today?” the thoughts ask. “Look at this new line of fears - tailor made just for YOU!”  

"God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I ask God to impress this truth upon me.

“But consider the pain you’ve been feeling!!” the thoughts insist.
"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).  I recite this bar of my grille over and over.

“…But look at you!  You are weak and helpless!”   
“In Him Who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything.” (Philippians 4:13).

And on it goes.  Finding the view is not easy.  I try every day; I fail every day.  But with every “success,” it seems the grillwork grows stronger before me.  It is how God invites me to meet the world.  

"During this changeable life, one must preserve a steady and imperturbable evenness of spirit.  Although everything may change around us, we must keep the serene glance of our soul constantly turned to God. ” (St. Francis de Sales)

(the above is comprised of several posts from our archives)


N Shuman photo

Thursday, February 12, 2015

And Our Entrance is...

The thing that draws me most about monasticism is its absolute totality.  The person entering such a life gives ALL.

As I've written before, a potential postulant does not stick her head inside the enclosure and leave her arms and legs dangling outside.  It just won't work. She must make a choice.

How often do I look toward the "door of total commitment," feeling drawn toward it, while at the same time holding back? 

I enter cloister of the heart through the doorway of surrender to God. A door of  "yes" is the only way in. 

Yet (in circumstance after circumstance) I find myself vacillating. I want a print-out of all that will be asked of me before I give my consent.  I second-guess, look back, shuffle, struggle, worry, fret.

Then, timidly, I stick one toe toward that door.

…and it’s as if He suddenly, tenderly, picks me up and carries the rest of me inside.  Even those flailing arms and legs.  

"Choose this day whom you will serve."  (Joshua 24:15) 

"Jesus, I give You my whole heart and my whole will.  They once rebelled against You, but now I dedicate them completely to you…Receive me, and make me faithful until death.”  (St. Alphonsus Liguori).

"I am the Gate. Whoever enters through Me WILL BE SAFE.” (Jesus, quoted in John 10:9) 

Painting: Vilhelm Hammershoi 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

And Our Walls Are ...

The will of God is prime spiritual real estate.  It is the safest, most secure “place” in which a person can dwell. 

In order to live within this refuge, however, we must embrace its walls.
The primary perimeters of God's will are not at all hard to find. They are revealed in Scripture and outlined clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.   

Because God loves us, He has set these boundaries in place for our security, and He has generously revealed them to us. 
"Live in My will,” God tells me.  “Live in My will when you understand it and when you do not.  Trust ME." 

In the face of such an invitation, I have a choice to make.  I am issued this invitation not just once, but in circumstance after circumstance, day after day. 
Will I dwell in the security of God’s will? 

Or must I insist on stumbling about in the hazards of my own. 

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord:  ‘my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”  (Psalm 91:1-2)

“You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within - the Spirit you have received from God.  You are not your own.  You have been purchased, and at a price!  So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) 

(This is a re-post from 2012)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

And Our Enclosure is...

It can be awfully strange, for those of us not called to it, to consider a life of full enclosure. But in the analogy of the cloistered heart that we use here, the idea of enclosure is extremely important. There IS an enclosure into which we are invited.  It is a genuine enclosure, one that goes beyond all of our loftiest mental images.

The fact is:  if we’re human beings, we are called to live within the will of God.   

In the analogy of "the cloistered heart," I am invited to live within the boundaries of God's will as a nun would live inside her enclosure.  A potential cloistered nun does not set the boundaries of enclosure for herself, saying that she really prefers other areas, thank you very much.  No, she accepts them as they have already been set up... or she goes elsewhere.

I look around, today, at the boundaries of my enclosure.  I don't have to map them out for myself; they are clearly defined for me in Scripture and in 2,000 years of authentic Church discernment. 

Sometimes we can fear the boundaries of God's will, worrying that they'll sap all joy and pleasure from our lives.  The saints tell us otherwise. 

“Our happiness consists in knowing and doing His holy will.” (St. Jane de Chantal)

“Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love…”  (St. Bernard of Clairvaux) 
"Do you want to be free?  Then free yourself by your own act; have no will but God’s will.”  (La Trappe in England by a Religious of Holy Cross Abbey, 1937)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

And the Cloistered Heart is...

"The heart,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the dwelling place where I am, where I live... the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.'  The heart is our hidden center,  beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism  #2563)

“Always remember," wrote St. Francis de Sales, "to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.  This mental solitude cannot be violated by the many people who surround you since they are not standing around your heart but only around your body.  Your heart remains alone in the presence of God.”

I don't know about you, but I need constant reminders of what it is I am trying to live. So we'll have just a few more days of "back-to-the-most-basic" cloistered heart ideas.

To our e-mail subscribers: this post contains a video, which can be seen by going to the blog itself. Can you guess what video that might be? (again?)  Surprise!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

And Our Monastery is.....

The Monastery of a cloistered heart is the person's own life.  A monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and served.  Our lives can be all of these things.  Just as any building can become a monastery by being dedicated to God, so our lives can become "monasteries" by such dedication. 

This is more than a nice daydream.  It is simply truth.  

"Even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity.  'If a man loves Me,' says the Lord, 'he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.' (John 14:23)"  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #260)

"O my God.... grant my soul peace.  Make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling, and Your place of rest.  May I never abandon You there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to Your creative action."  (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity)

As imperfect as we are, Our Lord actually desires to live within us.



Painting: Fritz von Wille, in US public domain due to age