Stand and Pray

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Stand patiently and pray steadfastly, brushing off the impacts of worldly cares and all thoughts; for they distract and worry you in order to disturb the impetus of your prayer.   ~   St. Nilus of Sinai

 

           The week found its end in gales and whips of wind. Everything seemed to be quivering and shaking. Nothing was firm, strong on its foundations. It was hard to stand upright against the winds that pushed strong against hope and joy. I would have fallen harder had two little pearls from old days not come by.

Your children are your prayer

Thy Will be done

          Your children are your prayer were the words of an old Irish priest to a caring but exhausted mother who had told him she had no time to pray. These old words testify to the mystical meaning of sacrifice. They came to visit in the cheery sunlit breezes one morning late this week, to ready me for the change that was to come. When I received sad but not unexpected news later, the ache went deep. But then, I remembered Your children are your prayer. So, I arose and went to my household tasks. In them, I found a quiet against the rising tempests birthed by that news.

          And in that stillness of simple sacrifice, came the second life pearl,

Thy Will be done.

          To tell me the time for being out in the open was done for now. That I needed to retreat and seek my Lord’s Will in the cloister of my heart.

          For a time, I obeyed.

          Unfortunately, soon, I forgot. I forgot to seek His will. I forgot to listen out for His voice. I went ahead with old plans. And by doing that, I left the cave and went out into the open, where the winds wilded and whipped.

          Of course, I got hurt. Hurt in life is inevitable but when you leave the Will of God, when God does not ask you to welcome suffering, you are courting a hurt that is not willed. This hurt is different. There is an emptiness and futility about it.

          Stand patiently and pray steadfastly came last night as I wandered about seeking my Lord. It was a little light God slipped under the door of my heart, to point me back to the inner cloister I should never have left without His bidding.

 

 

 

 

 

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It is the Hour of Vigilance

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          Towards the end of May, my heart heard two summonses:

Rise!

Arise! Shine!

Those were the calls to action. I knew I was being told to do something. But what?

          A week later, the mists parted slightly.

Beloved, the end of all things is at hand. Therefore be serious and sober-minded so that you will be able to pray.   ~   1 Peter 4: 7-13

           Be able to pray. That was the call. The call to intercession.

          The moment I received it, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, when I had just asked for the spirit of atonement for myself, a feral wind blew, almost knocking me down. At church, someone I have come to distrust, came to me, slyly bearing a tale to trouble me.

          To lead me back to old wastelands the Angel had freed me from.

          It took me a week to overcome that Corpus Christi attack. By then, I had lost sight of the call to intercede. Even as I did continue to pray, the clouds had gathered and thickened over my spirit, and my vision was obscured.

          This morning, cleansed and nourished by the peace of wild things, a light returned. Sharp, clear, piercing to the core of my heart.

Stand before the Lord.

… let us be watchful with greater intensity… standing on one’s feet … expression of vigilance…be one who watches… stand guard before the relentless powers of evil… keep the world awake to God.

… be one who stands on his feet: upright in the face of the currents of the time. Upright in the truth. Upright in his commitment to goodness.

Standing before the Lord must always be, in its inmost depths, also a lifting up of men to the Lord, who, in turn, lifts all of us up to the Father.

And it must be a lifting up of Him, of Christ, of His word, of His truth, of His love… be upright, unwavering and ready even to suffer outrage for the sake of the Lord, as shown in the Acts of the Apostles: they “[rejoiced] that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts of the Apostles 5:41).   ~ The Hidden Homilies of Pope Benedict, Holy Thursday, Chrism Mass, March 20, 2008

          I now understood the words my spirit had seen.

          Rise! Arise! – were summonses to return to the watchman’s post I had fallen from in my many weeks of struggles. 

          Shine! was the holy exhortation to keep my soul and the souls of my brethren pilgrims awake to God.

          And then, I remembered an old, old call. One that has returned repeatedly and insistently,

Flee to the hills.

How many times have I pressed the veil to yield its secret, to no avail. But today, in the morning hours scented by the rose~golds of freed breezes, I finally learned its meaning. Flee to the hills is heaven’s shout to me to run and shine the Light of God from the towers, high above the rocks and dunes of turmoil.

          For it is now the hour of vigilance before God.

 

 

 

 

 

Rock the Boat Now

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          This past weekend, at a family get-together, I learned that the will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. My husband and I were confronted  with the choice between standing up for the faith, annoying people with our stand and perhaps creating a rift between family members and choosing to be silent to maintain peace, as well as not to be seen as over-reacting towards seemingly one-off dissents  against the Catholic faith.

          Trust me, it was far easier not to rock the boat. We were a close-knit clan and it didn’t seem wise to stir up unpleasantness – even if a family member was breaking the first Commandment of God – I am the Lord Thy God. Thou shall have no strange gods before Me. Besides, most other members had chosen the more agreeable response of respecting a personal choice than to respect God’s laws. It was all about freedom of choice. As long as we, my husband and I and our children respected God’s Commandments, why did it matter whether others did or did not?

          It did matter. Because, like it or not, we are our brother’s keeper.

          If it was about freedom, it was that I should be free to express without fear, my concerns for a Catholic who was increasingly distancing herself from the faith. And I should also be free to express my concerns about other family members who were choosing to look the other way on this issue just to keep the peace.

          Why shouldn’t I be free to respectfully articulate the Christian perspective on the issue at hand when our stand was questioned? Why shouldn’t I be free to ask someone to take a moment to think about what they were doing? Even if we were not Christians, if a loved one was moving apart from the family, wouldn’t we talk to the person? To ask the questions that needed to be asked? To express our fears, our concerns?

          Wouldn’t we do all that and more – whether within or outside the context of religion?

          And so, when we were faced with the choice either to speak up or to be silent, my husband and I said what we needed to say. Just calm, quiet statements. No badgering. No condemning. I don’t know if any other hearts will be steered to a different response in the days to come. I pray so, but that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Spirit moves my husband and I to speak up again, His Will for us now is that we pray.

          As we drove home from that family gathering, my heart and mind returned to what we had done, to the line we had drawn in the sand, and the lonely side we had chosen to stand on. Even if it were never raised in future gatherings, I am certain that line would forever stay between us, possibly as the first of more of such lines. In every pool of laughter and tender tightness of hugs, there will from now on be a shadow in many hearts because of our stand, because of this first line in the sand. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the sting of regret – not over what I had said – but over the necessary cut to this family I love.

          And yet, as I sifted through the pebbles of sadness, I realized a soft peace had spread over my heart. Even as I probed and prodded it, this gentle peace remained anchored firmly in place.

          That was when I understood. The Will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. We had done His Will this time. There was a price to pay for this obedience, for choosing the Will of God over the will of Man, but even as we paid it and hurt from doing it, He pressed His peace into our hearts.

         It is this peace that sealed the certainty in my heart that there are times when the boat of souls must be rocked. We cannot allow our hearts to be bribed by warmth of relationships and the worldly perception of peace to turn away from the bitter waters of God’s Will. If He stirs our spirits and gives us His words, then we must speak because He wants to speak through us.

          I can already sense a subtle chill in some of the winds as they coast over us. In a family that has always prided itself on maintaining respectful silence when disagreeing over an issue, we have broken ranks by choosing to speak.

          But true love of neighbor means that when the boat has to be rocked, it must be rocked.

 

 

 

 

         

Refuge

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If, on going to the garden to pluck some fruits, you were surprised by a heavy rain, what would you do? You would seek shelter under the shed, would you not? So when sorrow, bitterness, tribulation, rain down upon you, you must seek a refuge in the safe asylum of the will of God, and you shall not be troubled.   ~   St. Paul of the Cross

 

          There have not been many times when I have sought shelter in the Will of the Most High. Even fewer times when I have willingly gone to it, my own will fused to God’s. Almost always, every resting of my will is preceded by struggle. I have learned enough lessons from this point of acquiescence once I have reached it; I have learned and re-learned timeless truths of peace and serenity and strength when God’s will is mine.

          And yet, I continue to rebel. In every storm, I continue to remain out in the open, ignoring the shelter proffered, pleading my case before God.

          Why? Because up to now, I have only seen the Will of God as a call to obedience. I have not learned to accept it as a refuge from storms.

          There are some prayers in my prayer~cart, and I have gone before my Lord for them for a long time now. As there is a time to pray, there will soon come a time to rest those hopes, when He presses His hand against my heart and renders slumber unto my seeking.

          When that time comes to pass, I must, in faith and humility, seek the safe refuge of the will of God, where I shall not be troubled.

 

 

 

 

Come Into The Peace of Wild Things

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When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.   ~   Wendell Berry      

 

          A break from work beckons. So does a whole ton of work. I am worn out and stand at the edges of a burnout.

How long more, Lord? I ask. How long more?

          I want to live again. To feel alive and free. To feel the hope that I believe in and know is there. I want to work, not quit. I want to love and care for my family, not leave. But the air that is for our living must be made new, the water that flows through the existence here be purified.

          Hope cannot birth and bloom until the poison in the wellsprings is cleansed.

          This cannot be rushed. And yet, today, I can no longer wait, for the fist of life as it is here is tightening its hold, choking out breath.

How long more, Lord? I ask. How long more?

          He does not give me my answer, and yet answer me He does.

When despair grows… go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

Come into the peace of wild things, says my Lord to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End is at Hand

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          Three days ago, reading, I began to feel the waves reach over my head. That is often a sign for me to step back and away, and to let the word that matters settle gently over my spirit. And so I did, and it was this:

You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Reject them!   ~   2 Tim 3, 1-5

          It pertained directly to a present suffering. Love those who hurt me, pray for them, suffer for them even.

          But reject them. Because they choose to love themselves more than God.

          It confirmed the dawning realization that the time to be the friend that I was to these people was over. They had seen what they needed to see. They had heard the Good News. Then they came to the crossroads and they made their decision.

They did not chose Life.

Hence, it was time for me to move on.

          This time, in spite of myself, I could sense that my once wavering will had set in stone. Like Lot must have felt that day he fled Sodom, I knew that, spiritually, there was nothing to linger behind for anymore. Physically, I would remain in the same place, but my work among some people was done; it was time for me to move on spiritually and emotionally from these few.

          There is grief in some farewells, and there was to be in mine. Heaven readied the urn to receive the ashes of my sadness,

Heart of Jesus
Heart of Jesus, Victim of charity,

make me a living sacrifice to Thee,

holy, and pleasing unto God.

          Every time the sadness returned when I recalled old happy moments with these ones who chose to turn back like Lot’s wife, I felt the angels nudge the prayer back before my eyes.

Heart of Jesus, Victim of charity,

make me a living sacrifice to Thee,

holy, and pleasing unto God.

          What if I too turn back? I wondered uneasily. What if the lure of old roots of rot be too strong for me? What if the longing for a friendship be stronger than my love for God?          

          St. Margaret Mary Alacoque replied for Heaven:

          Having once made an entire donation of ourselves, let us not retract it: our Lord will employ every means to sanctify us, in proportion as we make use of every opportunity to glorify Him. 

          Again, I sensed a subtle strengthening of my will.

          On the First Friday of the month, offering my Atonement Rosary, I felt a strange piercing of my heart, as if something had passed through it, and then a momentary weakness. It felt almost physical. And yet, it wasn’t. As I straightened up in internal readiness, my eyes fell upon the First Reading, 1 Peter 4: 7-13 ~

Beloved, the end of all things is at hand. Therefore be serious and sober-minded
so that you will be able to pray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire

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          I had become aware that I had been mentally and emotionally feeling the heat of a burning for the past two weeks. The fire of loss of a (destructive) friendship I have come to cherish (unfortunately). The fire of loss of hope in the workplace environment. And a few other little  fires burning here and there on the landscape of my spirit.

          I lamented these fires, sought heaven’s help to put them out. These were almost all old fires, and I had wearied of them. Most of all, I was tired of being who I was, someone in a near constant burn, always burning up in secret over something.

          And when I finally fell at God’s feet for mercy, asking for the respite of Joy for my burning, He told me,

Rise!

          A day later, when I had quietened myself somewhat, He continued,

Arise!  Shine!

          I saw it as a call to obedience, as a call to work. So, with the help of dear~heart friends who answered the Spirit’s summons to help me understand, I tried the live the new hours differently. I did not seek joy although I burned for it; instead, I sought His will in loving and caring for my family. I sought His will at my workplace in willfully searching out silence. Because in all of these abodes of quietness and simplicity and silence, lay the call to obedience, from which joy would flow.

          If I could just hold on long enough, that is.

          So, I took myself back to the vineyard again. But instead of the inner assurance I thought would come, I sensed that my spirit doors remained open.

          Late, late at night, when the moon~scented hours seemed to have nothing more for me, unseen hands turned my eyes towards a piercing teaching about Fire.

          “A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his Homilies on Jeremiah, cites a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which reads: “Whoever is near to me, is near to the fire” (Homily on Jeremiah, L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit blazes but does not burn. And nevertheless it enacts a transformation, and thus must also consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbour.

          This effect of the divine fire, however, frightens us; we are afraid of being “scorched” and prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often based on the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-gift. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat; they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something pleasant to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves.

          On the one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other, we are afraid of the consequences entailed.

          Dear brothers and sisters, we are always in need of hearing the Lord Jesus tell us what He often repeated to His friends: “Be not afraid”. Like Simon Peter and the others we must allow His presence and His grace to transform our heart, which is always subject to human weakness. We must know how to recognize that losing something indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life is actually gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully.

          Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life the peace and joy of heart that the world cannot give, and that it cannot even take away once God has given it to us.

          So it is worthwhile to let ourselves be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit! The suffering that it causes us is necessary for our transformation. It is the reality of the Cross. It is not without reason that in the language of Jesus, “fire” is above all a representation of the mystery of the Cross, without which Christianity does not exist.

          Thus enlightened and comforted by these words of life, let us lift up our invocation: Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of Your love! We know that this is a bold prayer, with which we ask to be touched by God’s flame; but above all we know that this Flame and It alone has the power to save us.

          We do not want, in defending our life, to lose eternal life that God wants to give us. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit, because only Love redeems. Amen.”   ~   Pope Benedict XVI

 

          Like so many, I too wanted to be enveloped by the miracle and joy of Pentecost. Pentecost was fire, yes, but for me it meant the fire of inner light and jump and spring, the fire-power of special wisdom and vigour that I needed so badly to carry my Crosses.

          Not once did I associate it with a hidden burning away of my old self.

          In the dark of the quiet hours, I finally understood the fire I was sensing.

 

 

 

 

Arise! Shine!

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Arise! Shine, for your light has come,

the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.

Though darkness covers the earth,

and thick clouds, the peoples,

Upon you the LORD will dawn,

and over you His glory will be seen.

Raise your eyes and look about;

they all gather and come to you—

Your sons from afar,

your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

The vessels of the coastlands are gathering,

with the ships of Tarshish in the lead,

To bring your children from afar   ~   Isaiah 60: 1-2, 4, 9

 

For Ireland.

 

 

 

 

Rise

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          I’ve always wondered, if I could be pierced so deeply by the slightest hurts, why could I not be struck as deeply by the beauty of the world around me? Why am I primed to react so to woundings, but not to the loveliness gifted by a Father who Loves? How can a spirit so sensitive to nicks and cuts not rise in ecstasy to the pearling of dawn, the song of winds and the glory of blooms?

          What is holding me back? Why am I not the child I once was?

          Where has this child gone?

          On his birthday yesterday, my spiritual father, St. Pio, reached out to me through another’s words,

… so many killjoys, afraid to enjoy today for fear of what tomorrow will bring… don’t let’s ever be afraid of things. It’s such dreadful slavery. Let’s be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring to us… (Anne of Windy Willows by Lucy Maud Montgomery)

          Fear. Slavery. Those were the reverberations of the past weeks. Although I’ve come a distance from my past, I’ve not forgotten the lessons of fear a child should never have been taught.

          A huge storm cloud rises in the east. It rolls up upon us and breaks its grey breast in a wild torrent. Gone is the blue~gold glory the dawn sun promised. In its place queens rich greens, freshened by the weeping rains. Yet, no mourning dirge sounds for what has passed. No mourning is needed – for this is what life is. Each hour brings us its own surprises. In staying my glance too long on the years that have passed and fearing what the coming may bring, I risk losing the present hour’s gifts. 

          Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring us. Could I learn to be this way once more – like a child again? Is this what God wants of me? I want to be sure, I want God to tell me. I ask Him again, I want to hear Him speak to me.

          Softly, a mist forms and breathes its word upon my spirit.

Rise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bride’s Ring

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          The hour of sacrifice has struck.

          You already feel that it is not a small thing to aspire to the dignity of being the bride of the Crucified. Already He is associating you with His sufferings and ignominies. Herod treated Him, Eternal Wisdom, as a fool; Pilate treated Him as a seducer, the people preferred Barabbas to Him.

          And you, who aspire to very close union with Him, are beginning to be scorned and misunderstood by this world which would have surrounded you with adulation if you had chosen to smile upon it.

          Take courage, my child, these are certain signs that our Lord wishes to unite you very closely to Himself and to associate you with the works which He does for His Father’s glory.    ~   Blessed Columba Marmion

 

          It is a gentle comfort to read these words today. It has been days and hours of burning struggle to do what is right, what is so hard to do – to not lie in order to appease a bully. And when the struggle to obey is overcome, the reward is not peace, but yet another layer of suffering. 

          This is not the reward I long for. Having suffered through a battle, I do not wish for the reward of more suffering. My mortal woundedness only anticipates the reward of tangible good things. In my sinful state, even the Crown of Glory pales in comparison to the lure of immediate relief from pain.

          And yet, often, this is God’s way – suffering upon suffering. It may not be what we want, certainly not what anyone wishes for.

          But suffering is the ring the bride of the Crucified must wear.