Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two Years Later, and Still I Need Help

In 2013 I wrote the following, which I share now for It's Worth Revisiting Revisiting Wednesday. I needed to be reminded of this today....

I have felt, at times, as if I were running from prayer. Not a pleasant thought at all.
However, one of you said something that opened a floodgate. Because of this, I see myself sitting in my ‘prayer chair,’ Bible or Breviary in hand, settling in to pray. In come the distractions... as they always do.

It seems that once my mind makes any attempt to 'quiet,' suddenly every stray thought that's been lingering around snaps up that golden opportunity to hop on in and demand its share of attention. I can count on it.

Ah ha, there it is. There is the very phrase I've needed to look at: 
'I can count on it.' 

I realize. I've begun to associate sitting in prayer with feeling beaten up, bedraggled, worn down, defeated, and ashamed of being 'lukewarm.’ 

It is not the Lord Himself I’ve been avoiding! It's that persistent, nagging, dragging war with distractions.

But what to do about this problem? Shall I fight it out, trudge on upward, scale that wall of distractions unaided?

I'm sure God is pleased by such efforts. However, I think He understands when we sometimes need a little help. A spiritual director once asked me (when I was having trouble praying) 'well... what CAN you do?'  Start with that one thing, I was told, and begin to build on that. 

Today I went back to that suggestion. I gave myself permission not to beat myself up, permission not to climb a ladderless wall with my bare, worn down hands. I took one thing I CAN do and asked God to help me build on that.

The one thing (today) was music.  I remembered that I haven't been using it in my prayer time lately.  It has often helped me 'shake the dust of the world' out of my soul before, so I tried to find a CD.  I couldn't, for I had moved them.

Then I got distracted by my laptop sitting next to me.. but instead of fighting that distraction, I actually picked UP the laptop and clicked on a few holy songs. Before long, I was absorbed in the music and singing along.

There were pictures also, as these were YouTubes, so suddenly two senses were engaged. One photo was of an incenser; I got distracted by thinking of how much I love incense. Remembering that I have a jar of it right next to my chair, I opened that and savored the aroma gently filling my prayer space.  Three senses engaged.

I picked up a rosary (four senses), began to pray it, but before doing so I told God what and whom I wanted to pray for. Soon I was thanking Him for one thing, and another... and, well.... what do you know!

I was talking with God, totally undistracted, unconcerned about anything other than Him and Him alone. It was as if the whole entire world had disappeared.  

Well. What do you know.

'Come, O God of my heart,' wrote St. Gertrude, 'gather together my scattered mental powers and fix them upon Yourself.'  

Thanks be to God.  He did.

Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday.


Public domain photo; bottom version digitally altered

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wearing the Habit of Praise

The night before last, I had an unsettling dream. It happens to all of us, I suppose: the occasional strange dream that persists throughout the day. This one was not so much story as atmosphere; a kind of dense blue vapor, thick and smoky, like dark wisps of shadow masquerading as forms.

It put me in a 'mood.' I couldn't shake the dream off, couldn't exactly remember it, couldn't grasp its essence enough to logically think it away. I felt as if my mind had gone heavy and dense.

Then I came across the scripture speaking of  'the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.' (Isaiah 61:3) And there it was. The very 'piece of grillwork' I needed. A part of my habit. The garment of praise.

What a powerful image. Praise not just to 'do' now and then, but to be clothed in, day and night. Praise as a HABIT, something that could become so much a part of my life that I'd habitually praise God in happy times and sad.

Scripture is filled (filled!) with prayers of praise to God, as well as exhortations and examples. It provides the perfect pattern. A concordance can be an excellent guide to the most basic pieces. We discover, for instance, that we are called to praise God continually (Hebrews 13:15), with all that we are (Psalm 103:1), because He is worthy (Chronicles 16:25).

The garment of praise is, I think, the perfect habit. I would like to wear it well.

'You changed my mourning into dancing; You took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my soul might sing praise to You without ceasing. O Lord, my God, forever will I give You thanks.' (Psalm 30:12-13)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

We Have Been Created For That

'Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty for you and for me. We have been created for that.'

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Painting of nun: Anton Hansch
Painting of harvester: John Faulkner Wetherbee

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In Substance The Same

'The Christian life is nothing else but Christ; the monastic life is nothing else but Christ. The requirements for the Christian and for the monk are in substance the same; the difference lies only in the particular kind of stress that is given to them. The Church exists so that souls should lead the life of Christ; the monastery exists for the same purpose. Whether it is union with Him in the world or in the cloister, it is union that is the soul's purpose.'

Dom Hubert Van Zeller, The Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, 1957, p. 182


Painting of monk: Restout, Seated Carthusian Holding Open Book, in US public domain due to age
Silhouette of praying man via Pixabay

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Does This Have to Do With Me?

'The monastery is the house of God... the monk is a witness to God... an athlete, a slave in the service of his divine Master, a soldier fighting for the heavenly King, a pilgrim journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem.' (Daniel Rees, Consider Your Call, Cistercian Publications, p. 100)

Taking another look at what it means to be a cloistered heart, I consider the monastery. I always imagine a building tucked away in the woods, perhaps on a hill, just glimpsed (by me) through a little stand of trees....

The life inside is one of prayer and living within the will of God. People who enter there - and who remain - are dead serious. They aren't playing games. They are not settling for halfway commitments and compromised yeses. They don't dabble in prayer now and then, when they need something or when they feel a touch of consolation, shooting up a Hail Mary between their favorite TV shows and a trip to the mall. They pray throughout the day and in the night. They eat, sleep, dress, work, play, sing, read, serve, breathe for Christ.

But wait. What, if anything, does this have to do with me?  My call is to live in the midst of the world.

If I'm serious about living for God, this has a lot to do with me. I believe monastic totality has a great deal to teach all of us as we serve Our Lord in our families, homes, parishes, neighborhoods, workplaces - day after day.  

'Every Christian must seek to follow Christ in obedience to the will of the Father, must pray, exercise faith and hope and love, make use of the sacraments, and live in the Spirit. Neither in the end nor in these primary means is the monk essentially different from any other Christian.... ' (Rees, p. 4)

'All who have put on Christ have heard the call to seek God. The monk is one for whom this call has become so urgent that there can be no question of postponing his response to it; he must accept forthwith.. in every Christian vocation lies the germ of a monastic vocation.'. (Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, PJ Kenedy and Sons, 1950, from preface)

'In every Christian vocation lies the germ of a monastic vocation.'  

It has a lot to do with me.

This is an edited repost from our achives. © 2015 N Shuman

Photos via Pixabay

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Who Shall Stand Unscathed?

        'We know but too well that we deteriorate by our friction with the world. 
        Our clothes get worse for the wear, and so do our souls.  
        The trees and flowers lose their bloom in the midst of large cities, 
        and become sickly and easily die;
        so the spirit becomes tainted with the atmosphere around it - 
        often indeed, it falls into serious disorder with complications.  
        What hubbub, what warfare, what tumult it has to live in!  
        Who shall stand unscathed, 
        loyal to faith and generous self-sacrificing love in the midst of it?  
        Men of business, in the forge and working-house of thought, 
        get away to the pure air of the country to recoup their powers.  
        Must we not do likewise - get out of the turmoil of life, 
        and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of the retreat, 
        to restore and renew our spiritual life and vigour?' 

        (from Fervorinos from the Lips of the Master, compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 1940, pp. 240-241)

Photos via Pixabay

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Revisiting the Two-Way Grille

I have realized something.

The grille works both ways.

When we speak of seeing and responding to every person and every situation through the "grillwork of the will of God," we're not talking about hiding behind a one-way mirror. Ours is usually hidden "grillwork," yes, and we can love God with all our hearts without calling a lot of attention to that fact.

But the grille works both ways. Not only do we see others through it; they can see us "through it" as well. Oh, they don't see our faces criss-crossed, and we generally look just like everyone else TO everyone else.  But if we're interacting with the world "through the will of God," sooner or later our point of view is going to show.

My realization occurred when I saw (again) the symbol used by some as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians. I considered what it would take to boldly proclaim "I am a follower of Jesus Christ" when facing an executioner.  I will not deny Him, I cannot follow other gods, I live for Jesus, I am firmly and forever Christian... could I make such proclamations? I like to think so.

But wait. Do I, in my comfortable everyday life, ever downplay or hide the fact that I'm Christian? Do I sometimes, with some people, feel embarrassed about my love of God / stance on life issues / stance on moral issues? Do I fear ridicule, teasing, arguments, being called a holy roller or a holier-than-thou?  Am I ever hesitant to wear a cross, or to hang a crucifix on the wall of my home? Am I concerned that others will think I'm not politically correct?

A woman entering a fully cloistered monastery gets past these issues. She has to. She will interact with family and friends through the grille for the rest of her life, and she'll always be recognized (instantly) as a follower of Jesus. Those meeting her will not forget that she's a Christian; they'll be reminded every time they see her through the bars. She has decided to live for God and to allow others to see her doing so.

When I stand up for Scripture and authentic Church teaching, I'm allowing myself to be seen as a dedicated follower of Christ. I am standing in genuine solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world. I am saying, in effect, that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and I'm willing to let the whole wide world know that. I choose to live inside the grillwork of the will of God.

The grille works both ways.

Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday..

Monday, October 12, 2015

Where The Soul Lives

'The soul lives more where it loves - than where it lives.'

St. John of the Cross

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Kneeling On The Run

'Without prayer, nothing good is done. God's works are done with our hands joined, and on our knees. Even when we run, we must remain spiritually kneeling before Him.' 

St. Luigi Orione

Photo of Portiuncula Chapel, 
Franciscan University of Steubenville, by G. Fraser

Photo of runner via Pixabay

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Revisiting Magnificats

In honor of 'It's Worth Revisiting Wednesday,' I'd like to drop back in on the scene of the Visitation, when our Blessed Mother burst forth with the glorious words of her Magnificat: 

'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exalts in God my Savior, for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed.  God Who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is His Name...' (Luke 1:46-49) 

Was this the only time Mary burst forth with praise of God? Of course not. Her later words of exaltation do not have to be recorded for us to know for certain that she spoke them. She who was sinless, holy, utterly dedicated to God, and living with Jesus within the very walls of her home... how could it be possible for her not to have uttered countless 'magnificats?' 

When Jesus took His first steps, Mary was watching. 

When He spoke His first words, when He lay sleeping in her arms - can we imagine the praise within her?

As Mary prayed in the temple, cared for her home, prepared meals for her little family, surely she worshiped through it all.

In my daily life, sometimes I reflect upon Mary's magnificats. Going on my little 'visitations' to those around me, I try to remember that in the midst of her Visitation, Mary gave thanks.

I, too, am called by God to proclaim His greatness, sometimes within hearing of those around me, sometimes in the quiet of my heart. The mighty things God has done for me are quite different from what He did for Mary... but He has done some great things nonetheless.

In joyous moments, do I remember to exalt Him? When I have an opportunity, do I proclaim the greatness of the Lord? And what about the sad times - what then?  I have no doubt that even in her worst moments, Mary's heart could (and did) cry 'holy is His Name.'

When tough times come to my own life, I have a Mother who can assist me. I think she can help me find the will to praise.

When Jesus took His last steps, Mary was watching. 

When He spoke His last words, Mary was there to hear them. 'John, behold your mother. Father forgive them. It is finished.'  She was there when He was taken from the Cross.

Scripture gives us no record of what Mary said when Jesus was placed in her arms that last time. We can only imagine. We do know that her heart, her tender, motherly heart, was pierced and broken.  Did she utter actual words? We do not know. But we are certain of the attitude of Mary, and we know that her decision to trust and to praise would have been there, even then.

In my imagination, I can almost hear it.

'My soul proclaims the
greatness of the Lord; 
my spirit exalts 
in God my Savior... 
God Who is mighty 
has done great 
things for me. 
Holy is His Name.'

Text not in quotes

Paintings top to bottom:
Visitation by Ubaldo Gandolfi
Virgin and Child with St Anne by Leonardo da Vinci
Pietà by Giovanni Segala

Monday, October 5, 2015

Here is My Heart

Painting: Nikolai Ge, 'Maria, Sister of Lazarus, Meets Jesus Who is Going to Their House.' Digitally altered.

Thursday, October 1, 2015